Katie Brayben was on stage, playing a woman who said she felt like she had disappeared.
The emotion clearly resonated because from my seat in the stalls at the American Conservatory Theatre (ACT) in San Francisco, I could discern murmurs of recognition from those around me.
Brayben, who won an Olivier award for her portrait of Carole King in Beautiful, is playing Pearl, a housewife from Flatbush, New York, in a gem of a musical based on the 1999 film A Walk On The Moon.
Troubled couple: Katie Brayben and Jonah Platt as Pearl and Marty both give beautiful – but very different – performances
Brayben gives a phenomenally emotional performance as Pearl and Platt plays it beautifully nuanced as the betrayed husband
Pearl (played by Diane Lane in the film) is cornered in a Jewish resort up in the Catskill mountains with her two children and her mother-in-law.
Pregnant at 16, married at 17 to Marty, a TV repairman with scientific leanings, she feels trapped as the world spins forward to 1969, with man about to make an historic lunar landing and Woodstock about to kick off not far from where she’s spending her stifling summer.
Husbands remain in the city to work and visit at weekends. The only men seen during weekdays are salesmen, like the knish man, the dress man, or the blouse man.
Pearl ends up schtupping the dashing blouse man.
‘It’s messy and complicated and not so easy for some people to deal with,’ Brayben told me backstage in San Francisco.
Pregnant at 16, married at 17 to Marty, a TV repairman with scientific leanings, Pearl feels trapped as the world spins forward to 1969 (the couple embrace on the stage)
She said Pearl had seen ‘all these different people behaving in a completely different way from how she was told to behave. She sees hippies and “free” people and it’s a whirlwind for her’.
She thinks many members of the audience may question Pearl’s actions. ‘She’s a woman of her time, and the reason she does what she does is it’s just her wanting to walk on the moon, needing to experience something else.’
She added: ‘I feel we live in such a black-and-white world. It’s really nice to be doing a piece that’s about a grey area.’
Brayben gives a phenomenal performance as Pearl. Of course, she’s a commanding singer, and there were a good three or four numbers that she soared with.
Brayben is a commanding singer and there were a good three or four numbers that she soared with
But as an actress, too, she certainly doesn’t disappear (even though her character may feel that way). She’s front and centre in the show, which has a book and some lyrics by Pamela Gray (who wrote the screenplay for the film) and music and lyrics by transplanted Glaswegian Paul Scott Goodman, who has resided in New York for years.
Jonah Platt gives a beautifully nuanced performance as the betrayed husband (he has a wonderfully magnanimous moment in Act 2).
Zak Resnick is good as the blouse man. And Brigid O’Brien is a find as the daughter who dishes the Sixties onto her mother’s lap.
A Walk On The Moon is playing a short season at the ACT, but producers Stephen and Ruth Hendel hope to develop it further with the creative team — which includes choreographer Josh Prince, who worked with Brayben in London. The desire is to take it to Broadway, and beyond.
As an actress, too, Brayben certainly doesn’t disappear (even though her character may feel that way). She’s front and centre throughout the show
It’s a big leap from screen to stage. But the show doesn’t feel like a period piece — which is both good, and a little sad, in terms of how far women have, or haven’t, come.
As Sheryl Kaller, the show’s director, observed: ‘I think we still haven’t been told, as women, that we can be mothers and housewives and feel vital, too.
‘I think we have to celebrate the women who stay at home, and the women who go out to work, and the women who choose to have children.
‘Someone tells Pearl that she has no beliefs “because you’re just a housewife”. And we still judge women like that. Whereas the men who choose to stay at home and raise their children are celebrated.’
From fridge salesman to West End whizz
Theatre impresario Paul Elliott has sold fridges, acted a bit part opposite Jack Warner on Dixon Of Dock Green, worked on flop shows (and hit shows), made and lost fortunes. But he’s still here.
On Sunday, Paul will celebrate 60 years in the entertainment business — and also the publication of his new book: Keeping My Balls In The Air: The Random Memoirs Of A Theatre Producer.
They’re the tales of a man who has been working in the biz since 1957. A man who has met and known everyone; and fallen out with a fair few, too.
On Sunday, Paul Elliott will celebrate 60 years in the entertainment business — and also the publication of his new book
His tastes range from the Bard to panto. When I was starting out I used to see him at Richmond and Wimbledon theatres, in the days when he was known as Mr Panto and controlled a vast entertainment empire.
One of the most moving chapters in the book is when he realises this empire he’d built from scratch doesn’t belong to him any more. I raise this episode when we meet for lunch, but talking about it will spoil his chilled cucumber soup, so he swats it away.
Even so, he’s very aware of the up and down nature of the world of entertainment. ‘It’s like snakes and ladders,’ he said. After he lost the pantos, he was part of the team that made a mint rockin’ around the clock with the Buddy Holly musical Buddy. He also had a hand in making Stones In His Pockets a smash.
When I mentioned that a trade paper wrote that he’d retired, I see a flash of anger. ‘I’m in the 61st year of my career. I have stopped producing. But I am not retired,’ he said emphatically. Actually, I know this to be true because he and I first discussed meeting a year ago. And it took 12 months to sort lunch because he travels more than I do.
Much has changed since he started out. ‘You shook hands on a deal, and that was it,’ he said. ‘It’s corporations now.’
When he was a very young man (he was handsome in his day), and acting, he had fun with the ladies until West End star Evelyn ‘Boo’ Laye told him to leave the chorus girls alone, and play with the stars with top billing. ‘She was top of the bill,’ he said, laughing.
Watch out for…
Jodie Steele, Carrie Hope Fletcher, T’Shan Williams and Sophie Isaacs (pictured, from left), as well as Jamie Muscato, Jenny O’Leary, Dominic Andersen, Christopher Chung and Rebecca Lock, who are part of the cast of Heathers The Musical.
Adapted from the 1988 Winona Ryder film about deadly goings-on at a U.S. high school, it opened on Tuesday night at the Other Palace Theatre. It’s a blast, with an energetic company directed by Andy Fickman.
Pictured from left: Jodie Steele, Carrie Hope Fletcher, T’Shan Williams and Sophie Isaacs are part of the cast of Heathers The Musical
There’s a lot of chatter about it transferring but it would be ruined in too big a house. Plus, ticket prices must be affordable to the young audience it’s intended for – which doesn’t mean adults won’t like it.
Talking of possible transfers, the producers of the excellent, intimate revival of The Rink at Southwark Playhouse (which closes tomorrow) are exploring how to move it to another theatre. Again, size and ticket prices will unbalance it if this is not handled with care.