By Vicki Weisfeld
George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey, is presenting the new musical, A Walk on the Moon, May 6 through May 21, directed by Sheryl Kaller. The show is based on the 1999 movie written by Pamela Gray (book and lyrics), with music and lyrics by Paul Scott Goodman and AnnMarie Milazzo.
A Walk on the Moon takes place in the Catskills, summer of 1969. Neil Armstrong is set to take his iconic moonwalk, the Woodstock music festival is imminent, Civil Rights and anti-war demonstrations roil the nation’s streets, and second-wave feminism is on the rise. It’s a time of ferment, a time of questioning, a time when the old ways, the old ideas seemed disposable.
In the opening scene, Pearl Kantrowitz (a role superbly performed by the powerhouse Jackie Burns), her husband Marty (played by Jonah Platt), their teenage daughter Alison (Carly Gendell), young son, and Marty’s mother Lillian (Jill Abramovitz) arrive at their annual vacation destination, Dr. Fogler’s Bungalows.
The family spends every summer there with the same quartet of couples and the same routine. During the week, the women relax, cook the meals, and watch the kids, while the men return to the city to work. While the routine is comfortable, Pearl has glimmerings that life is passing her by. Alison is branching out, though. She’s met another teen, guitar-playing, would-be 60s hippie and iconoclast Ross (Wesley Zurick) and embarks on her own adolescent adventure.
Into these lazy, predictable days enters someone completely different, Walker Jerome (John Arthur Greene). He’s the Blouse Man, and the attraction between him and Pearl is immediate. You know she’s in trouble. Perhaps you can predict where her personal journey will take her, but plenty of drama and honest emotion awaits.
The musical is stuffed with song, and Pearl reveals her mixed guilt and desire through the heart-rending “Ground Beneath My Feet.” While I appreciated the live seven-piece orchestra and the clever and melodic songs, they tended toward the belt-it-out style, which might have worked even better interspersed with additional quieter numbers. Marty’s singing to his daughter, “We Made You” is a lovely example.
Even though the show’s run time is two and a half hours, there’s never a lag. The excellent cast of fourteen assures something is always going on, from the four couples’ fun dancing, to the energetic mahjongg games, to the teenagers testing their wings. The skillful use of projections establishes the verdant camp, the mesmerizing night sky, the psychedelia of Woodstock, and the blackness of a really black adolescent mood. Actual news footage of the moon landing provides an indelible sense of the moment.
Production credits to Tal Yarden (scenic consultant and projection design), Linda Cho (costumes), Robert Wierzel (lighting), Leon Rothenberg (sound design), Andy Einhorn (music supervision), Greg Kenna (musical direction), and Josh Prince (choreography).
A Walk on the Moon is on stage at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center. Tickets available here or by calling 732-246-7717. Check the website for current information on NBPAC’s covid requirements.