Review Roundup: GALILEO: A ROCK MUSICAL World Premiere at Berkeley Rep

The production runs now through Sunday, June 23, 2024. 

By: May. 17, 2024
Review Roundup: GALILEO: A ROCK MUSICAL World Premiere at Berkeley Rep
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The world premiere of Galileo: A Rock Musical is now on stage Berkeley Rep now through Sunday, June 23, 2024. 

When maverick scientist Galileo Galilei makes celestial observations that challenge humanity’s understanding of its place in the universe, he’s summoned to Rome to defend his discoveries before the most powerful religious institution in the world, which is facing a rebellion of its own. Galileo: A Rock Musical is an explosive collision of science and faith, truth and power.

The cast features Raúl Esparza as Galileo Galilei’, Jeremy Kushnier as Cardinal Maffeo Barberini,’ Madalynn Mathews as Virginia,’ Christian Magby as Alessandro Tarantola,” Javier Muñoz as Cardinal Morosini,’ and Bradley Dean as Cardinal Grasso.’

Rounding out the rest of the cast are (in alphabetical order): Gabrielle Elisabeth, Adam Halpin, Michal Kolaczkowski, Claire Kwon, Nicole Kyoung-Mi Lambert, Michael J. Mainwaring, Alexander Mendoza, Brian Ray Norris, Chase Peacock, Noah Plomgren, David Rowen, DeMone Seraphin, Madeleine Spacapan, Erica Sweany, Zalah Brenae Vallien, and Adrian Villegas.

The creative team for Galileo includes Brian Usifer (Music Supervisor and Orchestrator), Roberto Sinha (Music Director), Rachel Hauck (Scenic Design), Anita Yavich (Costume Design), Kevin Adams (Lighting Design), John Shivers (Sound Design), Jason Thompson and Kaitlyn Pietras (Projections), Tom Watson (Wig, Hair, & Makeup), Ben Villegas Randle (Associate Director), T. Oliver Reid (Associate Choreographer), Jonathan Bauerfeld (Associate Music Director & Score Associate), Anna Grigo (Associate Scenic Design), Sarah Smith (Associate Costume Design), Vicki Bain (Associate Lighting Design), Kevin Kennedy (Associate Sound Design), Rick Steiger (Production Stage Manager), Amy Marsico (Stage Manager), Karen Evanouskas (Assistant Stage Manager), and Jim Carnahan, CSA and Jason Thinger, CSA (Casting).
Helmed by Tony Award winner Michael Mayer, Galileo: A Rock Musical is written by two-time Emmy winner Danny Strong and features an original rock score and lyrics by Michael Weiner and Zoe Sarnak, with choreography by David Neumann.

Let's see what the critics have to say!

Dennis Harvey, Variety: Otherwise, book and lyrics alike are often hamfisted, whether going for snippy quips or trying to make us feel emotional depths these cardboard characters can’t approach. The central relationships are off...Both Esparza and Mathews rise to the demanded vocal pyrotechnics. But their showstopping moments are in service to songs that feel like throwbacks to the MOR radio rock of forty years ago or more—artificially inflated, grandiose incitements to Bic-lighting. They’ve got some notably clumsy lyrical hooks, like the young lovers’ insistence that their hearts beat “Louder, Louder,” or the ensemble’s repeated chanting of the word “faith.” 

Lily Janiak, SF Chronicle: Partially redeeming the production, directed by Michael Mayer, is the cast. Esparza has so much vocal power that, in a beat of silence after he sings, an echo has its own beginning, middle and end. Kushnier’s pellucid facial expressions write a whole novel from his character’s point of view, and his unearthly falsetto makes you believe in a world where grown men could have the admiring, unironic friendship of little boys. Mathews’ Virginia, with a rock star’s singe in her timbre, seems to sculpt a unique tower of breath for each note. 

Steve Murray, BroadwayWorld: Galileo can use some editing (a song between Virginia and a novice in a convent scene is a dud) and there’s repetition in a few numbers. The story is not new (Berthold Brecht’s Life of Galileo), but a rock musical is the hip thing and given the timeliness of the debate between reality and ‘fake news,’ Galileo takes on added import.

Jay Barmann, SFist: Galileo could certainly be Broadway bound, and in the interim this bold, beautifully executed show should make waves across the Bay — it was still in previews when Berkeley Rep announced it had already been extended to June 23 due to popular demand. Like any show at this stage, it remains a work in progress, so bear that in mind.

Karen D'Souza, The Mercury News: While the staging is shot through with explosive moments in its world premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the tragedy of the 17th-century polymath never catches fire in this sluggish three-hour-long production. Part of the trouble is that Galileo is such an eccentric figure, a renegade genius written off as a failure in his own time, but the score here is thoroughly generic, the choreography spins its wheels and the book skims the surface of the characters. Only the stellar projections (by Jason H. Thompson and Kaitlyn Pietras) are suitably imaginative. Unlike Esparza’s dazzling performance, the music doesn’t seem to fit the man.

David John Chavez, KQED:  In the spellbinding yet problematic world premiere musical Galileo, which opened May 15 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, discoveries made in both science and religion complicate matters. Its storyline is greatly informed by the modern-day war on truth, loaded with a ceaselessly high-octane rock music score exploited mightily by the wicked talents of director Michael Mayer.

Emily S. Mendel, Berkeleyside: As a production, despite the glamour and glitter on stage, Galileo lacked musical and choreographic diversity, which made it seem more like an opera than a rock musical. The songs, with sophisticated lyrics and melodic tunes, seemed similar in tone. The modest dancing appeared more of an afterthought than an integral and artistic aspect of the evening.


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