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BWW Review: Polar Opposites Explore Romance In ERNEST SHACKLETON LOVES ME

Kat, the woman who's at the center of the wildly fun and unpredictable new two-person musical comedy Ernest Shackleton Loves me, is not exactly in a good emotional place when the show begins.

Ernest Shackleton Loves Me
Wade McCollum and Valerie Vigoda
(Photo: Jeff Carpenter)

With the father of her baby shirking parental responsibilities to take a gig touring with a Journey cover band, Kat is taking the plunge to find a perfect mate by putting a profile on the website Cupid's Leftovers, "Your last stop for finding any hope of love."

But, as played by the energetic and charismatic Valerie Vigoda, Kat is really quite a catch.

Vigoda also wrote the clever, storytelling lyrics for the new Off-Broadway entry, with the eclectic mix of music composed by her GrooveLily colleague Brendan Milburn. Add a solidly quirky book by Joe DiPietro and a spirited production by director Lisa Peterson, and Ernest Shackleton Loves me is just as lovable as musicals come.

Kat is a Brooklyn-based composer specializing in techno sounds that embellish art exhibits and hipster gatherings, but she was just fired from her steady gig writing heroic music for a futuristic video game.

In an opening number unlike any other in musical theatre, Kat demonstrates with her recording equipment and electric violin her technique of looping and layering sound to create a one-woman orchestra; at the same time introducing us to her many-layered personality.

For reasons that only make sense in musical theatre, Kat's composition somehow lures the attention of long-ago Antarctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton.

In a 1914 trip to the frozen continent, Shackleton's ship, Endurance, was trapped in ice for ten months before being crushed. The crew spent the next six months camped on an ice floe before being rescued. Remarkably, not only did all the crew members survive, but so did still and film photography by Frank Hurley, documenting the entire adventure.

Ernest Shackleton Loves Me
Wade McCollum and Valerie Vigoda
(Photo: Jeff Carpenter)

That photography is prominently displayed on designer Alexander V. Nichols' set, as are live off-stage video images of Wade McCollum as he plays a cartoonishly heroic version of the British adventurer from a century ago.

When he does appear in the flesh in Kat's apartment, he enters, naturally, through the refrigerator.

Though they may seem Polar opposites at first, the two bond through their musical talent. It seems the real-life Shackleton never set out on a voyage without his banjo.

When Shackleton invites Kat to virtually join her as part of Endurance's death-defying crew, she comes to realize the noble heroism in herself. And when her babydaddy returns to Brooklyn to invite her to join him as he plays a long-term Las Vegas gig, Kat realizes she deserves a partner just as heroic.

The plot may be thin, but the enjoyable score is a terrific mix of pop, folk and techno. McCollum is adorably goofy as the earnest explorer, but its Vigoda's passionate vocals and musicianship that really make the evening soar.

This one will melt your heart.

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From This Author Michael Dale