Review Roundup: Critics Weigh In On Berkeley Rep's PARADISE SQUARE: AN AMERICAN MUSICAL
Paradise Square: An American Musical at Berkeley Rep opened this week. The world premiere is helmed by acclaimed director Moisés Kaufman, with choreography by the legendary Bill T. Jones and a book by Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas, and Larry Kirwan. Music by Jason Howland and Larry Kirwan, with lyrics by Nathan Tysen, and based on the songs of Stephen Foster.
It's 1863 and in a 20-block area of Manhattan known as the Five Points, Black and Irish Americans live side by side, work together, marry, and for a brief period realize racial harmony. However, the intensifying Civil War soon results in the first-ever Federal draft, leading to riots as whites are called to enlist while blacks are barred from serving. Will the hard-won bonds of friendship, community, and family in the Five Points prevail or be severed forever?
Calling upon a variety of musical and dance traditions including Irish step-dancing and African traditional forms (such as Juba dancing), as well as new ones created from their fusion (tap dance), Paradise Square subverts and reframes some of the most popular music of the 19th century while honoring and celebrating this unique neighborhood's diverse inhabitants, whose passionate, moving, and heartbreaking experiences burn in our imaginations today.
Let's see what the critics have to say!
Jean Schiffman, SF Examiner: "Paradise Square," the world-premiere musical at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, is so emotionally involving, so beautifully designed, directed (by Moisés Kaufman) and performed, that to suggest it's too much of a good thing feels like denial of the extent to which it's effective on so many levels. But with dozens of performers plus its musical ensemble, its multiple relationships, crowd scenes, Civil War setting, themes that resonate so powerfully today, the repurposed songs of Stephen Foster that comprise the score, Bill T. Jones' stunning choreography - it's overwhelming.
Emily S. Mendel, Berkeleyside: Paradise Square, an innovative, ambitious and multilayered world premiere musical about the companionable life of Irish immigrants and free blacks in the Five Points slum of New York in 1863, opened on Jan. 10 at the Berkeley Rep to an audience more enthusiastic than was this reviewer. An abundance of talent was evident both on and behind the stage, and the production itself is of the highest professional caliber, yet the musical seems to lack that ephemeral and mysterious magic quality that makes a show a lasting emotional and memorable experience.
Jeffrey Edalatpour, SF Weekly: In hindsight, it now looks inevitable that the influence of pap TV shows like American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance would seep into the production of a 21st-century musical like Paradise Square (at Berkeley Rep, through Feb. 24). Moisés Kaufman, the director, plants one singer center stage, has them belt out a melismatic solo, then ushers the next actor on without providing enough context to connect the story or the songs together. The enthusiastic audience earnestly claps for all of the vocal acrobatics but collectively the book (by Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas, and Larry Kirwan, with music by Kirwan and Jason Howland) and the lyrics (by Nathan Tysen) don't form a unified dramatic purpose. Because there are so many characters, each song only serves as an introduction. They're equivalent to Hamilton's "My Shot" but, unlike the fleshed out arc of his story, the spotlight shines on each character here only temporarily.
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