recess radio program

01/04/05
Jacob Grimm Goes to Brooklyn
    by Richard Drake

Brief Sound Clip:

A fairy tale opened on Broadway in late October and you were just listening to the title character, “Brooklyn,” inviting the audience into an urban fable performed by a homeless theatre troop. She coaxes the crowd into a world where the actors use (as props and costumes) such familiar street signs as spray paint, scaffolding and crime-scene tape.

The simple story, about the search for Brooklyn’s father, is the narrative framework on which to hang the powerful, sustaining emotions of Brooklyn’s faith and love. In the tale Brooklyn is assailed by all the negative things the streets can inflict on an orphan, but the hope of a connection to family is the jewel that lies hidden, shimmering under the rubbish.

Marc Shoenfeld, who wrote the music for “Brooklyn,” was himself a homeless man who became familiar with a number of Manhattan park benches around the TKTS subway line. These are the same park benches in front of which he now offers sincere apologies to theatre goers unable to buy tickets on nights his show is sold out. Mr. Shoenfeld’s soaring ballads have a pop/soul-American Idol-like appeal to virtuosity, and they really are spectacular vocal vehicles. But it’s Brooklyn’s steadfast love for a father she’s not even sure exists that stands out against the cruelty of the street and the ragged, homeless actors telling the story. Brooklyn’s only clue to her father is a faintly remembered lullaby, and in this song lies her belief and her hope.

Of course every fairy-tale -- especially a show like “Brooklyn, which takes place in an alley -- has a witch or some other sort of villain who tries to destroy hope. Here that negativity is embodied in the character “Paradice,” who is beautiful and seductive, and malevolent. She also gets some of the hottest music in the show. This being Broadway, great virtues can shine AND the witch can get nightly standing Ovations.

It’s difficult to imagine a childhood without fairy tales; those small simple stories with large implications. “Brooklyn” is in the tradition of those ancient narratives that, lovingly told, can kindle a child’s, or an adult’s most optimistic imaginings.

Brief Sound Clip:

Copyright 2005© Richard Drake

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"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."