Old secrets are revealed and the immigrant experience is detailed in this engaging show when a young Jewish man writes a book about his family’s history.
Louis Goldstein has won a Pulitzer Prize for his saga that was hailed by Oprah Winfrey. Through flashbacks that are interwoven with Louis’ commentary and present day events we meet his relatives.
On a steamer ship from Europe in 1920 is the 19-year-old Russian Zelda. “I’m really 21, but who wants an old maid?” She settles on New York City’s Lower East Side with her brother. To escape her tyrannical sister-in-law she marries the good-natured socialist Louie. The couple sells vegetables from a push cart and eventually moves to New Jersey where they open a thriving dress shop and have two children. The brilliant Sherri wants to go to medical school and the sensitive Nathan has dreams of being a writer and serves in the U.S. Navy during W.W. II.
He marries the strong-willed Eleanor and moves to New York City. Their pleasant daughter Miriam gets married and their son Louis has a childhood penchant for dressing up in women’s clothes and comes out as gay as a young adult. To the anger of relatives living and deceased, Louis’ published account discloses a lost love, criminality and mental instability.
With the rhythm of Neil Simon and the fierceness of Philip Roth, Charlie Shulman’s solidly constructed and inventive book renders this archetypical premise with an abundance of humor, sentiment and suspense.
Michael Roberts’ music is a tuneful assortment of melodies some of which have an appropriate ethnic flavor. Mr. Roberts’ lyrics range from inspired to rudimentary with the overall score being quite charming. The caustic “Visiting Your Mother” stands out as a Leonard Bernstein/Betty Comden & Adolph Green-style showstopper as sensationally performed by the appealingly forceful Sarah Beth Pfeifer as Eleanor.
Zal Owen as Louis anchors the show with his boyish sincerity, commanding singing and focused acting. Mr. Owen also appears in several smaller roles to great effect often with rapid ease.
Recalling the comedic brassiness of Nancy Walker and Linda Lavin’s dramatic intensity, Amie Bermowitz is outstanding as Zelda. Ms. Bermowitz dominates the production with her steely yet empathetic portrayal of the controlling matriarch.
Megan McGinnis is visually amazing as Sherri. The girlish Ms. McGinnis switches back and forth throughout as the character ranges from childhood to adulthood and old age by simply altering her facial expressions and posture. McGinnis’ acting abilities match her impressive physical qualities as she beautifully conveys passion and poignancy.
The personable Jim Stanek’s Louie is a winning portrait of an immigrant’s optimism fading into weariness. Aaron Galligan-Stierle as Nathan captures the character’s disillusionment and later rejuvenation with his affective performance. Cheeriness and slight zaniness mark Julie Benko’s delightful turn as Miriam.
Director Brad Rouse’s resourceful staging cleverly has the cast make entrances, exits and appearances through and in the auditorium and having them go up and down the stairs to the considerably raised up contained playing area. Mr. Rouse’s pacing is brisk yet thoughtful and he achieves the Our Town quality that the piece occasionally strives for. Sarah O’Gleby’s choreography contributes visual variety and some lovely dance sequences.
Some vintage wood furniture is all scenic designer Alexander Woodward needs to craft the landscape that perfectly depicts the differing locales.
Andrew F. Griffin’s striking lighting design employs a palette of shadows, murkiness, dimness and brightness that capture the dimension of the past and present converging. Raymond Schilke’s well-modulated sound design adeptly balances the music and effects.
From period garments to contemporary wear, Maureen Freedman’s costume design represents the numerous characters with great style.
Lasting 90 minutes, Goldstein: A New Musical about Family, is a small-scale entertainment that is rich in emotional resonance.
Goldstein: A New Musical about Family (through May 20, 2018)
Actors Temple Theatre, 339 West 47th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.goldsteinmusical.com
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission
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