THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE is a sweet, touching musical with an excellent score. I must admit I have no knowledge of the novel by Jonathan Lethem on which the musical is based, but Itamar Moses's book is, for the most part a clear well-written narrative, and Michael Friedman's lyrics delineate character effectively.
The musical takes place over twenty years. Dylan (named after you-know-who) Ebdus (the marvelous Adam Chanler-Berat) is the child of countercultural parents who settle in Brooklyn. At least his father, who designs covers for books, settles. Mother soon departs for California, leaving behind her wedding ring and her lps. Dylan, a shy, nerdy 12 year old white boy in a predominantly Black neighborhood, is preyed on by the local bully. The show chronicles his close relationship with Mingus (named after the great jazz musician) Rude (Kyle Beltran -- also marvelous). Rude is the son of Barret Rude, who had a short but successful career as a pop artist. Mingus is also a motherless child. Mingus brings Dylan out of his shell. They share comic book fantasies, tagging subway cars and music. For a while he their life is joyful, but unequal opportunities separate them during their high school years. Twenty years later, Dylan, now a pop music critic, wants to rerelease Barrett Rude's recordings, an effort that reunites him briefly with Mingus. At heart I guess one could call this a bromance, though there are intimations that Mingus's feelings for Dylan run deeper than that. The most dramatically powerful moments are those in which we see vividly the hostility and separation that come when these young men are driven apart by social and economic circumstance.
Above all, the show is a celebration of music, from doo wop to rap.
I loved this show so much that I'm going back. The couple next to me were there for the third time. The music is infectious, the story absorbing, the production simply but beautifully staged and the performances uniformly excellent. Berat is more of an actor than a singer, though is singing is gets technically better in each of the musicals he has headlines. He has become a specialist in troubled young men. I'd love to see him cast in something different. He's perfect for Dylan, but he's getting type cast. I remember Kyle Beltran from IN THE HEIGHTS. He's grown into a formidable talent. Kevin Mambo is powerful as Barrett and Andre de Shields, as usual, wipes up the stage as Barrett's Bible toting father.
Daniel Aukin's staging is simple but powerful and Camille A. Brown has managed to make her performers seem like people dancing rather than dancers. The band is great.
THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE is a fabulous show that deserves a longer life. Once again the Public has struck gold.
THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE. Public Theatre. November 2, 2014.