"Is this show on DVD?" My 10 year old asked as we left the first preview of Dear Albert Einstein, a Making Books Sing Production playing through May 18 on 311 West 43rd Street in Manhattan. "Because I want to watch it over and over again!"
"And I want a CD of the songs," my 7 year old piped up as she skipped alongside him and sang a medley of the ditties she remembered, including, "I Love Math," "Go, Science" and "Dancing Through the Cosmos."
Let's face it, not a lot of musicals are geared towards the physics and algebra loving kid (or adult, for that matter).
Dear Albert Einstein tells the story of Susan, a 12 year old girl in 1954 who enters Junior High School with one goal, and one goal only: To ditch her "nerd ball," math-whiz reputation and get in with the popular crowd. She succeeds, becoming a cheerleader and a member of the highly prestigious (among sixth-graders, anyway) dance committee - but, then a strange, German-accented man begins appearing in her room. ("That's kind of creepy," my 10 year old observed. Especially when the man added, "I'll just stand here and make the walls disappear.")
Don't worry, said German-accented man is merely the "visual manifestation of Susan's social anxiety" in the form of her hero - sorry, former hero - Albert Einstein, whom Susan used to write to every month, before deciding to drop the math and science for middle-school conformity.
According to composer Russ Kaplan, the real-life Einstein did receive thousands of letters from children, and tried to answer as many of them as he could.
Our musical Einstein attempts to convince Susan that she doesn't have to give up the math and science she loves in order to be popular, by relating his own childhood humiliations, complete with a tale of flying schnitzel that allegedly led to his coming up with E=MC-squared. A bouncy production number that both my kids are still laughing about hysterically two days later.
When it comes to school curriculum, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is THE buzzword in educational circles, along with efforts to get more girls interested in those fields.
In light of the above, I asked Kaplan and his partner, lyricist Sara Wordsworth (how cool of a name is that for someone who writes lyrics?) why they chose to set the show in 1954, instead of present day.
Their reasons were multiple:
1) They needed Albert Einstein to still be alive
2) 1954 was a key year for American society changing, and they felt they could dramatize it through music, contrasting the classical violin playing that Einstein personally loved with the early rock and roll that was all the rage among the bobby-sock set. (There is much gushing in the show over that dreamy Pat Boone.)
3) While we still have a long way to go, gender roles were even tougher for girls sixty years ago. As Susan says, "Nobody cool joins the math team. No girls join the math team."
While my kids loved Dear Albert Einstein from beginning to end, there were three things that I particularly appreciated as a parent (my rule is I never wholeheartedly recommend a production unless the adults are guaranteed to have as good of a time as the kids):
1) The inventive and clever set that switched effortlessly from Susan's bedroom, to the junior-high-halls, to the front stoop to, in one visually lovely number, the entire cosmos.
2) The character of the teacher who urges her students to "Think Outside the Box" - mostly by thinking the way she tells them to think (it's a common problem with fictional teachers; see 10 Shocking Movie & TV Teachers Worse Than "Bad Teacher"). This self-proclaimed savior of seriously square young people is knocked down a peg by not having her methods universally embraced. In the end, she's forced to think outside the box herself, and to compromise instead of just getting her own way through sheer awesomeness.
3) Finally, I loved that this show embraces the fact that you don't have to be either a "brain" or a cheerleader. As Susan proclaims proudly, she is "Undefined." She loves science and physics ("When did physics stop being a part of science?" my 10 year old wanted to know) and she loves math, music and dancing ("Which," my son who is currently both developing a spray-on concoction to dissolve dog poop left on the street in between pre-professional ballet classes, pointed out, "Are all kind of the same thing." Yes, Mommy's Little Smart Ass talked throughout most of the show. Be happy that when you go to see it, he won't be there.)
Overall, this is the ideal production for kids roughly ages four and up who love science and math and music and dance (because they're all interconnected, you know).
Dear Albert Einstein runs May 3rd -18th
Wed. @10:30 AM
Thurs. & Fri. @ 10:30AM & 7PM
Sat. @ 2PM & 7PM
Sun. @ 2PM
General Seating: $25
Premium Seating: $45
(includes guaranteed seating in first two rows, signed poster, first in line for cast meet & greet)
Family 4-Pack: $95
NY Gifted Education Examiner Readers: Get 30% off any ticket by using Discount Code: SeeEinstein on the following dates -
Thursday, May 8 @7:00 PM
Friday, May 9 @ 7:00 PM
Saturday, May 10 @ 7PM
Thursday, May 15 @ 7:00 PM
Friday, May 16 @ 7:00 PM
Saturday, May 17 @ 7PM
Call 646-250-1178 or visit http://makingbookssing.org/content/dear-albert-einstein for tickets.
But, wait, that's not all!
Click the slide show links above for five more exclusive bonuses that come with your tickets!