A “LOVE” Like No Other

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Wade McCollum and Valerie Vigoda in “Ernest Shackleton Loves Me”
Wade McCollum and Valerie Vigoda in “Ernest Shackleton Loves Me”

Every couple of seasons, George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick presents a new musical that’s of a certain ilk: energetic, with a small cast, and, regardless of any rough edges that may exist, reliably entertaining.

The difference with its current offering, “Ernest Shackleton Loves Me,” which runs through May 17, is that it is totally unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Essentially it’s a fantasy voyage that goes its own wacky way, making up the rules as it goes along. And, for the most part, getting by with it.

Combining time travel and dramatic (make that, comedic) license with history, it presents an unlikely interspatial romance between the always optimistic early 20th century Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton and a personally and professionally bruised single mother in today’s Brooklyn.
Librettist Joe DiPietro (“The Toxic Avenger”) creates a universe in which we accept anything that happens and go wherever we’re led without ever balking at the illogic of it. That isn’t as easy to pull off as it sounds, and even though there are relatively few spoken words in the blazingly quick 90 minutes, his structure is what keeps the show moving with assuredness to the varied and lively, if not memorable, score by Valerie Vigoda and Brendan Milburn.

Ms. Vigoda also adroitly plays the role of the beleaguered single mom who is easily swept up by the goofy grin and never-say-die spirit of Wade McCollum’s endearing Shackleton. The third presence on stage that commands attention is the projection screen behind them; the use of photos and video in this production may be the most imaginative and integrated you’ve ever seen.

It’s hard to recall a George Street musical that, at the very least, hasn’t been worth the drive to New Brunswick, and in many respects, “Ernest Shackleton Loves Me” ranks among the most worthy, as well as, hands down, the most original.

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