As one of the Great American Novels, though a commercial failure in its time, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick has been adapted often—most famously as the 1956 film directed by John Huston, featuring a screenplay Huston co-wrote with Ray Bradbury, and starring Gregory Peck as peg-legged Captain Ahab and Richard Basehart as the narrator, Ishmael. The novel has been made into comic books and a cantata; Bob Dylan cited it upon winning the 2017 Nobel Prize. Now it’s about to be a musical.
Next week, the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) premieres Moby-Dick: A Musical Reckoning at Cambridge’s Loeb Drama Center. It was created by essentially the same A.R.T. team that turned a section of Tolstoy’s War and Peace into Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 in 2015, with Rachel Chavkin directing and Dave Malloy providing music, lyrics, book, and orchestrations. When it comes to winter-holiday entertainment, Moby-Dick might not be the first candidate that comes to mind. Then again, the Pequod, with Ahab, Ishmael, Queequeg, Starbuck, and the rest of the crew, did leave Nantucket on Christmas Day, as we learn from Chapter 22: “At last the anchor was up, the sails were set, and off we glided. It was a short, cold Christmas … ”