“Ernest Shackleton Loves Me” is the most wildly eventful musical of the Off Bway season. And if anyone would have told me I’d be raining superlatives over a two-person love story that’s set simultaneously in Brooklyn and Antartica (!) I wouldn’t’ve believed them! But it’s true! It’s all true! And 19th Century Artic Explorer Ernest Shackleton has come back to life(Through a date searching app on the Internet) to make wild, theatrical magic love to a single 45-year-old Mom with a baby named Zach in an unheated apartment “far out” in Brooklyn, well,it just sounds preposterous.
But the theater exists to make the unbelievable, believable.And “Ernest Shackleton” amazingly does just that.Our heroine is an experimental music composer, whose living room is filled with every kind of electronic musical device imaginable, including a red, heart-shaped electric violin, which she barely puts down and a set of amplified drums that she beats all her many frustrations out on. This assemblage of electronic is backed by a gigantic computer screen, behind the stage, on which we see her many, many wild fantasies play out.
The frigidity of her (very) cold water flat and the stress of her life as an artist. “I gave my life to art”, sends her over the edge and into the imaginary arms of studly Arctic hero, Ernest Shackleton, who calls out her romantically through the Internet “Katherine! Katherine!..”and then enters her own version of Antarctica, through (where else?) her refrigerator.
Wade McCollom and Val Vigoda are the star-crossed lovers linked by the heroic struggles both are going through. He, to reach his high-flown Arctic glows, and she, well, just to survive her life. Her baby never stops crying,her computer’s keyboard keeps re-looping the word “Alone” and they spend “Ernest Shackleton Loves Me” finding each other in the highly unromantic ice and snow, which here turns into a winter wonderland.
The fiery Ms. Vigoda has also written the equally red-hot lyrics to go with Brendan Milburn’s Irish-inflected score.
There are a lot of sea shanties mixed in with the hard-rock and the love songs)and the rock-solid book is by Joe DiPietro of “Memphis” fame, who really knows his way around a musical.
At no time do Kat and Shackleton strain our credulity, as the metaphor of his ice-bound ship, the Endurance, freezes over and sinks, stranding them and a crew of 22. This is based on a true story, which I won’t spoil here.(You can look it up. It’s a recorded fact.)And they had a videographer with them, too! As newsreel footage of Shackleton’s impossible dreams becomes all of our dreams of achievement, love and survival against all odds.“Ernest Shackleton’s motto was “Optimism is a more of moral courage.”
I left “Ernest Shackleton” filled with more optimism, and hope, yes, hope for the innovative American Musical than I’ve felt since well, since “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”
He sings “FOR MY LOVE, IT IS TIMELESS AND VAST AS THE SKIES
IT IS STRONG AS THE TIDE AND THE WAVES WHEN THEY RISE
IT IS I, ERNEST SHACKLETON, HERE IN COMMAND
AND I PROMISE MY DARLING WE’RE GONNA FIND LAND!”