If you were lucky enough to enjoy the Star Trek spoof “Boldly Go!” along with the sold-out, pre-pandemic crowds, you’re going to be excited to hear about the newest brain child from the same writers, Cole and Grant Remmen, which had its world premiere last weekend at Caltech’s Ramo Auditorium. In fact if you enjoy sci-fi and a little homespun theater, “From the Earth to the Moon” could be the perfect way to spend a few hours.
Reviewed by Melanie Hooks
Based on the story from Jules Verne, the original musical follows a small group of scientists in 1865 who decide their local gun club should be able to fuel an explosion large enough to carry people to the moon’s orbit. Half of the fun is watching actual interplanetary mathematicians and scientists, all associated with Caltech and JPL, sing their hearts out about theoretical space travel methods that are patently untenable. Their characters possess such raw enthusiasm and blind hope in humanity’s ability to ‘work out the details later’ that the project seems more reminiscent of the mid-20th century space program than post-war shellshock a century earlier.
Our heroes, Captain Impey Barbicane (Joseph Jefferson), J.T. Maston (Julian Wagner) and their friends, run into an ambitious reporter, Phoebe Penrose (Anne Marinan) who embeds herself into their team to cover the story. An obligatory love story unfolds with Maston, while Penrose also struggles to overcome her editor’s misogyny. It wouldn’t be much of a musical if great tragedy ensued, so there aren’t too many story surprises; however, there are some truly wonderful moments of harmony within the large ensemble as well as fantastic delivery of story songs like “Funds!” and “Florida or Texas.”
An intrepid, French female adventurer shows up at the close of the first half, Michelle Ardan, played by the nimble and quick-tongued Holly Bender, who brings a breath of individual flair and fun to the rest of the show. Her numbers “C’est Moi” as well as “Word on the Street,” performed with the ensemble and the fellow pioneering Penrose, stand out as highlights. Leads Jefferson, Wagner and Marinan’s fine voices carry their numbers well, though the show’s first half’s pacing drags a bit due to so many large ensemble numbers. Choreographer Raevin T. Fleming does what can be done with almost 20 people in a very small space, and the full cast consistently lands lines, dance moves and character moments while keeping the spirit bright and hopeful.
The second portion picks up speed as we spend more poignant moments with individual characters. A joy throughout is the Technical Advisor to Disney Animation aka Allen Corcoran, who plays the team’s rival Captain Nicholl. One suspects he won the role for his ability to channel the intense speed of “One Enemy Among Twenty-Five Million Friends,” almost “Pirates of Penzance”-level quick. Some fine acting is hinted at by the gun club’s team of female explosive experts Bilsby and Bloomsbury (Anamika Shreevastava and Sara Anjum), along with potential cad General Morgan (Marcin Kurowski). They all make the most of their brief lines, but the potential there remains for more fleshed-out allies for the first half and perhaps a little less all-ensemble time.
Opening weekend tech was a clear challenge, as the auditorium is also a lecture hall and holds no permanent sets. One can’t help but admire the gumption of the cast and crew who move massive risers between each of the twenty-three separate scenes.
There’s a great deal of the ‘theater that could’ spirit about “From the Earth to the Moon,” so much so that you’ll find yourself rooting for it all to work out in the end. A festive return to the days of “putting on a show” in an actual real person production on campus!
“From Earth to the Moon” Theater Arts Caltech, Pasadena By Cole Remmen and Grant Remmen Based on story by Jules Verne Directed by Bryan Brophy #MoonMusical Performances: April 21, 22, 23 @7:30 p.m., April 24 @2:30 p.m. Tickets: tacit.caltech.edu
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