Liberty: A Monumental New Musical*****
By: Paulanne Simmons
If you can’t get tickets or haven’t got the money for Hamilton, you couldn’t do better than to take the whole family to see Liberty, a modest but magnificent new musical that opens July 4 at 42West and tells the real story of the average American immigrant. Directed by Evan Pappas, and with book and lyrics by Dana Leslie Goldstein and music by Jon Goldstein, the 80-minute, family friendly show, subtitled A Monumental New Musical, recounts how the Statue of Liberty came to the United States and became the iconic symbol we all love.
Under the Goldstein’s gentle hand, however, Lady Liberty is turned into a young girl (Abigail Shapiro), sent by her adoring father, the French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (Ryan Duncan) to bring hope to the American people. But she ends up arriving at exactly the time when immigration has become a subject of great controversy, and she is at first treated as one more unwanted foreigner.
Many of the characters in Liberty are well-known individuals: Emma Lazarus (Emma Rosenthal), the Jewish poet who wrote “The New Colossus,” whose lines appear on a plaque in the statue’s pedestal; Joseph Pulitzer (Mark Aldrich) the Hungarian-American newspaperman who raised $100,000 for that pedestal by promising to print the name of each donor in his newspaper; Francis A. Walker (Brandon Andrus), Director of the Census Bureau & Commissioner for Indian Affairs, who argued for increasing restrictions on the newest wave of immigrants, based on concerns about their inferior intellectual capacity.
But the show most poignantly highlights the lives of the many different people who have made the the United States the powerful and purposeful nation it is today: Olga Moscowitz (Tina Stafford), the Jewish immigrant who sells kishke and knishes from her pushcart; Giovanni Ferro (Nick DeVito) the young Italian who wants to learn English so he can get a better job; Patrick McKay (Aldrich), an Irish immigrant who is a construction foreman for the Williamsburg Bridge; James Goodleaf (Duncan), a Mohawk ironworker who has come to New York City to work on the bridge; Samuel Ferguson (C. Mingo Long), an African American stonemason who also wants to work on the bridge.
Armed with nothing but her father’s letter of introduction and her own courage, Liberty arrives by steerage and meets all these people in New York harbor. She also meets Regina Schuyler (Stafford) a society widow (and descendant of that very famous immigrant whose story is being told in hip hip just a few blocks away) who teams up with Walker to incite the locals against immigration.
Walker sings “America for the Americans,” and Walker and Schuyler warble the supercilious “Charity Tango,” but Liberty wins over even the steely Regina when she sings, “This is who we are/And who we want to be/We are the face of liberty/The ever-changing face of liberty.”
There are many funny moments in Liberty: when McKay and Moscowitz compete for martyrdom in “We Had It Worse” or when Pulitzer keeps reminding Liberty that he can do anything because he owns The World. But at other times, Liberty can be extremely moving: when Liberty tells James she doesn’t want to return home and he responds that he has no home to return to, or when Samuel removes a pair of shackles from his tool belt and lays them at Liberty’s feet so she can crush them.
We all know what eventually happened to Lady Liberty. She stands proud and triumphant in our harbor. But at a time when the citizens of the United Kingdom have just voted to leave the European Union and our own Republican presidential candidate wants to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, Liberty is more than a breath of fresh air. It is the voice out of the whirlwind.
Liberty: A Monumental New Musical, at 42West, 514 West 42nd Street. For more information, visit LibertyTheMusical.com.
Photo: Russ Rowland