New York City Theater
According to legend, Brazil’s pink river dolphins, or botos, can transform themselves into people. And so they do at the beginning of “Miracle Brothers,” the eye-filling but somnolent new musical at the Vineyard.
Part farce, part fable, the show swings from tone to tone, never settling in one place long enough to engage emotions. With book, music, and lyrics by Kirsten Childs and direction by Tina Landau, the evening is, by turns whimsical, meaningful, jokey, anguished, spirited and stolid.
To the dolphins, becoming human is a game. On this particular night they find themselves in 17th-century Bahia. Fernando and Green Eyes are the eponymous siblings, one white, one black, born of the same father but different mothers.
Fernando’s dad owns the slave plantation from which Green Eyes escapes after teaching Fernando capoeira, a series of Afro-Brazilian martial arts moves. Embarking on Candide-like adventures, they meet pirates, horny women, and, eventually, their grieving moms.
The score is filled with infectious Brazilian-inflected rhythms (orchestrations by Daryl Waters, musical direction by Fred Carl). But the lyrics are pedestrian, the book is messy, and the themes tacked on (slavery is no good, liberty has its price, and only love can save us).
The actors, caught in the confusion, can’t help but be inconsistent, with the compelling Clifton Oliver coming off best as the sympathetic Green Eyes. Anika Larsen and Nicole Leach have second-act showstoppers and the strong cast also features Tyler Maynard, Kerry Butler, Cheryl Freeman, Jay Goede, Darrell Moultrie, Karen Olivo, Devin Richards, Gregory Treco, and William Youmans.
Landau, though uncertain where to go with the piece, injects some excitement, helped by Mark Dendy’s athletic choreography. The physical production is attractive, from G. W. Mercier’s exotic jungle set to Scott Zielinski’s lush lighting, Anita Yavich’s sexy costumes, Brett Jarvis’ atmospheric sound design, and Jan Hartley’s subtle projections.
-- David A. Rosenberg
Sept. 19, 2005