Move over Gotham, there’s a hip new hangout for superheroes: Brooklyn.
At least that’s the conceit behind “Brooklynite,” the affable musical crafted by Peter Lerman, who wrote the music and lyrics and co-wrote the book with Michael Mayer (“Hedwig”), who also directs. Ripped from the pages of your favorite comic books, the witty piece features six superheroes created when an asteroid crashed into Gowanus.
A zippy number at the top of the show introduces these awesome mutants, based on characters dreamed up by Michael Chabon (author of the comic-book themed “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay”) and his novelist wife, Ayelet Waldman.
There’s El Fuego (Andrew Call), a short-order cook morphed into a master of fire; Blue Nixie (Grace McLean), once a marine biologist who now controls the oceans; Kid Comet (Gerard Canonico), a bike messenger who’s become the fastest dude alive; and the elusive Captain Clear (voiced by Max Chernin), a file clerk given a cloak of invisibility.
The black sheep of the bunch is the burly, tough-talking Avenging Angelo (Nick Cordero) with a thick Bensonhurst accent, once an unemployed gamer whose only super skill is to locate open parking spaces. The multi-powered, winsome leader is Astrolass (Nicolette Robinson), a former middle school student who, after a decade of fighting crime, is ready to call it quits.
The goofy plot revolves around Trey (an appealing Matt Doyle, of “Book of Mormon”), a mild-mannered hardware store clerk in Park Slope secretly synthesizing Brooklynite, a kind of anti-Kryptonite. The crystal will give him the superpowers he needs to avenge the deaths of his mother and father, gunned down in the store a few years ago. Somehow, lemon squares figure prominently into the plan.
The diametric forces of Trey, who yearns to become a superhero, and Astrolass, who dreams of being an ordinary Brooklynite, are wonderfully evoked. Naturally, these opposites attract, and the comic caper becomes in part a love story.
There’s also a romantic subplot between El Fuego and a reluctant Blue Nixie. “I’ve seen how you burn through girls and I will not be another shish on your kebab,” she says, during one of the more clever exchanges.
The crime-controlled utopia of Brooklyn is shattered when Astrolass departs and Angelo goes rogue, forming a gang that terrorizes the borough. Sporting a shiny new black pleather outfit, he aims to steal Trey’s Brooklynite for evil and shift the power nexus to, of all places, Murray Hill in Manhattan.
Expectations for this intentionally crafty, low-tech production are particularly high. After all, the Vineyard was an incubator for such sensations as “Avenue Q,” “[title of show],” and “The Scottsboro Boys,” all of which transferred to Broadway. Does “Brooklynite,” with its profusion of local in-jokes that may sail over the heads of tourists, have the right stuff?
What makes the endeavor so captivating is the racially diverse, Broadway-caliber ensemble, boosted by Andrea Lauer’s bright spandex costumes. My favorite by far is Cordero, whose Angelo shifts easily from crime-fighter to victim to villain with scenery-chewing gusto. It’s easy to see why he was hailed as the best thing in “Bullets Over Broadway” last season.
Angelo establishes headquarters in a warehouse in Red Hook. “Oh yeah, we booted out the artists. No loss. The work was derivative anyway,” he scoffs, an apt poke at the neighborhood’s rampant gentrification.
How fitting that Lerman won the 2010 Jonathan Larson Award. Like the uber-talented young Larson, he has a knack for writing bold pop-rock songs with a gritty, contemporary flair. The lively choreography is by Steven Hoggett.
Not that the funny but frivolous “Brooklynite” couldn’t use some recalibrating. Some jokes just don’t land, especially those concerning Captain Clear. Cutting this weightless character would give the others more room to soar.
Admittedly, I don’t possess the requisite superpowers to know if the musical will make the leap to Broadway in a single bound. I suspect, however, that it could enjoy a healthy life at New World Stages, the Off Broadway home of similar crowd-pleasers geared to younger audiences, like “Avenue Q.”
And if the smart, charming tuner motivates you to embrace your inner superhero, you have a place to shop. Head on over to Park Slope and check out the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, an inspiration for the show.
BROOKLYNITE | Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15th St. | Through Mar. 29: Tue.-Wed. at 7 p.m.; Thu.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sat., Sun. at 3 p.m. | $85 at vineyardtheatre.org or 212-353-0303 | Two hrs., 15 mins., with intermission