Jim Stanek and Elizabeth Loyacano
in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
(© Carol Rosegg)
Jim Stanek and Elizabeth Loyacano
in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
(© Carol Rosegg)
Filled with some positively lovely songs by Arthur Schwartz and Dorothy Fields, the rarely-produced musical A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, now being presented by The Peccadillo Theater Company at St. Clement's Theatre, has the proper elements to not only charm, but also profoundly tug theatergoers' heartstrings -- a feat often accomplished thanks to a fine cast.

Based on Betty Smith's novel of the same name, the show -- with an original book by Smith and George Abbott that's been revised by both Elinor Renfield and Susan DiLallo -- follows the early courtship and marriage of Katie (Elizabeth Loyacano) to Johnny (Jim Stanek). Equal weight is also given to the crowd-pleasing role of Katie's sister, Sissy (played with incredible flair by Klea Blackhurst), a sassy woman who's living life on her own terms.

The first act is filled with a long succession of upbeat numbers that bring the color of early 20th-century Williamsburg to life. Strangely, they never hint at what's to come in the second act, which takes place 12 years later: a gritty tragedy centered on the couple's failing marriage as when Johnny's drinking has escalated and his singing career has stalled. And the script's dual nature is only further emphasized by director Dan Wackerman's somewhat fussy staging.

Loyacano and Stanek work assiduously in both halves of the show. Early on, they find the sweetness in the couple's impetuous early days, only occasionally allowing their performances to turn saccharine. And, as the marriage fails and life becomes increasingly difficult for Katie, Loyacano's performance takes on a decided hardness that can be chilling. Equally effective is the sadness that creeps into Stanek's turn as Johnny's dreams of fame as a singer disappear into the bottom of his bottle. There are also several fine performances from the ensemble, particularly from Lianne Marie Dobbs, who plays the woman whom Johnny jilts for Katie, and Timothy Shew, who's lovable as Sissy's put-upon live-in boyfriend.

Scenic designer Joseph Spirito provides an impressive two-story streetscape for the production that converts easily for the show's many interior scenes; while Amy C. Bradshaw has assembled a host of colorful period costumes.

Equally impressive is Kirsten Blodgette's music direction and the work of conductor William Waldrop. Together, they've seen to it that the show's sumptuous score, which includes such familiar songs as "Make the Man Love Me" and "Growing Pains," as well as the interpolated Schwartz-Field tune "Proud of You," comes to life with just two pianos, strings, and percussion.