Review: ‘Once in a Lullaby’ captures the joy of success

In "Once Upon a Lullaby," members of the PS22 Chorus rehearse before their big performance.

Talk about inspiring. Or better yet, sing about it. That’s the takeaway from the joyous documentary “Once in a Lullaby,” which profiles the 2010-11 chorus from Staten Island’s PS 22, whose crowning achievement was performing at the 83rd Academy Awards show.

Although producer-director Jonathan Kalafer was blessed with a talented, charismatic and diverse bunch of camera-ready fifth-graders to help tell the choir’s amazing story, it’s music teacher Gregg Breinberg who lands center stage here.

This wonderfully ebullient, warmly communicative instructor, whose YouTube postings of his students’ rousing renditions earned them a national legion of fans, the attention of A-list actors and pop stars and eventually that Oscar invite, proves a stirring beacon of support and commitment.

Kalafer’s cameras enjoyably follow Breinberg and his kids as they travel to L.A. and prepare, amid the dizzying, well-oiled Hollywood machinery, to sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at the close of the Oscar ceremony. Be prepared to be enormously moved.


Unfortunately, while Kalafer takes us inside the lives of several of the key chorus kids — the once-homeless Azaria, the overenthusiastic Mohamed, natural born drummer Marquis — we learn little about Breinberg’s past or present beyond his role at PS 22.

It’s the one lapse in this otherwise memorable, well-observed film.


“Once in a Lullaby.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. At Laemmle’s NoHo 7, North Hollywood.