- OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic
“A Wall Apart” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row is a stunning and powerful new rock musical about the three Ostermann brothers living in the German Democratic Republic during the Cold War and their struggles to overcome “the wall” that separates them from those whom they love, their paths to freedom, and their quest for meaning and purpose.
Mickey (Josh Tolle) and his girlfriend Suzanne Adler (Emily Behny) and Mikey’s middle brother Kurt (Jordan Bondurant) and his love interest Esther Wilson (Maddie Shea Baldwin) juggle their commitments to one another, their careers, and their families as the “The Antifaschistischer Schutzwall” is constructed separating them from achieving their hopes and dreams and blocking their attempts to find safety for themselves and those whom they love.
Overall, the characters are well developed and their conflicts are realistic and believable and drive an engaging plot with a satisfying dramatic arc. After marrying Suzanne, Mickey is determined to escape with her to the West. Kurt also wants to join Esther on the other side of the Wall. Older brother Hans (played with a stern exterior that veils a vulnerable spirit by Darren Ritchie) seems content to remain in East Berlin and commit himself to the political uncertainties in the GDR. The brother’s aunt Tante Ostermann (Leslie Becker) is the glue that holds the family together joining past and present in as seamless a fabric as she can weave with memories. It is difficult to disclose what happens to Mickey without a spoiler alert; however, his story and that of his son Mickey Jr. (Matt Rosell) are remarkable tales of courage and commitment that reverberate to the very present.
Josh Tolle brings a rugged and pleasing bravado to Mickey and skillfully exposes the character’s layers of unresolved anger, his fear, and his passion for his music. Mr. Tolle’s well-controlled tenor instrument is perfect for Graham Russell’s rock music and easily navigates the ranges needed for both the explosive rock numbers and the tender ballads he shares with Emily Behny. Ms. Behny’s Suzanne is authentic in her quest for both love and learning and her voice is controlled and her interpretation of the lyrics is impressive. The actors excel in their numbers together, including “Do You Mind If I Adore You,” and “We’re Having a Baby.” Ms. Behny’s vocals in “Angel” are pleasing throughout the important musical number.
Likewise, Jordan Bondurant and Maddie Shea Baldwin bring authenticity to their performances as Kurt and Esther and their numbers together and with the ensemble are passionate and engaging. “Meet Me in the Middle,” “I Want to Be in Love with You,” and “A Wall Apart” convince the audience of the commitments of these two endearing characters who push and pull at one another as they search for some middle ground in their developing relationship. It is important to mention the strong performances of Leslie Becker as Tante and Matt Rosell as Mickey Jr. Both have beautiful voices and they shine in their numbers “How Can I Help This Man” (Ms. Becker with Ms. Baldwin) and the soulful “Son of the Father” delivered with depth of meaning and an expansive vocal range by Mr. Rosell.
Graham Russell has composed a strong, driving rock score and written powerful lyrics for that music. Additionally, he has composed beautiful rock ballads that counterpoint the high energy of numbers like “Our City,” “Shake It,” and “A Wall Apart.” The Ballads – “Do You Mind If I Adore You,” “I Want to Be in Love with You,” and “Son of the Father” – exemplify Lord Graham Russell’s ability to capture the vicissitudes of the human condition with exemplary grace and consummate skill. Sam Goldstein’s and Craig Clyde’s book, though adequate, does not measure up to the music and lyrics. Jonathan Ivie conducts the five-member band and plays keyboards.
The Berliners, Guards, and Ensemble (Mili Diaz, Jamal Christopher Douglas, Amanda Downey, Lindsay Estelle Dunn, Sean Green, Jr., Emily Kristen Morris, and Vincent Ortega) sing and dance with evident commitment to the musical. Their vocals and movement add considerably to the success of this new musical.
David Goldstein’s scenic design is remarkably versatile allowing for quick and seamless scene changes and his lighting design provides both the electricity of the rock stage at the Bunker and the moody pools of light for the romantic trysts at the border wall. Dustin Cross’s costumes are period perfect and with Shannon Epstein’s sound design, complement the overall success of Keith Andrews’s staging and exemplary choreography.
“A Wall Apart” is a rich metaphor for all that is currently dividing people in America, Europe, and around the globe. Given the musical’s auspicious run at the New York Musical Festival, it is certain the creative teams will continue to rework the musical and bring it back to the New York Stage hopefully soon.
A WALL APART
The cast of “A Wall Apart” features Maddie Shea Baldwin, Leslie Becker, Emily Behny, Jordan Bondurant, Darren Ritchie, Matt Rosell, Josh Tolle, with Mili Diaz, Jamal Christopher Douglas, Amanda Downey, Lindsay Estelle Dunn, Sean Green, Jr., Emily Kristen Morris, and Vincent Ortega.
The production features Musical Direction and Arrangements by Jonathan Ivie; Scenic and Lighting Design by David Goldstein; Costume Design by Dustin Cross; Sound Design by Shannon Epstein; and Casting by McCorkle Casting LTD. Production photos courtesy of “A Wall Apart.”
The production will run through Sunday, July 30, 2017 at 9:00 p.m. at The Acorn Theater at Theatre Row, located at 410 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/wall-apart or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Photo: Graham Russell and the Company of “A Wall Apart.” Credit: Courtesy of “A Wall Apart.”