Towards the Moon, presented by The Infinity Repertory Theatre Company in a U.S. premiere, is currently at 59E59 Theaters. This is a light, engaging musical about a 20-something living in Scotland who is searching for happiness. Like many 20-somethings who dream big, he cannot recognize or appreciate the beauty and joy surrounding him and his love relationship, family and friends. After confronting highs and lows and creating a few milestones along the way, the hero, Bobby, (Liam Nelligan), gains his stride and the foundations of life and his loves are brought into proper focus for him.
The concept is a familiar one. The search for meaning which leads to death’s doorstep and beyond to success has been told in countless novels and plays. Real-life stories often touch upon the journey of youth to gain the wisdom of life’s secrets which must be experienced. This arc of progress is similar for McGregor’s Bobby, an artistic type who finds no fulfillment in soulless office jobs. He leaves the typical 9 to 5 work world where he has crashed and burned. When he seeks to fulfill his ambition to write, he lacks the discipline and motivation to forge on. His dreamy goals unrealized, he allows his love relationship to fail and in a downward spiral, he recedes into emotional and psychological collapse.
At a crossroads, Bobby experiences a life-changing event which energizes him toward writing success and a whirlwind leap to the commercial publishing heavens. His bank account is fat and flowing, but instead of his success bringing him contentment, he discovers his emotional life is still desolate. It is only after events occur to make him realize what he’s lost, that he is spurred on to find what will revitalize him. This realization brings him full circle and he returns home to begin the next page of his life wiser, appreciative and more grounded.
McGregor’s music and lyrics are inspiring and poignant; indeed they take a lackluster plot and add vitality to it with haunting and memorable melodies and the energy of powerful lyrics. The skillful actors (Lindsay Avellino, Elizabeth Pryce Davies, Ricky Romano, Elena Ruigomez, and Lindsay Wund) have strong, lovely voices and allow the lyrics to resonate and draw in the audience. Perez’s direction works when the actors are singing to one another in heartfelt emotion.
It is also excellent when his actors are engaged in solid tasks which help enliven and reinforce their credibility. The ensemble of actors are less believable when they are barking out to the audience, sometimes in a miscue of intended soliloquy. These sessions of “park and bark” fall flat and are wooden. Thankfully, there are not many of them.
An exception to the “park and bark” occurs when Liam Nelligan sings “Bobby’s Rage.” Nelligan’s Bobby is thwarted and impassioned by the turn of events in his life. Nelligan effectively calls upon internal emotion and externalizes it believably, though he is looking out at the audience. However, there are other instances when the singing/acting to the audience by various members of the ensemble is less believable. Because this weakness in the direction is infrequent, it stands out. When the music, apt direction and acting cohere, the numbers are memorable; the music fuels the the acting and the voices, and the emotions conveyed are logical and connect with the audience.
One issue that was not really confronted in the U.S. premiere and perhaps should have been was whether to have all of the cast adopt a Scottish accent, conveying the importance of place in the values and choices of the characters (only Bobby’s mother has an accent). There was little sense of the Scottish setting (for over half the play). Yet his Scottish identity is integral to who Bobby is, his values and the path he selects at the play’s conclusion. I kept wondering if, had the actors and Perez’s direction worked to create more of the ambiance of Scotland, Bobby’s journey and some of the song lyrics would have been more meaningful, the conclusion more logical and dynamic.
Towards the Moon is a play about spiritual and homely values, the mythic journey and the wisdom of experience which can happen regardless of setting. On the other hand, setting matters. In this play it helps to convey themes. Certain scenes would have been more congruent and solid if the director had conceptualized Scotland through all of the actors who perform the Scottish characters (Bobby’s friends, former girlfriend and employers) via accent/attitude. The director had no problem conceptualizing Bobby’s visit to the US..; the actors performed the American characters believably. The same vigor with which the director revealed the U.S. setting was lacking with regard to the Scottish setting. This was a failing because the difference between the cultures conveys one underlying theme in the play, which exposes U.S. commercialism and superficiality as vapid and ultimately inglorious in comparison with deeper values.
Nevertheless, the musical Towards the Moon is interesting and the music and lyrics convey the homely and spiritual themes beautifully.
The production is at 59E59 Theaters until December 1.