The creative team of book writer Pamela Gray and Tony nominee Sheryl Kaller bring A Walk on the Moon to the GSP stage
A Walk on the Moon, a new musical starring Jackie Burns, Jonah Platt, and John Arthur Greene runs from April 26 through May 21 at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
A Walk on the Moon's creative team, book writer Pamela Gray and Tony nominee director Sheryl Kaller, joined WBGO Journal host Doug Doyle to talk about how they’ve adapted this popular 1999 Miramax film for the stage.
Gray says the story began as a love letter to the working-class Jewish bungalow colonies of her childhood. She explains how the "The Summer of ’69" impacted her and why this mother-daughter coming of age story still resonates today.
"That summer was probably my 12th or 13th summer up in the Catskills. You could feel change in the air because it was very early in July of '69, there were rumors that Woodstock was going to move to the Catskill Mountains. They were kicked out of Woodstock Wallkill area and there was this excitement about the moon walk going on throughout the bungalow colony and I was one of the kids who was excited about it. But at the same time, I was seeing the hippies walking past the bungalow colony on their way to Woodstock and I wanted to be with them. I was too young to be with them but that's where I felt like I belonged. That culture clash for that summer, because a lot of people don't realize was in-between bungalow colonies and these working-class Jewish communities, the culture clash plus the world of the Catskill bungalow colonies, which I had never seen portrayed in a film, just led me to want to write this screen play."
A Walk on the Moon is the largest production in George Street’s history and promises to be like nothing the New Brunswick Arts Center audiences have ever seen. Director Sheryl Kaller can't wait for the new musical to become a reality.
"One of the most exciting things about putting this very, very specific, intimate, feminist story on stage is how you make it a musical. You know were are Broadway bound and we want to make it a full experience for everyone. Yes, it's the biggest musical George Street has ever done but everything is coming from a very genuine place. Jackie Burns is playing Pearl. So every decision that Pam and I made about the physical production of this show comes from Pearl's heart, comes from Pearl's soul and comes from what Pearl as a Jewish woman living in 1969 having been exposed to nothing else in her life. We have to remember there was no internet then, there were no fax machines, there were no cellphones and all the sudden as Pam says standing in the middle of a bungalow colony watching hippies go by, seeing non-Jewish people and seeing Black people and Asian people, Latinx people and just people of color and it was in her DNA to kind of say oh there's more in this world. So we wanted to create a very intimate bungalow colony and then a more in the world feeling. So how do you blowup Woodstock? Yes, we are putting Woodstock on stage, that in and of itself is an exciting and challenging proposition. For me, I mostly do plays, I don't do musicals as much as I do plays, it's really about the authenticity of Pearl's story and how that is visualized."
Kaller stresses bringing this production to George Street made sense, knowing the excellent reputation of all those involved in the New Brunswick theater.
"I think David Saint (GSP director) has really walked his talk as far as his vision for George Street. What attracted Pam and I to George street is not only the beautiful arts center, it's magnificent, is also David Saint has very impassioned vision for what theater is and how he can be part of that national conversation. And so we felt like with our story, because the other part of all of this antisemitism is so on the rise and it felt very significant to us to put a Jewish story up on stage. There are sides now and David Saint's theater really welcomes and the staff at George Street welcomes these difficult and also interesting and inspiring big thoughts about society."
Both Kaller and Gray had parents who exposed them to the theater at an early age. Kaller's parents were involved in community theater and her late dad used to make costumes and her mother would sing and dance, taking her to see Pippen on Broadway. Gray went to high school in Brooklyn where there had been a tradition called "Sing".
"We would take musical theater pieces that existed and write our own lyrics to them and write a story around it. I was the script and lyrics chairman from the time I was a sophomore. It was heaven. I loved musical theater. Like Sheryl, my mother took me to Fiddler on the Roof, Man of La Mancha, West Side Story, The King and I and the kids made fun of me because that's what I wanted for my birthday were cast albums."
Those early days allowed Pamela Gray and Sheryl Kaller to go on and enjoy much success in the entertainment industry Pamela Gray would write the book "A Walk on the Moon", which in 1999 was turned into a movie starring Diane Lane, Liev Shreiber and Viggo Mortensen.
Sheryl Kaller directed Terence McNally's Tony nominated play on Broadway, Mothers and Sons with Tyne Daly. She received a Tony nomination for the Broadway production of Next Fall by Geoffrey Nauffts.
You can SEE the entire interview with Sheryl Kaller and Pamela Gray here.