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Review: The Quirky Charm of ‘The Outer Space’

By Christopher Caggiano, Contributing Writer, March 15, 2017

As Broadway is enjoying a bit of a banner year for musicals — at least in terms of the number of new shows — a broad array of Off-Broadway musicals have also opened this season.

So far, we’ve seen the vulgar and clumsy (Himself and Nora), the ambitious but abstruse (The Total Bent), and the quietly transportive (The Band’s Visit). Landing somewhere in between is The Outer Space.

Transporting us to a completely different planet, this quirky concert with backstory at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, is devised and performed by Ethan Lipton (No Place to Go). Lipton is an oddly engaging performer, with a singing voice that hovers around a half-whisper and an endearingly understated comic sensibility. His songs veer between buoyant country refrains and folksy narrative ballads.

The story of The Outer Space concerns a married Manhattan couple who want to “get away from it all.” Instead of moving to the suburbs, they buy a used jalopy of a rocket ship and join a progressive space colony that orbits Mercury. Lipton’s story and director Leigh Silverman’s treatment of it traffic in the quaint antique futurism of 1950s science fiction.

With The Outer Space, Lipton creates a charming fictional world, centered around the hapless husband who isn’t all that happy with the new life his wife has thrust him into, surrounded by a cheerfully jaundiced view of relationships, and a warm embrace of modern foibles and neuroses. Lipton also throws in a wry contemporary reference to the space colony mounting a defense against a newly powerful “Dark Lord,” and the dire need to protect the new arrivals.

The success of The Outer Space hinges on Lipton’s unassuming charm, his chipper songs, and his endearing way of delivering them. Lipton is backed up by a very skilled set of musicians, who collaborated with Lipton on the score, but who nonetheless looked rather bored with the proceedings. Fortunately, Lipton’s off-beat charm more than makes up for any lack of overt enthusiasm on the part of his ensemble.

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THE OUTER SPACE, presented at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater. Running through April 9, 2017. Written by Ethan Lipton, music composed and performed by Ethan Lipton, Vito Dieterle, Eben Levy and Ian Riggs. Directed by Leigh Silverman. Cast: Ethan Lipton, Vito Dieterle, Eben Levy, and Ian Riggs.

 

Cover: Ethan Lipton in ‘The Outer Space’ at Joe’s Pub at The Public; photo: Joan Marcus.


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