Though occasionally charming, the new musical Brooklynite–enjoying a NYC premiere Off Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre–needs perhaps a bit less Brooklyn, and a bit more, uh, –ite. This Michael Mayer-directed production (co-scribed with Peter Lerman), which envisions a community kept safe by a team of superheroes, is based on characters by husband-and-wife literary powerhouse duo Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman but ultimately feels small in scale and scope.
So how did all these superheroes end up in Brooklyn anyway? In the show’s mythology, the Gowanus Asteroid hits the borough, mutating a group of residents who become charged with making the region a utopia. Astrolass (Nicolette Robinson), the most powerful member of the Legion of Victory, is considering retirement, as Trey (Matt Doyle), a lowly hardware-store clerk, is closing in on a way to make himself a superhero and avenge the deaths of his parents.
For all of its considerable pedigree, Brooklynite is eventually too localized. The borough-specific jokes will likely be confusing to out-of-towners, yet all too familiar to locals. Artisanal cheese shops, food co-ops, the G train, and the grossness of the Gowanus Canal all get shout-outs, and would be clever in small doses, but here they are the main attraction. The superhero story is one most of us have heard some variation on before—all that great power, great responsibility talk, dead parents—and the borough is more of a trope than a fully realized setting. (That’s not to say that Donyale Werle’s set, which evokes the view of Manhattan one might get from a rooftop in Brooklyn at night, isn’t great.)
Peter Lerman’s songs are pleasant, mostly forgettable tunes with a light pop-punk flavor, and those that linger are buoyed by the strong performances from the ensemble cast. Robinson and Doyle are appealing (though burdened by the score’s repetition), and as Legion member Avenging Angelo–whose only superpower is finding parking spaces–Tony nominee Nick Cordero (Bullets Over Broadway) is one of the cast’s brightest spots, especially in his petulance-laced number “Tantrum”, which highlights AA’s growing villainy. Gerard Canonico, who plays the hero Kid Comet, is winning when dancing with the invisible Captain Clear, another Legion-er, in the second act’s “Strength in Numbers,” a derivative song about teamwork. (Canonico, like other members of the cast, is a veteran of Mayer’s Spring Awakening).
The real Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company is a store of ephemera that gives way to a great cause: the nonprofit 826NYC, which assists students under 18 looking to improve their writing skills. I wish that one could peel back a curtain—or perhaps more aptly, a mask—and reveal Brooklynite‘s secret identity. Unfortunately, that identity’s not quite there yet. C