Ann Arbor Musical Theater Works Brings The Cult Musical “Moby Dick” to the Children’s Creative Center
What’s weirder than learning that there’s a stage musical adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick?
Learning there are two, actually, one from 1990 and another from 2019.
And the Moby Dick adaptation that came first, which includes a book by Robert Longden along with music and lyrics by Longden and Hereward Kaye, is the one that local theater artist Ron Baumanis has been jonesing to stage via his company, Ann Arbor Musical Theater Works.
“Whenever I see a show, whether it’s on Broadway or the West End, I always leave thinking, ‘Would I want to do it or not,’” said Baumanis, whose Moby Dick production begins its two-week run February 9 at The Children’s Creative Center.
“When I saw this in the West End, by intermission, I thought, ‘I’ve absolutely got to do this show someday.’ … I was drawn to the weird mix of the show’s all-out hilarious comedy with British pantomime and a lot of burlesque elements.”
As you might guess from this description, the show isn’t your grandpa’s Moby Dick. Instead, it’s a show-within-a-show, presented by students at the fictional St. Godley’s Academy for Young Ladies, who aim to save the institution from bankruptcy by staging an American classic in the school’s swimming pool.
Oh, and the headmistress is always portrayed by a man in drag.
“I was sold on the characters and how fun it is for the audience,” said Baumanis. “… And it actually does a really, really great job of telling the story of Moby Dick, which is one of my favorite books. … I love its sense of adventure and getting away.”
Powerhouse British theatrical producer Cameron Mackintosh (The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Les Misérables, etc.) premiered the show at Oxford’s Old Fire Station Theatre and then transferred it to the West End, where the critics were anything but kind.
One called Moby Dick “the latest nail to be driven into the glittering coffin of the West End musical.” Ouch.
But as is often the case with a show critics love to hate, it became a bit of a cult hit, so that when its closing was announced after just four months in the West End, the public rushed to snap up the last tickets.
An official cast recording was never made, though, making the show even more obscure.
“Nobody (auditioning) was familiar with it,” said Baumanis. “I had to send them the demo CD. … The music is far better than it deserves to be. … It’s an amazing score, but because there’s no cast recording, it didn’t circulate. It’s not on iTunes, it’s not on Google Music. … It’s a real shame. It deserves to be heard by people.”
Plus, there’s an added bonus for Ann Arborites: hometown boy-turned-movie star Zack Pearlman, who’s worked alongside Robert DeNiro in The Intern and also went viral as A-Aron in Key & Peele’s substitute teacher sketch, is back in town, appearing in a small role in Baumanis’ Moby Dick.
“It’s cool to have him here again, appearing on stage,” said Baumanis.
And because this Moby Dick musical is supposed to unfold at an all-girls school, staging it at the Children’s Creative Center feels exactly right.
“The kids at the preschool have drawn pictures of whales that adorn our walls and pictures of boats,” said Baumanis, who notes that the show, due to adult humor, is appropriate for ages 13 and up. “It’s absolutely the perfect setting for this.”
Jenn McKee is a former staff arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News, where she primarily covered theater and film events, and also wrote general features and occasional articles on books and music.
Ann Arbor Musical Theater Works’ Moby Dick runs February 9-12 and February 16-19 at The Children’s Creative Center, 1600 Pauline Blvd. in Ann Arbor. For tickets and further information, visit annarbormusicaltheaterworks.com.