Valerie Vigoda
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Valerie Vigoda

Glendale, California, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2015 | SELF

Glendale, California, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2015
Solo Alternative Art Rock

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"A Zany Version of the Romance ‘Ernest Shackleton Loves Me’"

Wildly quirky in its contemporary style and tone, “Ernest Shackleton Loves Me” is an intrepid new musical at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick. Inspired by a true story and set within the frame of a fantastical romance, the musical relates one of the most amazing exploits of the last century. This year marks the centennial of the real-life, nearly two-year adventure, that involved a thwarted expedition, a ship wrecked by ice and an indomitable hero, Ernest Shackleton.
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The fictional story, however, begins in a freezing-cold apartment in Brooklyn in the present day. Kat, a broke and despairing young indie composer, has just been fired from a lucrative job writing the music for a futuristic video game.

A stressed-out single mom with a 5-month-old son whose deadbeat dad is touring with a Journey cover band, Kat makes her first foray into online dating. The forlorn musician does this through a song, of course, accompanying herself on a synthesized keyboard.
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Almost instantly, Kat receives a call from Shackleton, the celebrated British polar explorer of the early 1900s, who claims to be entranced by her time-and-space-crossing music. Since she has not slept for the last 36 hours, Kat suspects that she may be hallucinating.
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Shackleton, who was an actual British polar explorer of the early 1900s, responds to Kat’s online dating profile, and then arrives in Brooklyn via her refrigerator. Credit Jeff Carpenter

But then she Skypes Shackleton and finds the jaunty explorer smiling at her from aboard the deck of Endurance as it sails toward Antarctica in 1914.

The audience sees it all, too, since the rear of Kat’s apartment is dominated by a large video screen.

Picking up her electric violin, Kat joins Shackleton in a series of chantey-like songs that narrate the first part of the explorer’s incredible voyage as the “Endurance” becomes stranded upon the polar ice and subsequently crushed and sunk by it. Actual photographs and vintage film footage show the wreck.

As Kat mourns the hopelessness of the situation, the refrigerator door suddenly opens and Shackleton, glistening with frost and toting a banjo, strides into her world.

“This is crazy!” cries Kat.
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Ms. Vigoda as Kat. Credit Jeff Carpenter

“So is being an explorer,” responds Shackleton. “Or an artist!”

Shackleton soon sweeps Kat along into the Antarctic wastelands as the explorer and his crew travel across glaciers, mountains and churning seas with the nearly impossible hope of finding rescue. Along the perilous way, the ever-optimistic Shackleton inspires Kat to conquer her personal despair and get on with her life.

“Ernest Shackleton Loves Me” swiftly packs plenty of history, adventure and exhilarating songs into a mere 90 minutes. Augmented instrumentally behind the scenes by the musical director, Ryan O’Connell, on keyboard, the score is propulsive and agreeably melodic.

For all of its charm, the musical, which represents the most unconventional work crafted to date by Joe DiPietro, the award-winning playwright of “Memphis” and “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” is not entirely watertight.

A sudden shift into a farcical tone in the show’s later stretches raises a good bit of laughter but seems somewhat jarring. Mr. DiPietro and his musical collaborators, the team of Valerie Vigoda (who also plays Kat) and Brendan Milburn, have some trouble transitioning from the South Pole back to Brooklyn for the conclusion of the show. But for its greater part, the musical offers a wonderfully bracing time that is enhanced by smart staging from the director, Lisa Peterson.

An abstract, two-level setting for Kat’s apartment tips off the audience that matters will be out of the ordinary. The wintry set was designed by Alexander V. Nichols, who also provided the lighting and a complex series of green-screen videos and archival images that animate the show. Ms. Peterson makes dandy use of the set’s components; at one point transforming a chest of drawers into a lifeboat. In what is perhaps the show’s most striking sequence, the actors climb hand-to-hand atop and across the setting as they simulate the musician and the explorer scaling a snowy mountain, bravely singing all the way.

