Review: Brooklyn the Musical (Greenwich Theatre)

The 2004 Broadway musical plays at Greenwich Theatre this autumn

John Addison, Hiba Elchikhe, Andrew Patrick-Walker, Sabrina Aloueche and Emily-Mae in Brooklyn the Musical
John Addison, Hiba Elchikhe, Andrew Patrick-Walker, Sabrina Aloueche and Emily-Mae in Brooklyn the Musical
© Pamela Raith

Halfway through act two of Brooklyn the Musical, the established diva Paradice sits in her dressing room just before a highly anticipated sing-off against the upcoming starlet Brooklyn. She contemplates her career and accepts her part as the villain, a raven in a sky full of doves. The subsequent song "Raven" is introspective, layered and heartfelt – a climax of the show – where Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson's concept finally aligns with the vocal abilities of the five-strong cast.

Up until this point, Brooklyn the Musical tries to be too many things for too many people. And it falls a little short at every turn.

On Justin Williams' grungy, graffiti-clad set – a brightly coloured urban jungle reminiscent of Rent – the ensemble tells the tale of two lovers brought briefly together in Paris for a whirlwind romance. Taylor Collins and Faith have a fleeting, picture-perfect relationship before he returns to America and she is left with baby Brooklyn, a little girl who grows up in a world of turmoil and tragedy. Fast forward 20 years and the ingénue – a self-taught vocal prodigy – roams the New York streets that share her name, singing an unfinished lullaby she remembers hearing from her long-lost parents and trying to rediscover that broken connection.

There are messages of hope and faith, of putting good vibes into the world and sticking with your dreams to finally see them come true. Adam Haigh's uneven direction and choreography strives to be contemporary and relevant – a homegrown, grassroots musical that appeals to the next generation. The pervading metaphor is of a city weed: resiliently growing through the cracks in a concrete pavement, clinging on to burst into flower despite being trampled down every day.

The ideas are there, but the execution is too often lacking. This show should immerse its audience in an emotional journey by shattering the fourth wall, but instead it tells a very traditional story in a standard format within the confines of the stage. It needs the viewers to buy into the plight of its leading lady through those she meets, but Schoenfeld and McPherson's supporting characters are too underdeveloped, a motley crew that barely get enough stage time to state their name let alone establish their backstory.

The Street Singer – a narrator with swagger – tries to stop the audience from getting lost by linking sporadic chapters of the book together. And Andrew Patrick-Walker does well with the cards he's been dealt, a charismatic stage presence who feeds off the energy of the room and grows in confidence throughout the show.

In fact, all five performers make the most of the sketchy and shallow narrative. Together, the group has chemistry, a set of powerful vocal performances that can easily bring the house down – yet never quite do – and a vibrant energy that fills the Greenwich Theatre stage, a venue that at times threatens to swallow up this staging. Patrick-Walker's final duet with Hiba Elchikhe's Brooklyn has the sought-after combination of soul and grit that is too often out of balance in the rest of the production.

The cast is led by the vocal runs and money notes of Elchikhe, rarely missed and delivered with a controlled combination of steely determination and hopeful sparkle. Her rendition of "Once Upon a Time" is the glue that holds act one together.

As the contented villain, Emily-Mae inadvertently steals the limelight with "Love Me Where I Live", an updated homage to Effie White's "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" – less emotionally charged but just as much of an ultimatum to the crowd. The unfortunately underused Sabrina Aloueche is vulnerable and fragile as the heartbroken mother Faith, her powerful vocal adding rich layers of anguish to a character separated from the love of her life, Taylor Collins – an intentionally imperfect and all the more real offering by John Addison.

Brooklyn the Musical is looking for a bohemian edge – a send-up to Jonathan Larson, with the contemporary flair that the 90s ground-breaking musical had in its day. It has the songs, the voices and under Richard Baker's musical direction it has the pipes. It doesn't yet have the vision, the heart or the raw energy of the shows it seeks to emulate. It's still the city weed, growing amid the concrete sprawl, slowly on its way to bursting into flower.