The biggest hit on Broadway is a musical about a legendary New York City innovator and force of nature. Why not another? In the wake of Hamilton‘s dizzying success, Peter Galperin presented his BLDZR, a musical about master builder and power broker Robert Moses.
Still very much a work in progress, it just finished a three-night run at the Triad Theater in New York City, with an upcoming performance at the Cutting Room Nov. 20 at 2 PM. Filled with catchy folk-rock songs with a little bit of funk, it shows a lot of promise.
Robert Moses’s thumbprint is all over New York City. In his long career as head of the Parks Department and later the nearly all-powerful Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, he built most of the highways that thread through the city, called many of its bridges, parks, and beaches into being, engineered both of Gotham’s World’s Fairs – the list goes on and on.
Distilling Moses’s incredibly long and busy career into an evening naturally requires some tough choices. I’m not sure all of BLDZR‘s are for the best. Certainly the Power Broker’s conflicts with the equally legendary preservationist and author Jane Jacobs, which resulted in some of his greatest defeats, are a great source of drama; Jacobs has a significant role in the second half of the musical.
Nelson Rockefeller, wealthy businessman and later governor, and a major ally of Moses’s for quite some time, is the show’s second lead male role, played with bubbling craft and talent by Patrick N. Brady in the shoestring production’s standout performance.
Absent, though, is Fiorello LaGuardia, who was extremely important during the first part of Moses’s career and a personality so colorful it seems odd he’s nowhere to be found aside from one early mention. (Of course LaGuardia already has his own musical.)
The absence of Moses’s wife is no great loss; although she did advise him, there wasn’t much interesting about their long, steady marriage. But giving him a fictional longtime secretary/mistress seems out of character for Moses, though Christina Clare does a nice job in the role. The decision by Galperin and co-book-writer Daniel Scot Kadin to cook up that storyline, which as far as I can tell is completely fictional, points up one problem with Moses as the subject of a drama, musical or otherwise: His personal life had very little drama.
Narrative choices aside, the main thing BLDZR needs is a much more substantial book. Meaty scenes linking and setting up the songs could show character development. The show elides over Moses’s early career as an idealistic reformer; his evolution from that into a power-hungry mogul could provide a dramatist with captivating material.
As Moses’s power grew he became more and more obsessed with retaining as much of it as possible. He had no interest in personal riches; power itself was his lucre. That too is a personal factor that makes him unique, something the show can explore much more.
There’s an effective closing scene where an elderly Moses, having been finally forced out of power, sits by the beach listening to traffic reports on the radio and griping that if only he’d been allowed to complete his master plan, traffic would flow free. It draws raucous laughter, of course, from the NYC audience. If that scene’s sensitivity and cleverness is applied to the whole of a greatly expanded book in a future iteration, the show will leap to another level, and traffic will flow to its door.
Meanwhile what we have is a skeletal romp, full of good songs, and winning as far as it goes. David Driver captures the indefatigable developer’s tousled look and ruthless way, though Brady’s fully rounded out turn as Rockefeller is the most memorable performance. Jecko displays a versatile, well-developed singing voice as Jacobs, and Nick Auer is strong in a couple of supporting roles.
Consequential as he was, Robert Moses doesn’t have Alexander Hamilton’s national renown. Nevertheless, I can imagine a good marketing campaign making a hit out of a future, fleshed-out production of BLDZR. See the BLDZR website for updates or the Cutting Room website for information about the upcoming Nov. 20 performance.