BWW Review: Street Theatre Company's BROOKLYN: THE MUSICAL Caps a Remarkable 2018 Season at STC
Part contemporary fairy tale/part modern day parable about lost love, missed chances and the cruelty of fate, Brooklyn: The Musical, is given a startlingly good production by Nashville's Street Theatre Company, with strong direction by Bakari King (the much-in-demand, peripatetic - and multi-hyphenated - actor/singer/director/choreographer/producer/educator) and the consistently impressive performances by an ensemble of nine actors who bring the show to life with palpable vitality and remarkable commitment.
The tale of a singer from Paris, named "Brooklyn" after her father's hometown in the USA (where most of the action transpires in a vacant lot in the shadows beneath the Brooklyn Bridge), is winningly conveyed via the show's spectacular score, played by musical director Randy Craft's six-member band, and the group of actors brought together under King's direction to share the story.
Sounding far more polished than one might expect (particularly on the occasion of the production's first and only preview performance at the Z. Alexander Looby Theatre), Brooklyn: The Musical, features some of the best ensemble singing we've ever heard on a Nashville stage and the confidence with which King's cast performs the show will make you sit up and take notice as the fast-moving production delivers its tale. With book, music and lyrics by Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson, Brooklyn: The Musical had an abbreviated run on Broadway in 2004 (starring Nashville favorite Eden Espinosa, who won a First Night Award for her portrayal of Argentina's Eva Peron in Studio Tenn's 2016 Evita, as Brooklyn), subsequently embarking on a national tour in 2006 (with Nashville's own - and another Studio Tenn favorite - Diana DeGarmo taking on the title role).
Based on Schoenfeld's own experiences as a street musician struggling to survive on the mean streets of New York City, he and collaborator McPherson reportedly drew upon every conceivable fairy tale they could recall to create the world of Brooklyn: The Musical and the colorful and intriguing characters who inhabit it. The show's book centers on a young Parisian girl, born of a romance between a local young woman and the visiting American vagabond with whom she falls in love. Equipped with only the melody of an unfinished lullaby, the girl - orphaned after her mother's suicide by hanging - travels to Brooklyn, the New York borough from whence he came and which gave her the very name she bears, in search of the father she's never met in order to make sense of her life and to reconcile the painful realities of her past, present and future.
The story, to be certain, sounds far-fetched and the stuff of fanciful meanderings - perfect for a musical theater treatment - but with King's imaginative vision to lead the way in this production, the story of Brooklyn, the amazing grace of Paris, seems altogether plausible and inspiring.
Sawyer Wallace's set design, which transforms the Looby Theatre stage into "a ravaged street corner in Brooklyn, New York," guarantees that audiences are given a visual treat as they watch Brooklyn's story come to life before them. Will Scroggins' lighting design is notable for the ease with which it directs the collective eye of the audience to where attention should be given, and Jacob Allen's top-notch sound design ensures every word uttered, every note sung, is heard - helping that nine-person ensemble sound far bigger than they actually are.
Perhaps the most surprising design element of the production that sets it apart from other such stage-worthy endeavors is Ashley Wolfe's clever and creative costume design, which dresses the actors to sheer perfection and shows off her own sense of whimsy and imagination in the process. Wolfe's costumes will knock your socks off (which will then be repurposed by the designer for another stunning use).
Clearly, it's King's direction of his cast that ensures Brooklyn: The Musical's success; it's an artful blending of talent that results in one of the most dynamic musicals of this or any other season. King keeps the action moving along at a fast clip, sometimes slowing down for emphasis and/or sheer dramatic impact to make certain the attention of his audience never wavers or wanders.
Much to his credit, King has found the ideal ensemble for this production - which further cements Street Theatre Company's unique role in producing live theater in Music City - and together they create an atmosphere and a sense of purpose that is exhilarating. King's focused direction of the piece is rather profound in its ability to draw the disparate elements of the script together, while Craft's musical direction results in some of the best ensemble singing you're likely to hear onstage.
Brooke Leigh Davis, who plays an "aging" diva known as Miss Paradice, has never been quite so electrifying onstage as she is in this role. Not since her performance in Street's Caroline, or Change, several years back, has Davis been more commanding onstage, nor has she seemed more in her element. Her fiery, passionate Paradice is a force to be reckoned with and Davis is every inch, every gesture the onstage diva her character professes to be. Her performance is staggering only if you've never seen her at full throttle onstage. Here, as she struts about the stage, claiming it as her own, she has never been better.
Similarly, Hallie Long - an alumna of the musical theatre program at Belmont University, plays Brooklyn, the upstart from Paris whose reputation precedes her even before she reaches these shores, with supreme confidence, going toe to toe with Davis in their invigorating scenes together, even while she displays a believable naivete that betrays her character's uncertainty. Making the most of Brooklyn's play-within-a-play structure, she shows off her own versatility to create an authentic version of a fanciful, fictional character.
Terrell Hunt's portrayal of the Street Singer, an enigmatic character who may or may not be whom he seems to be (much is left up to the imagination of the audience), provides the heart of the matter, providing support to Brooklyn, while maintaining a paternal presence in the lives of the people who populate the mean streets of home. Hunt's exquisite voice soars to the heavens throughout the course of the evening and he provides the leadership an ensemble piece like Brooklyn: The Musical, virtually demands.
As the long-absent Taylor Collins, the young American who is Brooklyn's father, Teal Davis plays him with a sense of desperation that helps to explain his absence from his daughter's life - he never knew she existed due to the intervention of his lover's demanding father - and a pervasive feeling of loss that he attempts to salve with drugs and alcohol. Davis is finally given the spotlight his talent deserves and he shows off his beautiful voice in a role that seems destined to become his own.
The rest of the ensemble is filled with a wealth of talent, each of them sharply focused on the task at hand, helping to create the wall of sound that makes Brooklyn: The Musical, so engaging and entertaining. Carly Rose is sweetly evocative as Faith, the lover to Taylor and the mother to Brooklyn, and superb support is provided by Kaylea Frezza, Sydney Hooper, Tyler Inabinette and Mindy Tolbert, who impressively morph from one character to another as the fairy tale of Brooklyn comes to life.
Brooklyn: The Musical. Book, music and lyrics by Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson. Directed by Bakari King. Musical direction by Randy Craft. Presented by Street Theatre Company at the Z. Alexander Looby Theatre, Nashville. Through November 17. For details, go to www.streetheatrecompany.org or call (615) 554-7414. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes (with one 15-minute intermission).