CD Review: ERNEST SHACKLETON LOVES ME (Original Cast Recording)

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by Tony Frankel on March 8, 2018



I’m actually happy I didn’t see this musical live on stage. It makes for a wonderful original cast recording, but what seems like a giant heart on this CD, out recently from Broadway Records, seems like it would get awfully silly on stage (bookwriter Joe DiPietro can get like that). The premise: Kat, a single mom and video game composer — stressed trying to balance her baby daddy cover-band tour singer, newborn and failing career – decides to put herself on the dating market by explaining in a dating video what she does, utilizing live looping and electronic music (“Stop/Rewind/Play/Record,” both informative and fun).

She posts the video, and who should end up calling her – and then ending up in her apartment singing sea shanties – is a banjo-playing Sir Ernest Shackleton. Yes, that Shackleton, the valiant voyager who overcame incredible odds to save himself and his crew after their ship, the Endurance, was frozen in, and destroyed by, ice during a 1914 Antarctica expedition. So, he whisks her off to the icy continent where she learns lessons about courage and determination from his story.

Musically, the 16 tracks are a collection of resounding tunes that run the gamut from pop and power ballads to Music Hall and Broadway-style sea shanties – those 6/8 meter sailors’ songs sung in rhythm to their work. As Kat, Val Vigoda (who contributed the lyrics to Brendan Milburn’s music) is an extraordinarily wonderful musician, doing astronomical exertion on the electric violin (she’s one of the trio in the band GrooveLily); the keyboard accompaniment is by Ryan O’Connell, who co-orchestrated with Milburn. Wade McCollum truly amazes and entertains with his great character voices (Ponce de León’s “O Katerina” and Bruce the baby daddy’s “Phoenix, Arizona” are a few).

Especially engaging is McCollum’s rough-and-tumble, heroic Shackleton. That hero comes with a great deal of earnestness (the affectionate, soothing, anthemic “Eye of the Storm”) – almost too much – but it’s buffered by Kat’s interior monologues recounting his exploits (“Alright Men,” “The Morning the Newspaper Adverts Appeared”). Her voice is warm and strong throughout, whether offering a humorous song about what musicians and explorers have in common (“Money and Musicians”) or a soaring, fervent rock ballad about being “Burned Again.” Mostly, though, it’s McCollum’s Shackleton who melts the ice, flooding the recording with heartwarming optimism and jollity.

photos of the Off-Broadway production
by Jeff Carpenter

Ernest Shackleton Loves Me
Original Cast Recording
Broadway Records | 1 disc | 16 tracks | 46.09
released on February 9, 2018
available at Broadway Records, Amazon and iTunes
for more info, visit Ernest

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