The cast of ‘Goldstein.’ (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)
By Ryan Leeds
Where there is family, there is drama. Most of the time, the stage versions are the stuff of theater, combining comedy and tragedy, truth and lies, disappointment and hope, and other elements which reflect the human experience.
Goldstein, billed as “a new musical about family”, is not nearly as complex as it would like to be. The innocuous, 90-minute tuner has some great moments but tends to suffer frequently from unrealistic dialogue and elementary lyrics from book writer Charlie Schulman and composer/lyricist Michael Roberts.
Spanning three generations, it tells the story of an immigrant Jewish family who left their native land in 1918 to start a fresh life in Manhattan.
Louis (Zal Owen) narrates the tale of his grandmother Zelda (Amie Bermowitz), who—on her journey across the ocean—“fell in love with the most handsome man she had ever met.” The two discuss their futures and sing about the house full of ten children they’ll have. When Zelda arrives, however, she never again hears from the man on the boat. Later, we learn why.
We also find out that Louis’ mother, Sherri (Megan McGinnis) wanted to be a doctor, but was discouraged by her father, Louie (Jim Stanek). “If you spent even half as much time trying to find a husband as you do with those books you would be out of the house by now,” he says. When Sherri’s brother, Nathan (Aaron Galligan Stierle) announces that he’s going to medical school, the unfulfilled sibling laments her position with a song of inequality:
Boys Want, Boys Get/Girls Sit Looking/Boys Have Commerce/Girls Have Cooking/They get the office chair/We get the ma and pa/We get the coupons cut/They get America.
Gender inequity was just as much an albatross in the 1940s as it is today, but with such simplistic expression, the message is diluted.
More secrets are unraveled as the years pass. Now 1981, Louis stereotypically announces to his family that he “wants to be a writer… play music, make art, and travel the world.” And guess what? He’s also gay.
When his sister, Miriam (Julie Benko) gets married, the two sing about their conflicting ideas over the people who raised them in “Have You Met My Parents?”
“Have you met my parents? Have they made mistakes? Well, yes, I suppose. I guess that them’s the breaks.”
“Have you met my parents? Well, they’re really not all that. They don’t know who I am They don’t know where I’m at. Do they ruin my life? I swear to God they do/The doctor and his wife/ashamed of you know who.
Now fully grown, Louis has become a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who has captured his family’s legacy in his tell-all memoir, Goldstein. One just wishes for more meaningful secrets.
What Goldstein does well is question the meaning of legacy: Who tells our stories when we’ve passed and just how accurate are they? Even with the best intentions and careful research, facts are bound to become misconstrued. Entire lives are captured and understood by descendants without context.
Roberts knows his way around a catchy melody and his tunes lean toward traditional Broadway fare. With such a talented cast he could benefit from adding a few show-stopping numbers that really bring the house down. The closest he comes to that is “Visiting Your Mother”—a humorous song that Louis’ mother, Eleanor (Sarah Beth Pfeifer) sings about her weekly trips to Jersey to visit her in-law. Pfeifer clearly has the pipes and it would be a treat to hear them on full display.
Goldstein will no doubt be enjoyed by many. For theatergoers used to more nuanced storytelling, however, its legacy will likely be short-lived.
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Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him Twitter @Ry_Runner, Facebook, or Instagram.