Last year, we were excited and intrigued by the idea of a rock musical about New York City’s master builder, Robert Moses, called BULLDOZER: The Ballad of Robert MosesThe wildly entertaining show, written by Peter Galperin (with a book by Galperin and Daniel Scot Kadin), is now making its world premiere, bringing the Robert Moses/Jane Jacobs dialectic back to The Theatre at St. Clement’s with previews beginning on Saturday, November 25.  

The urban world we live in today has essentially been created by Robert Moses. Moses, an unelected official, presided over the city for 45 years, outlasting six governors and five mayors, heading major commissions like the Triborough Bridge Authority. An introduction by Galperin sets the stage with this background, reintroducing us to the infamous master builder.

This year’s cast (from left to right: Ryan Knowles, Wayne Wilcox, Molly Pope, Constantine Maroulis, Kacie Sheik). Image by Michael Blase

While Jane Jacobs is certainly a large figure in the show, we also see the arc of Moses’ personal life with his wife Vera and his political relationship with Nelson A. Rockefeller. The former tag line of the show, “The Gospel According to Moses,” gives you a sense of the story line. Changed to “The Ballad of Robert Moses,” the idea is still there. As the show states, “Bulldozer dramatizes Master Builder Robert Moses’ evolution from a young idealist fervent with a desire to build the greatest city in the world to a power-insulated enemy of the people, corrupted, lost and alone.”

In an interview with Untapped Cities, Galperin told us what it was like to translate this historical period of the city’s growth and transformation through a musical. With a show covering about 80 years of history, “a musical allows us to condense and romanticize entire decades into 3-minute songs. And framing the story through a 1960/1970s songwriting sensibility gave us the freedom to take occasional flights of fantasy in our story-telling. The music in our show is played by a 4-piece rock band, but we delve into jazz, ragtime, folk, and funk musical styles that help define the story’s timeline.”

While a staged reading of the show was presented last year, Galperin considers this year’s showing directed by Karen Carpenter and starring Constantine Maroulis their world premiere. “What we presented previously were musical readings and showcase performances that helped us refine the show, but were not the full vision of our story. Now we are on a legendary off-Broadway stage in the middle of Manhattan’s theater district, with a set and lighting design specifically built for “Bulldozer”. That in itself has greatly expanded the show into a full visual experience.”

Expanding into a full-fledged show, “Bulldozer” has added even more songs and scenes. Galperin added that “there are a lot of moments in this story that feel very contemporaneous with what is happening in the world today – addressing demagoguery, female empowerment, citizen rights, and the role of government.”

Scene from last year’s 

As for what he is most excited about this season, “I’m most looking forward to seeing a presentation of this story that is close to what I imagined it could be when I first started writing it five years ago,” he explained. “Those of us living in New York today have difficulty imagining an era when the Triborough Bridge, or the Long Island Expressway, or Jones Beach didn’t exist. But not much is known about Moses personally, and what is most interesting to me is to imagine who this person was who created all these structures and environments that are now part of millions of daily lives, for better and for worse.”

Moses played an instrumental part in how this city was shaped, and “Bulldozer” delves even deeper to reveal the person behind the master builder persona we’ve come to either love or hate. As Galperin succinctly put it, “In essence, his story is a classic Greek tragedy about a man with a great, but flawed vision who in the end flew a little too close to the sun.”

Tickets for “Bulldozer” are now on sale for preview performances starting this Saturday, November 25. If you love New York City history and the impact Moses’ reign had on the city, we highly suggest you buy tickets ($40, $65, and $80 for all evening and matinée shows). The show will be on through January 7, 2018. Run time is 100 minutes.

Next, read about 5 Things in NYC We Can Blame on Robert Moses and about The NYC That Never Was: Robert Moses’ Lower Manhattan Expressway (LOMEX)