nytheatre.com review by John Samuel Jordan
September 16, 2006
If you ever thought this world could use a superhero, then Emerald Man—The Rock Musical is definitely for you. Kim Vasquez/Gray Lady Entertainment, Inc. and NYMF are presenting this dark and touching rock/pop musical about dreams, loneliness, murder, and how to feel alive.
Based on Cervantes's classic Don Quixote and inspired by a true story, Emerald Man centers on 15-year-old Duncan, who escapes daily into the world of comic books to cope. His mother Linda, who has raised Duncan by herself (she never told Duncan's father of her pregnancy), now tries to do right by finding a father figure for the boy. She takes in a roughneck named Big Joe. Big Joe and Duncan do not get along, as is chillingly displayed in "You Are Not My Dad." When Duncan witnesses Big Joe killing another man, Big Joe notices and threatens Duncan. Duncan, preparing to run away, steals money from his mother for a ticket to Los Angeles, where he has been told his father lives.
Duncan is greeted in LA by shady types during the show-stopping "City of the Angels." Witnessing more filth in the world, he decides to become Emerald Man, ridder of all evils, choosing the name from the emerald high school class ring he wears on a chain around his neck, the only possession of his father's given to him by Linda. Duncan is so innocent and naïve. He will not be a coward. It is amusing and sad at the same time. It is brilliant.
Keeping along with the Don Quixote theme, Duncan soon meets his Dulcinea and Sancho Panza in the forms of Candy, a hopelessly lost young prostitute, and Jamal, a streetwise artist, respectively. Emerald Man then begins to foolishly fight anyone that messes with the world. Meanwhile, Big Joe (now dubbed Dark Rider by Emerald Man) learns of Duncan's whereabouts and is hot on his trail, vowing to kill him. Duncan also very easily finds his real father, Marty (my only real problem with the book).
Janet Cole Valdez deserves kudos for building such an incredible book of words and lyrics that made me laugh and really moved me. There is a thin line between super-reality and just plain silly, and Valdez thankfully never crosses it. It has been kept real.
The music by Marc Bosserman and Tom Valdez is awesome. It has just the right mix of pop and rock, matched perfectly with Valdez's lyrics, to make this musical stand up and get noticed.
Josh Prince is responsible for both the outstanding direction and superb choreography. During "Come Into Our World," the superheroes in Duncan's mind are mesmerizing, one small example of the effect Prince has had on this production.
Jessie Novotny gives an understated, standout performance as Candy. Dashaun Young brings a much needed coolness and humor to the stage with his Jamal. LaDonna Burns who plays Peachy, a homeless woman who befriends Duncan, has an electrifying voice. Kathleen McCann as Linda can belt, as is evident in her heart-wrenching rendition of "One Ounce of Normalcy." Christian Whelan is perfectly cast as the evil Big Joe. Ben Rauch grounds the action as Duncan, and shines mostly in his scenes with Marty, played with truthfulness and honesty by Stephen Graybill.
The set design by Donyale Werle is simple and unassuming, utilizing minimal, multi-purpose, moveable set pieces (just a few more things to be brilliantly choreographed by Prince). Both James Milkey's lighting design and Yoshi Lee's sound design enjoyably add an even darker texture to the mood of the piece.
The costume design by Lisa Zinni has obviously been very well thought-out and is executed onstage beautifully. However, even though the impromptu Emerald Man costume is suitable, the superhero costumes do not seem "super" enough for Duncan's imagination.
Even if you do not think this world needs a superhero, you should definitely see this show. Duncan is my new superhero.