Brooklyn: The Musical – Greenwich Theatre, London

Book, Music, Lyrics: Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson

 Director: Adam Haigh

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

“Some things last longer than magic,” forget the need for fairy tale endings and fantastical helping hands because love will always see you through… at least that is the concept at the heart of the excessively sentimental Brooklyn: The Musical which makes its European debut at the Greenwich Theatre 15 years after its American premiere, stringing together a series power ballads as a young singer sets out to find her long lost daddy.

A group of street performers mill around an old abandoned house waiting for an audience to hear their story. And soon they have conjured a 1960s love affair between American singer Taylor Collins and his Parisian amour Faith who he soon abandons with his child. Fast forward 20 years or so and that child, Brooklyn, is now a successful singer on the verge of taking over the States, if only she could find Taylor and beat diva rival Paradice in a sing-off.

Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson’s two-hour musical is a pretty lightweight experience, and notwithstanding some impressive vocal exaltations from the cast, it fails to evoke that sense of magic that everyone keeps singing about. The narrative is pretty basic with huge suspensions of disbelief required, meaning that not only are two people who seemingly love each other as much as Taylor and Faith are parted, but (to mis-coin a phrase), of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world she walks into her father by chance.

The overall structure just makes little sense – why is the story framed as a play-within-a-play when we learn nothing about the street performers, and why are they staging this pseudo-morality tale when it could just be played from Brooklyn’s perspective. Likewise, lots of narrative extras are dropped without further explanation – is Taylor a singer or a soldier and what war is he fighting in 1960s France that leaves him with PTSD flashbacks? At least in response to his claims to be a “monster” Brooklyn helpfully sets him straight with “no you’re my daddy.”

Instead of delving deeper into characters and scenarios, every time Brooklyn: The Musical opts for sentiment over sense, a sugary sweetness that becomes increasingly unlikely. Every song is achingly earnest with repetition not just of the same melodies but also the same phrases and words within songs as well. And all of the performers add extra trills, scales and long notes into every available moment so with an R&B feel to the composition eventually its like being shouted at in musical form.

The cast are excellent, there’s no denying that they can all sing with incredible range and power but there’s little nuance or subtly, no variety in the presentation to suggest the range of emotions the characters are supposed to feel. Emily-Mae is particularly good as chief villain Paradice whose strutting renditions of ‘Superlover’ and ‘Love is Where I Live’ are highlights but her character is criminally underwritten. Likewise, Hiba Elchikhe as the titular Brooklyn has a great voice but little to sink her teeth into as an actor. There’s good support from John Addison as Taylor but a life story that involves abandoning his pregnant girlfriend, war experience and drug addiction just deserve better exploration.

There are some good songs and the odd cheeky moment that raises a smile but the story never really connects with the audience, not helped by the risible messaging that tells you to “trust the voice inside of you” and “there’s magic in your music”. Messy and lacking sparkle, there are some things that last longer than magic and sadly Brooklyn: The Musical is one of them.

Runs Until: 19 October 2019 | Image: Pamela Raith

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Sentiment over sense

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