The stars come out over Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Revue

Conceived and written by Chuck Reichenthal
Directed by Barbara Parisi
Choreographed by James Martinelli
Musical direction by Lalan Parrott
Ryan Repertory Company
The Jonathan Rosenblum Performing Arts Space at Harry Warren Theatre (Bath Beach, Brooklyn)
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Rebecca Longworth

Brooklyn pride abounded at The Brooklyn Revue, a musical romp from the turn of the century to near-contemporary Broadway and pop tunes. Where there's smoke, there's got to be fire, and as the tendrils of this revue wound their way among a slew of standards and favorites, it was undeniable that the legendary borough must have provided a creative spark. The audience could certainly feel the heat, as they tapped their toes, joined in a chorus of "Round and Round" to close Act One (led by choreographer/singer James Martinelli), and left the theater humming and smiling. No one seemed to mind that the evening was rather long -- in fact, they might have been persuaded to stay for more -- nor that the songs' credits were conspicuously absent from the program (perhaps not until the trip home, when many no doubt turned to the listing as a memento and reference).

Songs were grouped by a series of variety-type segments introducing their creators, some with simple narration, others with mood-setting skits or little vignettes portraying the likes of Betty Comden, George Gershwin (Ira was born in Manhattan), and Harry Warren. (Harry Who? The theatre's namesake, and composer of such hits as "I Only Have Eyes For You," 42nd Street, and "Chattanooga Choo Choo.") There's not too much connecting the dots, though. The various stars shine on independent of one another in a great big sky called Brookyln -- the theme of common borough is too broad for more than a "hats off" tribute to conjure a nostalgic haze surrounding each. But with its refreshing lack of irony, this brand of nostalgia is a good thing, allowing this array of songs to sparkle with the timeless enjoyment that makes them classics.

Aside from a few hokey movements that might have been better served by a touch of tongue to cheek, Mr. Marinelli's versatile choeography packed a mean Broadway punch into the tiny stage, and the performers filled up the space with honest heart and dedication to their triple-threat crafts. As they marched earnestly down memory lane, Barbara Parisi's direction turned up more than a few stellar interpretations: a sultry "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" and flirty "Chattanooga Choo Choo" among them, both performed with relish by Kristine Louis; a simply elegant and technically spot-on "Nature Boy" by Staci Anne Jacobs; earnest feeling in "Cat's in the Cradle" from Jim Speake; and a naughtily funny "Makin' Whoopie" from Stuart Marshall, all capturing the untarnished feeling these songs must have generated on their first hearings. Maggie Wise looked and danced like an ingénue while she hammed her way about the stage, and sang with a sweet alto. The Ryan Rep assembled a solid cast of singers and dancers, also including baritone Anthony Tolve and dancer/singer Jennifer Mielke.

Ms. Parisi and Laura Lowrie dressed the cast in a plethora of sumptuous costumes, including stunning tuxedos of various styles and eras for the men, and gowns for the women ranging from turn-of-the century styled daywear to evening gowns suggesting periods from the '40s to the '70s and '80s. While not all of them were precise to their decades, the sheer number and glint of them were impressive. Parisi is also credited with the lighting and set design. The lighting helped to create moods and variation in the staging, though it sometimes wasn't bright enough to properly showcase the performers. When they were illuminated, it was often by a spotlight that was occasionally overused but helped turn the spartan space into a theatrically exciting venue. The set consisted of placing a piano and drums upstage right and a stairway stage left, a simplicity that befitted a show glittering with other visuals that turned the little black-box theater into an elegant display. Parisi's staging was sometimes inventive but at other times static, though her guidance of the performers' interpretations was consistently inspired by an authentic love of the material, and contributed to an evening in which everyone was easily persuaded to acknowledge the pervasive, infectious relish of Brooklyn's music.

Box Score:

Book: 1/Lyrics: 2/Music: 2
Arrangements: 1
Directing: 1
Performance: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 Rebecca Longworth