'Walk on Through' review — Gavin Creel reflects on how art imitates, and inspires, life

Read our review of Walk On Through: Confessions of a Museum Novice off Broadway, a new musical written and performed by Tony Award winner Gavin Creel.

Joe Dziemianowicz
Joe Dziemianowicz

Big questions come early in Gavin Creel’s Walk On Through: Confessions of a Museum Novice, now at MCC Theater and drawn from his visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Where am I in this place?” he wonders. “Who am I meant to be? In this world, in this space, can I find me?”

Another query: What took Creel so long to go there? Turns out the Hello, Dolly! Tony winner was 43 before he ever set foot inside the museum four years ago, even though he’d lived in New York City for two decades. Better late than never.

Once inside the famous landmark, Creel looked at art – and himself – to create this enjoyable work commissioned by the Met. Walk On Through is a deeply personal, though jumbled, concert-style memoir and meditation on the power of art.

Creel churned his gallery strolls into 17 original songs in which he reflects on how pieces by Edward Hopper, Jackson Pollock, and others spoke to him. A magnetic performer, he narrates, sings, and plays the piano and harmonium in the 105-minute production directed by Linda Goodrich. His pop-rock flavored melodies are easy on the ears, and his lyrics are predictably straightforward.

He’s ably assisted by four musicians – Madeline Benson, Chris Peters, Corey Rawls, and Scott Wasserman – and two more performers. The set, like Creel’s outfit, is basic black. Giant projections of paintings and sculptures highlight various points.

Joan Snyder’s colorful abstract work Smashed Strokes Hope mirrors Creel’s chaotic tendencies, he admits. Pollock’s monumental drip painting Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) prompts a confession about his long-held desire “make something — something of my own — something remarkable.” This section turns into a duet with Pollock (an invaluable Ryan Vasquez).

Various artworks stir up sexually charged feelings, including a portrait of a 19th-century Russian writer with bedroom eyes and a mournful history. “Instantly and quite literally, I have a crush on a painting,” gushes Creel.

It’s borderline corny, yes, but Creel’s gusto is endearing. The painting also illuminates how pain is captured by art. There’s plenty more ache to go around when Vasquez appears as Creel’s ex (identified simply as H, in the script), who alludes to their failed relationship.

Some moments, however, don’t gel. In one inspired by a painting of a biblical heroine who killed a besieging general, Hair alum Sasha Allen belts overtime, and the head-scratching number stops the show for the wrong reason.

Creel also weaves the Covid-19 pandemic, which temporarily shuttered the museum and his creative process, into the show. An unfinished 16th-century portrait of Christ, Salvator Mundi, pops up repeatedly. It serves as a springboard to cover religious trauma as well as a personal reconciliation as Creel continues to walk on through the Met — and his life.

Walk On Through: Confessions of a Museum Novice is at the Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space through January 7.

Photo credit: Madeline Benson, Gavin Creel, and Chris Peters in Walk On Through. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

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