Comic book culture has completely taken over the movies. Must it have the theater as well?
That’s the churlish reaction induced upon seeing Brooklynite, the campy new superhero musical now receiving its world premiere at off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre. This ambitious effort clearly has its sights set on bigger things and boasts a wide array of talent. It’s co-written and directed by the hugely successful Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening and American Idiot, among many others); the debuting composer/lyricist is Peter Lerman, winner of several prestigious awards; and the characters were created by acclaimed novelists Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman. But the end results seem more suited for the Fringe Festival than a commercial transfer.
The two central characters are hardware store proprietor and math nerd Trey (Matt Doyle), whose parents, in true comic-book tradition, were killed during a holdup; and Astrolass (Nicolette Robinson), one of the members of the Legion of Victory, a ragtag group of superheroes protecting the titular borough after becoming mutated as a result of an asteroid landing in Gowanus.
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Trey’s ultimate desire is to become a superhero himself and join the Legion of Victory’s ranks, while Astrolass would like nothing better than to relinquish her special abilities and become a normal person again.
The Legion’s other figures include El Fuego (Andrew Call), a short-order cook turned “master of fire” who proclaims, “I put the wick in Bushwick”; Blue Nixie (Grace McLean), a marine biologist who’s now the “siren of the seas”; Kid Comet (Gerard Canonico), the fastest man alive; Captain Clear, a file clerk turned invisible (he’s cleverly represented by merely a disembodied voice); and Avenging Angelo (Nick Cordero), whose ability to see into the future mainly manifests itself in finding empty parking spots. The latter, being the weakest member of the group, also carries a gun.
After Astrolass quits the Legion to begin a normal life working at the Save the World Foundation, Avenging Angelo makes a bid to procure her territory. When his request is rejected by the other members, he angrily embarks on a new career as a villain dubbed “Venge,” looking to recruit members for his Vengeance Bunch. Meanwhile, Trey is seeking to perfect his scientific method of re-creating the “Gowanus Effect” to mold new superheroes, starting with himself.
The thin storyline, which would barely pass muster in a real comic book, is peppered with Brooklyn-related one-liners. Kid Comet complains that “I used to be the 4 train and now I’m the G,” while Astrolass gripes about the strict requirements for joining the Park Slope Food Coop. The show’s level of wit is illustrated by Blue Nixie’s rejection of El Fuego’s romantic overtures.
“I will not be another shish on your kebab,” she tells him.
Lerman’s pop/rock score is merely serviceable, with the musical numbers hardly enlivened by the mundane choreography from the usually reliable and seemingly ubiquitous Steven Hoggett (Black Watch, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Once).
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The performers do what they can to elevate the jokey material, with Doyle and Robinson charming as the borough’s would-be savers and Cordero (a Tony Award nominee last year for his standout supporting turn in the short-lived Woody Allen musical Bullets Over Broadway) scoring the evening’s few big laughs. Among the remaining performers, the hilarious Ann Harada (Avenue Q) is sadly wasted in a variety of small roles.
The show at least looks great, with Donyale Werle‘s set, Andrea Lauer‘s Spandex-heavy superhero costumes and Andrew Lazarow‘s projections providing just the right comic- book-style vibe. But despite the hard-working efforts of all concerned, Brooklynite never takes flight.
Cast: Andrew Call, Gerard Canonico, Max Chernin, Nick Choksi, Nick Cordero, Matt Doyle, Carla Duren, Ann Harada, John-Michael Lyles, Grace McLean, Tom Alan Robbins, Nicolette Robinson, Remy Zaken
Book: Michael Mayer, Peter Lerman, based on characters created by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman
Music and lyrics: Peter Lerman
Director: Michael Mayer
Choreographer: Steven Hoggett
Set designer: Donyale Werle
Costume designer: Andrea Lauer
Lighting designer: Kevin Adams
Sound designer: Kai Harada
Video and projection designer: Andrew Lazarow
Music director: Kimberly Grigsby
Presented by the Vineyard Theatre