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A CurtainUp Review
Liberty: A Monumental New Musical
Co-created by Dana Leslie Goldstein (book and lyrics) and Jon Goldstein (music), and directed by Evan Pappas, it poetically tells the story of how the Statue of Liberty became enshrined in New York harbor. Family-friendly, it surely beats an old history text for teaching you about that legendary Lady—151 feet tall—who holds the burning torch.
Inspired by true events and embellished by the authors' fancy, it traces the journey of a young French immigrant named Liberty whose father is the sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. In a dream-like Prologue, we first see Bartholdi and Liberty supposedly gazing at the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island today. But in the next beat, it is 1884, and Bartholdi is sending his daughter by boat to New York. He hopes that, with her unspoiled innocence, she might persuade Americans to "cough up a few hundred thousand francs" for a pedestal for his new-chiseled Statue of Liberty.
Determined to realize her father's dream, Liberty travels to New York in the boat's steerage compartment and arrives at Castle Garden, Battery Park. As it happens, a recession is pinching the big city that year and a debate is smoldering over immigration. Liberty, fresh off the boat, encounters her first obstacle at the immigration station when the officials point out that her father's letter of introduction doesn't conform to New York regulations. They report this to the city politicos, and the powers-that-be try to deport her. She firmly holds her ground and eventually wins over the hearts of the poor and the rich, and all in-between.
Predictably, Goldstein uses stereotypes to emphasize New York City as the world's "melting pot." Even so, each individual subtly reflects the cultural changes afoot in the city in 1884.
There's a Russian Jewish woman Olga Moscowitz, a vendor with a pushcart of Old World specialties; an Irishman Patrick McKay, a foreman who fled the Irish potato famine of '48; a native American James Goodleaf, an ironworker who no longer lives on a reservation; an African-American Samuel Ferguson, a stonemason who works on the Williamsburg Bridge; and an Italian Giovanni Ferro, a youth who wants to learn English to get a better job.
Beyond these blue-collar types, there's the city's elite: the Commissioner of the Census Bureau and Indian Affairs Francis A. Walker; and the wealthy widow, and great granddaughter of Alexander Hamilton, Regina Schuyler. Then toss in some historical personages like the poet Emma Lazarus (Yes, she penned the immortal poem "The New Colossus") and newspaper mogul Joseph Pulitzer, both inextricably tethered to the Statue of Liberty's legend.
The 17 musical numbers range from the sassy to the sublime. One irresistible number is "The Charity Tango," sung by Walker and Schuyler in a wickedly superior tone that reminds the immigrants that "no one here gets anything for free." On a completely different tack is "Possible," sung by Liberty with unabashed sincerity. Here she begs Pulitzer to not buckle under to political pressures but to deliver on his promise to launch a Statue Pedestal Fund in his newspaper. She smartly reminds him of his own early struggles as an immigrant from Hungary and how he rose Phoenix-like from the city's soot to the heights of the publishing world. She talks and sings: "Please, Mr. Pulitzer, I don't know why I don't just quit and say I tried. But then I look at you, and I know why Papa sent me: I see spirit, I see backbone, I see pride!"
No doubt the Statue of Liberty enjoys pride of place in New York harbor today. But there was a steep price to be paid before the statuesque Lady found her home on the star-shaped fort at Ellis Island. Goldstein adumbrates the key events of its journey with symbolism rather than retelling its history in a strict sense. And, as helmed by Pappas, it works li.
Abigail Shapiro turns in a solid performance as the protagonist Liberty. She pulls off her lead role with surprising confidence and has the pipes to belt out her various songs. Emma Rosenthal, as Emma Lazarus, is well-cast and even bears a striking resemblance to portraits of the famous poet. Tina Stafford insinuates herself into the skin of the Russian immigrant Olga Moscowitz and the blue-blooded socialite Regina Schuyler with equal aplomb. Brandon Andrus is perfect as the arrogant commissioner Walker and comes equipped with sturdy musical chops. Ryan Duncan (Bartholdi/James Goodleaf), Nick Devito (Giovanni Ferro), C. Mingo Long (Samuel Ferguson) and Mark Aldrich (Joseph Pulitzer)--are up to snuff as well.
Colin Doyle's projection designs of Castle Garden and its immigrant population circa 1884, abetted by Jamie Roderick's soft lighting, evokes the ambience of Battery Park and environs in the late 1880s. Debbi Hobson's period costumes range from the ragged to the well-tailored, depending on the social rank of the character. And Liberty's clothing is in a category of its own, simulating the classic-styled robes of Lady Liberty herself.
Liberty is wittily subtitled "a monumental new musical." And if you ever have wondered about that monument that looms so majestically in New York harbor, this show is a good starting point for learning some historical facts about the iconic Lady and those New Yorkers who gave her a pedestal to stand on.
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Liberty: A Monumental Musical by Dana Leslie Goldstein and Jon Goldstein
Directed by Evan Pappas
Cast: Abigail Shapiro (Liberty), Mark Aldrich (Patrick McKay/Joseph Pulitzer), Brandon Andrus (Francis A. Walker), Nick Devito (Giovanni Ferro), Ryan Duncan. (Bartholdi/James Goodleaf), C. Mingo Long (Samuel Ferguson), Emma Rosenthal (Emma Lazarus), Tina Stafford (Olga Moscowitz/ Regina Schuyler)
Sets: Colin Doyle
Costumes: Deborah Hobson
Lighting: Jamie Roderick
Stage Manager: Cherie B. Tay
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission
42West at 514 West 42 Street. Tickets: $27 to $72. Premium adults are $72 and premium children are $36; $63 (adult) and; $27 (children 4-12). Phone or online at 866.811.4111 or visiting LibertyTheMusical.com.
From 6/06/16; opening 7/04/16; closing 7/28/16
Monday; Tuesday; Thursday & Friday at 12pm & 3pm
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 7/01/16
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