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Brooklynite

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray


Matt Doyle and Nicolette Robinson
Photo by Carol Rosegg

It's not a bird and it's not a plane, but Brooklynite is just about featherweight enough to fly—and that's not necessarily a bad thing. (It worked out pretty well for Superman, after all.) Peter Lerman and Michael Mayer's new musical, which just opened at the Vineyard Theatre, is pretty much the textbook definition of a diversion: silliness, songs, gags at the expense of an exotic locale (in this case, the borough just south of Manhattan). But the show embraces its nature so fully and so openly that its limited reach and limited accomplishments hardly matter at all.

Brooklynite is, in just about every way, a superhero comic onstage—which is a good thing, given that it's about superheroes. About ten years ago, the Gowanus Asteroid crashed in Brooklyn and bestowed amazing abilities on the people closest to it, who then joined forces to become the Legion of Victory. Its members include Astrolass, blessed with flight and supreme strength; El Fuego, who can summon up fire on a whim; Blue Nixie, capable of controlling water; Kid Comet, with legs that move at super speed; Captain Clear, who turned completely invisible; and Avenging Angelo, whose perfect prescience extends only to available parking spaces. (He was farthest from the asteroid crash site, you see.)

Enraptured with what they can do is Trey Swieskowski (Matt Doyle), a young man who manages the hardware store his parents left behind when they died five years earlier. He believes he's discovered a way to synthesize the mysterious material that made the League's superpowers possible, Brooklynite, and will soon be able to join their ranks. He's also more than a little smitten with Astrolass (Nicolette Robinson), though she plans on following a different path: She's grown weary of the crime-fighting life and renounces her position as leader of the League so she can be a "normal" person once again.

Her exit opens a position at the top of the organization, which Angelo (Nick Cordero) wants to fill—but he's rejected by his more, you know, useful colleagues, and sets out on his own as their new villainous nemesis, Venge. Who, of course, discovers Trey's scheme and sees his work as the opportunity he's always craved to be equal to—or superior to—his disapproving, disparaging colleagues. What follows is the predictable quest to save Brooklyn from Venge and his minions (science students who disapprove of Trey's methods), contain the Brooklynite, and, just maybe, get Trey and Astrolass together.


Gerard Canonico, Andrew Call, and Grace McLean
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Lerman and Mayer take few chances with their book; if you have any familiarity with superhero media at all, you'll see where things are headed (a plot twist or two even seems to have been lifted, almost wholesale, from the movie Superman II), and the humor derives mainly and unexceptionally from geographically appropriate sources. ("I never thought I'd say this, but I feel slow out there," Kid Comet, played by Gerard Canonico, bemoans in trying to convince Astrolass to reconsider. "I used to be the 4 train, now I'm the G.") The rivalry between El Fuego (Andrew Call) and Blue Nixie (Grace McLean) is contrived, as its resolution; and because Angelo is so buffoonish, Venge doesn't make a credible threat, regardless of how menacing his black-pleather outfit may look. (The superb, inventive costumes are by Andrea Lauer.)

These stumbles aside, the tropes suffice within this framework, and the writing is comedically sure enough to help you buy in to the zaniness, no matter how much you may want to resist. (Another favorite of mine: "There's crime in Park Slope!" protests El Fuego. "Oh, was somebody pushing their stroller too fast?" quips Blue Nixie.) Lerman's score combines pop, rock, and theatre notions, but sounds wholly original and at times majestic in its treatment of sprawling powers and intimate exchanges alike. The numbers that focus on the League ("Cape Action Suite," "Strength in Numbers") are driving and energetic; the smaller numbers, mostly for Trey and a diminished Astrolass, with the twisty ballad "Little White Lie" and the anguished "I Am Not the Hero" the standouts, are every bit as good.

Mayer's direction and Steven Hoggett's choreography (more definitively dancelike than the "rustic" moves he provided for Once and The Last Ship) likewise capture the proper whimsically elevated tone, and are highly amusing in how seriously they take their fanciful charge. Donyale Werle's splashy sets and Kevin Adams's lights further aid the production in leaping, in a single bound, right onto the comic page.

The performances match just as well with the material, with Doyle a shyly effective emotional lead and Robinson a charming counterpart for him, her Astrolass displaying the strength and the sensitivity Trey needs to thrive. Cordero stops just short of overshooting his mark as Angelo, but stays just within the bounds of the writing, to winning effect. Canonico, Call, and McLean are all distinctive and find plenty of laughs in their roles, as does the excellent ensemble, which includes Ann Harada as a wishy-washy scientist, Tom Alan Robbins as a smarmy mayor, and Remy Zaken as Venge's sexy-stupid love interest.

They all deliver plenty of pleasure, but they—like the show they're in—seldom dig very deep. Questions of identity and being satisfied with yourself, regardless of your natural gifts, are touched on (mostly with respect to Trey) but not explored in any probing way, and superheroes' powers are at their least interesting when they're least tied to the dreams we all have of overcoming our innate limitations and doing something no one else can. But if Mayer and Lerman could make Brooklynite mean a lot more, they'd be hard-pressed to have more calorie-free fun with it than they already are.


Brooklynite
Through March 22
Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix


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