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I'll Make You Love to Hate Me

Matthew Murray enjoys the "live" cast recording of Brooklyn every bit as much as he enjoyed the show itself. logo
If nothing else, you have to applaud the tenacity of the people behind Brooklyn The Musical. Not content merely to foist a bad-looking, bad-sounding show on the theatergoing public, they've now released a cast album that attempts to portray the witless Mark Schoenfeld/Barri McPherson musical's greatest weakness as its greatest strength. David Merrick would be beaming, but will you be beaming while listening to the recording? Probably not if you're into things like solid song construction, viable characters, and musical variety. If you don't care about these things -- in other words, if you're Brooklyn's target audience -- you might have a good time.

As the CD booklet cover proudly proclaims, Brooklyn's original cast members recorded this 75-minute CD live before a studio audience. The wildly enthusiastic fans make their presence felt almost constantly, clapping, cheering, and whooping themselves silly after just about every number (and sometimes during the numbers). It's as if they're hearing the best musical theater score of the decade!

The benefit of the live audience is that it does lend some genuine theatrical flavor to this "sidewalk fairytale." Any added theatricality is welcome as far as Brooklyn is concerned, because Schoenfeld and McPherson didn't put much of that quality into the show. Theirs is a rock-concert sensibility, the kind that suggests musicals just aren't cool enough to warrant attention from today's youth. The theory may have been that having a screaming audience present for the recording sessions would make Brooklyn sound like something that's fun rather than some stodgy stage show.

On the other hand, the fact act that the writing is applause-baiting tripe of the worst kind is shamelessly evident here; the audience goes nuts whenever one of the show's two battling belters, Eden Espinosa (in the title role) and Ramona Keller, sustain an unhealthy-sounding high note or tackle an anti-dramatic melisma just for the heck of it. What does it matter if the lyrics -- unwisely reprinted in the CD booklet -- are banal and meaningless? "I'll fly like a raven in a sky of doves / I'll make you love to hate me / But that's still love / It's still love," Keller sings in her late-show showstopper. The sentiment makes no sense, and -- news flash -- "doves" and "love" don't rhyme.

Of course, the performers can't be faulted for the material. This is a great group of actor-singers, and they do their best with what they're given. Keller and Espinosa are the particular standouts (in that order), though their castmates Kevin Anderson, Karen Olivo, and Cleavant Derricks are also praiseworthy. (In the last-minute rave-up "Streetsinger," Derricks and Espinosa provide something approaching theatrical electricity.) James Sampliner conducts a robust band.

The vast majority of the songs here are execrable, but try telling that to the audience members; they're filled with lust for everything they hear. This adulatory response to third-rate work makes the Brooklyn cast album downright insulting. Wouldn't it be far more interesting to hear live recordings of, say, the original Oklahoma! or My Fair Lady, to see how audiences reacted to those masterpeices? On the other hand, such shows speak for themselves. The powers behind Brooklyn seem to have realized that their work wouldn't pass the same test.

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