1969 was a momentous year for the United States: NASA’s Apollo 11 module landed, and astronauts walked on the moon. Betty Freidan published The Feminist Mystique, leading many women to re-evaluate their lives and take to the streets in protest. The Vietnam War was ramping up, and antiwar demonstrations occurred in many U.S. cities. Ted Kennedy drove his car off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, and his young female passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned. And the Woodstock rock and roll concert, drawing thousands of young people, took place on a farm in upstate New York.
At a bungalow colony in the Catskills, a new Blouse Man arrives, setting in motion the conflict at the heart of the charming new musical, A Walk on the Moon, the latest production of the George Street Playhouse in the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center where it will run through May 21.
While contending with a rebellious teenage daughter, a mother-in-law who knows too much, and a loving husband who is content with the status quo, Pearl must decide if she’s willing to break free from her predictable world to embrace the unknown. However, one thing is certain: nothing will ever be the same.
Under the steady direction of Sheryl Kaller, the plot moves along inexorably as we sympathize with both Pearl and Marty who have found their youthful dreams thwarted by an early marriage and parenthood. As a woman on the brink of rediscovering her true self barely simmering below the surface, a glorious Jackie Burns (Pearl; above with John Arthur Greene) portrays a responsible mother who tries to give her rebellious daughter Alison (played superbly by Carly Gendell) enough rope to spread her wings yet not enough to get her into trouble. She has a warm relationship with her imposing mother-in-law Lillian (an imposing, fierce Jill Abramovitz, who reminds Pearl that her son Marty once had dreams, too) and loving toward her six-year-old son Danny (an adorable Cody Braverman). Burns’ best moments come in her tenuously steamy meetings with the Blouse Man, played with verve by the very attractive John Arthur Greene; his free-spirited Walker Jerome introduces Pearl to Kerouac’s On the Road and matches her restlessness, albeit unfettered by any sense of responsibility (“I Can’t Wait for Now”). Jonah Platt is equally as fine as Marty Kantrowitz, in a rut just like his wife but too responsible to change his life. He and Burns share a tender, poignant moment when they confess their discontent to each other and later when they reassure their daughter that they do not regret “making” her.
The seven-piece orchestra provides fine accompaniment to the adult performers, but often drowns out the young folk. The miking was also quite loud for the moderate-sized theater, making it difficult to understand them as well. Tal Yarden has designed a terrific set that morphs from bungalow colony to the woods outside to Woodstock and back. Projections on the curtains and television sets above the proscenium broadcast news of the era to transport us back to 1969. Robert Wierzel’s fabulous lighting is appropriate and atmospheric, and Leon Rothenberg’s use of nature sounds (crickets, croaking frogs) enhances the setting. Linda Cho is to be commended for costume design (remember when tie-dyed apparel was shocking?), aided by the terrific period wigs and make-up designed by Charles G. LaPointe and Robin L. McGee, respectively. All provide a wonderful canvas upon which the talented actors can perform the music and lyrics by Paul Scott Goodman and AnnMarie Milazzo and speak the dialogue written by Pamela Gray, based on her award-winning film script of the same name.
A Walk on the Moon is a mother-daughter coming-of-age story that, despite the distance of over 50 years, continues to resonate today. This production, the most elaborate and dazzling in the history of George Street Playhouse, doesn’t disappoint. Exuberance, coupled with poignancy, plumbs the depths of longing and lost opportunity to address what we are not willing to lose while maintaining our selfhood. As Artistic Director David Saint notes, “It mirrors our own period of adjustment during the last two years as we reassess what matters most in our lives.”
A Walk on the Moon will be performed at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center, 11 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, through May 22. For information and tickets, call 732.246.7717 or visit www.GeorgeStreetPlayhouse.org online.