The thing that grabs your attention as you enter the auditorium at the Greenwich Theatre is Justin Williams’ amazing set for Brooklyn the Musical. The crumbling, graffiti covered brick walls of a decaying, derelict building rise up into the highest reaches of the theatre with glassless windows, an enormous plastic curtain, rubble and the detritus of a run-down squat in Brooklyn – it’s a powerful backdrop to the story that’s about to unfold. However, the set turns out to be the highlight of the evening as the very slight story is a bit of a disappointment.
There’s usually a good reason why a Broadway musical takes a while (in this case over fifteen years) to transfer to London. It’s often a rights issue but in the case of Brooklyn The Musical, it’s possibly because during that time, nobody thought it was worth putting on a production here.
For some reason the piece is a play within a play with the five people squatting in the building, deciding to put on a musical about a girl called Brooklyn who’s born in Paris to a mother who eventually commits suicide when the American father of her child disappears back to the US and the only thing, she knows about him is that he lives in Brooklyn. So, armed with that information and an unfinished lullaby, Brooklyn heads off to Brooklyn (you following this?) to find her father which she’ll be able to do as he’s the only one who knows the lyrics of the lullaby. She does find him eventually but he’s a Vietnam veteran who has turned to heroin to block out the atrocities he carried out during the war. There’s also a character called Paradice (so called because all her father left her was a pair of dice!) and a singing contest between her and Brooklyn at Madison Square Garden – still not making sense to you? Me neither!
There’s a lot of dialogue about it being a magical fairy story with mentions of gingerbread houses, Cinderella and happy endings but although there’s an attempt to be edgy with the father’s drug habit, this is really a very slight story, dragged out over two acts and nearly two hours and it really doesn’t warrant it. There’s also some unnecessary and out of context metatheatre from the cast and a character called Street Singer who narrates the story and interacts with the audience breaking the fourth wall.
On the whole the songs aren’t that memorable apart from a couple of fine ballads in the second act but as the theatrical cliché says, “When the songs aren’t good, you come out humming the scenery”. To compound it, most of the songs are sung at an ear-splitting volume with everything turned up to eleven. I’ve left rock concerts with my ears buzzing from the loudness of the music – last night was the first time it’s happened at the theatre. Some of the performers (and director Adam Haigh) have to realise that volume doesn’t equal emotion and some dialling back of that volume would give the piece the light and shade it needs – sometimes, less is more. The five performers, Hiba Elchikhe, John Addison, Emily-Mae, Andrew Patrick-Walker and Sabrina Aloueche try their best but all of them sing too loud and by doing so they often reach the top of their ranges and it all sounds a bit screechy which is a shame as they all possess excellent voices.
So, all in all, it just didn’t do it for me although the audience seemed to love it whooping and hollering and giving the cast a standing ovation but that often happens on a press night when family and friends are in – it will be interesting to see what happens during the rest of the run.
Review by Alan Fitter
BROOKLYN THE MUSICAL is a story within a story. A touching ‘sidewalk fairytale’ about a band of soulful street singers who meet up to share stories from their lives. The story tonight: a young Parisian coming to America to search for fame and the father she never knew and the journey she embarks upon to find the soul of the city that bears her name.
With an incredible mix of rock, pop and soul — and featuring the smash hit songs ‘Once Upon a Time’, ‘I Never Knew His Name’, ‘Superlover’, ‘Raven’ and ‘Heart Behind These Hands’ — these stories interweave to create an inspiring and touching musical that celebrates the high-spirited energy of New York City.
Brooklyn has a book, lyrics and music by Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson. The duo wrote the musical after Schoenfeld fell on hard times and McPherson, a friend from his past, heard him singing on the street one day. She invited him to live in her home and the two of them subsequently wrote Brooklyn.
Starring Hiba Elchikhe as Brooklyn, Emily-Mae as Paradice, Sabrina Aloueche as Faith, John Addison as Taylor, Andrew Patrick-Walker as Streetsinger and Jodie Beth Meyer as alternate Brooklyn.
Adam Haigh directs and choreographs.
Lighting Designer is Jack Weir
Sound is Andrew Johnson
Set Designer is Justin Williams
BROOKLYN THE MUSICAL
27 SEP – 19 OCT 2019