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Review: 1969: THE SECOND MAN at Next Door at NYTW

Review: 1969: THE SECOND MAN at Next Door at NYTW On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, and Buzz Aldrin followed behind him. On August 28, 2018, nearly 50 years later, Next Door at the New York Theatre Workshop brought Buzz's life from the shadows and into the (moon) light in 1969: The Second Man.

The Next Door at the New York Theatre Workshop cast of six musicians is lead by singer and guitarist Jacob Brandt (music, lyrics, concept) who plays Buzz Aldrin. Rounding out the company are Tony Aidan Vo (drums, guitar, kaosillator), Maya Sharpe (violin, and guitar) who plays Neil Armstrong, Angel Lin (guitar, mandolin, and percussion), Paris Ellsworth (violin) who plays Mike Collins, and Lizzie Hagstedt (bass guitar).

While impressive that each cast member plays their own instruments, this show is equally impressive in the casual manner in which the actors transition from personal story to historical fact as they switch back and forth from playing themselves as narrators telling the story from a far to playing Adrin, Armstrong, Collins, and the supplementary characters that must be included to round out a rich and complicated story that is much more than what is common knowledge.

This is the story of the competitive frenzy of American space exploration, the surprising trajectory of an astronaut who by all original plans should have been the first to walk on the moon, and a planet that treats its heroes as something less than human with little understanding of their struggles and laser focus on their triumphs.

Filled with heart-felt, lively, and, at times, unbelievably stirring folk music, Brandt has created a soundscape that captures both the turmoil faced by Aldrin as he spirals after the moon landing and the optimism and excitement of America's space race. It is curious that the type of music used in this new piece, that is more song-cycle than full-blown musical, is one that lends itself so well to the emotional storytelling that has been a part of our American culture almost as long as we have seen the moon and wondered what it would be like among the stars or if it was following us everywhere we went.

1969: THE SECOND MAN has been in development since 2014 when it was produced at Ars Nova's ANT Fest and is now in its fourth iteration at Next Door at NYTW. And it will only continue to strengthen as more readings and concerts are put on to workshop the material that is at times weighed down by the wallowing of Aldrin. The wallowing can be seen in one or two songs that hold the material in place to ruminate on the fact that Aldrin is forever second but that show little emotion other than repetitive self-pity.

This run at Next Door at NYTW will serve as a perfect avenue to discover what works and doesn't before this show goes farther--which audiences can only hope it does-- because even with the few songs that needed work, the murmurings of theatre-goers wishing for a cast album were heard loud and clear when the cheers ceased after the casts' bows.

1969: The Second Man is 80 minutes with no intermission and runs until September 8th at Next Door at The New York Theatre Workshop. Tickets can be purchased on the NYTW website, in person at the box office, or by calling 212-460-5475.

From This Author - Sarah Fitts