Review: GALILEO At Berkeley Repertory Theatre

A collection of Broadway heavyweights collaborated on this visually stunning, intellectually stimulating production.

By: May. 16, 2024
Review: GALILEO At Berkeley Repertory Theatre
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Men in power, desperately clinging to control, influence and concentrate wealth by denying science and social change- shocking! Couldn’t happen nowadays, right? In its world premiere at Berkeley Rep, Galileo shines a light on perhaps the most important challenge to the prevailing thought when Galileo Galilei dared to advanced his heliocentric theory and challenge the Catholic Church’s authority. A collection of Broadway heavyweights collaborated on this visually stunning, intellectually stimulating production.

Review: GALILEO At Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Jeremy Kushnier (Bishop Maffeo Barberini) and Raúl Esparza (Galileo Galilei) 

Two-time Emmy winner Danny Strong (The Butler, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay) wrote the book, Michael Mayer (Swept Away, American Idiot) directs and Michael Weiner (First Date) and Zoe Sarnak (The Lonely Few, a Crossing) wrote the rock influenced score. Galileo is played by Broadway and television superstar Raùl Esparza (Company, Cabaret, Evita, The Normal Heart) who commands the stage and grounds the production.

Review: GALILEO At Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Madalynn Mathews (Virginia Galilei) and Raúl Esparza (Galileo Galilei)

Galileo, a mathematician, and inventor, writes a treatise advocating the Copernican-based theory that the Earth revolves around the sun. Songs reflect the audacity of this new thinking as they sing of ‘letting go of all we know,’ and ‘the day is coming soon.’ This is the time of 1615 Roman Inquisition and any challenge to the prevailing system was considered heretical. This dichotomy of thought is the main theme of them play with Galileo and his daughter Virginia (Madalynn Matthews) confronting the Catholic Church.

Review: GALILEO At Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Raúl Esparza (Galileo Galilei, center) and the cast of Galileo: A Rock Musical, making its world premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre

We know the battle lines are drawn as truth and science versus blind faith and resistance to change. Both sides are presented with the expected and unfortunate result of the banishment of Galileo and his writings. Jeremy Kushner had a juicy role as Galileo’s supporter Bishop Maffeo Barberini who would become Pope Urban VIII. Their friendship is tested and destroyed over the pope’s feeling of betrayal in Galileo’s treatise. You don’t mock the hand that feeds you and the Church could not allow a challenge to its doctrine’s fearing a loss of control over their flock. Pope Urban tells Galileo that “power decides truth, not the other way around.”

Galileo is treated like a rock star here, pompous, and intellectually arrogant. He opposes those ‘dedicated to ignorance’ and suffers no fools even those he himself is a religious man. It begs the question of whether religion and science are compatible. Galileo feels he’s revealing divine truth in expanding their concept of the universe.

Review: GALILEO At Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Raúl Esparza (Galileo Galilei) and the cast of Galileo: A Rock Musical

The score is expository to the book with a soft rock edge. Some of the lyrics blur when multiple characters oversing each other. The visuals are strong with Rachel Hauck’s set design, Kevin Adams lighting and Jason H. Thompson and Kaitlyn Pietras’ beautiful planetarium projections. Anita Vavich’s costumes are stunningly regal and religious vestments.

 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.

Galileo continues through June 23rd. Tickets available at www.berkeleyrep.org or by calling 510-647-2949.

Galileo: A Rock Musical

Book by Danny Strong

Music and Lyrics by Michael Weiner & Zoe Sarnak

Directed by Michael Mayer

Berkeley Rep

Photo credit: Kevin Berne




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