Liberty: A Broadway Show About America’s Most Famous Statue

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As a freelance writer, I have a few different jobs. Writing for Xpatnation is one, and reviewing theatrical productions in New York is another.

Last week, I saw a show that actually brings the two together. Liberty is a new musical on 42nd Street that tells the story of the erection of the Statue of Liberty and the social and political climate that almost stopped it from happening. If you don’t like your history from books, this is a much easier way to get a quick education.

 Lady Liberty Stuck in Customs, and without a Pedestal

downloadImage Source: Playbill

We all know that the Statue that graces New York Harbor was a gift from the people of France to America to mark its 100 years of independence. What we don’t often get told in history class is that, while the French paid for the Statue, the Americans were supposed to pay for the pedestal and for actually putting her in the harbor. The federal government, citing difficult economic times, declined to pay for it.

Liberty (played by teenager Abigail Shapiro) is at one and the same time the Statue of Liberty and a human being (and for those with a philosophical bent, the idea of Liberty incarnate). She has been sent to America by her father, the artist Bartholdi (Ryan Duncan). Her departure shows both the artist’s anxiety over showing a new work, and a father sending a child to a new country. This stands for everyone who ever passed through Ellis Island or some other spot, making her universal.

And since the Americans won’t pay for the pedestal, she winds up stuck in customs as it were along with Giovanni Ferro (Nick DeVito), who struggles to learn English in order to get his foot on the ladder of social mobility, as well as the nativists like Francis A. Walker (Brandon Andrus). There she touches the lives of those on Ellis Island. The music in the show is quite well-written and performed, and despite having just 8 players, this ensemble feels like a cast of 20-30.

My favorite number is a wonderfully funny piece called “We Had It Worse,” in which an Irish immigrant, Patrick McKay (Mark Aldrich), and Eastern European newcomer, Olga Moscowitz (Tina Stafford) bicker over whose story is more pathetic.

Moscowitz: We threw everything we had into one tiny, little sack.

McKay: You had a sack?

Moscowitz: A moth-eaten, raggedy old…

McKay: We had no sack. We only took what we could carry in our pockets.

Moscowitz: Well, we didn’t even have pockets….

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses: I Lift my Lamp Beside the Golden Door”

115454Image Source: Theatermania

The trouble in telling the story of immigration to America comes when you have to discuss the two groups most harmed by it: the First Americans and African slaves. Lady Liberty just isn’t relevant to their story, and indeed, their stories undermine it.

But this play doesn’t whitewash it. James Goodleaf (Ryan Duncan) is a Mohawk ironworker who has a pass to work off the reservation (apartheid in America). His optimism in “More Like Home” suggests that the dispossessed can still find a place. Samuel Ferguson (C. Mingo Long) is a black American who plainly asks of Liberty in the song “More,” does she stand for him? You want to say yes, but in 130 years, perhaps, progress has been a bit thin on the ground. His is not a pessimistic role, but rather it is one that provides realism.

In the end, it is contributions from average Americans that builds the pedestal, craftily gathered by Joseph Pulitzer (Hungarian by birth and played by Mark Aldrich whose McKay has left the scene). He prints the names of every donor. Inscribed on it are the words from the poem “New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus (played by a woman who I expect will be a fixture on Broadway soon, Emma Rosenthal). “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Liberty is playing through September 4, 2016 at the 42 West Theater. For more information and tickets, click here.

Now Watch a Trailer of this Phenomenal play!:

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LIBERTY: A Monumental New Musical

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