Joe DiPietro’s Ernest Shackleton Loves Me is quirky, contemporary, romantic and utterly adorable. This new musical with an addictive score by Brandon Milburn and his uber talented wife Val Vigoda (Groovelily), is sure to lure audiences into this magical fantasy and because an instant cult hit. The show that opened tonight at the Tony Kiser Theatre is sure to melt hearts.
We meet Kat (Val Vigoda), as she is freezing in her Brooklyn flat and creating her first on-line personal ad. She admits to being 45, stressed-out, a single mom with a 5-month-old son, whose dad has left to tour with a Journey cover band leaving them nothing, but alone. Kat makes her first foray into online dating chronicling her career, through song with her electric guitar and other instruments, as she loops her composition. As she is making the ad, she is fired from writing the music for a futuristic video game. She has lost out to a high school senior. However, it is her opus that calls across the universe to Ernest Shackleton (Wade McCollum).
Shackleton suddenly calls, entranced by her music that transcends time-and-space. Kat has not slept for over 36 hours, could she be hallucinating? Kat ends up skyping with Shackleton and suddenly she and the audience are connected to the deck of the Endurance in 1914.
Kat on electric violin and Shackleton on banjo sing and play out their romance through a series of chantey songs, that lead us through the explorer’s incredible voyage. When the Endurance is crushed and sunk, after being stranded on a polar ice cap Kat fears for his outcome, but out of the refrigerator Shackleton, appears. His upbeat mentality, beckons Kat into his frozen tundra, as they travel across desolate frozen mountains and perilous churning seas to rescue his 22 men. Along the way, Kat is inspired to conquer and rescue herself and move on. Strength is always within.
Thanks to thanks to the production designer Alexander V. Nicholas, Ernest Shackleton Loves Me is filled with original photo’s and video from the real Shackleton adventure. History, adventure and songs will have you movin and grovin in your chair, exhilarating your senses. Brandon Milburn’s music is fleshed out by his musical director, Ryan O’Connell, on keyboard.
Joe DiPietro’s (Memphis, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change), book is charming, but it is Lisa Peterson’s direction that sets this show a sailing. I love how Ms. Peterson transformed a chest of drawers into a lifeboat. It was a also inventive how Kat and Shackleton climb up and over scaling the formidable mountain, which is their set. Remarkably they sang all the way across.
Valerie Vigoda as Kat is appealing. She brings us into her world and we root for this relationship, to bode well even thought we know that is rather unrealistic. Her musicality is a symphonic masterpiece. Wade McCollum is a hilarious, as he plays multiple roles. Vocally and musically, he masters the numbers and he is the perfect match for Ms. Vigoda. As Shackleton, Mr. McCollum is a superbly confident Dudley Do-Right who captures the audience, as they stand to their feet at the end of this thrilling new entree into the 2017 season.
You may be catching up for your Tony voting, but don’t let this ocean voyaging yarn pass you by.