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A CurtainUp Review
The Outer Space
By Elyse Sommer
The multi-talented Ethan Lipton does indeed bring "captivating charm" to The Outer Space now at Joe's Pub. The show's musical numbers are an enjoyable, melodic mix of American styles— notably folk and soft rock. All are vibrantly delivered by Lipton and his back-up trio of musicians.
However, except for the science fiction aspect this concert with a story instead of the usual concert with between-songs chit-chat, this solo musical (with a small band backup) is hardly all that groundbreaking a new genre. Daniel Sheuer's solo musical The Lion and Sherie Rene Scott's Every Day Rapture come to mind.
Like the several recent plays about death ( Everybody , Wakey Wakey) that were really more about life than what is still unknown to us, The Outer Space narrative is also quite earthbound. Its plot focuses on a couple seeking to escape the stress of urban life by purchasing an old spacecraft to take them to a less frantic life near the planet Mercury. The theme: Wherever you go, your emotional idiosyncrasies go with you.
Naturally, it would be unrealistic to expect a full-bodied Star Trek experience from story that's sung and narrated without actors to portray the characters. Anyway, it's the music and the musicians presenting it that make The Outer Space an enjoyable theatrical ride.
Besides being an engaging performer with a pleasing voice, Lipton is an unusual songwriter. He's written some excellent straight plays like Luther which gives him a natural affinity for this concert combined with narrative style.
Mr. Lipton also has a wonderful way with words which is evident in his lyrics as well as his spoken dialogue. To give an example, he colorfully describes how his space bound couple have seen that their "cost of living keeps going up like a rocket while our wages putter along like a school bus and our savings sit there like a turtle." And, since this is as much a love story as a space odyssey, we see the husband rediscover the smile "as wide as a river" that first made him fall in love with his wife.
The show benefits enormously from having director Leigh Silverman and lighting designer Ben Stanton on board, as they were when Lipton and his band debuted the similarly styled No Place to Go , also at Joe's Pub. Silverman's direction enhances the flow between narrative and musical numbers. And, while the cabaret setting doesn't allow for a conventional musical's scenery and costume changes, David Zinn's scenic and costume design and Ben Stanton's kaleidoscopic lighting do provide just enough of an outer space aura. Thanks to Nicholas Pope's sound design, even the propulsive instrumental numbers are never ear blasters.
Clocking in at just 75 minutes and even with the sandwiched in story, there are plenty of musical numbers. I counted twelve songs plus three instrumental numbers. (Though the program doesn't include a list, I have included the titles at the end of my production notes).
As the musical styles vary, so do the emotions called for. Lipton very ably expresses both the humorous and more serious ones.
I generally prefer the Public's more conventional venues since I'm not a fan of dinner theaters. But Mr. Eustis and his staff have always been smart about what theatrical fare to present in the always busy Joe's Pub. Thus, while pieces like The Outer Space could be classified as dinner theater —; make that dinner theater with a nice edge.
P.S. While this is more about the music than the sci-fi-ish angle of the story, I'm nevertheless adding it to our Science Plays Page.
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The Outer Space
Book and lyrics by Ethan Lipton
Directed by Leigh Silverman.
Performed by Lipton, Vito Dieterle (Saxophone,keyboards, vocals), Eben Levy (Guitar, keyboard, beats, vocals) and Ian M. Riggs (Bass, keyboards, vocals)
Scenic and costume design by David Zinn
Lighting design by Ben Stanton
Sound design by Nicholas Pope
Stage Manager: Caroline Englander
Running time: 80 Minutes, no intermission
Public Theater/Joe's Pub
From 2/23/17; opening 3/08/17; closing 4/09/17
Tuesday through Sunday at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. withadded performance on Monday March 6 at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday, April 8 at 1:00 p.m. There is no 7:00 p.m. performance on Saturday, February 25.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at March 4th press preview
Musical Numbers: BIG ADVENTURE IN THE SKY, TO IT ALL, SHE DOES WELL IN SPACE, TO THE FARM(Instrumental, GRUMPY, IF YOU DON'T HAVE ANYTHING NICE, ROCK AND A HARD PLACE,A TO Z, EL GATO(Instrumental), WHEREVER YOU GO, CURRENT SET OF PROBLEMS, THE SUN, YOGA/NOT YOGA, SPACE BEAVERS(Instrumental, HAVE YOU EVER HAD THE DREAM
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