Monday, June 18, 2018

ACT premieres 'A Walk on the Moon'

Guests at the Catskills bungalow colony watch as Neil Armstrong walks on the moon. 

American Conservatory Theater is encapsulating a major turning point in U.S. history with its world premiere of “A Walk on the Moon.”

This musical is set during the summer of 1969. That’s when man first walked on the moon, Woodstock signaled a cultural sea change, Vietnam War resistance was intensifying and feminism was rising.

All of these events affect a 30-something Jewish woman and her family as they spend the summer with other families at a bungalow colony in New York’s Catskill Mountains.

On weekends, Pearl (Katie Brayben); her rebellious teenage daughter, Alison (Brigid O’Brien); her 8-year-old son, Danny (Elijah Cooper); her mother-in-law, Lillian (Kerry O’Malley); and the other women are joined by their menfolk, including Pearl’s husband, Marty, (Jonah Platt), a TV repairman.

Pearl (Katie Brayben) meets Walker (Zak Resnick), the Blouse Man.
Pearl’s world turns upside-down when she meets the handsome Blouse Man, Walker (Zak Resnick), a hippie who’s one of the traveling vendors who visit the colony with their wares.

The attraction between him and Pearl is almost immediate, leading to an affair.

Ross (Nick Sacks) plays and sings for Alison (Brigid O'Brien).
In the meantime, Alison meets the sweet, guitar-playing Ross (Nick Sacks) and soon has her first boyfriend.

Separately, the two couples sneak off to the concerts at Woodstock, precipitating a family crisis.

The book for this musical is by Pamela Gray, who also wrote the book for a film of the same name.

The music and lyrics by Paul Scott Goodman, with additional lyrics by Gray, capture the ’60s rock sound. For example, “World Without Men,” sung by Pearl, Lillian and three other wives, evokes girl groups. “Hey Mr. President,” sung by Ross, brings to mind folk music by the likes of Bob Dylan.

Besides the psychedelic experience at Woodstock, a central event is the moon walk by Neil Armstrong on July 21, 1969. Like others around the world, everyone at the colony celebrates while glued to the communal TV set.

Scenic designer Donyale Werle has captured the ambiance of the woodsy setting. She’s aided by Tal Yarden’s projections of news footage as well as a changing sky.

Costumes by Linda Cho, lighting by Robert Wierzel, sound by Leon Rothenberg and choreography by Josh Prince are effective.

The production is skillfully directed by Sheryl Kaller, who elicits outstanding performances from the entire cast. The singing is outstanding, too, aided by music director Greg Kenna and vocal designer Annmarie Milazzo.

Although some may find the show schmaltzy, it’s still thoroughly enjoyable. And its creators undoubtedly will tweak it before it goes to other stages.

Running and two and a half hours with one intermission, “A Walk on the Moon” will continue through July 1 at ACT’s Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco.

For tickets and information, call (415) 749-2228 or visit

Photos by Alessandra Mello