CD Review: GOLDSTEIN (Original Off-Broadway Cast)

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by Gregory Bernard on January 18, 2019



You have to glean the plot from the songs, because the synopsis for Charlie Schulman’s libretto for Goldstein, an Off-Broadway musical that closed in July, 2018, and now has an Original Cast Album on Broadway Records, is oddly extant from the booklet. Really? You mean I have to look up reviews for the synopsis? No, let’s take a listen first.

Now that most of his family have passed, our protagonist Louis has written a Pulitzer-winning book about them. The intro, “They Are Here,” is so earnest and bouncy that you expect him to crack a joke anytime. But he doesn’t. And as relatives come back from the dead, chiding him with the you’ve-got-it-all-wrong thing, the earnestness continues for 13 tracks, which at first seems a little odd because these East European immigrants have no sense of humor and rarely truly complain in Michael Roberts’ on-the-nose, elementary lyrics: On a boat on its way to Ellis Island, the mother Zelda sings, “Feel how the damp, dank deck is rocking / As we steady ourselves on the rail / Feel how my love-struck heart is knocking / Now you captured my heart, it can finally sail!”

So while much of the songs are tender and sweet, there’s a lot of schmaltz to swallow. Roberts’ music (gentle waltzes, up-tempo, slow rag — you know, Tin Pan Alley) is almost bygone golden-era Broadway pastiche orchestrated for a small band (in a divertingly good way), with bouncy melodies that want to be standards when they grow up. (The bounce and harmonies and optimism, however generic, reminds me in a small way of Sondheim’s Saturday Night — except that Saturday Night is in a different league completely).

I keep using “bounce” as an adjective because every up-tempo has that perky 4/4 tempo that just makes me want to put my arms akimbo. But the ballads are all missing teeth. When the family sings about selling practices at their store in “Honest As the Day Is Long,” it’s cute, but shows little about familial relationships. In fact, it doesn’t seem like there was enough at stake in Schulman’s book to inspire Roberts, although I must applaud the lyricist for using perfect and sometimes surprising rhymes.

There aren’t a lot of characters in this chamber piece. Modern-day memoirist Louis Goldstein (Zal Owen) has a living relative from the early years, his Aunt Sherri (Megan McGinnis), who is angry about his book. We’re soon back in 1919 and his grandmother, Zelda (Amie Bermowitz), is traveling to America by boat and falls in love with a fellow passenger (the aforementioned lyrics), but they are separated on land (“Up Ahead”). To get away from an abusive cousin, Zelda marries Louie (Jim Stanek), a socialist and a pacifist whose desertion lands him briefly in jail (“I’m Still Me”). The pair end up in New Jersey, and they have Sherri and Nathan (Aaron Galligan-Stierle), who ends up fighting in WWII, while Sherri is not allowed by her folks to practice medicine and be a doctor. After the war, Nathan marries Eleanor (Sarah Beth Pfeifer), and they have Louis and Miriam (Julie Benko). Along the way, there are plenty of upsets and challenges (including a gay coming-out that’s not in song — I had to look up the plot on-line), but nothing particularly dramatic, save Zelda’s discovery that a relative hid love letters from that man on the boat, who she never saw again after meeting him (“Beloved”). But bless this cast for giving it their all as if it were West Side Story. Everyone sounds great. And I can’t really object to the whole schmear, it’s just kind of emotionally uninvolving and bland. But bouncy.

original production photos by Jeremy Daniels

Original Off-Broadway Cast
Broadway Records
13 tracks | 46:32 | released January 25, 2019
available at Amazon and Broadway Records

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