Baruch’s ‘BKLYN’ evokes love, gives life to fairytale

Caryl Anne Francia, Business Editor

Baruch College’s production of “BKLYN: The Musical” invited audiences to engage with its heartfelt story and soul-stirring harmonies in the Bernie West Theater from April 18 to April 22.

Within an hour and 40 minutes — including one 10-minute intermission between the musical’s two acts — the viewer is taken under the Brooklyn Bridge to listen to a group of charming street performers sing and dance their “sidewalk fairytale.” The talents of the on-stage cast and musical band merge to tell a story that would otherwise fall flat.

The original Broadway production of the 100-minute musical ran from October 2004 to June 2005. The music, lyrics and book were written by Mark Schoenfeld, who once was a street performer, and his friend Barri McPherson.

“BKLYN” follows actress Shruthi Jayashankar as Brooklyn, a rising singer desperately searching for her father with the desire to learn the words to his song. A mysterious street singer, played by Aryan Peralta, guides the audience as the story’s narrator, but he interferes at times.

The first act begins the “story-within-a-story” trope, showing her origins in Paris as an orphaned daughter of her deceased, emotionally damaged mother. It follows with her journey as a singer in New York, her interactions with her rival Paradice and the mysterious street singer, as well as her hunt for her unknown father.

To borrow words from Paradice, one must have the audacity to name one of their works and the titular characters of their show within a show “Brooklyn.”

The set design and props honor the grunge-evoking atmosphere of the Brooklyn Bridge. The vivid graffiti art on the stage floor and the fluorescent orange of the safety cone and fence add a playful touch. Brooklyn-born Paradice, too, represents the tough-as-nails personality associated with the borough and lends realness to this fairytale.

The act’s songs contain a mixture of energetic numbers like “Superlover,” melancholic melodies like “Christmas Makes Me Cry” and slow-paced but endearing ballads like “Magic Man.”

Accompanied with music-box-like tunes, the repetition of the lyric “lalalala” adds to Brooklyn’s innocent and optimistic “good girl” aura — while Jayashankar simultaneously demonstrates the character’s massive talent through her impressive vocal range.

In the second act, Brooklyn finally reconnects with Taylor Collins, her emotionally scarred father, who is a veteran. Paradice reflects on her desires, and the two singers compete in a song showdown.

At times, the writing is disquieting potentially for lack of further information or emotional attachment with certain characters like Faith, Brooklyn’s mother.

Added information about Faith, excluding her cause of death, seems less relevant. This makes her physical presence in the play unnecessary, which doesn’t do justice to the talent of Jasmine Belis, who plays Faith.

Additionally, the utterance of the “sisters of charity” line in scene eight feels random without enough context, taking the viewer out of the story. A similar “off” effect lingers when the street singer and Collins tarry at the titular character’s showdown performance.

The story’s ending within the story is satisfying in terms of the showdown’s outcome. The redemption dialogue seems rushed, but it does carry heart. The ending for the show’s storytellers, however, gives a twist that adds some sense to the tale.

With the help of Dominique Plaisant’s direction, the cast members add dimension to the story.

Jayashankar exudes elegance in her appearance and vocal technique. She makes it clear in her introduction that she has impressive talent.

Peralta serves as a personable guide to the audience, with a voice that invites each viewer to listen to what he has to say. He delivers a heartwarming performance in each rendition of “Music Man,” but also delights with his amusing appearance in “Superlover.”

Gabrielle Tyson, who plays Paradice, commands attention throughout the show with her glamor and technique. Although she plays the villain, Tyson makes Paradice loveable.

Belis delivers a soulful performance in her solo numbers, which are unfortunately lacking in quantity. While the musical’s writers fail to give her chances to shine, she adds to the beautiful harmony perfected by her, Jayashankar and Tyson.

Zalmy Okunov, who plays Taylor Collins, gives a charismatic performance with his gentle voice. While his appearances are limited in the first act, he compensates for it with his mellow solo and the portrayal of his character’s emotional rollercoaster during the second act.

In their non-singing roles, Anya Dubsky and Tatiana Rivera grace the stage with their dances.

The costumes are beautifully crafted, adding to each performer’s charm but also making use of the limited resources available to the cast.

The show’s band gives life to the showtunes that both evoke energy and somberness.

As for the audience members, they must give their undivided attention to the fabulous performers whose presences give the story the heart it needs.