Near thend of A walk on the moon– the musical adaptation of the 1999 strong movie of the same title – there’s a standout song by Paul Scott Goodman, AnnMarie Milazzo and Pamela Gray. A young girl, having just discovered that her conception was “an accident”, confronts her father. To reassure her, he sings “We Made You”, insisting that when he and his mother conceived her, although not yet married, they loved each other very much.
Searching through the annals of songs from now until who knows when, it’s highly unlikely that anything close to this will jump out. And it creates a very moving moment of calm in an engaging new musical that includes other quiet moments and some not-so-quiet ones.
Pearl Kantrowitz (Jackie Burns) and Marty Kantrowitz (Jonah Platt) spend their summers at the bungalow colony in Mountaindale, New York, a resort like those sometimes known in Yiddish — but not here — as a kochelein (to cook alone). Specifically, Pearl watches over the children throughout the week while playing mahjong and canasta with the other mothers, all paid by Betty Friedan. The fathers arrive from town on Friday evening and leave on Sunday evening, always bragging about how quickly they made the trip.
The problem is that while Pearl’s table buddies are apparently happy with their situation, she isn’t. Before the hasty wedding—the unexpected pregnancy—she had other plans for her life, plans perhaps vague, but plans nonetheless. Now she resents a marriage that has become routine, with a husband who is sometimes preoccupied with his television repair business, with his rebellious daughter Alison (Carly Gendell). Pearl is a prime candidate for change, any change.
That’s when screenwriter Gray sends, as she did in her screenplay. Walker Jerome (John Arthur Greene), itinerant, sexy-as-hell blouse salesman who tickles all the ladies but has a more dramatic impact on Pearl.
Yes, before long, Pearl and Walker are having what is often described as a torrid affair, running away whenever they can for, in dialogue parlance, “shtup.” Pearl takes a break from her worries and burdens. She even considers running away to the other coast with the persuasive Walker.
Not that their barely inactive romance goes unnoticed, primarily by stepmother Lillian (Jill Abramovitz), a woman known to have visions but who needed no visions to spot this all but glaring event. My husband Marty suspects something is up but has no idea what.
The result will not be revealed here, but bookseller Gray handles it with admirable honesty. And all along, the songwriters go to town. In addition to Marty’s virtual lullaby to Alison, there are a few other standout numbers – “A World Without Men”, discussed and chanted by mahjongers, and “Dancing With You”, for many members of the ensemble. Most of the solos belong to Pearl, and therefore to Burns, who has one of those rafter-shaking voices and who knows it. The same goes for director Sheryl Kaller, who crashes Burn downstage center whenever she can, which she often does.
All of the songs, if not exactly memorable, are crafted well enough for the Walk on the moon actors, director Kaller and choreographer Josh Prince to do something showy. There is one glaring flaw, however, in a score skillfully directed by Greg Kenna and played by his seven-member band. (Wesley Zurick, as Alison’s boyfriend Ross Epstein, also plays mean guitar during some of the love action.)
Yes, A walk on the moon is Pearl’s story, just as it might be in Gray’s imagination. But as her bungalow colony story unfolds, it makes it clear that Pearl isn’t alone in her nagging discontent. Marty also blurts out that he gave up on a few dreams when he and Pearl got married and started raising Alison and her baby brother Danny (Cody Braverman).
Likewise, Walker is aiming for something bigger for himself and, make no mistake, Platt and Greene have the voice and presence to express their characters’ pressing needs in song. Yet, as Pearl repeatedly lets go of her fervent desires, Marty and Greene barely sing. Platt does “We Made You” perfectly but only sings with others twice more. (Yes, there are company numbers, too.) Greene gets a solo in the first act and none in the second act, despite a number of lines of dialogue that sound like song cues.
In the brand new and very comfortable George Street Playhouse, on the ground floor of the New Brunswick Center for the Performing Arts, the Walk on the moon the production corresponds to its environment. There’s the heavily invigorated cast plus sets and projections by Tal Yarden, costumes by Linda Cho (a skintight tie-dye top Walker gives Pearl, among them), lights by Robert Wierzel and sound by Leon. Rothenberg.
The production’s opening anthem is called “Summer of All Summers,” and the songwriters mean business. It’s the summer of 1969, in which – hold your hats – Woodstock broke up (just a few miles from the fictional colony of Pearl), the infamous Chappaquiddick drowning occurred, the Manson murders terrified Hollywood and the rest of the country, and, immediately after planet, the moon landing gave Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin their scrabble walk.
It is the historic walk that most affects Pearl. In “Out of This World”, her first (of six) solos, she addresses an astronaut as her way of acknowledging that she wants to take her own adventurous walk. It is this desire that inspires this new and imposing work.
A walk on the moon opened May 6, 2022 at the George Street Playhouse (New Brunswick, New Jersey) and will run through May 21. Tickets and information: georgestreetplayhouse.org