Theater review by Jenna Scherer
Sir Ernest Shackleton has gone down in history as the intrepid explorer who overcame impossible odds to get himself and his crew out of dire danger in a 1914 Antarctic expedition. Also, he played the banjo. Shackleton’s love of music is the tenuous string that ties him to a modern-day woman struggling with self-doubt in Ernest Shackleton Loves Me, a bighearted but very silly musical.
The high-tech two-hander stars GrooveLily’s Valerie Vigoda (who also wrote the lyrics) as Kat, an experimental composer who’s down on her luck: She has lost her only paying gig, her deadbeat musician boyfriend is away on tour, and she’s raising their baby alone. After posting a video on a dating website, she gets a response—don’t ask how—from Shackleton (Wade McCollum), summoned across time and space by the beauty of Kat’s compositions. The snow-dusted Irishman himself soon appears in Kat’s Brooklyn apartment, and the two reenact the events of his Endurance expedition while offering each other words of encouragement—or rather, sea chanteys of encouragement. So many sea chanteys.
Singing, climbing and accompanying themselves on banjo and electric violin in Lisa Peterson’s inventive staging, McCollum and Vigoda work their way through a series of rousing melodies about the power of optimism and the fierce beauty of Antarctica. Brendan Milburn’s music is lovely, and the two actors sound great performing it. (Vigoda also plays a mean electric fiddle.)
Still, there are only so many times you can hear a “Chin up, boys!” rouser before your chin starts to droop, and the painfully broad humor in Joe DiPietro’s script only heightens the feeling that we’re watching an after-school special for grown-ups. But Ernest Shackleton Loves Me is so clearly a labor of love that it’s hard to be too bothered by the cartoonishness, even as the show sails into shallow waters.
Tony Kiser Theater (Off Broadway). Book by Joe DiPietro. Music by Brendan Milburn. Lyrics by Valerie Vigoda. Directed by Lisa Peterson. With Vigoda, Wade McCollum. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission. Through June 11.
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ERNEST SHACKLETON LOVES ME
An epic musical adventure
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$35 (regular price $89)
Promotional description: Ernest Shackleton Loves Me is the epic musical adventure starring GrooveLily's fierce and funny electro-violinist Valerie Vigoda (Striking 12), and the courageous and charismatic Wade McCollum (Priscilla Queen of the Desert). This innovative, high-tech adventure tells the story of a sleep-deprived single mom who struggles to work as a video game music composer. Unexpectedly, she is contacted across time by the famous polar explorer, Ernest Shackleton. Inspired by her music, he shares his epic Antarctic journey with her in video and song. Against all odds, they discover that their greatest inspiration lies within each other. Directed by Obie Award winner Lisa Peterson and written by Tony Award winner Joe DiPietro (Memphis), with music composed by Brendan Milburn and lyrics by Valerie Vigoda.
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Performance schedule: Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday at 2pm and 8pm, Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, Sunday at 3pm
Tickets regularly $89. Use code TIMEOUT for $35 tickets to performances through 6/11/17 only. Service charges may apply. Tickets are subject to availability. Limit 8 tickets per order. Not applicable to previously purchased tickets or premium seating.