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In the 1930s the press portrayed him as a Johnny Appleseed, a folk hero of the common man who built beaches, and parks for city-dwellers. However, using the power of eminent domain, he leveled entire neighborhoods and displaced over a quarter million New Yorkers to make way for his public housing and highway projects. — From a program note by Peter Galperin
Constantine Maroulis
You really don't have to know much about Robert Moses, his life and legacy, or to have read the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographical tome The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro to enjoy isolated aspects of this rock musical, under the direction of Karen Carpenter. It follows the exploits of this fellow with a passion for building bridges and highways. That his impassioned goals also resulted in the creation of Jones Beach, the renovation of Central Park, the construction of Lincoln Center and more projects too numerous to list, evidently didn't include much time for romance.

As portrayed with an uncompromised sense of self-worth and assurance as well as with a strong singing voice by Constantine Maroulis, Moses is seen as a stiff-necked, self-sufficient, autocratic deal-maker. He is not only the center of his own world but at the center of the kind of unpretentious production that is currently having a vogue.

The then-I-did story unfolds amid a few modest set-pieces, and a tinfoil backdrop within a two tiered steel structure designed by Ken Larsen. Settled in the rear are four musicians who enthusiastically play the score and accompany the cast of five who play the show's other four characters.

There's nothing inherently wrong with staging a show like an enhanced concert similar to what audiences for Hundred Days are currently experiencing at the New York Theatre Workshop. It just seems like a budget consideration rather than an artistic vision.

The more than two dozen musical numbers that drive Bulldozer put forth Moses's "Master Plan," presented musically through a series of subsequently numbered "Master Plans" sung by a street musician (an amiable Ryan Knowles with a rich voice.) These carry Moses, via flashback, from his elder years in retirement to his beginnings as a brainy and brash upstart. Then he's off and running manipulating city officials and politicos until his sudden comeuppance when stripped of his power by his former friend and project ally Governor Nelson Rockefeller (Wayne Wilcox.)

The collaborators have chosen not to give Moses the exuberance or charm of a New York political icon such as Fiorello. But in keeping him dour, the dedicated chap remains as debilitating chill throughout the show. Wilcox's bespectacled Rockefeller, however, makes sheer condescension account for plenty.

For a touch more exhibitionism there is Kacie Sheik as Vera Martin ("I'm just a girl from Coney Island") the young woman whom Moses picks up at a nightclub where she works as a cigarette girl. She presumably becomes his mistress and girl Friday. How close to reality this is remains questionable. That she can get Moses to kick up his heels with a jazzy "When the World Isn't Watching" is fun but out of character for him. Molly Pope brings even more vitality to the fore as the firebrand urban activist Jane Jacobs who was instrumental in turning public support away from Moses when he proposes to erect a housing project for residents who might be displaced by the building of an expressway through the heart of Greenwich Village.

Plot progression is fast and furious as is the cascade of songs, most of which will be better appreciated with a future hearing. But the book fails to provide the main character with the kind of motivation that will define Moses as a remarkable man with a complex, but definitely not conflicted, personality. Born a Jew but a convert to Christianity and a staunch Republican, Moses only alludes to his own issue with anti-Semitism, as the musical also avoids confronting the major personal and private issues that would help us care more about him.

What we do see is the outline of an essentially unlikable but obsessed with power man. What we never see is an idealist with a dream. It is only at the end of the show when Moses sings a stirring personalized anthem "Straight Towards the Sun" (with some blinding assist from lighting designer Zach Blane)m do we finally get a semblance of him as he sees himself — as the amazing architect of a modernism that for better or for worse transformed not only New York City but much of America.

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Bulldozer by Peter Galperin (music & lyrics) and Daniel Scot Kadin & Galperin (book)
Directed by Karen Carpenter

Directed by Karen Carpenter

Cast: Ryan Knowles (The Street Musician), Constantine Maroulis (Robert Moses), Molly Pope (Jan Jacobs), Kacie Sheik (Vera Martin), Wayne Wilcox (Nelson Rockefeller, Musicians (Peter Galperin or Bryan Percivall, Ryan Gleason, or Ian Underwood, Clare Cooper, or Karen Dryer, Patrick Carmichael or Rob Kelly.
Scenic Design: Ken Larson
Lighting Design: Zach Blane
Costume Design: Bobby Fredrick Tilley
Sound Design: Dr. Howard Fredrics
Production Manager: Adam Rose
Musical Staging: Gary Ray Bugarcic
Musical Direction: Robert Baumgartner, Jr. Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes no intermission
Theatre at St. Clement's, 423 W. 46th Street
Performances: Tuesday @7pm, Wednesday @2pm and 7pm, Thursday @7pm, Friday @8pm, Saturday @2pm and 8pm, Sunday @3pm
From 11/25/17 Opened 12/12/17 Ends 01/07/18
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 12/07/17

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