The Public Theater bills itself as the “only theater in New York that produces Shakespeare and the classics, musicals, contemporary and experimental pieces in equal measure.” As such, the theater takes more risks than more commercial theatres and this is readily apparent in the world premiere of The Fortress of Solitude, a new musical written by Itamar Moses, with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, that bends reality and fantasy to tell a unconventional coming of age story of two boys growing up in Brooklyn in the late 1970s-and what happens after those boys are all grown up.
The Fortress of Solitude revolves around Dylan Ebdus (Adam Chanler-Berat), a boy whose parents move him into Gowanus, Brooklyn at a young age, because his mother Rachel (Kristen Sieh) feels that Brooklyn is where things were going to happen. At first, Dylan feels ostracized by being one of the only white boys on the block, he quickly develops a strong friendship with his neighbor, Mingus Rube (Kyle Beltran) after Rachel suddenly leaves her husband and son with no intention of coming back, unbeknownst to Dylan. Mingus’s father Barrett Rude Junior (Kevin Mambo) used to be a successful R&B singer, but now only sings back-up. Dylan and Mingus are close friends, playing and putting Mingus’s graffiti “tag” everywhere they can, until life and tragedy drive them apart.
The performances in general are top notch. Adam Chanler-Berat deftly leads the fairly large cast with his normal adorkable charm and flawless vocals. He nimbly ages Dylan from a young boy to a young man with subtlety, and showing all the emotional highs and lows skillfully. Kyle Beltran also shows an amazing journey from awkward child to a beaten-down young adult in a masterful way, reminiscent at times of Donald Glover in Community. The most vocally impressive was Kevin Mambo as Junior-his voice made my hair stand up, and hit amazing heights every time he sang a note, particular when he first shows off those tones in “Superman.” The ensemble is wonderful too, stepping in and out of multiple roles and vocal styles with ease. Particular praise goes to the Greek chorus, the Subtle Distinctions (Britton Smith, Akron Watson, and Juson Williams). The only slight misstep in the story was the characters of Dylan’s parents (Sieh & Ken Barnett), neither of who were really distinctive in the narrative, so the audience doesn’t really seem to care about them. Thematically it makes sense to have Rachel stick around in Dylan’s subconscious, particularly in a musical, but at times she seemed unnecessary and boring.
The music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, most know for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson are both contemporary and era appropriate mixes of emotion and passion. The music really drives the story on, as good musical theatre should do. No song particularly stands out, particularly since many blend together, making it hard to figure out where one ends and another began, but none are clunkers either. One particular lyric in “The One I Remember” sums up the music with the ine “Everyone’s singing a different song / But if they all sing together / it can’t be wrong.” And the mix of songs really does work well together, weaving in and out of Itmar Moses’s book, guided by the smooth and careful direction of Daniel Aukin.
Officially opening on October 22, The Fortress of Solitude is only running at the Public Theatre until November 2, so get your tickets now to see this fierce and awesome new musical.
Review By: Chrissy Cody
Photos By: Joan Marcus