When virtual productions first started popping up last year, they were a curious beast. We were all appreciative to have some form of new theatre content to enjoy while venues remained closed but it struggled to recapture the magic. Since then, what is possible with a virtual production has changed exponentially and the level has continued to increase. Chief in that growth are Lambert Jackson Productions - one or the first companies to embrace the new medium of virtual productions and a constant and prolific source of entertainment over the past 12 months. Some of the shows they have put on for us to enjoy from the comfort of our homes include Songs For A New World, First Date and The Last Five Years. With some incredible productions already under their belt, it seemed impossible they would be able to top them with their production of BKLYN. Spoiler alert: It wasn't.
A bit more of a niche title than perhaps we are used to, BKLYN played on Broadway for just under a year in 2004 and was briefly seen in the UK in 2019 with a production at Greenwich Theatre though it has never made it to the West End... yet. With that in mind, this was a show I didn't know much about so went into it completely blind, not having a clue what to expect.
BKLYN is a story within a story with our cast of five superstars doubling up on characters. First we see them as a group of street performers telling the story of a young girl called Brooklyn. Throughout the show we see the same simple space the show is set beautifully transformed along with the cast who effortlessly move from ragged looking clothes to gorgeous glamour, often cut back and forth within the same sequence to bring us a stunning juxtaposition and really lay home the fact this is a story within a story.
The cast of five truly are in a league of their own here. Assembling some true superheroes in theatre - all five leading players are given a chance to shine in their own right but are also happy to sit back and let someone else dominate a sequence. Emma Kingston is a revelation as the titular Brooklyn, delivering amazing presence on the screen and a voice that is a gift from the Gods. Sejal Keshwala plays Brooklyn's mother Faith - giving us vulnerability, tragedy and an effortless use of her amazing whistle register. Jamie Muscato channels the darkness and complexities of Taylor in a chilling way only he knows how to do, evoking memories of his phenomenal turn in Heathers. Marisha Wallace is a true powehouse performer. Anyone who saw her in Dreamgirls can testify to that - as the diva-esque Paradice, she is having the time of her life - providing sass and star quality in equal measure. The cast is completed by Newtion Matthews as Street Singer. Better known for competing in The Voice, if his performance here is anything to go by, prepare to see a lot more of him on the stage in the future. As Street Singer, he exhudes calm, coolness and control in spades, pushing the narrative of this show to its natural conclusion.
An incredible cast needs material worthy enough of their immeasurable talents - luckily there is no shortage of that in BKLYN. The songs are quite simply spectacular. With music and lyrics from Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson and stunning musical direction from Leo Munby, the songs are consistently exquisite. Highlights include Marisha Wallace's incredible big numbers 'Raven' and 'Love Me Where I Live' and Emma Kingston surely delivering the ultimate rendition of 'Once Upon A Time'. When the two perform together, the result is pure magic - with 'Brooklyn In The Blood' another standout.
The filming of this production is particularly sensational. Expertly directed by Dean Johnson, it ups the limits of what is perceived as possible from a virtual production delivering an incredibly high quality production complete with fantastic visual effects and gorgeous set design - check out the exploding piano for proof of how fabulous this production really is.
At heart BKLYN is a fairytale - a beautiful story full of darkness but with an optimistic ending. To put it simply, this is the show we all need right now. The joy of the theatre is how it can make us laugh and cry, often within moments of each other - BKLYN recreates this magic in a way that has been so rarely seen through virtual productions over the past twelve months, and is a perfect reminder of why theatre is such a gorgeous and important art form.
Lambert Jackson Productions have some incredible titles to their name, but BKLYN is without a doubt their best yet. An incredible cast with brilliant material filmed flawlessly make this pure perfection. If you only watch one virtual production this year, it needs to be BKLYN. Completely unmissable.
BKLYN is available to stream until Sunday 4th April at https://www.stream.theatre/season/51
Photos courtesy of Sam Diaz and Dean Johnson