Brooklynite Review: Superheroes in Brooklyn

Brooklynite1 Matt Doyle and Nicolette RobinsonIf and when future theater nerds recall “Brooklynite,” the musical about superheroes in Brooklyn that has now opened at the Vineyard Theater, my bet is that we’ll see it as an early vehicle for several (future) major stars.

Oh look, we might say, there’s Nicolette Robinson in her Off-Broadway debut as Astrolass, the superhero who wants to be a regular Brooklyn girl;

or Matt Doyle, solidifying his musical theater cred after stints on Broadway in Spring Awakening, The Book of Mormon and War Horse, as Trey Swieskowski, the Brooklyn hardware clerk who wants to become a superhero;

Brooklynite2 Nick Corderoor Nick Cordero, who in his Tony-nominated performance as the gangster Cheech was by far the best thing about Bullets Over Broadway, as the snubbed superhero Avenging Angelo, who becomes the villain.

Or maybe even, here was an early musical by composer/lyricist and co-bookwriter Peter Lerman, who even then showed a talent for beautiful ballads, and a knack for an occasional clever turn of phrase.

The extraordinary talent of the 13-member cast is the main reason to see “Brooklynite,” which grafts some lovely singing onto a show that mixes together gentle jokes about Brooklyn and mild spoofing with a less-than-original story involving characters dressed in off-putting chintzy spandex costumes. The whole package managed to remind me at various times of The Toxic Avenger, The Fortress of Solitude, and even (alas) Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark.

With a book co-written by the show’s much admired director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, American Idiot) “Brooklynite” is based on characters created by the married couple novelists Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, and therein lies something of an inside joke.  Chabon and Waldman are volunteers for the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company,  the jokey name of a Park Slope storefront that houses fellow novelist Dave Eggers’ non-profit  826NYC,  which “supports students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills.”

Trey Swieskowski is a clerk in a hardware store in Park Slope that will, by show’s end (I guess this is a spoiler alert) wind up with the same jokey name.  As the musical begins, Trey’s parents were killed in a robbery attempt. He is now supported by his neighbors, by buying paint when they don’t need it. Something of a mad (but friendly) scientist, Trey spends all his spare time trying to re-create the substance “Brooklynite” (as in kryptonite) that fell to earth a decade earlier in the Gowanus Asteroid, and turned six ordinary Brooklynites into The Legion of Victory: A short-order cook became El Fuego (Andrew Call) – “I put the wick in Bushwick.” A marine biologist became Blue Nixie (Grace Mclean), who makes waves. A messenger became Kid Comet, the fastest man on earth (Gerard Canonico). An unemployed gamer from Bensonhurst became Avenging Angelo (Nick Cordero), who can find an empty parking spot (He was the furthest away from the asteroid and so got the least of its powers.) “And if that doesn’t save the day, I also have a gun,” Avenging Angelo says. (Captain Clear is invisible, and so just a voice-over.)

An honor student from Prospect Heights Middle School was given supreme powers,and became Astrolass (Nicolette Robinson.) But after ten years, Astrolass is tired of being a superhero, and quits the league. Avenging Angelo wants to take her place as the leader of the league, but is not elected to the position, at which point he vows to create his own group and wreak havoc over Brooklyn. Meanwhile, Trey winds up being successful in creating the Brooklynite…but Avenging Angelo steals it. Will Trey become Astrolad and team with Astrolass to rescue Brooklyn from the Avenging Angelo, who renames himself Venge, and dons a slightly less repulsive costume?

There are romantic plots and subplots, laced with some corny cracks and in-jokes. With all the extra work he has to do caused by the thinning of the Legion’s membership, Kid Comet fears he’s slowing down: “I used to be the 4 train, now I’m the G.” Blue Nixie resists the amorous come-ons from El Fuego: “I’ve seen how you burn through girls and I will not be another Shish on your Kebab.”

In a town hall meeting with the members of the Legion of Triumph, Trey asks them what it was like to mutate into superheroes.

“It was weird,” replies Astrolass.

“Cool weird or weird weird?”

“Weird weird,” they all reply.

“Brooklynite,” by contrast, tries hard to be cool weird.



at the Vineyard Theater

Book by Michael Mayer and Peter Lerman
Music and Lyrics by Peter Lerman
Based on characters created by Michael Chabon & Ayelet Waldman
Choreography by Steven Hoggett
Directed by Michael Mayer

Cast: Andrew Call, Gerard Canonico, Max Chernin, Nick Choksi, Nick Cordero, Matt Doyle, Carla Duren, Ann Harada, John-Michael Lyles, Grace Mclean, Tom Alan Robbins, Nicolette Robinson, Remy Zaken

Brooklynite has been extended to run through March 29, 2015

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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