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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

What's Not to Love about Ernest Shackleton Loves Me
Balagan Theatre


Valerie Vigoda
I am not inclined to gush, but gush away I shall over the most delightful new musical in many a season, Ernest Shackleton Loves Me, which blew onto the stage of the Seattle Repertory Theatre like a fresh spring bouquet in Balagan Theatre's all too short-running production. Get ready all fans of good, original musical (or non-musical) theatre to kick yourselves if you miss this, and have to catch up with it Off-Broadway later this year. The book by the rather prolific and popular Joe DePietro is so quirky, funny, sweet and unexpected, and the score by Groovelily's Valerie Vigoda (who wrote the lyrics as well as a dandy lead role for herself) and Brendan Milburn (composer) tops any I have heard in this decade on Broadway or Off. Well, I told you I was going to gush!

Bare bones plot is all you are going to get here, as I think the show deserves to come as much as a succulent, savory surprise to you as it did me. Kat (Ms. Vigoda) is a struggling writer of electronica music, and is banking on a big payday from a gig scoring a video game, which unexpectedly falls through, leaving her and her infant child (fathered by a road roaming boyfriend) in dire straits. While obsessing over her new video blog and suffering sleep deprivation, she is suddenly approached online by the title character (Wade McCollum), a dashing seafaring polar explorer who died decades earlier. Inspired by her music and swept away by her fiery spirit, he sweeps her off on a phantasmagorical romantic journey which may or may not be all in her sleepless head.

Directed with clarity, exuberant spirit and an unrushed yet terse pace by Lisa Peterson, the show also boasts pulsating musical direction by Ryan O'Connell, production design by Alexander V. Nichols that utilizes video elements with flair and transforms ordinary set pieces into the extraordinary, and costumes that are apt and amusing by Chelsea Cook. I've already sung the praises of Vigoda and Milburn's score, and it is one that will get much listening on my playlist when a cast recording arrives.

Vigoda's Kat is a wry and complex jumble of emotions, and the actress herself is that one of a kind sort of personality that made stars out of the likes of Merman, Martin, Verdon and Rivera when such stars existed, and her voice is edgy and captivating on all kinds of songs. McCollum, an unstoppably talented performer who always amazes, is terrific not only as the determinedly dashing title character but as the other men in Kat's life (including her deadbeat baby daddy and another retro explorer, Ponce de Leon). Half his performance as Ernest is on video, and it is as alive as the onstage portion. The two also have a palpable chemistry. Like another two-hander musical, I Do! I Do!, this show is a great feature showcase for its charismatic stars (and interestingly, both shows have heroines who play a fiddle!).

Ernest Shackleton Loves Me, presented through a partnership with Balagan Theatre, ACT and Seattle Rep, runs through May 3, 2014, in the Leo K. Theatre at the Seattle Repertory Theatre in Seattle Center. For more information go to online at www.balagantheatre.org.


Photo: Jeff Carpenter



- David Edward Hughes



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