In addition to writing the show’s vivid lyrics and playing a mean fiddle, Ms. Vigoda invests Kat with an appealing down-to-earth sensibility. Wade McCollum’s confident portrayal of the gung-ho Shackleton verges at times on a Dudley Do-Right caricature, but usually he gleams with valiant good cheer. The ardor of their well-attuned performances certainly puts the love into “Ernest Shackleton Loves Me.” - New York Times


"Thanks to ‘Shackleton,’ Antarctica has never seemed so warm"

“Ernest Shackleton Loves Me” chases a delightfully impossible dream. In a swift 90 minutes, this musical, playing through Oct. 4 at the Paramount Mainstage, takes us on a thrilling trip to Antarctica by way of an unheated apartment in Brooklyn.

At the center of the story is Kat (Valerie Vigoda), a freelance composer of video game soundtracks who’s just been fired for being too difficult to work with, although her song “Star Blazers” was a hit with teenage beta testers. While her musician boyfriend is on the road with a Journey cover band, she is at home, up for the past 36 hours with their colicky infant son.

Overwhelmed and discouraged, Kat posts a musical video on a dating site called Cupidsleftovers.com and gets a surprising response: Ernest Shackleton (Wade McCollum), in the midst of his ill-fated voyage on the Endurance, is inspired by Kat’s music and reaches across the miles — and 100 years — to meet her.

What follows is a deliriously lighthearted love story as Kat follows Shackleton to the island where his men were trapped by ice for months; along the perilous 800-mile journey by rowboat Shackleton took to a whaling station; and with him for the return and rescue of Shackleton’s crew members. Along the way, Shackleton serenades Kat with a sea shanty, accompanied on the banjo (an instrument Shackleton insisted his men take with them). The two join forces for a hilarious duet about their patrons called “Money and Musicians and Explorers” as well as a modified “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” and Vigoda gets a chance to rock out alone on “Burned Again.”

Although there are just two performers onstage, director Lisa Peterson and designer Alex Nichols create an expansive feel on the remarkably flexible set that not only envelops us in Kat’s exhaustion-fueled adventure but also provides the context, using historic photos from the Shackleton trip to make clear exactly what the environment was like.

Musical virtuoso Vigoda slips easily from keyboards to electric drum pads, from banjo to electric violin, augmenting Brendan Milburn’s straightforward compositions with reverb and echo and other electronic effects. At the same time, she makes Kat’s frantic scrambling endearing even when she seems a little nuts.

McCollum balances just the right amount of braggadocio with stalwart optimism. He also has a glorious singing voice, shifting easily from a rich baritone to a solid falsetto with ease, and adding the needed tenderness to a ballad he sings to Kat’s baby boy. McCollum also has a wonderful sense of comic timing, turning what could have been a stiff, cardboard character into one with charm and heart. He has a lot of fun playing all the men in Kat’s life, from her oblivious boyfriend, Bruce, to another time-traveling explorer, Ponce de León.

“Ernest Shackleton Loves Me” doesn’t pretend to be more than a simple tale with a straightforward moral message: Never give up hope. Joe DiPietro’s story line is so sincere, and performers Vigoda and McCollum so believable, the musical defies cynicism and revels in its celebration of “full-fledged optimism.” - Boston Globe


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Bio

Valerie Vigoda is a live-looping, electric violinist, singer/songwriter, and a founding member of the band GrooveLily with whom she independently released 8 albums. She has toured the world with Cyndi Lauper, Joe Jackson and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and is now touring the solo, multimedia, music concert Just Getting Good. 

Valerie has also co-written songs for four of Disney’s Tinker Bell movies as well as the scores for the stage musicals including: STRIKING 12 (Off-Broadway), SLEEPING BEAUTY WAKES (CTG, McCarter, La Jolla, 5th Ave.), WHEELHOUSE (TheatreWorks), TOY STORY: THE MUSICAL (Disney), FANTASY FAIRE (Disneyland), LONG STORY SHORT (off-Broadway), MIDSUMMER NIGHT (in development), BEAUTIFUL POISON (5th Ave. - dir. Chris Ashley), and ERNEST SHACKLETON LOVES ME (Seattle Rep, George St. Playhouse).

Valerie studied at Princeton University and has taught at Stanford University, Emerson College, UT Austin, and the Berklee College of Music.

Valerie won the Jonathan Larson Award for musical theatre (2006 & 2008), the LA Ovation Award for Best Musical (2007), and the prestigious ASCAP Richard Rodgers New Horizons Award for musical theatre (2009).


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