Time goes by relatively quickly while watching the new musical Einstein’s Dreams, being presented by Prospect Theatre Company at 59E59 Theatres, as this 95-minute tuner tackles one of the world’s weightiest subjects – the great physicist’s discovery of the theory of relativity – with an almost lighter-than-air insouciance.
The show’s conceit finds Einstein (played by the gently charismatic Zal Owen) working as a patent clerk in 1905 Switzerland, where he spends much of his days and nights at his desk literally dreaming of a mysterious woman named Josette (the lush-voiced, clear-headed Alexandra Silber, gorgeously costumed in red by Sidney Shannon).
Of course, as his best friend Besso (an appealing Brennan Caldwell) points out, it’s easier to be in love with an imaginary woman than a real one – especially as things are not going well at home for Einstein. But Josette ultimately proves to be far more than a mere romantic substitute; she actually holds the key to the past, present and future, thereby helping Einstein unlock the true meaning of time.
Cara Reichel’s ultra-imaginative staging (aided immeasurably by David Bengali’s magnificent series of ever-changing projections) and the impressive score by Joanne Sydney Lesser and Joshua Rosenblum, which shows off the pair’s consummate skill with everything from heartfelt ballads to quasi-patter songs, both prevent much of the more science-oriented material from becoming completely inaccessible. (As one of the show’s characters notes of Einstein’s famed theory, everyone will eventually know what it is, but almost no one will understand it.)
Moreover, Reichel has assembled a dream cast to tell this story (which has been adapted from Alan Lightman’s best-selling novel). In addition to the leads, Talia Cosentino, Stacia Fernandez, Lisa Helmi Johnson, Michael McCoy, Tess Primack and Vishal Vidya not only bring immense individuality to the supporting roles they portray, but they work seamlessly together as an ensemble.
But all their efforts can’t fully disguise the one large flaw in Einstein’s Dreams that will prevent it from standing the test of time. Because of the show’s sincere yet somewhat lightweight approach to its subject, the enormity of what Einstein accomplished, and what he sacrificed to do it, should matter to us far more than it actually does by the evening’s end. And that matters.