The Fortress of Solitude

Theater, Drama
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

The Fortress of Solitude. Public Theater (see Off Broadway). Book by Itamar Moses. Music and lyrics by Michael Friedman. Directed by Daniel Aukin. With Adam Chanler-Berat, Kyle Beltran. Running time: 2hrs 35mins. One intermission.

The Fortress of Solitude:: In brief

Wonder scribe powers, activate! Two first-rate wordsmiths, playwright Itamar Moses (Bach at Leipzig) and songwriter Michael Friedman (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson), adapt Jonathan Lethem's 2003 novel, which follows a pair of childhood friends—one white, the other black—through several decades of music, crime and a possibly magic ring. Daniel Aukin's large cast includes Adam Chanler-Berat, Kyle Beltran and André De Shields.

The Fortress of Solitude:: Theater review by Adam Feldman

Musical theater is not a form that gravitates toward the novel. Credit and respect are therefore due to Itamar Moses and Michael Friedman’s The Fortress of Solitude, which is not only based on a substantial work of literature—Jonathan Lethem’s 500-page 2003 best-seller about a pair of childhood friends in Brooklyn, white Dylan (the baby-faced Chanler-Berat) and black Mingus (the sweet-voiced Beltran)—but also takes the genre in brave new directions. Not that it avoids nostalgia: Our relationship to the past, and its presence in our lives, is one of the musical’s central concerns, and Friedman’s score draws excitingly on period sounds, especially 1970s soul. But history, in this telling, resists being embraced. It disappears, like Dylan’s flaky mother (Kristen Sieh), leaving you wanting more, or it hangs around, like his artist father (Ken Barnett), but doesn’t quite connect.

The Fortress of Solitude is huge in its thematic scope: It takes on questions of race, art, history and guilt in ways that verge on allegory (though Lethem’s magical realism, about a ring that confers the power of flight, is downplayed). Directed with a generous wide-view lens by Daniel Aukin and choreographed engagingly by Camille A. Brown, the musical sequences are long and complex, overlaying multiple strains of melody to evoke the coexisting realities of bygone Gowanus. After the richness of the first half, the second, set years later, is drier; a long stretch is devoted to the adult Dylan’s liner notes on the career of Mingus’s father (Kevin Mambo), a singer with strong shades of Marvin Gaye, but the portrait of the later Dylan seems underdeveloped for where the authors mean to take us. But if the middle plane could be better defined in this tapestry, the big picture is woven with beautiful threads.—Theater review by Adam Feldman

THE BOTTOM LINE Moses and Friedman aim high to leave their personal mark.

Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam

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