Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman created the characters, but evidently that powerhouse literary couple wasn’t in the room when it came to writing the soggy plotline that keeps the new musical “Brooklynite,” which opened Tuesday at the Vineyard Theatre, stuck in the boroughs.
We’re in “X-Men” territory here. A bunch of superheroes keep Brooklyn safe and free of crime until one of them, Astrolass (Nicolette Robinson), falls in love with a teenage amateur nerd scientist, Trey (Matt Doyle), and loses her powers. But have no fear, Trey comes up with a substance called Brooklynite that spawns enough men and women in funny, tight suits to prevent jaywalking for decades to come.
If the show’s creators, Michael Mayer and Peter Lerman, were looking to write an after-school special musical, then they have succeeded, although the 7 and 8 p.m. timeslots for most shows is a little late. And the cardboard lovers Trey and Astrolass couldn’t hold the attention of the “High School Musical” crowd.
The show’s secondary couple, El Fuego (Andrew Call) and Blue Nixie (Grace McLean), show somewhat more definition. He’s fire, she’s water, and late in the evening they create real steam heat when they finally connect romantically with “Let’s Be a Crime Fighting Team.”
By far the most engaging character is the villain Avenging Angelo, whose only power is to find parking spots on Atlantic Avenue with astounding speed. Nick Cordero recycles his gangster turn in “Bullets over Broadway” to good effect, but it’s not a positive sign when a show’s best performance is something left over from last season.
Co-book writer Mayer also directs. There appear to be two Mayers: the one responsible for the cutting-edge “Spring Awakening” and “American Idiot,” and the one who gave us the reductive “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and now “Brookynite.” You know Mayer is in “Millie” mode when nearly everybody on stage wears heavy frame glasses. In one scene in “Brooklynite,” he even finds a way to have the actors wear goggles over their glasses.
Lerman, the other book writer, also wrote the songs, which occasionally bring some luster to the Lycra dross on stage. He makes his Off-Broadway debut with “Brooklynite,” and for a composer it’s a promising one. He won the Stephen Sondheim Young Artist Citation Award, which is not to say he is another Sondheim. With his easy melodies and simple but clever lyrics, Lerman seems to be taking his inspiration from a very different 1970s musical legend: Joe Raposo of “Sesame Street” fame. It’s not Sondheim, but if “Bein’ Green” and “C Is for Cookie” rocked your world decades ago, you’ll be able to relate.