Reality, fantasy collide in WT's musical fable 'Brooklyn'

Last Updated by Chip Chandler on
Lauren Smalley, Madeleine Hale and Caleb Summers star in "Brooklyn."
Photo by Chip Chandler

By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer

Typically a lithe dancer, actor Caleb Summers had to put on some pounds for his role in West Texas A&M University's season-opening musical, Brooklyn.

His figure's still fine. It's his hair that got super-sized.

For his role as a street singer / narrator in the musical fable, which opens Thursday, Summers underwent a 12-hour process of adding long dreadlocks to his usually close-cropped hair.

"It feels weird," Summers laughed. "There's the extra weight, and it's also really hot and it's in my face, and I've never had that before. It's messing with my turns because there's so much weight. It's hard for me to find my center of balance."

So go the sacrifices one makes for art.

The dreads fit well within the bohemian vibe of the musical, written by Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson and inspired by Schoenfeld's own life on the streets.

Madeleine Hale stars as an aspiring singer in West Texas A&M University's "Brooklyn," opening Thursday.Madeleine Hale stars as an aspiring singer in West Texas A&M University's "Brooklyn," opening Thursday.Photo by Chip Chandler

In the show, Brooklyn (Madeleine Hale) is a young Parisian singer searching for her father in the borough that gave her her name. 

"She was born with this musical quality that she discovered when she was young," Hale said. "Her (dead) mother comes to her in a dream (and tells her) that an unfinished lullaby will help her piece together who she really is."

Her story is told, play-within-a-play-style, by the City Weeds, a ragtag bunch of street performers that includes Paradice, played by Laurel Smalley.

"She is a very worldly member of the City Weeds," Smalley said. "Where everyone else is whimsical, she tells it like it is, even if that's not a pretty thing. The world is sh--, but it's the world we live in, so we'd better make the most of it."

Within the fable-like story of Brooklyn, the singer, Paradice is "the diva of the decade," Smalley said, "but a very unlikely diva. She's very grounded."

Brooklyn, though, challenges Paradice's artistic dominance, and the two battle in a diva-off.

"I feel like a piece of her is in me," Hale said. "I'm the girl who is trying to find herself. She becomes successful and famous, but what she longs for is finding her father."

Brooklyn (Madeleine Hale) seeks guidance from a street singer (Caleb Summers) in WT's "Brooklyn."Brooklyn (Madeleine Hale) seeks guidance from a street singer (Caleb Summers) in WT's "Brooklyn."Photo by Chip Chandler

As the show toggles between fable and reality, through the narration of Summer's street singer character, the audience will be kept clued in via scenic elements.

"It will feel like you're on a street corner, but the lighting is fantasy," said director Andrew Barratt Lewis. "This is the show in their mind, what they would do if they could live in a Beyonce concert."

Lewis said he chose the musical, which had a brief Broadway run in 2004, because of "the contemporary sound and music."

"It's a fun piece with a lot of heart," he said. "I thought it would be a good piece for our students to work on, especially because it's so contemporary."

It also allows the young actors to play several different layers.

"We've talked a lot about who are these people as people and how some of that translates to the characters they're playing," Lewis said. "The cast has been great at finding balance. The (show-within-a-show) is over the top, very performative, but in the moments that are real, they do a great job at bringing the real emotions.

"There's a lot of truth in this fairy tale."

Performances are set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and Oct. 6 to 8, plus 2:30 pm. Saturday, Sunday and Oct. 9.

Tickets are $16 for adults, $12 for seniors and students, and free for WT students, faculty and staff. Call 806-651-2804.




Chip Chandler is a digital content producer for Panhandle PBS. He can be contacted at, at @chipchandler1 on Twitter and at on Facebook.

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