Although people think Broadway is synonymous with New York theater, truth is there’s a lot of great stuff beyond the bright lights of the Great White Way. Some of the most innovative new plays and musicals are happening on the city’s more intimate Off Broadway stages (technically defined as seating between 100 and 499). From the award-winning Public Theater downtown to the crowd-pleasing attactions at New World stages and the city’s network of great nonprofit companies, Off Broadway offers something for everyone.
Three deadpan blue-skinned men with extraterrestrial imaginations carry this tourist fave, a show as smart as it is ridiculous. They drum on open tubs of paint, creating splashes of color; they consume Twinkies and Cap'n Crunch; they engulf the audience in a roiling sea of toilet paper. For sheer weird, exuberant fun, it's hard to top this long-running treat. (Note: The playing schedule varies from week to week, with as many as four performances on some days and none on others; check the show's website for details.)Read more
Colin Quinn The New York Story: Theater review by David Cote It’s not exactly a golden age for ethnic jokes: gags about how black people are like this or Jewish folks always do that…and don’t get me started on Asians! With homicidal cops and white supremacists on one hand and thought-policing PC scolds on the other, there’s not much room for laughs about cultural difference. And should there be? Colin Quinn thinks so in The New York Story, his irreverent, ethnographic survey of the immigrants who helped form the classic New York personality (pushy, cocky, loud). If stereotypes can be woven into a nonhostile humanistic tapestry, Quinn does it. One obvious factor is: Who’s making the jokes and who’s laughing? As a straight, middle-aged, Irish-American, Quinn might worry about charges of minstrelsy, punching down or flat-out racial insensitivity. But the show, lightly directed by Jerry Seinfeld, is more inclusive and sweet-natured than that. As for those chuckling at the material, I can report that the crowd I saw it with was refreshingly mixed. Quinn grew up when the city, he argues, was a real melting pot: messy, boiling and liable to burn. He draws on his experiences as a Park Slope kid in the ’70s, when Brooklyn was genuinely diverse (the script is adapted from his recently released The Coloring Book: A Comedian Solves Race Relations in America). “This city was supposed to be the sanctuary city for the judgmental, the obnoxious, the nonpositive,” Quinn grumbles. But you cRead more
Fuerza Bruta: Wayra. Daryl Roth Theatre (see Off Broadway). Conceived and directed by Diqui James. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 20mins. No intermission. Wayra: In brief Fuerza Bruta returns in the third installment of the De La Guarda trilogy. If it's anything like the first two, you can expect a visually impressive dance-rave thrill ride that merges striking imagery with techno music and aerial showboating. Wayra: Theater review by David Cote When the sensory-wraparound rave known as De La Guarda swung into town 16 years ago, it was the only show of its kind. Even in 2007, when environmental-kinesthetic mastermind Diqui James unveiled a sequel, Fuerza Bruta, there was no Sleep No More, Then She Fell or Queen of the Night. So has James tried to reinvent the wheel and beat the competition—say, by introducing narrative or literary allusions? Not a chance. Fuerza Bruta: Wayra is of a piece with its predecessors, still offering unique thrills for a remarkably young and diverse audience that, I’m guessing, doesn’t get to Playwrights Horizons very much. And there’s nothing wrong with that. As a palate cleanser for theatergoers tired of living rooms and family secrets, Wayra is a bona fide thrill ride. Immersive theater may be more common now, but no one blasts through boundaries like these guys. As usual, James’s nonverbal episodic spectacle (with an eclectic score by Gaby Kerpel that glides from techno and drum ’n’ bass to world) is a direct challenge to we poor criRead more
Theater review by Adam Feldman. [Note: For the 2016 return engagement of Old Hats at the Signature, singer-songwriter Shaina Taub replaces Nellie McKay, who was in the version reviewed below.] Old Hats should go some way toward checking the bad rap that clowns and mimes have gotten in recent years. Its astonishing stars, Bill Irwin and David Shiner, are physical comedians of the highest order, with roughly 75 years of mirth-making between them—including their collaboration Fool Moon, a beloved vaudeville that returned to Broadway twice after its 1993 debut. Their reunion at the Signature, directed by Tina Landau (and tricked out with G.W. Mercier’s costumes and set), finds them older but splendidly limber. As always, Irwin’s air of affability is offset by Shiner’s spikier mien. When the two perform in sketches together—as codgers trading pills on a train platform, say, or as a sleazy magician and his jealous wife—their polymorphous complementarity leaves the audience buzzing with joy. Old Hats is a variety show not just as a whole but in each of its constituent parts. Clowning at this level is already an amalgam of comedy, theater and dance; here it is also boosted by a constant flow of music from a terrific band of five, led by the subversively chipper singer-songwriter Nellie McKay. Between bits and bouts of clowning, McKay performs many of her own songs, spiking Old Hats’ punch with her unique brand of retromodern wit. A few of the routines are recyled from Fool Moon oRead more
Ruthless! The Musical: Theater review by Adam Feldman Evil little blond girls never get old. When Tina Denmark, a precocious song-and-dance sociopath who garrotes a rival for the lead in her grade-school play, made her debut in the super campy 1992 musical Ruthless!, she was already familiar from her lineage: She’s The Bad Seed’s Rhoda Penmark spliced with Gypsy’s Baby June. The preternaturally self-assured Tori Murray plays this Shirley Temple of doom in the show’s current revival, and the joke still kills. Not everything else about Joel Paley and Marvin Laird’s musical holds up quite so well, but it's an enjoyable slice of cyanide birthday cake. The show-tuneful score is lively and the main cast is strong; Kim Maresca sings wonderfully as Tina’s mom, a retro housewife with a secret past, and Peter Land brings sly authority to the drag role of Sylvia St. Croix, an Auntie Mame–like talent agent. Ruthless! presents a world in which everyone wants to be in showbiz—even a critic (Rita McKenzie) who supposedly hates musicals decries them in a Merman blare—and talent is a kind of hereditary disease. Rotten as the state of Tina Denmark may be, we can’t resist watching. St. Luke’s Theatre (Off Broadway). Music by Marvin Laird. Book and lyrics by Joel Paley. Directed by Paley. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 35 mins. No intermission. Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdamRead more
Skeleton Crew: Theater review by Adam Feldman Cars are unseen but everywhere in Dominique Morisseau’s meaty Skeleton Crew. Its characters manufacture auto parts, circa 2008; they are among the few workers left at a plant that's in the process of shutting into one of Detroit’s many ghost factories. They’re skilled at their jobs, and they take pride in creating objects powerful enough to serve as transports, death machines, even as last-ditch homes. But as Detroit deteriorates with the car industry, they are torn between strategies of survival: the every-man-for-himself ethos of American individualism versus the solidarity of unions, friends and chosen families. “Nobody wants to merge no more,” says the young, pregnant Shanita (Nikiya Mathis), describing an episode of road rage. “We just gettin’ squished into smaller lanes.” At the center of the action, which takes place in the factory’s break room, is Lynda Gravatt—a model of rusted steel—as Faye, a weathered lesbian who serves as the workers’ union rep. Jason Dirden plays Dez, an angry hustler with a suspicious backpack; Wendell B. Franklin is their conflicted foreman, Reggie. (Between scenes, Adesola Osakalumi performs riveting robotic movements—literally, break dancing.) Morisseau’s play is firmly based in the lives and evocative language of its four characters, whom Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s powerful production treats with August Wilson–ian respect. They’re messed-up but decent people, driven by forces that may or may notRead more