"Ernest Shackleton Loves Me"

By: Music and lyrics by Valerie Vigoda & Brendan Milburn, book by Joe DiPietro
Produced by: Co-commissioned by La Jolla Playhouse and TheatreWorks Silicon Valley; developed at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley and Seattle's ACT; world premiere with Balagan Theatre, performed on the Seattle Rep stage.
Featuring: Valerie Vigoda and Wade McCollum
Directed by: Lisa Peterson
When: April 18 through May 3, 2014
Where: Leo K Stage at Seattle Rep, 700 Union Street (intersection of 7th & Union), Seattle, Washington
Tickets:$20-$35; call 206-292-7676 or visit

Read an interview with Wade McCollum from August 2013 in Regarding Arts.

Read an interview with Brendan Milburn from August 2013 in Regarding Arts.

Ernest Shackleton
Jeff Carpenter / Balagan Theatre
Wade McCollum, left, and Valerie Vigoda in "Ernest Shackleton Loves Me," on the Leo K stage at ACT Seattle from April 18 through May 3, 2014.
Great Northwest:
Get thee to the theatre!
Wade McCollum, Valerie Vigoda
are not to be missed in 'Ernest Shackleton Loves Me'
April 22, 2014

In another lifetime, I was a theatre publicist. Of the many shows I was privileged to work on, one in particular will always be near and dear to my heart. It was a new musical called "Fly By Night" (currently playing at Playwrights Horizons in New York), which was receiving its world premiere at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley. Playing one of the lead roles was an actor named Wade McCollum.

I saw that brilliant show multiple times and I learned something very important:

When you find out that Wade McCollum is on a playbill, you had better get thee to that theatre.

So, with that lesson in mind, here is the scoop: Wade McCollum is co-starring in a new musical called "Ernest Shackleton Loves Me," presented by Balagan Theatre, performed at Seattle Rep.

You know what to do.

Fortunately for those of us in Seattle, we can experience McCollum in the glory that is "Ernest" before it flits off to NYC.

Ernest Shackleton
Jeff Carpenter / Balagan Theatre
Wade McCollumn in "Ernest Shackleton Loves Me."

"Ernest" is a multi-media extravaganza with a book by Joe DiPietro ("Memphis," "Nice Work if You Can Get It," "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change") and music and lyrics by GrooveLily bandmembers Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda ("Striking 12," "Sleeping Beauty Wakes").

Fun fact: "Ernest Shackleton Loves Me" got its start at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, so, small world.

Vigoda stars as the "Me" part of the title, playing Kat, a punked-out musician trying to eke out a living as a videogame composer while being a single mom to a collicky infant. At the height of her sleep-deprived delirium, Kat gets a call from famous Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, who has transcended time and space to connect with her.

Together they journey across a wasteland of doubt and snow, she as his muse, he as her bright light in the darkness. Did I mention that all the while, Vigoda joyfully shreds on the electric violin?

McCollum plays the undaunted Ernest Shackleton, as well as voicing a variety of other characters. We first meet Ernest through a series of phone calls and Skype conversations on a screen, but when he finally burst on stage on Satuday — ruggedly handsome with frost clinging to his beard — there was an audible gasp of delight from the audience.

McCollum is a charming and gallant performer with a gorgeous, versatile voice that inspires and also soothes, as in the lullaby "The Eye of the Storm."

DiPietro's book is funny and poignant, drawing the parallel between the life of an explorer and the life of an artist. Both are livelihoods rife with uncertainty, financially and philosophically, and attract insanely passionate people who can't imagine doing anything else.

Although explorers of the I'll Need Three Ships and Fifty Stout Men variety are probably few and far between these days, it's a refreshing and uplifting comparison. Milburn and Vigoda's music is stirring and each song builds beautifully.

Director Lisa Peterson makes great use of her small cast and there is never a dull moment. Alexander V. Nichols's stage design is simple, but packs a punch — Kat's desk is a command center outfitted with gadgets, mics, sound boards, and keyboards, sitting atop a snow-covered platform framed by a huge screen and scaffolding. White trunks are shoved in various corners, their contents unknown. Vigoda helms the music-looping, cyber-chatting station like a champ. The opening number is astounding, and it's all her.

There's nothing to figure out, there's no hidden meaning, there's no twist that makes you question everything you believe in. It's a show that encourages you to be brave in the face of impossible obstacles, to be loyal and steadfast when you're weak, and to learn how to play an instrument so that your life isn't so damn cold and bleak all the time.

Go check out this unique theatre experience soon and, if you're lucky, composer Brendan Milburn will be outside after the show, offering to send you free mp3s.

Email Jasmine Joshua at

Ernest Shackleton
Jeff Carpenter / Balagan Theatre
Valerie Vigoda as Kat in "Ernest Shackleton Loves Me," on the Leo K stage at ACT Seattle from April 18 through May 3, 2014.
Ernest Shackleton
Jeff Carpenter / Balagan Theatre
Valerie Vigoda pushes, left, as Wade McCollum pulls in "Ernest Shackleton Loves Me," on the Leo K stage at ACT Seattle from April 18 through May 3, 2014.


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