Baruch students rehearse for ‘heartfelt’ production of ‘BKLYN: The Musical’

Caryl Anne Francia, Business Editor

Down the hall of the Lawrence & Eris Field Building’s ninth floor, performers gather in song and dance in Baruch College’s Bernie West Theater as rehearsals for this semester’s production of “BKLYN: The Musical” get underway.

Since the first week of March, the show’s cast members have dedicated four hours five days a week — between their class and work schedules — to practice their lines and routines. The outcome will not be revealed until the show’s opening night on April 18.

Performed during the 2004-2005 Broadway season, the story follows street performers who live under the Brooklyn Bridge in the 1980s, but includes flashback scenes from Vietnam in the 1970s and Paris in 1969. The cast members explained that “BKLYN” is a show within a show, telling stories of city dwellers working toward their dreams.

Director Dominique Plaisant said she looked forward to working with the cast and stage crew to produce Baruch’s first post-pandemic “book musical” — a performance with musical numbers integrated into a dramatic narrative. The fall 2019 production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” was the last book musical she directed on campus.

She called the show a “sidewalk fairytale” that is “all about hearts.” In fact, the opening song is titled “Heart Behind These Hands.”

“Like I said, we’re all coming together [to] do a book musical,” Plaisant said. “It’s just thrilling to be able to do that because everyone is so happy to be together and doing it, and I knew that this show was all about coming together and healing.”

Aryan Peralta leads the show as the street singer who narrates the story. He has sung and danced for “basically [his] entire life” but has not performed since Baruch’s student-run production of “Cabaret” in the 2018 spring semester.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York City, Peralta took a break from college and theater. Currently taking Plaisant’s acting class in his junior year, he decided that he “wanted to be directed by her, not only taught by her,” when he saw how seriously she took theater.

“It’s been very exhilarating because this is my first lead that I’ve ever gotten in a show,” Peralta said. “I’ve been putting 100% effort into my work, and it’s been really paying off. It’s a role that’s really bringing out all of me, vocally and acting-wise, and it’s a really fun character to play in the show.”

Shruthi Jayashankar plays Brooklyn, the titular character. She previously performed in several of the college’s theatrical shows since graduating from Baruch in 2016, such as the spring 2016 production of “Rent” and the spring 2018 production of “Little Shop of Horrors.”

Gabrielle Tyson plays Paradice. Zalmy Okunov plays Taylor Collins. Jasmine Belis performs as Faith, who she describes as a “troubled soul” and “hopeless romantic.”

After graduating from Baruch in 2021, Belis returned to the college to perform in the spring 2021 semester’s “Come Together” revue. Returning to campus again while balancing her work life, she noted that “BKLYN” is a different show, but has “a whole different environment and feeling.”

“My favorite part of the week is spending time with this group,” Belis said. “We’re all a part of a show, and we’re always working hard to put it together. We laugh, we make jokes and we cry. Honestly, it’s just been an awesome experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Tatiana Rivera and Anya Dubsky play supporting characters called “city weeds.” Described as the “everything girls” by Dubsky, the weeds “grow between sidewalks” and take on multiple roles, such as reporters, soldiers, backup dancers and prop movers.

Dubsky, who has danced since she was three years old, said she hesitated to audition for the “heartfelt” show because she is “not very good at singing.” Plaisant, who teaches the acting class that Dubsky and Peralta are enrolled in, told her she can; so long as she had a monologue prepared.

“I was just really concerned about my ability of singing, and [Plaisant] was like ‘that doesn’t matter,’” Dubsky said. “I love performing, and after the pandemic and everything, it’s been rare to have opportunities to perform in front of others. I was like, why not? I missed ‘The Scarlet Letter’ last semester, so I was like ‘I’m not gonna miss this one.’”

Nicole Nelson and David Fonesca serve as understudies. The cast is joined by a band of Baruch musicians including a cellist, a drummer, a saxophonist, a flutist, a guitarist and a synthesizer player who happens to be the musical director.

“I just want to say that behind-the-scenes people who were working on the scene that you don’t see — production crew, costume — it’s all top performing,” Belis said. “It’s very high level. Everyone is putting their 100% all into the show, and I think it’s important to recognize not only the people on the stage but the people that you don’t get to see.”

“BKLYN” will run until April 22. Tickets will be available through the Baruch Performing Arts Center online and at the box office at $16 for general admission and $10 for students with ID cards.

“We should all cheer each other on, but [also remember] why is it important to improve  just the magic of live theater?” Plaisant asked rhetorically. “It was taken for granted for so long, and it’s magical to all be in the same room at the same time in the dark, all experiencing the same powerful emotion. It’s visceral, it’s exciting and it’s worth having.”