Saturday, July 16, 2016

Review: Lady Liberty Personified

It took until "The Charity Tango" to realize that Liberty is virtually a 90s cartoon musical. Sadly what's lacking is that Disney charm. Lady Liberty gets the personification treatment in order to reach the audience about freedom. She comes to life like Pinocchio and is sent on a journey to her new home, America. With discussions of immigration, politics, and social freedom, Liberty, with book and lyrics by and Dana Leslie Goldstein and music by Jon Goldstein, Liberty is a historical musical for history buffs. But be warned, it's not Hamilton.
Playing the unique 42West, Liberty is an informative musical that hopes to teach, which gets in the way of a clean, fleshed-out story. The Goldsteins brings elements of the unreal by allowing the Statue of Liberty to virtually be human. On her search for a literal platform, Liberty encounters a changing America where immigrants come for freedom while others try block her for integrity and fear. Yes, Liberty is apropos to the time but the text never really rises. The story is so engulfed with lessons and morals that it gets repetitive. But when Goldstein and Goldstein offer those bits of musical theater fun, that's when Liberty gets exciting. Moments like "The Charity Tango." It seems that the hope is to offer varying perspectives but with a revolving door of characters, no one is fully fleshed out. Liberty has an objective but doesn't quite register a change. Emma fights for change but it's one dimensional, though she gets a split second of potential romance that never gets discussed again. Francis A. Walker is a villain set out to keep America immigrant free but disappears before he fully learns. The rest of the characters have one and done moments that simply appear to prove a point as a device. It's admirably to introduce a spectrum of diverse characters but it gets in the way of a clean story. Whether it was the canned instrumentation or the music itself, the score was very much cartoony, but not in a good way. And if that's the proper demographic, then it's a success. If you’re trying to motivate excitement within the audience, then it’s not.
Photo by Russ Rowland
Liberty has a capable company. It’s evident these performers are seasoned. It’s a shame their material didn’t match their talent. With the slight confusion over style, some actors explored big and campy while others tackled reality. Those who went bold did the best. By far, Brandon Andrus as Walker captured the essence of the villain you love to hate. Andrus was smug and perfectly stylized. Andrus made strong choices that filled the animation void. Next to him as the token character actress was Tina Stafford. Between her Schuyler granddaughter and Olga Moscowitz, the food vendor, Stafford crafted some memorable personas. Emma Rosenthal as Emma Lazarus played the strong heroine with a truthful aura. While she wasn’t a larger than life character, Rosenthal showcased her talent in a different fashion.
42West is a converted theater space that isn’t the best for a musical of this nature but director Evan Pappas did all he could with the constraints. With such a tight stage, variance wasn't in Pappas’ favor. Instead, what we got was a lot of stop and belt. And it was a tad dull. To make up for it, Pappas and his team offered an explosion of America live on stage. LED screen was a cool idea but it was grating to the eye. Even sitting toward the back of the house, it was near impossible to make out the intricacies of Colin Doyle’s projection design.
Liberty was monumentally ambitious. It sadly just was not memorable. The story of Lady Liberty is cool in concept but this musical didn’t know what it wanted to be.