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Full disclosure: I’m a Nikola Tesla nut!

So, when I heard that there was a musical about Nikola Tesla, I quickly added the play’s performance to my bucket list.

Source: Facebook | Design by Lauren Machlica

However, with two young kids, getting out to see anything is never a sure thing. And with family hundreds of miles away, my wife and I have to pick and choose our date nights carefully.

As fate would have it, my mother-in-law decided to visit last minute, so I quickly bought two tickets to a recently added Saturday matinee and scheduled a date – with my wife, of course.

The play was hyped as Hamilton meets Tesla.

So, I mentally prepared to be disappointed, but still hoped to be entertained.

Thankfully, Nikolas Tesla Drop The Beat was not only entertaining; it also did not disappoint!

For starters, I didn’t expect to see Hamilton in any shape or form. Nor did I expect to see something ready for Broadway. I expected to see a play in its infancy – and that’s what I saw.

I very much liked Act I, especially the Westinghouse Open Mike Night with its elements of beatnik trope.   I found the Marie Curie presence at the cafe and characterization both creative and hilarious.

However, I felt short-changed after Curie sat down.

I expected at least two other iconic historical figures to follow the Nobel Prize winning Polish scientist — say Darwin, Einstein or even Joseph Gayetty, the inventor of toilet paper — to keep the comedy going.

The Second Act was a downer, however, it didn’t let me down.

I was well aware what was to going to happen to Tesla, historically.  However, I could see how those not so familiar with the fall of the Serbian immigrant inventor would find Act II a bit drab.

If I could give one suggestion to the playwrights, it would be to watch the 2006 film The Prestige.

It’s a story about two 19th-Century magicians locked in a bitter battle of supremacy, much like the Tesla-Edison rivalry depicted in The Beat. In fact, Nikola Tesla, played by Rock-legend David Bowie, has a small, but integral role in movie’s storyline.

In The Prestige, Tesla inventions more than just props. They were an important part of Tesla’s character.

Still to this day, these radical inventions give Tesla his true essence and only add to the mystic qualities that defined the man.

Nikola Tesla reading in his laboratory in Colorado Springs circa 1900. Wikimedia commons

I kept envisioning The Beat’s Tesla, played masterfully by Issac Powell, surrounded by life-size coils and their colorful corona discharges. I kept imagining how captivating Powell’s already powerful portrayal of Tesla would be if he was surrounded by wireless lightning and 10-foot streamer arcs of electricity.

I also wanted to see more Edison, played by the extremely talented Jon-Michael Reese.

Though the Act II romance between Tesla and Kat Johnson, played by Kaylen West, was well done, I would’ve enjoyed seeing more Reese, more of the War of the Currents in Act II — and much less Marconi and Pupin. (It ain’t personal).

Source: Facebook | “War of the Currents” — at Adirondack Theatre Festival.

Edison was never soundly defeated by Tesla, as the closing scene in Act I seems to suggest.   So, highlighting the bitter rivalry more in the second half might make The Beat more palatable to those in the audience members who were not Telsa Geeks, like me.

Edison’s consolidation of power and his purchasing of Tesla’s patents would, in turn, become  The Beat’s historic fatal shot.

And though I’m still on the fence with the play’s custom design, I have to give kudos to the casting. Issac Powell, Jon-Michael Reese and Jared Loftin were artful and entertaining.

Issac Powell as Tesla | Source: Facebook

I especially enjoyed Powell’s vocals and seamless breakout performance, Loftin’s comic timing, and Reese’s Cabaret-style portrayal of Thomas Edisonwhich, for me, seemed more like an homage to the great Ben Vereen than a tribute to the Wizard of Menlo Park.

I’ll be the first to admit, being old school, the casting of a female as J.P. Morgan, at first, irked me some. However, Brook Wood changed all that for me the moment she took to the stage. Her performance was, without a doubt, the high note of the Second Act!

And, though I am aware that Nikola Tesla spent his remaining years penniless feeding – and reportedly communicating with – pigeons in the park, the last number What My Wings Are For may have lost most people.   A simple tweak is all that’s needed here.

So, like I said, I expected to see a play in its infancy. That’s what I saw – and with that I expect to see Nikola Tesla Drops The Beat grow and mature over time, if given the chance.

Nikola Tesla maybe died underappreciated, but he never stopped inventing.

Likewise, playwrights Nikko Benson and Ben Halstead need to keep moving this play forward. Given the means, they, along with Director Marshall Pailet, could turn this low-budget production into a Tony Award winner.

Hopefully, much like J.P. Morgan did so long ago, someone will have to take a risk and invest in this Tesla. If that happens, Nikola Tesla Drops The Beat will certainly make it to Broadway and Light It Up!

 

 

James DobkowskiJames Henry is the author of Corporation YOU: A Business Plan for the Soul, ‘Twas, and the new book series Hail Mary. His play Faith Ties, which he co-created and directed, is presently in development to be a motion picture. For six years, James also taught At-Risk kids in Los Angeles. Today, he lives in New York where he continues to write — and teach. To contact James or book an interview, please contact Mark of Goldman & McCormick PR at (516) 639-0988 or Mark@goldmanmccormick.com.

 

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