Book and Lyrics by Joanne Syndey Lessner; Music and Lyrics by Joshua Rosenblum
Directed by Cara Reichel
Produced by Prospect Theater Company
Off Broadway, Musical
Runs through 12.14.19
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street
by Ken Kaissar on 11.22.19
Zal Owen and Brennan Caldwell in Einstein's Dream. Photo by Richard Termine.
BOTTOM LINE: A delightful musical frolic through the mind of Albert Einstein.
Most people could probably tell you that Albert Einstein is best known for the Theory of Relativity. They might even be able to cite the equation e=mc2, but I’m guessing very few could explain either. This is perhaps the most interesting observation in Joanne Sydney Lessner and Joshua Rosenblum’s new musical about the famous physicist. In a dream, Einstein (Zal Owen) is informed by his imaginary muse Josette (Alexandra Silber) that “everyone in the future will know who you are, but almost nobody will understand your ideas.” She explains that he is “destined for equal parts fame and incomprehension.” Josette’s prophecy is spot on. Whether or not you understand Einstein’s theories, Prospect Theater Company’s production will make you feel as though you do, at least long enough to enjoy a toe-tapping number called “The Relativity Rag.”
The musical version of Einstein's Dreams (based on Alan Lightman's book with the same name) introduces us to the young genius in his 20s working as a patent clerk in Berne, Switzerland. His job is to review patent applications for viability. Instead of pointing out the deficiency in Rasmussen’s bottle centrifuge, Einstein solves it in an hour. But the bulk of his office hours are devoted to figuring out electromagnetism and dreaming about relativity. Every time his friend and coworker Besso (Brennan Caldwell) enters the office, he finds Einstein passed out on his desk over an open notebook. The bulk of the show takes place in Einstein’s imagination as he chases and flirts with the beautiful Josette, who turns out to be a personification of his elusive theory.
Cara Reichel’s production is first rate. The centerpiece of Isabel Mengyuan Le’s set is a circular flat suspended in the air, which provides the perfect platform for projection designer David Bengali to play with rich symbolism, including the central image of a clock. Sidney Shannon’s brilliant costume design infuses the Einstein we’re used to seeing—him of the black and white photographs—with vibrant color. Herrick Goldman’s lighting design is ambitious, complex, and visually stunning.
The cast is equally sensational. Owen does an incredible job humanizing the larger-than-life physicist. He gives us a portrait of a humble young man who has yet to realize his achievements, and yet you can see the icon that Einstein was destined to become lying dormant in Owen’s face. The entire nine-piece ensemble brings great energy and passion to the production, playing Einstein’s coworkers in the literal scenes and doubling as a Greek chorus in his dreams.
Unfortunately, as can happen with new musicals, the show’s potential, and its wonderful score, is hindered by a book that lacks some key structural elements to drive the story forward. The show presents an Einstein lyrically meandering towards his discoveries rather than vigorously pursuing them; as a result, the plot lacks urgency. The musical numbers are clever explorations and meditations on Einstein’s ideas but do little to propel the action. As a result, the show feels less like a complete story and more like an Einstein-themed musical revue.
In lieu of a compelling narrative, the show physicalizes one of the most brilliant psyches in human history, and it’s a delightful place to frolic for 95 minutes. Lessner and Rosenblum’s musical numbers are quirky and beautiful, my favorite being a quiet ballad about fathers and sons entitled “I Never Told Him I Loved Him.”
Ultimately, Einstein’s Dreams feels a few revisions away from realizing its full potential. If the story were focused with a sense of urgency, there’s no telling how much energy this clever new musical might generate.
(Einstein's Dreams plays at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, through December 14, 2019. The running time is 95 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7; Saturdays at 2 and 7; and Sundays at 2. No performances Wed 11/27 and Thu 11/28; added performances Tue 11/26 at 2 and Sun 12/14 at 7. Tickets are $55 - $70 and are available at 59e59.org or by calling 646-892-7999.)
Einstein's Dreams is by Joanne Sydney Lessner (Book and Lyrics) and Joshua Rosenblum (Music and Lyrics), based on a book by Alan Lightman. Directed by Cara Reichel. Movement and Associate Director is Dax Valdes. Set Design by Isabel Mengyuan Le. Costume Design by Sidney Shannon. Lighting Design by Herrick Goldman. Sound Design by Kevin Heard. Projection Design by David Bengali. Orchestrations by Joshua Rosenblum & Tim Peierls. Stage Manager is Elizabeth Ann Goodman.
The cast is Zal Owen, Alexandra Silber, Talia Cosentino, Stacia Fernandez, Lisa Helmi Johanson, Michael McCoy, Tess Primack, Vishal Vaidya, and Brennan Caldwell.