February 28, 2015

There's Nothing All That Super About the New Superhero Musical "Brooklynite"

Maybe it’s because I stopped watching superhero movies around the time Michael Keaton left the "Batman" franchise. Or it could be because I don’t live in Brooklyn and only visit when there’s a good show playing at BAM or St. Ann’s Warehouse. But almost nothing about Brooklynite, the new musical about superheroes living in that now-trendy borough, worked for me.

So, you might ask, why did I go see it? The answer is simple: I’m a sucker for pedigrees. And this show, which opened at the Vineyard Theatre this week, has a terrific one. 

It was conceived by Michael Mayer, whose direction of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Spring Awakening and American Idiot, have made him the go-to guy for smart shows that know how to blend pop, rock and show tunes. 

And although I’m not into superheroes, I was further intrigued when I read that Mayer had collaborated with Michael Chabon, the author of one of my all-time favorite books, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the early days of the comic book industry (click here to read about the genesis of the show).

On top of all that, I read that Stephen Hoggett, who has introduced a whole new concept of choreography with the stylized gestures he created for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Rocky, Once and The Glass Menagerie, had signed on to create the superhero movements for Brooklynite.

But they all let me down.  

Mayer (credited with co-writing the book, in addition to directing) Chabon and his wife, the writer Ayelet Waldman, and the young composer Peter Lerman have concocted a goofy tale about a group of people who acquired superpowers when they were hit by the rays of an asteroid that crashed into Brooklyn and then joined together in a crime-avenging league. 

The league's leader is Astrolass, who possess super strength and the ability to fly but yearns to be just a regular girl. One of the group’s biggest fans is Trey, who, as seemingly all comic heroes must be, is an orphan whose parents died in a calamity. 

Trey runs the hardware store his folks left him but spends most of his time on scientific experiments that he hopes will one day give him superpowers so that he can join the league. Eventually Astrolass and Trey meet cute and sparks fly.

There is another storyline in which one of the superheroes, Avenging Angelo (Nick Cordero, pretty much repeating the lovable-lug performance he gave in last season’s Bullets Over Broadway) goes to the bad side and tries to take over the city. And there's yet another in which a superhero couple try to sort out the work-life balance in their relationship.

But it’s all just an excuse for the actors to run around in tights, make lame jokes about Brooklyn and belt out Lerman’s pop-rock tunes, none of which I remembered any longer than it took my theatergoing buddy Bill and me to walk the couple of blocks across Union Square Park to grab a post-show dinner at Blue Water Grill. 

Even the usually inventive Hoggett comes up flatfooted with generic choreography that looks as though someone dared him to be more conventional and he took up the challenge with a vengeance.

The game cast, lead by the appealing Nicolette Robinson as Astrolass and Matt Doyle as Trey, works hard and I suppose Mayer was going for something in the campy style of Little Shop of Horrors or the old "Batman" TV series. And, indeed, some of the mainstream critics have found the show to be good silly fun.

But Brooklynite affected me the way Kryptonite does Superman: by the end of its overly long two hours, I felt as though all the energy had been drained out of me.

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