‘Walk on the Moon’ ripe for musical treatment

When screenwriter Pamela Gray was approached about turning her 1999 film “A Walk on the Moon” into a stage musical, she was over the moon at the idea.

Calling it the favorite script she has written, she adds, “The thought of being back in it again with the characters was just heaven. The story still resonates, and I felt that the conflicts, emotions and struggles of these characters can be expressed in an even deeper, more heightened way onstage through music.”

The stage premiere, which opens in previews at American Conservatory Theater on Saturday, is inspired by her childhood experiences vacationing in the Catskills. Set in 1969 when a man walked on the moon and 400,000 people marched onto Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, N.Y. for the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, Gray’s story is a about a pinned-down Jewish wife and mother who finds freedom in an affair with a bohemian “Blouse Man” at a Borscht Belt bungalow colony.

Gray, who wrote the 1999 movie “Music of the Heart” and 2010’s “Conviction,” also was excited about the new “Moon” project because she always wanted to return to her teenage love of penning musicals.

“This was my life’s dream that I had given up on,” says Gray, who co-wrote winning musical productions at Brooklyn’s James Madison High School. “It was the collaboration I loved, and hearing an auditorium full of people responding to the songs and the script was the most thrilling feeling. I wanted to be Stephen Sondheim when I grew up, but I went in a more practical direction.”

To transform “A Walk on the Moon” into a guitar-driven 1960s rock-and-folk-fueled musical, Gray teamed with composer-lyricist Paul Scott Goodman (“Bright Lights, Big City”) and director Sheryl Kaller (“Next Fall” and “Mothers and Sons”), taking on the role of book writer and additional lyricist.

“Everything came together with the musical,” Gray says. “From the minute that this idea was presented to me, it was one of those eureka moments of this is what I was meant to do. It’s a little more complicated than what I did in high school, but the similarity, that collaboration with smart people, who are all in the same story, is just wonderful. I’ve always thought that the movie deserves a second act, and it’s really great having that opportunity.”

IF YOU GO

A Walk on the Moon
Where: Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., S.F.
When: Opens Saturday; 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

Quentin Quick

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