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Off Broadway

He Says: Ernest Shackleton Loves Me “Don’t Stop Believing” in Your Inner Optimism

He Says: Ernest Shackleton Loves Me “Don’t Stop Believing” in Your Inner Optimism
Ernest Shackleton Loves Me ,Val Vigoda, Wade McCollum
It’s no surprise that one of the characters in this whimsical musical is in a Journey cover band on tour (there will be links to Journey songs throughout this review, forgive me). The whole idea of a ‘not-really-Journey’ Journey cover band is the perfect metaphor for Ernest Shackleton Loves Me, the new musical that just won the 2017 Off Broadway Alliance Award for best new musical. The epic journey that Kat, played impressively by the crazy talented Val Vigoda, goes on flies in the face of reality.  The show asks us, quite insistently, to suspend our disbelief and just go with it. “Don’t Stop Believing” as she is told later on by her loser boyfriend.  In essence, we are being asked to believe, “Faithfully“, that a man who died a hundred years ago, the great explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, can call up Kat via Skype, and become the romantic interest of a modern day single mother living in Brooklyn. And lead her back to herself.
Val Vigoda, Ernest Shackleton Loves Me
When we do believe, with “Open Arms“, setting aside our need to comprehend, this musical, directed with quirky charm by Lisa Peterson (NYTW’s An Iliad), is just the kind of escape we need. Not an ounce of political presence here, just lots of impressive singing, snowy adventure, and some fantastic electric violin playing by Vigoda (who is just thrilling to behold). Jumping through the refrigerator vortex of time, we have Sir Ernest Shackleton, played with a robust and wildly exciting presence by Wade McCollum (Broadway’s Wicked), arriving just in the nick of time to help the floundering Kat in her epic journey towards self-reliance and internal validation. She’s a struggling artist, writer, and performer, with a crying baby in the other room of her cluttered Brooklyn apartment (a functional, sometimes beautiful production design by Alexander V. Nichols). It’s a lonely existence, like floating perilously through the frigid waters on unstable sea ice in hopes of finding land.
 Ernest Shackleton Loves Me , Val Vigoda, Wade McCollum
There are so many parallel processes going on within this smart musical, with a sassy book by Joe DiPietro, powerful music by Brendan Milburn, and snappy lyrics by Vigoda.  Shackleton brings the courageousness of an explorer into the heart of Kat, who’s musical career struggles and single motherhood are crushing her hope and optimism at every turn. “Any Way You Want It” is the metaphoric theme song, with similarities of what Shackleton summons within himself in 1914 to survive his epic adventure through the Antarctic, perfectly compared to the challenges facing Kat in Brooklyn, circa 2017.
Ernest Shackleton Loves Me
Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922) is widely known for his courage, leadership and unfaltering optimism in his famous Antarctic adventure (although he never did achieve his personal dream of being the first to reach the South Pole). After his ship, the Endurance, was crushed in the middle of its 1,800 mile journey, he never gave up his quest to return himself and his crew of 22 men to safety after being stranded on the deserted Elephant Island. In Ernest Shackleton Loves Me, Kat is the one who helps him cross 720 miles in one of the greatest open water traverses in history, scale the previously unclimbed snowy peaks of the remote but inhabited South Georgia Island with nothing but 50 feet of rope and a carpenter’s hammer, and sail back to rescue his crew that were left behind. Because, “When You Love a Woman” anything is possible, or should I say, when you learn to believe in yourself, in the same way Shackleton loves Kat, icy waters and snowy mountains can be crossed, and all can be saved. Kat needs to find her own inner ‘StarBlazer’, and McCollum’s Shackleton (and the numerous other parts he plays with solid effectiveness) is just the man to guide her through her journey forward.
It’s a smart layered creation, a bit weak in its overall impact, but thoroughly engaging in the moment.  The two leads have expressive and majestic voices that only get better and better as the adventure moves forward.  Their abilities help carry us through some of the lesser songs, and McCollum’s acting strengths ushers us past the more awkward moments in the story telling.  It’s infectious to partake in Kat’s journey, and experience her mind-blowing musicality both vocally and with the electric violin.  Vigoda has the ability to hold our attention with ease, as she does during the chaotic and less well structured beginning moments of this story. A stronger dramatic restructuring at the beginning would help this piece transverse some of the rockier terrain it has created for itself. When Ernest and Kat do go their “Separate Ways [cause they are] (Worlds Apart)” (my last use of Journey song titles, I swear), the life lessons are learned, Kat’s strength and optimism has been restored, and my curiosity in this spectacular journey has been electrified. I couldn’t wait to get out and google the exploits of the very real Sir Shackleton and read about his adventures in the Antarctic.  That story of adventure and survival is thrilling, almost as epic as the one we just witnessed. Almost.
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Off Broadway

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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