Who's that in a cape? New musical stars Brooklyn superheroes

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Posted: Feb 21, 2015 3:05 PM
Who's that in a cape? New musical stars Brooklyn superheroes

NEW YORK (AP) — Move aside, Gotham. Brooklyn has gotten so cool these days that it now has its own group of superheroes.

The original musical "Brooklynite" stars six brand-new crusaders with superpowers protecting the borough, a mysterious substance in an asteroid and a look influenced by the old "Batman" TV show starring Adam West.

"It's silly and fun. We're having a blast," said Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer, who is helming and co-writing what he calls "the love child of 'Batman' and 'Scooby-Doo.'"

"Brooklynite," which opens Wednesday off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre, has a 13-member cast, songs by the much-buzzed about composer Peter Lerman and choreography by Steven Hoggett, who has enlivened such shows as "Once" and "The Last Ship."

The plot will have elements familiar to any avid comic book reader: An asteroid hits Brooklyn and releases gamma rays of a substance called Brooklynite, which gives superpowers to anyone nearby the crash site.

Six people get various doses of the stuff, including a short order cook who develops the power of fire, a bike messenger who becomes the fastest man alive and a marine biologist who then controls water.

The woman closest to the asteroid becomes the powerful superhero Astrolass, while the one farthest from the crash site — an unemployed gamer called Angelo — gets only a little bit of a superpower: really good parking karma.

Why are there only a half-dozen crusaders in the show? "We can only afford to have six superheroes. This is off-Broadway," said Mayer, whose other works include "Spring Awakening" and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."

Astrolass, who helps make Brooklyn safe and hip, soon grows tired of constantly being on call and hopes to hang up her cape. A love story with her and a hardware store clerk develops but there is also a villain who hopes to lay waste to Brooklyn.

"Through all the color and comedy and silliness, the message really is to be yourself," said Nick Cordero, the Tony-nominated star of "Bullets Over Broadway" who stars in the new show. "Let your freak flag fly."

"Brooklynite" has as complicated an origin story as the plot itself. Producer Amanda Lipitz was originally inspired by the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, which, in reality, is a tutoring center for kids in the Park Slope section of the borough.

Lipitz and Mayer developed an early idea for the show featuring tutors with author Michael Chabon ("The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay") and his wife, Ayelet Waldman. But what they came up with was, in Mayer's words, "very after-school special."

So Mayer, Chabon and Waldman switched gears and created the colorful superhero characters. Mayer then connected with Lerman, a Jonathan Larson Award winner and composer for "Modern Family." The two men tried to hire a playwright but none got their daffy, idiosyncratic point of view so they went ahead and wrote their own script and songs.

The show sounds like "indie rock, slightly retro with a contemporary feeling," Mayer said. The music is very influenced by TV classic superhero theme songs, including the animated shows "Superman," ''Speed Racer" and "Mighty Mouse."

The show also gently goofs on the real Brooklyn, which has lately become the hippest part of the city. There are jokes about artisanal taco bars, smug artist collectives and, of course, facial hair.

Mayer lived in several Brooklyn neighborhoods for many years and recalls the days before it became so fun and cool. He was twice mugged — once at gunpoint — in the 1980s and now lives in Manhattan.

If he could pick his own superpower, Mayer doesn't hesitate. It's not invisibility or the power to fly or bend steel. It's simply to commute faster.

"Not a day goes by that I don't wish I could teleport," he said. "I'm always late. I feel like, for me, that would be the superpower I would have. I really do think about it. For real. Long before this. I was like, 'Couldn't I just get there now?'"

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Online: http://www.vineyardtheatre.org

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits