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ACT’s musical ‘Walk on the Moon’ resembles the movie

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From left, Molly Hager, Monique Hafen, Ariela Morgenstern and Katie Brayben, and Kerry O’Malley in the background, appear in American Conservatory Theater’s premiere of “A Walk on the Moon.” (Courtesy Alessandra Mello)

American Conservatory Theater’s new musical “A Walk on the Moon” sticks closely to its source material, the touching movie about changes facing a Jewish family vacationing near Woodstock in the summer of 1969.

That’s not a bad thing. Pamela Gray, who wrote the script for the 1999 film, handles the book and some lyrics for the show, and the performers embody the spirit of the movie’s realistic characters, particularly Katie Brayben, who capably steps into the Diane Lane role. Her Pearl is convincingly a loving wife and mother who quietly aches for something more in life.

She finds it when she encounters the hunky free-spirited guy (Zak Resnick, appealing, but not quite the movie’s knockout Viggo Mortensen) selling shirts on a clothesline at the rustic Catskills resort.

And she’s able to act on her feelings for the Blouse Man, because her husband Marty (a sympathetic Jonah Platt, but perhaps a bit too good-looking in the part Liev Schreiber played on film) has to go home and back to work.

Meanwhile, her rebellious politically-aware teen daughter Alison (a strong Brigid O’Brien) is at odds with her square family, finding solace only with Ross (the affable Nick Sacks), the cute guitar playing boy she meets.

After a slightly slow Act 1, their struggles come to light in the second half, when mother and daughter separately make their way to Woodstock, where they have life altering experiences.

Empathetically directed by Sheryl Kaller, the show, however, isn’t deepened by Paul Scott Goodman’s pleasantly inoffensive pop-rock score (despite fine singing on everyone’s part).

A fun doo-wop number and its reprise, “World Without Men,” with Pearl and her pals, later joined by Marty and his friends, nicely showcases the harmonizing ensemble, and Pearl’s belting blues Act 2 opener (she hilariously admits she’s shtupping the Blouse Man) are amusing.

And toward the finale, Pearl and Walker, the Blouse Man, share a moving tune.

But for the most part, the show feels like a movie with unremarkable songs, rather than an integrated musical with tunes fueling the action.

On a big screen at the back of the stage, ongoing video footage of real events from the era — including the momentous first manned moon landing — doesn’t particularly complement what’s happening onstage.

However, excellent costumes by Linda Cho and scenery by designer Donyale Werle nicely capture the era, a time and place when the nice Jewish ladies in the Borscht Belt wore pedal pushers or house dresses as they played mah jongg at card tables or lounged in webbed lawn chairs.

REVIEW
A Walk on the Moon
Presented by American Conservatory Theater
Where: Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; closes July 1
Tickets: $15 to $110
Contact: (415) 749-2228, www.act-sf.org

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