Monday, October 20, 2014

The Fortress of Solitude ***

You have to give a lot of credit to director Daniel Aukin for conceiving the idea of turning Jonathan Lethem’s 528-page novel into a musical. Itamar Moses’s book manages to retain much of the book’s spirit and keeps the narrative reasonably clear. For me, the outstanding feature of this production, now in previews at the Public Theater, is Michael Friedman’s wonderful score. Ranging from R&B through gospel to hip-hop, Friedman’s music and lyrics brilliantly capture the musical background underpinning the lives of two Brooklyn boys, one white, the other black, starting in the 1970’s, before Gowanus became Boerum Hill. Dylan Ebdus (Adam Chanler-Berat) is the son of Abraham (Ken Barnett), an emotionally distant artist, and Rachel (Kristen Sieh), an activist who is proud that her son is one of only three white students in his school, but soon abandons him. Adam befriends Mingus (Kyle Beltran), a black neighbor who is also motherless and also named for a musician. Mingus protects Dylan from the neighborhood bully Robert Woolfolk (Brian Tyree Henry). The close friendship between Mingus and Dylan includes a bit of teenage sexual experimentation. Mingus’s father Barrett Rude Jr. (Kevin Mambo) is a burned-out coke addict, who once had a musical career that seemed promising but never caught fire. When Mingus’s preacher grandfather Barrett Rude Sr. (Andre de Shields) is released from jail and moves in with his kin, tragedy ensues. For anyone living in New York during the mid-seventies, the show recreates much of the societal context of racial strife, drugs, graffiti, blackouts, the so-called justice system, and the first stages of gentrification. The music is terrific, especially when sung by Barrett Rude Jr.’s singing group --the Subtle Distinctions -- and by de Shields. Eugene Lee’s set is appropriately drab and Jessica Pabst’s costumes suit the characters well. In both the novel and the musical, the introduction of a ring with magical properties seemed both unnecessary and a distraction. I am not sure how clear the story will be for those who have not read the book. Nevertheless, the wonderful score, the excellent performances and the show’s bold ambition won me over. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.


danhid said...

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vision is education. here's my blog
Drama for Kids

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