The songwriting team of Mark Schoenfeld
and Barri McPherson will have the career-crowning glory of seeing
their first musical open on Broadway this month.
And they’ve never been to a Broadway show.
Schoenfeld, a Brooklyn native, and McPherson are the dynamic duo behind the grungy, soulful "Brooklyn the Musical" which began previews last week.
"Brooklyn" director Jeff Calhoun ("Big River"), talking to reporters at a rehearsal studio on 42nd Street last month, extolled Schoenfeld and McPherson’s novice status, saying it was part of their charm.
"They are loving, unique people not yet spoiled by this commercial [business]," said Calhoun.
Schoenfeld, who was born in the Red Hook Houses projects, told GO Brooklyn, "It feels to me like we didn’t even write this show. It gives me goose bumps!"
He and McPherson, who together wrote the music and lyrics for "Brooklyn," explained their collaborative effort.
"When we started writing so long ago, we had 165 pages," said Schoenfeld. Working with Calhoun, the work was whittled down to its current size, an intermission-less hour and 40 minutes.
"And the wonderful thing about Jeff," said McPherson, "was that he made sure we were always a part of [the process]."
"Brooklyn the Musical" is, in part, inspired by Schoenfeld’s time as a homeless person and the generous spirit that moved McPherson to take him into her home to live with her husband and children.
Schoenfeld’s family moved from Red Hook to the Bronx and then as an adult he moved to New England. He was a composer and McPherson a singer, who had spent one day recording a song together.
The "Brooklyn" legend is that eight or nine years later, McPherson, then living in New Hampshire, was in Brooklyn Heights to perform at a private party. Walking on the promenade, she discovered Schoenfeld again.
But this time he was a homeless street performer.
When asked if Schoenfeld remembered McPherson after all of that time, he beamed, "She’s gorgeous! Of course I remembered her. And I was just blown away by the talent she shared that day."
McPherson invited him to come home to live with her family and the two collaborated on writing the songs about a band of street people that became "Brooklyn."
Now the creative team has expanded to include music supervisor John McDaniel (former bandleader of "The Rosie O’Donnell Show") and a cast of talented performers.
The star of the show is Eden Espinosa, who plays Brooklyn, a young woman searching for her father in the borough for which she was named. Espinosa was an understudy for the roles of Nessarose and her sister Elphaba in the Tony-award winning "Wicked."
Before coming to Broadway, she played Brooklyn at the Denver Civic Theater for six weeks, where the production premiered on May 7, 2003. The opening night of "Brooklyn" at the Plymouth Theatre in Manhattan is Oct. 26.
Ramona Keller, who plays the role of Paradice, was born and raised in Brooklyn and now lives in Canarsie.
Calhoun explains the spelling of that character’s name, "Paradice - the villain - was born with nothing more than a pair of dice around her neck," he said. "She’s the wicked witch of the ’hood."
The characters in the musical are a motley crew of soulful, R&B-wailing street-corner singers and storytellers. They tell the fairytale about Brooklyn against a backdrop of gritty sets designed by Ray Klausen out of materials that could be found on the street. For instance, the characters imagine that they are watching a "sing-off" inside the ring at Madison Square Garden because a square has been erected with surgical tubing.
Their ballgowns, by costume designer Tobin Ost, are colorful tatters. A headpiece for Paradice is made from discarded potato chip bags and a form-hugging dress is cinched with crisscrossed duct tape.
The musical is not a panorama of well heeled Brooklyn Heights residents and brownstone architecture, but rather the overlooked homeless people on its corners and subway platforms.
"I love it when the audience talks about moving performances instead of moving scenery," said Calhoun. "This was an opportunity for me to deliver that kind of show."
Because Calhoun saw the heart in "Brooklyn," he has given the lyricists their own fairy tale ending. Audiences are paying $95 a ticket, rather than throwing quarters in a paper cup, to hear Schoenfeld and McPherson’s music.
"Can you beat that name?" said Schoenfeld. "Just the name is magical."
"Brooklyn the Musical" is
in previews now through Oct. 20 at the Plymouth Theatre (236
West 45th St. in Manhattan). Opening night is Oct. 21. Performances
are Monday through Saturday at 8 pm, Saturday matinees at 2 pm.
Beginning Oct. 26, Tuesdays at 7 pm, Wednesday through Saturday
at 8 pm, and matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 pm and
Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets are $25-$95. For tickets, call (212)
239-6200. For more information, go to the Web site www.brookl