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BKLYN

BKLYN The Musical

★★★★★

Online via stream.theatre

BKLYN

BKLYN The Musical

Online via stream.theatre

Reviewed – 20th March 2021

★★★★★

 

“an extraordinary amalgam of film and theatre, brought vividly to life by an extraordinary array of talent”

 

On paper, “BKLYN The Musical” appears to be an ambitious musical to stage. The narrative scale is quite epic, moving from sixties Paris to downtown Brooklyn, crossing not just the Atlantic but a couple of decades too, with an imagined stopover in Vietnam. Backstories mingle with imagined futures, dreams and alternative realities. A recent staging at Greenwich Theatre in 2019 revealed some of these shortcomings in an otherwise well received production; described variously as brave and bold.

Fast forward eighteen months and imagine the courage and faith a company must need to tackle this musical in the midst of a pandemic. Lambert Productions have done just that and their own particular take, part theatre part film, is quite simply stunning. Simplicity is the key. Filmed at the Ugly Duck space near London Bridge, it uses the sparse, semi-derelict atmosphere of the venue to wondrous effect. The artistic decisions, seemingly small, have a massive impact. Stripped back we can absorb the narrative and get right to the heart of the characters.

“BKLYN” is a play within a play. It opens with street singer (Newtion Matthews) drawing a like-minded band of itinerant troubadours together to tell the story of Brooklyn; born of a mother living in Paris and an American father who disappears from their lives. Orphaned at a young age, Brooklyn later uses her inborn talents as a singer to try to find fame, fortune and her father in America. All she has is an unfinished lullaby; a wordless leitmotif her father wrote that her mother passed onto her. Finding the refrain will hopefully lead her to her fairy-tale ending.

As the story unfolds, the players slip into the characters being portrayed. The parallel lives are depicted by deft costume changes, camera angles and lighting effects. Dean Johnson’s cinematography and Sam Diaz’s editing are flawless, matched by Andrew Exeter’s design and Matt Davies’ lighting. Although you are aware of the multi-take filming process, director Dean Johnson’s masterstroke is that you constantly forget. The piece feels very real, very live and, as a result, it is a very emotional experience.

But save the best for last. The cast. Again – small in scale but epic in projection and talent. But first the score. A blistering catalogue of soaring power ballads interspersed with up-tempo R&B soul that sweeps you off your feet. Lyrically they occasionally flirt with Disney sentimentality, but the cast collectively grab these floating nuances and crush them into the ground. Follow your dreams is the overriding message of hope, but you have to dig deep and dig up the dirt. It’s a “Sidewalk Fairy-tale” intones the street singer, steering the show well clear of schmaltz.

Newtion Matthew narrates, as the street singer who morphs into the ‘Magic Man’, a kind of fairy-godfather. With the voice of the ‘Soul Man’ he guides us, lifts us and eventually breaks our hearts when he delivers the final twist in the tale. Emma Kingston as the eponymous Brooklyn shatters all preconceptions of the fairy-tale princess with her spirit of steel and voice of crystal. Jamie Muscato, even if a little fresh faced and youthful, convincingly portrays the drug addled Vietnam veteran. His letters never reach Brooklyn’s mother, the tragic and ill-fated Faith, touchingly played by Sejal Keshwala. The vocal demands are huge, but the voices are pushed to their limits, but never beyond. In particular Marisha Wallace whose vocal performance truly stands out. She is ‘Paradice’, the villain of the piece who demands that we love to hate her. But we just end up loving her instead.

We are watching a show in a disused warehouse, but at times we could be in Madison Square Gardens, at others in a Brooklyn back alley. The panoramic sense of location is matched by the sweeping lyricism of the songs. With us barely noticing, a verse can chuck out a diatribe on homelessness, immigration, racism and the empty façade of the American Dream. These messages are quite subliminal and never encroach – the overall effect is purely emotive.

The overriding message though is one that you’ll want to pass onto as many people as possible, which is that this is an extraordinary amalgam of film and theatre, brought vividly to life by an extraordinary array of talent.

 

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography courtesy Sam Diaz and Dean Johnson

 


BKLYN The Musical

Online via stream.theatre until 4th April

 

Jonathan’s reviews this year:
Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Hung Parliament | ★★★★ | Online | February 2021
The Picture of Dorian Gray | ★★★★ | Online | March 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Dogfight

Dogfight

★★★★

Southwark Playhouse

Dogfight

Dogfight

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 21st August 2019

★★★★

 

a brilliant and nuanced musical

 

It’s 1963 and Eddie Birdlace has one more night before him and his fellow marine buddies (Bernstein and Boland – the three bees) ship out to the Vietnam war. Full of the certainty of their invincibility and the promise of a hero’s return, the marines spend their night partaking in a long honoured tradition: the dogfight. A simple premise. Each marine puts in fifty bucks. They throw a party. The marine who can bring the ugliest date wins the leftover money. When Eddie meets Rose he is sure he has found the perfect girl for the dogfight, but he doesn’t bargain for what comes next.

At its heart this is a love story but it is also investigates toxic masculinity. The marines have only had thirteen weeks training, and can’t be more than nineteen years old. They are vessels of a violent and ugly misogyny, but at the same time they are no more than boys, naive and vulnerable, in no way ready to face war. In heartbreaking juxtaposition, Rose is a breath of fresh air to the stage, intelligent, interesting and ultimately kind.

The performers are all members of the British Theatre Academy, which offers accessible training and performance opportunities to young people under the age of twenty three. And what a cast they are. Across the board they are full of energy and conviction, and there isn’t a weak link onstage. Our leading pair played by Stephen Lewis-Johnson and Claire Keenan in this performance – two casts alternate – are brilliant. Keenan is particularly compelling, funny and genuine, immediately likeable. She is utterly engaging to watch. Her and Lewis-Johnson are in turn lovely together, and both vocally really strong. Lewis-Johnson’s lonely return from Vietnam is an undeniably powerful end to the show which he delivers with the full emotional punch it deserves.

The band are faultless. It’s a fantastic score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (both music and lyrics) that they handle with accomplishment and ease.

The set by Dean Johnson and Andrew Exeter is simple but effective. The band, lit by warm lamps are at the back of the stage and the different settings are created by wooden crates. A particularly lovely moment sees light bulbs suspended by cast members to create street lamps around Eddie and Rose on their first date.

This a brilliant and nuanced musical that is delivered by an incredibly talented cast and band.

 

Reviewed by Amelia Brown

Photography by Eliza Wilmot

 


Dogfight

Southwark Playhouse until 31st August

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Aspects of Love | ★★★★ | January 2019
All In A Row | ★★ | February 2019
Billy Bishop Goes To War | ★★★ | March 2019
The Rubenstein Kiss | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Other People’s Money | ★★★ | April 2019
Oneness | ★★★ | May 2019
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button | ★★★★★ | May 2019
Afterglow | ★★★½ | June 2019
Fiver | ★★★★ | July 2019
Once On This Island | ★★★ | August 2019

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com