Skylight’s ‘Ernest Shackleton’ is a love story through the ages
In terms of unlikely stories, Skylight Music Theatre’s Ernest Shackleton loves me take the cake. In fact, it takes the whole bakery. But if one can suspend disbelief far enough to follow the course of this fantastical love story, Ernest Shackleton will work its magic on you.
Skylight’s opening weekend has been postponed (due to COVID outbreaks) to January 21. The show continues through January 30 at the Cabot Theater.
This wonderful musical, which won a prestigious Off-Broadway award a few years ago, has a lot to offer audiences of all ages. Young theatergoers will identify with Kat (superbly played by Janice Martin), a single mother and freelance songwriter who is lonely and shivering in her freezing Brooklyn apartment. She also runs on pure adrenaline, having been awake for 36 hours while caring for her infant son.
Angry and bitter at her whacky boyfriend, a musician who abruptly left the nest to go on tour with a Journey cover band, she records a hilarious video profile for an online dating site called “Cupid’s Leftovers.” Incredibly, this matchmaking site connects her with a variety of suitors from the past, including intrepid British explorer Ernest Shackleton (played by famed Milwaukee actor Matt Daniels).
Shackleton’s journey succeeds despite the odds
Historians remember Shackleton for his historic voyages to Antarctica. In 1914 Shackleton boarded a large boat with 22 men. Eventually, the boat gets stuck in the ice, leaving the men stranded. The explorers gather their belongings and set off on foot into the arctic wilderness to seek refuge. The fact that all sailors survived the three-year ordeal remains a remarkable feat.
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Most of the 75-minute musical (played without intermission) is devoted to the arduous journey – over ice, mountains and through rough seas – that Shackleton and his men endure.
Somehow Shackleton’s video connects with Kat during the early stages of her journey. He is enchanted by her video and her crew (offstage) woos her with a sea shanty. Once Kat recovers from her confusion over this strange turn of events, she picks up her electric violin and accompanies them. As this happens, real photographs and vintage film footage show large crowds (in Victorian-era clothing) waving to Shackleton at the docks. Projections (and an incredible light show by Jason Fassl) bring the audience aboard the ship as it heads towards its demise. Fassl also designed the incredible light show seen in one of Skylight’s recent productions, Sunday in the park with George.
When it opened in New York, Ernest Shackleton received critical acclaim for its fantastic storytelling, its mix of imaginative sets and lighting designs, and its score, which mixes pop, folk and techno. The book was written by Joe DiPietro, with lyrics by Val Vigoda and music by Brendan Milburn.
Skylight Director and Technical Designers
The Skylight production is directed by Jill Anna Ponasik, with musical direction by Eric Svejcar. Patrick W. Lord is contributing design to the screening, with set design by Scott Davis, costumes by Karin Kopischke and sound design by Kelsea Sexton. All these elements combine perfectly to evoke this journey from another world.
But the heart of this two-player game lies in its cast. The multi-talented Janice Martin looks a bit like a young Debbie Harry and sounds like an accomplished musician, which she is. Wisconsin-born Martin won a fiddle competition at age 15; the prize was his performance with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. In Ernest Shackleton, she plays his character as softly as his violin. While Kat seems discouraged in the opening scenes, she learns to trust herself and her value in this story of female empowerment.
All male roles in Ernest Shackleton are played by Matt Daniels of Milwaukee. His on-stage repertoire ranges from Kat’s boyfriend Bruce (wearing a flannel shirt, jeans and a knit cap) to dashing explorer Ernest Shackleton (wearing early-century safari-colored clothing). XXth century). Daniels plays Shackleton with a dramatic flourish and a conniving wink that gets the audience in on the joke. Her voice adds richness to sea shanties and other songs that sound more like traditional show tunes. The two characters seem to share a real chemistry that makes audiences root for their impossible connection.
Skylight is to be commended for offering a high-end (and Midwest’s first) version of Ernest Shackleton. In these trying pandemic times, this musical reminds us of the power of optimism, endurance and love.
If you don’t have any resolutions for 2022, here’s one: Grab a ticket for Ernest Shackleton loves me. As the saying goes, you’ll be glad you did.
Ernest Shackleton loves me continues through January 30 at the Cabot Theater at the Broadway Theater Center, 158 N. Broadway. Some adult language makes this show suitable for viewers over 12 years old. Please note that clients must present proof of Covid-19 vaccination or a recent and negative Covid-19 test. Masks are mandatory. For tickets, click skylightmusictheatre.org or call 414-291-7800