It’s a Broadway musical that will leave you believing in miracles, a touching production that will remind you never to look down on those who are struggling to survive because “there but for the grace of God go I.”
Playing at the Plymouth Theater on West 45th Street in New York City, Brooklyn, The Musical boasts an all-star, mostly minority cast. African-American actors Cleavant Derricks, formerly on Broadway in Dreamgirls, plays Streetsinger and Ramona Keller, recently seen on Broadway in Caroline or Change, plays Paradice. Mexican actress Eden Espinosa plays the title role of Brooklyn, while Asian-Latina actress Karen Olivo plays Faith. Kevin Anderson, who is white, portrays Taylor. The play has an unforgettable book, with music and lyrics by Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson; stirring musical arrangements by John McDaniel; and extraordinary direction by Jeff Calhoun.
The story line is simple: Brooklyn is searching for her father. Brooklyn is named after the borough that was home to the father she never knew. Taylor, her father, is an American who found love in France with her mother, Faith. A young songwriter at the time, he begins a lullaby for Faith but has to return to America before he is able to complete it. Faith never has the chance to tell him she is pregnant. She gives birth to a little girl and becomes a famous dancer in Paris, but dies of a broken heart after waiting in vain for Taylor to return.
Besides her name, Brooklyn’s only connection to her father is the unfinished lullaby he wrote for her mother. Scared but determined to find him, she ventures to America and to her father’s borough. In the United States she finds fame as a singer, but she crosses a veteran songstress named Paradice, who is very upset that this new, young singer may be able to take away her loyal fans. Paradice challenges Brooklyn to a singing competition. Brooklyn is desperate to locate her father before the competition takes place. Miraculously she does so, with the aid of Streetsinger, who also plays her “Magic Man,” a fairy-godfather-like figure. However, Brooklyn’s reunion with her father is not the happy event she hoped it would be. She finds him living on the streets, a drug-addicted war veteran. With the help of her Magic Man she sees the death her father saw during the war and the deep emotional impact it had on him. Brooklyn then is able to get past her father’s rough exterior and connect with the father she never knew.
The roughest character in the play is Paradice. “[She’s] a no nonsense person,” Keller says. “She’s got that Brooklyn, New York, attitude. When I read the part, I knew who she was because she’s a lot like me. She speaks her mind and wouldn’t back down from anything, but she also has a softer side that she hides.” Keller herself is Brooklyn born and raised.
One of the most outstanding elements of this musical is the captivating singing of its incredible cast. The beginning of the play is alluring, with Streetsinger as the leader of a group of street singers—poor people who sing for whatever coins passersby are willing to throw their way—who, in order to get more tips, announces that he will tell a story and that he and the other singers will play the roles of the people in the story. The story, of course, is about Brooklyn’s quest for her father.
The notion that beneath a person’s dirty or bedraggled appearance lies a heart is a strong theme in the show. The audience is encouraged to help others because, in doing so, they help themselves. These messages not only are moving and compassionate, but also refreshing to see on Broadway.