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A CurtainUp Review
Miracle Brothers


We are going to the human side Ė The Dolphins
You and I are more than black and white, we are Miracle Brothers. Ė Fernando and Green Eyes
Tyler Maynard as Fernando & and Kerry Butler as his mother Isabel.
Tyler Maynard as Fernando & and Kerry Butler as his mother Isabel. (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Multi-talented Kirsten Childs made a big splash, make that a big ripple, at Playwrights Horizons in 2000 with her endearing semi-autobiographical musical The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin. With Miracle Brothers it is the fresh water dolphins that are creating the only splash in Childís flimsy fantasy adventure that surfaces, or rather sinks without a flipper, into the surf in 17th century Bahia, Brazil.

Apparently inspired by a legend that tells of these cetaceous mammals having the ability to transform themselves for sport into humans, Childs has charted a particularly messy course for her fun-and-games-loving subjects. Despite their easy transformation, one that requires little more than a swim through an undersea time portal, itís a rough life that they aspire towards as racially mixed humans.

We must assume that as the creator of the music, lyrics and book, Childs had a plan other than merely fulfilling a commissioned obligation to the Vineyardís Kitty Carlisle Hart Musical Theater Lab. Unfolding like a tacky childrenís theater production -- although one without a bit of wit, cleverness, or any consideration of a childís intelligence -- Miracle Brothers appears less the work of an artist of great promise than that of a floundering amateur.

Gonsidering Childís appealing score for The Bubbly Black Girl, it would seem reasonable to expect her music would be focused and atmospherically seductive with an occasional nod to the classic/traditional rhythms that define the music of Brazil. But this isnít a case of where is Villa Lobos when we need him, but rather why Childís musical impulses lead her to stray so far -- often from anything remotely musically characteristic of the setting. One might forgive this if her score was the least bit interesting or affecting.

The music is hardly helped by being heavily amplified (what a disgrace considering the small size of the Vineyard Theater), neither is it helped by lyrics that range from the banal to vulgar. The text, when it isnít being coy, tongue-in-cheek, or downright sophomoric does inform and make references to such words as Botos (the river dolphin), Candomble (A Brazilian religion), Capoeira (Afro-Brazilian martial arts), Bandeirantes (organized guns-for-hire) and quilombo (a republic of escaped slaves).

Act I sets up some expectation for a tale grounded in magic realism. However, Act II affects a jarring change of tone and temperament, veering wildly out of control both musically and dramatically and into the realm of old fashioned musical comedy. After this shape-shifting, the story involves the tenuous and tight relationship of Fernando (Tyler Maynard), the frail, consumptive white son of a lecherous plantation owner Lascivio (Jay Goede) and Fernando's black half brother Green Eyes (Clifton Oliver), a sturdy black slave. The boysí respective mothers Isabel (Kerry Butler) and Felicidade (Cheryl Freeman) try but fail to keep their sons apart. Tutored by his stronger brother in the art of Capoeira, Fernando builds up enough confidence to stand up to his father when he falsely accuses Isabel of being unfaithful. When Fernando accidentally kills Lascivio, Isabel, in an attempt to save him , accuses Green Eyes, who then flees into the jungle. In hot pursuit (think Uncle Tomís Cabin in the tropics), is the evil sneering, grimacing plantation overseer (William Youmans) and his pack of slave-catchers. Fernando also flees from the plantation into the jungle where he connects with Ginga (Nicole Leach), a sassy jungle-smart black babe wielding a mean machete who convinces herself that Fernando is black when she sees how sexy and adept he is with Capoeira.

In the midst of G.W. Mercierís minimally lush setting, which will remind those old enough to remember of an old Copacabana revue, a lot of hiding and seeking goes on. There is also plenty of shimmying and grinding away at Mark Dendyís choreography, and much singing recitative courtesy of a chorus of lurking dolphins. All is enhanced to no avail by Scott Zielinskiís intense lighting. Green Eyes (presumably matching the scenerybecomes infatuated with Juan (Anika Larsen), an abrasive white girl pretending to be a male pirate (with nary an apology to Gilbert and Sullivan). Her big and totally out-of-left-field number,"Itís Really All Right With Me," sounds as if it had been pulled from a bottom-of-the-barrel turn-of-the century vaudeville turn circa Harrigan and Hart.

The talented cast is does its best to deal with this insipid material. Maynard, who was so disarmingly funny earlier this season in Altar Boyz, looks mostly distracted and disoriented by the dizzying farrago going on around him. Oliver fares better, but only because he has the better physique. Scant praise, I know. Butler and Freeman's principal duet "A Motherís Prayer," sounds like a screaming match with each seemingly bent on obliterating the words. Unfortunately, the amplification makes too many voices sound like nails being scraped over a blackboard.

As for Tina Landau's contribution, one can only wonder what this otherwise talented director may have had in mind with this haphazardly structured musical. Her best bet would have been to send it back to watery depths. Here's hoping that she and Childs return stronger (but through no more portals) and better next time.

MIRACLE BROTHERS
Music, lyrics and book by Kirsten Childs
Directed by Tina Landau
Choreography by Mark Denby
Cast: Kerry Butler, Cheryl Freeman, Jay Goede, Anika Larsen, Nicole Leach, Tyler Maynard, Darrell Moultrie, Clifton Oliver, Karen Olivo, Devin Richards, Gregory Treco, William Youmans
Scenery: G. W. Mercier
Costumes: Anita Yavich
Lighting: Scott Zielinski
Sound Design: Brett Jarvis
Orchestrations: Daryl Waters
Music Director: Fred Carl
Projection Design: Jan Hartley
Fight Director: Rick Sordelet
Capoeira Consultant: Jelon Vierira
Original Vocal and Musical Arrangements: Kirsten Childs
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes (including one intermission)
Vineyard Theater, 108 East 15th Street 212 Ė 353 Ė 0303 or online at www.vineyardtheatre.org
From 8/25/05; opening 9/18/05.
Tue - Sat at 8pm; Sat & Sun at 3pm.
Tickets: $60
Last performance 10/16/05
Reviewed by Simon Saltzman based on 9/20/05 performance.


Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Botos In Brazil/ Dolphins
  • Tell Me Your Tale/Green Eyes, Fernando, Pato, Jeca, Maroto
  • The World Belongs To Me/ Lascivio, Rancor, Lascivio's Ladies
  • Mundo Paraiso/Fernando, Green Eyes, Forest Creatures
  • A Mother's Lament/ Isabel, Felicidade, Spirits
  • Tonight You Learn Capoeira/ Green Eyes, Fernando, Dolphin Capoeiristas
  • Cuckold/ Lascivio, Isabel, Fernando, Dolphins
  • Tears Of Blood/ Felicidade and Company
  • All We Were Doing/ Pato, Jeca, Maroto, Green Eyes, Fernando and Company
Act Two
  • Tell Me Your Tale (Reprise)/ Green Eyes, Forest Creatures
  • Saudade (Homesickness)/Green Eyes, Fernando
  • Bandeirantes!/ Juan, Green Eyes, Bandeirantes
  • It's Really All Right With Me/ Juan, Dolphins
  • I Gotta Get Ta Palmares/ Ginga, Fernando, Dolphins
  • My True, True Love/ Isabel, Felicidade
  • Pirate Orientation/Query/ Henrique, Pirates
  • You Bring Me Rain/ Juan, Green Eyes, Fernando, Ginga, Henrique, Rancor, Pirates/Bandeirantes
  • Green Eyes/ Fernando, Green Eyes, Juan, Ginga
  • Mundo Paraiso Reprise (Finale)/Green Eyes, Fernando and Company
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