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Musical With Raul Esparza is Assertive but Awkward

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With science denialism and theocratic politics each on the rise, it’s an opportune second to revisit the lifetime of Galileo Galilei, whose discoveries in regards to the cosmos 4 centuries in the past had been thought of a risk to the authority of the Catholic Church. However there are in all probability higher methods to broach the topic than “Galileo: A Rock Musical,” an odd combination of earnestness, flash and snark made odder by a rating that trades in bombastic power-ballad sounds paying homage to Jefferson Starship, Styx and Jim Steinman. 

Michael Mayer’s world premiere manufacturing at Berkeley Rep (the place he additionally launched “American Idiot” fifteen years in the past) has its strengths, not least the vocal prowess of a forged led by Raul Esparza. Nonetheless, it’s onerous to think about a straightforward highway forward for a present whose theme is pretty rarefied by musical-theater requirements, but whose typically hokey, simplistic tenor is unlikely to generate the essential assist wanted to lure in additional mainstream audiences. 

Mark Wing-Davey staged a wonderful revival of Brecht’s “Life of Galileo” at this identical establishment 1 / 4 century in the past. However Danny Robust’s ebook is just not an adaptation of that or some other particular supply, developing with its personal variation on recognized historical past to assist a imaginative and prescient of the mathematician, inventor and astronomer as a fist-pumping Seventeenth-century insurgent yeller for progress. 

Launched at his desk exalting that he’ll “Map the Sky,” Esparza’s title determine is all stadium-act frontman swagger, cocky and preening. His relationship with daughter Virginia (Madalynn Mathews) is basically an intellectually sparring one, as he’s steeped her in his personal fields of experience. However it is a supply of some frustration, as a lady can not enter his professions, whereas her hopes of marriage to adoring neighbor Alessandro (Christian Magby) could founder on the scandalous rocks of her father’s controversial theories. The latter are denounced by main clergy, notably Cardinal Morosini (Javier Munoz) and Bishop Grasso (Bradley Dean), who think about any problem to Biblical knowledge an “attack on Scripture.” 

He does have an ally in Bishop Barbarini (Jeremy Kushnier), whose stand up the Vatican ladder additionally bodes nicely for his personal profession. But Galileo’s heedlessness continuously threatens that assist, first when he defies orders to show Copernicus (who realized the Earth revolved across the solar, fairly than vice versa), then in writing a dialogue between outdated and new views that ridicules church orthodoxy. 

Inventing a telescope that lets anybody see hitherto unknown, wondrous particulars on the moon and past (“Heaven’s Changing”), Galileo excites Europe’s creativeness (“Whispers”). However even that is thought to be heretical in some quarters: It’s feared that in giving the general public insights that contradict conventional church teachings, the scientist would possibly inadvertently profit Protestants, towards whom Catholics are waging battle within the north. 

As Barbarini places it upon turning into Pope, “Power decides truth, not the other way around.” He should finally denounce his personal beliefs in order that he (and Galileo and his daughter) would possibly survive, inspirational uplift supplied by a parting “The Truth Will Follow Us” with the ensemble now in trendy gown, and the generic Broadway sentiment that we should always “never stop dreaming.”

There are some enticing choral results in Michael Weiner and Zoe Sarnak’s rating, with a powerful voice forged ably supported by Robert Sinha’s eight pit musicians. Act Two brings extra range of musical method, together with a reasonably funky, vaudevillian “Two Sides,” and the pop-gospel “The Power and the Glory,” which makes probably the most use of David Neumann’s choreography in a night gentle on dance. The second half additionally will get extra mileage from Rachel Hauck’s two-level, LED-outlined set, standing in for columned halls of each academia and church — within the first, the higher part is given over solely to Jason H. Thompson and Kaitlyn Pietras’s projections. 

That duo’s stimulating array of spiritual, scientific and celestial imagery is, nevertheless, arguably the present’s finest ingredient, in addition to the one one which conveys the concepts at hand with out jokey or sentimental pandering. 

In any other case, ebook and lyrics alike are sometimes hamfisted, whether or not going for snippy quips or making an attempt to make us really feel emotional depths these cardboard characters can’t method. The central relationships are off: A stereotypically feisty, ahead-of-her-time Virginia swerves between urging her father to defend science and the other, their parent-child bond failing to persuade in consequence. When Barberini sings an acoustic ode (“By Your Light I See”) to his buddy’s mind-expanding affect, it performs like a closet love tune, one thing that ought to have been given clarifying emphasis or none in any respect. 

Each Esparza and Mathews rise to the demanded vocal pyrotechnics. However their showstopping moments are in service to songs that really feel like throwbacks to the MOR radio rock of forty years in the past or extra—artificially inflated, grandiose incitements to Bic-lighting. They’ve obtained some notably clumsy lyrical hooks, just like the younger lovers’ insistence that their hearts beat “Louder, Louder,” or the ensemble’s repeated chanting of the phrase “faith.” 

The conception of Galileo himself as Renaissance cock-rocker, endlessly happy with himself — he appears dressed for tomcatting in Anita Yavich’s costumes — would possibly’ve labored within the fingers of a performer and present extra humorously self-aware. However Esparza’s dedicated flip doesn’t lend that narcissism a lot saving irony. And regardless of scattered one-liners, “Galileo” at current feels all too honest in treating a celebrated historic standoff because the type of slick, shallow, glorified live performance that will make higher sense if carried out by the likes of Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler. 

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