Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Brooklyn the Musical
Brooklyn the Musical made its last stand at San Jose Center of the Performing Arts before the tour ended. This two-hour, no intermission musical has been making the rounds in this country since it closed on Broadway in 2005. The touring version has a mostly new cast including American Idol star Diana Degarmo playing the role of Brooklyn. The producers retained Tony winner Cleavant Derricks from the Broadway cast as the Street Singer and have added veteran singer Melba Moore as Paradice. Lee Morgan from the New York cast plays Taylor.
I saw the production at the Plymouth Theatre in October 2004 with the original cast, and overall I was not impressed. However, Eden Espinosa as Brooklyn and Ramona Keller as Paradice had great vocal cords when singing their numbers. The current touring version is comparable to the New York cast with the presence and voices of Diana Degarmo, Cleavant Derricks and Melba Moore.
This show is great if you are into American Idol voices. However, with the extra loud sound system at the San Jose Performing Arts, it becomes almost a screaming contest for the characters. Most of the songs by Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson are stressed gospel ballads that are put together in search of a story. If the producers were trying to produce a musical on the caliber of Rent they did not succeed.
Brooklyn is about a band of soulful street corner singers and storytellers who set their stage behind a derelict part of Brooklyn to tell a sidewalk fairy tale. It's about French orphan Brooklyn (Diana Degarmo), named for the home of her American father Taylor (Lee Morgan) who left for the states soon after she was conceived. Brooklyn's mother Faith (Julie Reiber), a Parisian star, never recovered from Taylor's broken promise to return, and she hangs herself after a performance. Brooklyn becomes a major singing star in Europe and after several years arrives in the states to find her father. The reigning diva Paradice (Melba Moore) is not happy to have competition so she challenges Brooklyn to a vocal duel at Madison Square Garden. It's just like the American Idol television show when the audience members cast their votes as to who is the greatest singer.
Diana Degarmo has real emotional power when singing, until she starts to screech those high notes. However, her acting is amateurish. Melba Moore has the guts to be the ruthless bitch queen. She is far more engaging when singing "Superlover" and "Raven." Cleavant Derricks has a velvet voice, especially on "Magic Man." Lee Morgan seems wasted in this production but does a credible portrayal of a man living on the streets with a drug problem. He has a nice voice when singing "Sometimes." Julie Reiber has a warm voice on "Christmas Makes Me Cry," a duet with Morgan.
Ray Klausen's set is basically the same as the New York production. The cast uses urban refuse to tell the story and even the costumes by Tobin Ost are created from trash. Paradice's outfit for the singing contest is wonderful and consists of crime scene tape and bubble wrap. She calls it "Salvation Armani."
Brooklyn; the Musical made its last appearance at the San Jose Performing Arts Center, 255 Almaden Boulevard, San Jose on August 13th. Molly Ringwald in Sweet Charity opens on September 19 and runs through October 1. For tickets call 1-888-455-7469.