Fate smiled benignly when Barri McPherson ran into Mark Schoenfeld busking on a Brooklyn street corner. They had previously worked together but Schoenfeld had fallen on hard times. McPherson, now happily married, invited him to stay with her family. They began to write songs together and develop a story about Schoenfeld’s experiences on the street. We should now say the rest is history; however, that wouldn’t be entirely true, because BKLYN: The Musical is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. An eight month run on Broadway in 2004 was followed by a US national tour and the show is now the subject of this excellent presentation from Stream Theatre.
The basic premise is a play within a play; it tells the story of five homeless musicians known as the City Weeds. The foot of the Brooklyn Bridge transforms into a stage as they relate the story of Brooklyn (Emma Kingston), a Parisienne singer, who comes to New York in search of fame and the father she has never met. Her mother, Faith (Sejal Keshwala), reveals little to her except she was named after the New York borough from which her father came. Brooklyn becomes a star and begins to look for her father but does Taylor (Jamie Muscato) want to be found? Meanwhile, reigning diva Paradice (Marisha Wallace) resents the competition and won’t give up her crown without a fight. Holding everything together is the silver-tongued Streetsinger (Newtian Matthews) who narrates the story with the zeal of a preacher.
An earthy, stripped-down production is interspersed with grainy film clips of the Big Apple to add authenticity. A small band merges easily into the background, as the five strong cast perform superbly with minimal props and visual enhancements. Every voice is strong and tuneful; equally comfortable with solo, duet or ensemble numbers. There are memorable songs that also work as standalone pieces; ‘Heart Behind These Hands’could do what ‘Seasons of Love’ did for Rent. The songs complement a surprisingly strong narrative that adds the depth often missing from other musicals. Had I seen this live on stage it would almost certainly have been nudging a five star rating.
Book, Music & Lyrics by: Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson
Directed by: Dean Johnson
Produced by: Lambert Jackson Productions
BKLYN: The Musical is available via Stream.theatre until 4 April. Full booking details can be found via the below link.