WHAT “Bulldozer: The Ballad of Robert Moses”
WHERE Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 W. 46th St., Manhattan
INFO $40-$80, 866-811-4111, bulldozer.nyc
BOTTOM LINE The story of the “master builder” is too complex for this rock musical.
“Don’t blame me,” sings the dejected man, caught in a single spotlight’s unforgiving glare.
But people do blame Robert Moses, the man so vital to the growth of New York and Long Island who is at the center of a new rock musical at a small theater on West 46th Street, just a few crosstown blocks from the town house where the “master builder” was brought up.
“Bulldozer: The Ballad of Robert Moses” points out several of the issues for which Moses has been found at fault, from creating a traffic nightmare by ignoring the needs of mass transit with his complex system of bridges and parkways, to sending the Brooklyn Dodgers packing for Los Angeles. But it’s a complex story, one that this 95-minute musical can’t begin to tell.
Moses (a flat, one-dimensional performance from Constantine Maroulis of “American Idol” and “Rock of Ages” fame) comes off as an arrogant man so enchanted with his own power that he fails to notice when people start recognizing his failings. We first see him at the end of his life, sitting in his Babylon cottage not far from one of his early creations, Jones Beach. “The traffic’s such an awful mess,” he sings in one of the multiple rock numbers that ultimately sound pretty much the same. (Give writer Peter Galperin some credit, though, it’s not easy creating music about infrastructure and traffic patterns.)
Flash back to a younger Moses, who’s more interested in poetry than urban planning. Through his mother, he meets Gov. Al Smith (not seen) and then Nelson Rockefeller (Wayne Wilcox). Quickly bridges, highways and parks spring up, and if people and neighborhoods have to be “relocated” in the name of progress, so be it.
We’re led to believe that Vera Martin (Kacie Sheik), a cigarette girl Moses meets along the way, becomes his wife, not finding out until much later she’s just his assistant/mistress. (No mention of the two women Moses did marry. ) Outspoken public advocate Jane Jacobs (Molly Pope) is a key player, ultimately taking Moses down when she fights his plan to extend Fifth Avenue through Washington Square Park.
What we have here, of course, is a history lesson, but one that’s too complicated for this format. It will take more than 95 minutes to read the Pulitzer-winning biography “The Power Broker” by former Newsday reporter Robert Caro, but it will give you a far better understanding of Robert Moses. Better leave historical musicals to that guy named Hamilton.