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Brooklyn a Pocket Musical Filled With Theater Magic

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The setup:

There's a nicely sentimental story about how this pocket musical Brooklyn came to be, but you won't hear it from me, as there is already enough good-hearted sentiment on the intimate Kaleidoscope stage in downtown Houston to fulfill ordinary needs. What we have here is a musical with five lead characters, almost no choreography, a minimalist set, and a script that relies heavily on the traditions of story-telling.

An orphaned 14-year old girl from France, named Brooklyn, comes to Brooklyn to find the father she never knew, and the story unfolds, accompanied by songs. The concept is that street people under the Brooklyn Bridge set up a stage to dramatize the saga of the orphaned waif.

The execution:

A production of this work is intended to make use of recycled materials, so we have a lot of trash strewn around, and a ball gown made of newspapers, and one of red plastic drinking cups, another of black trash bags, and one gown made from tinfoil. The results often are witty, for the costumes are designed by Colton Berry, who also directed the musical. All the debris onstage, however, makes for an ugly set, giving the production an amateurish aura. I know it's intended to look that way, but I couldn't help wondering if stark, abstract simplicity might not have worked better, indicating an archetypal story, not a realistic one.

Brooklyn's father returned to his home in the United States, and her mother never heard from him again. Brooklyn is on a quest to find him, and has discovered a singing ability that leads her to Carnegie Hall, and then to Madison Square Garden for a smack-down sing-off with Paradice, reigning musical diva, so there is a young lioness vs. old lioness plot. Hannah Miller plays Paradice and walks off with the show, as she projects a big personality, self-confidence, a bravura style, and the compelling vocal authority of a Tina Turner, all with a sassy in-your face attitude.

Mallory Bechtel as Brooklyn is more problematical. She is pretty, and captures the sweetness and gentleness of an orphan, but fails to exude the requisite power that her great vocal gifts should bring. We see the child, but not the diva, so that her trash-talking riposte "Miss Paradice, the gloves are coming off" sounds hollow and false. Bechtel often fails to project her voice, so that our belief in her as a singing sensation is made more difficult.

Brooklyn's mother Faith is portrayed by Kelly Waguespack, and it is a largely thankless role, seriously underwritten. As Taylor, the father, Jake Frank conveys an earnestness that has a mixture of gravitas as well, and Frank creates an interesting and credible character. As narrator and streetsinger, Colton Berry is dynamic, sings beautifully, and adds professional polish and style, despite being dressed in dreadlocks and rags.

The book, lyrics, and music are by Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson, and the lyrics are usually instantly forgettable, except for "There is a heart behind these hands" and "Do you believe in happy endings?" The music is pleasant, and powerful when it has to be, as when Paradice hits the magnificent mark with her diva-on-top mode. The live band - Jane Volke, Craig Edgar, Harry Ochsenbein, Erik Estrada and David Lerner - is unobtrusively placed, and is excellent.

The verdict:

There's enough theatrical magic here, some heart-warming moments, and a drop-dead performance by Hannah Miller as the diva Paradice to entice you into Bayou City Theatric's attractive new space in downtown Houston for a most enjoyable evening. Brooklyn the Musical continues through July 19, from Bayou City Theatrics, at Kaleidoscope, 705 Main, Wednesday through Saturdays at 8 p.m., information and ticketing at bayoucitytheatrics.com

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