Music by The Lobbyists; Book by Seth Moore
Directed by Liz Carlson
Produced by Naked Angels
Off Broadway, New Musical
Extended through 7.26.15
South Street Seaport Museum, 213 Water Street
by Molly Marinik on 7.5.15
Alex Grubbs and the cast of SeaWife. Photo by Caitlin McNaney.
BOTTOM LINE: A haunting fable of love and loss, told through beautiful music performed by the cast.
Poor Percy, a harpooner with a life full of hardship. Orphaned as a child, Percy meets his love as a young adult only to lose her at sea. As he grows older -- and a little bitter -- his harpooning abilities suffer and his calling as a whaler is in question. Such is life in the New York Harbor.
SeaWife is a poetic imagining of a whaler's journey. Staged at the South Street Seaport Museum, the show maintains hints of nostalgia for life at the docks. Director Liz Carlson does neat work weaving the story through Jason Sherwood's nautical set, minimal with just the right atmospheric touches. The result is an immensely clever conjuring of this dark and haunting story, that wisely allows the music to take center stage. Although there are many effective storytelling elements at play, the music is the highlight of the evening.
The band The Lobbyists (Tommy Crawford, Eloise Eonnet, Alex Grubbs, Will Turner, Tony Vo, and Douglas Waterbury-Tieman) have created the score, and they also serve as the performers, aided by Raymond Sicam III on cello. Heavy on strings and aching melodies, this able cast of seven portrays all of the characters. We see Percy's life from childhood through adulthood and the trials and tribulations that come his way. Very young Percy is cleverly represented as a wide-eyed puppet, beautifully designed by James Ortiz.
Like any good old-timey mariner story, SeaWife offers scalawags singing upbeat drinking songs along with odes to the volatile sea, plenty of opportunity for rum-sloshing fun and authentic emotional expression. The songs feel timeless in an old-world way, and while the musicality is appropriately theatrical, the show feels more like a concert than a traditional musical. The Lobbyists sound a lot like Mumford and Sons; it's Brooklyn meets Moby Dick. Many of the songs are stand-alone great. "Glory" is a gorgeous acoustic anthem hitting that instantly hummable sweet spot. Luckily, cast recordings are for sale.
SeaWife is staged in a wide and narrow playing space with some columns in the middle. Because the space is rather small, the three-sided audience arrangement is very close to the stage and an intimacy between performer and audience is achieved. Normally I love being that close to the action, but there is so much technical majesty in the production that I wished I had a bit more distance. Because the show is dense on the poetry (Seth Moore's script almost sings on its own) I know I missed some things. But then again, I was happy to just sit back and—in true nautical fashion—let the artistry wash right over me.
(SeaWife plays at the South Street Seaport Museum, 213 Water Street, through July 26, 2015. Performances are Tuesdays through Sundays at 7. Tickets are $40 general, $30 for seniors, and $25 for students. To purchase tickets visit seawife.org.)