"I think you can expect a lot of fun and a lot of silliness," says Michael Mayer, co-writer and director, whose numerous Broadway credits include Hedwig and the Angry Inch, American Idiot and Spring Awakening, for which he won a Tony. "Expect to escape gravity for two hours," adds Peter Lerman, co-writer and the man behind the music and lyrics.
Mayer and Lerman's new musical Brooklynite is laden with tongue-in-cheek references that will have audiences giggling in their seats: the abundance of strollers in Park Slope, the slowness of the G train and derivative artists' collectives in Red Hook. Brooklynite tells the parallel stories and eventual meeting of Brooklyn locals Trey, an orphaned hardware store clerk who dreams of becoming a superhero, and Astrolass, whose fantasy is to relinquish her super powers and be normal.
"It's been very fun and we've really blurred the lines on our collaboration. I think we do a lot of things together," says Lerman. "We've been on the same page about what we want this to be and our vision has been clear all the way."
Mayer is equally enthusiastic about the first-time collaboration, adding, "what excites me the most is being able to introduce this fantastic new voice in musical theatre to New York," he says. "I think people are going to be blown away by the songs Peter's written." The show's music, which will have audiences itching to get up and dance, blends the pop sounds of today with those of the 60's, 70's and 80's. "There's a kind of retro-hipster element to it," says Mayer, "which feels really fun and liberating, because the irony that comes with that allows us to have fun at the same time." It's evident that the cast is also enjoying themselves, as they sporadically break out into R&B, soul and hip-hop throughout the show.
The cast of Brooklynite boasts an array of Broadway and Off-Broadway talent, featuring stars like Matt Doyle (The Book of Mormon), Nick Cordero (Bullets Over Broadway), Andrew Call (Rock of Ages), Gerard Canonico (Spring Awakening) and Tom Alan Robbins (The Lion King) among others. For Mayer, this production is a reunion with some of his favorite actors. "Part of it is like my own little repertory company at this point," laughs Mayer, "I've got former Spring Awakening kids and American Idiots, and then lots of people I haven't had the pleasure of working with but whose work I've seen and enjoyed so much.
"They're all so incredibly inventive," he continues. "We've created a room where everyone is encouraged to play, and it's the kind of show where you need that because it's a comedy. Sometimes it's some of the stupidest sh*t ever but we want everyone to have fun."
Mayer confesses that creating a new show from the ground up such as Brooklynite is his "obsession" and "favorite thing" to do. "I'm a firm believer in contemporary voices in musical theatre and I've been really dedicated to figuring out ways where contemporary music, that sounds like something you would listen to on your iPod, can intersect with narrative… When I hear someone who's writing in a vernacular that isn't your typical Broadway kind of musical theatre voice, I get very excited."
Lerman shares this sense of satisfaction in producing new work. "I want to write the musical that I haven't seen and I feel like the shows I've seen of Michael's fulfill those in ways that others don't usually. It's been a joy to create something entirely new, to throw out some of the rules."
With the idea for the musical originally coming from the real Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store in Gowanus, both Lerman and Mayer were excited about the idea of using Brooklyn as the inspiration. They wanted to capture the spirit and imagination of today's Brooklyn. "It feels like in the last few years, Brooklyn has become this brand. There's a kind of hip, fresh vibe to it…a great melting pot and completely creative," says Mayer.
They were also inspired by the "artisanal" nature of Brooklyn life. "People raising chickens on their rooftops and pickling things," says Mayer. This is reflected in Brooklyn local Donyale Were's scenic design, which evokes the DYI and retro aesthetic so popular in the borough today.
Lerman and Mayer were introduced to one another almost three years ago by the producers of Brooklynite and together, with the help of authors Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, they began to craft the story and characters. After numerous readings, workshops and evenings spent re-drafting at the table of a Chelsea diner, the show was ready for the Vineyard Theatre. This will be the first time in 20 years that Mayer returns to work at the Off-Broadway venue, which he is very excited about. "One of the great things about the Vineyard is that they're so brave. I love that theatre so much, they're so willing to expand their idea of what constitutes a musical," he says. Brooklynite is now in previews with an official opening night scheduled for Feb. 25. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.