Bumming in the 'Burg

The saucy hipsters of Brooklyn take the stage in Williamsburg! The Musical, a raucous spoof of the thrumming young neighborhood. Writers Nicola Barber, Will Brumley, Brooke Fox, and Kurt Gellersted have slathered a formulaic story with the irony and zest of this fashion-forward, overly intellectual crowd, replete with sarcasm and skinny jeans. The story centers around Piper Paris, a newcomer on the block. She moves into a crumbling apartment building and discovers that her Polish landlady is being threatened by carnivorous real estate scavenger Amina Snatch, a Cruella DeVil with a perky black bob. Despondent on her 30th birthday, Piper decides to end her life by leaping off the Williamsburg Bridge. Shlomo, a cheerful dry cleaner (and Hassidic Jew), talks her down, and the two begin an unlikely, clunky, yet endearing courtship. As Shlomo and Piper fall in love, Snatch continues to circle the neighborhood, turning unsuspecting hipsters into zombies to peddle the accoutrements of her slick company.

Any New Yorker who's in the know will appreciate jokes about the L train's inefficiency, the changing demographics and gentrification of the city's neighborhoods, and the exhausting quest for cool. Although a few of the winks are conveyed a bit too broadly, Gellersted and Fox have created an infectious, catchy score that frequently hits its emotional mark. One example is "Craigslist Hook-Up/Missed Connections," which pokes fun at the desperate language of personal ads while also capturing the loneliness of living in a city where casual encounters are plenty but intimate relationships are few.

Director and choreographer Deborah Wolfson keeps the action charging across the stage, but the tone often diverges wildly between earnestness and irony. It's often unclear whether this is a celebration, critique, or loving spoof (which I suspect it is) of this neighborhood. Thankfully, Alison Guinn (as the petulant Piper) and Evan Shyer (as the charming Shlomo) make their roles and relationship crystal clear. Without poking fun at themselves, they embody their characters with pluck and sincerity. Their supercharged power duet, "We Can't Look (And We Can't Touch)," is one of the production's most electric moments.

It's a messy life in Williamsburg, and the opening number begins with the silhouette of a frenetically dancing hipster—soon, another joins in, until there is a thrashing mob of hipsters, moving in rhythm. This assimilative movement betrays a culture in which its members don't (but clearly do!) care what other people think, and this cutthroat race to be the hippest of them all creates a visibly homogeneous human landscape. An entertaining trip to a nifty neighborhood (no subway ride required), Williamsburg! is a production struggling to figure out what it wants to say.

Note: This production is part of the 2007 New York International Fringe Festival.

Print Friendly and PDF