Premiering in the UK at the Greenwich Theatre after a Broadway run back in 2004, Brooklyn is a love letter to New York and its street artists. Written by Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson, whose relationship to some extent mirrors that of Brooklyn and the Street Singer, as they were inspired to write it after McPherson, heard an old friend who had fallen on hard times, Schoenfeld, busking on the street.
Nodding to the “edgy fairytale” musicals of today, as you walk into the the Greenwich Theatre, Justin William’s set and Nicole Garbett’s costumes scream Rent: and as the show goes on, it’s clear to see further nods to other previously successful musicals. Unfortunately, these nods feel like less like a homage to the shows that went before them, and instead make the story seem derivative – despite the beautiful origin story of how the show itself came to fruition.
Told by street performers who inhabit each character, the story is based around Brooklyn: a young musician coming from Paris to New York in search of the father than abandoned her and her mother Faith, leaving Faith so broken hearted that she became depressed and subsequently commits suicide. Things turn up a notch, when singing veteran Paradice challenges Brooklyn to a sing off at Madison Square Gardens in order to rule the New York singing roost: with Paradice’s entrance number ‘Superlover’ bringing a little light relief from the initial cheesiness – and boy does Emily-Mae sing her socks off!
As much as we’re supposed to feel most connected to Brooklyn, as regrettably is the case with a lot of lead female characters in musicals, she is too sickly sweet, to the point even the astonishing talent of Hiba Elchikhe cannot fully alleviate. However, the cast as a whole elevate the script when it teeters into “too cheesy” territory, as their vocal talents are faultless. The melodies and harmonies are effortlessly sung by the five cast members meaning their numbers in unison of ‘Once Upon a Time’ and ‘Heart Behind These Hands’ stand out, despite them being less belty than some of the solo/duet numbers.
Brooklyn’s story isn’t groundbreaking, and some of the lines are a little cringey – the one that sticks being ‘sometimes with our tears we can water roses’ – but the incredible skill of the cast and the ease in which they carry you through the story make a night in the heights an enjoyable one, nonetheless.