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LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
by Les Gutman
The end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th Century are to astronomy what the middle of the 20th Century is to musical theater. It's not that advances were not made before or after that time, but the period harbored the field's most potent momentum. It was in this period that Galileo invented to powerful telescope, leading to the proof of the Copernican theories on the relationship of the sun to the earth, and Kepler, using the data of Brahe, developed the theories of celestial mechanics which remain intact today.
These were men for whom science was sufficiently expansive that it encompassed religion and art. Galileo, a Catholic, spent much of his life at odds with his church. (The picture above shows him in one such confrontation, with an outsized Pope Urban VII.) Kepler, a Lutheran, devoted much thought to reconciling his faith and his scientific discoveries. The importance of periodicity and harmony in the work of both Galileo (a musician's son) and Kepler made music elemental to their inquiries.
It is thus only superficially surprising that this subject matter makes fine fodder for a work of music-theater. Indeed, composer Ellen Meadow has focused quite precisely on the musical interpretation of Galileo (represented by Gina Leishman's accordion) and Kepler (by Stephen Katz's cello). Similarly, Karinne Keithley's choreography relies heavily on notions of geometry.
Visually, Star Messengers is as stunning as it is inventive. Paul Zimet has made wonderful use of Nic Ulara's imaginative set designs, beautifully and craftfully lit by Carol Mullins. Kiki Smith's costumes are not only appropriate, they are handsome and fun. Over and over again the production surprises us with terrific ideas and vivid images.
It is disappointing, then, that the play itself is not able to sustain itself as much more than a documentary. Zimet's libretto (this work is almost entirely sung) relies heavily on original texts and, though he does succeed teaching us the essentials of each character's theories, he fails to bring to it the sort of excitement that attends the imagery. Simply stated, it's flat, never delivering the enthusiasm for discovery that must be at its core. Maddow's score, not without moments, especially in pastiche, is in the end most memorable for its endless use of recitative-like droning.
Will Badgett's Galileo is able to overcome the monotony with the help of a couple of pretty good songs, but he never really conveys much of any depth about one of the great scientists of all time. Greenspan doesn't fare as well in the song department, but at least lets us get to know Kepler fairly well. Both have been used to far greater advantage elsewhere. The remainder of the cast does some impressive work, albeit briefly (most are cast in multiple roles, in only some of which they are readily identifiable), with the three commedia characters, Sagredo (Ms. Maddow), Simplicio (Randy Reyes) and Salviati (Michelle Rios), delivering a respectable jolt of humor.
6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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