Theater review by David CoteReviewing Miss Saigon is such a political minefield. I don’t mean arguing whether the 1989 musical fairly depicts the U.S. war against Communists in Vietnam. Rather, the challenge is to firmly call out Miss Saigon as a heap of Orientalist clichés filtered through 19th-century European melodrama and presented with all the subtlety of a coked-up, steroidal Michael Bay flick—while acknowledging that it provides work for a large number of Asian performers. Damn the show. and actors with too few opportunities lose jobs. You call that woke?Not that one pan will make much difference. We are talking about a show that ran for a decade in the same venue, whose blend of trash and tragedy thrills tourists and those for whom Sondheim is too wordy and un-hummable. Cats is garbage too, but that slunk back and seems to be doing fine.Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s follow-up to Les Misérables is explicitly about the fall of Saigon, but in a larger sense, it’s about the fall of the Anglo-European Broadway blockbuster. In terms of musical bombast, visual spectacle and hyperbolic vulgarity, it closed out a sad decade for the serious American musical. With a score heavy on lite rock and anthems, the show may be mostly sung, but it’s less a song-and-dance affair in any recognizable sense than it is an ’80s summer movie, weighed down with ridiculous special F/X. Of course that means the infamous helicopter, which arrives with fans ruffling the audience’s coll
Hamilton: Theater review by David Cote What is left to say? After Founding Father Alexander Hamilton’s prodigious quill scratched out 12 volumes of nation-building fiscal and military policy; after Lin-Manuel Miranda turned that titanic achievement (via Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography) into the greatest American musical in decades; after every critic in town (including me) praised the Public Theater world premiere to high heaven; and after seeing this language-drunk, rhyme-crazy dynamo a second time, I can only marvel: We've used up all the damn words. Wait, here are three stragglers, straight from the heart: I love Hamilton. I love it like I love New York, or Broadway when it gets it right. And this is so right. A sublime conjunction of radio-ready hip-hop (as well as R&B, Britpop and trad showstoppers), under-dramatized American history and Miranda’s uniquely personal focus as a first-generation Puerto Rican and inexhaustible wordsmith, Hamilton hits multilevel culture buttons, hard. No wonder the show was anointed a sensation before even opening. Assuming you don’t know the basics, Hamilton is a (mostly) rapped-through biomusical about an orphan immigrant from the Caribbean who came to New York, served as secretary to General Washington, fought against the redcoats, authored most of the Federalist Papers defending the Constitution, founded the Treasury and the New York Post and even made time for an extramarital affair that he damage-controlled in a scandal-stanching pamp
One of the more unlikely musicals on Broadway this season, Come from Away is the tense but humane story of an airport in Gander, Newfoundland, where 38 planes and more than 6,000 passengers were forced to land on September 11, 2001. The book, music and lyrics are by the Canadian team Irene Sankoff and David Hein. Read the full review.
Dave Malloy's dazzlingly eclectic rock-pop musical, adapted from a portion of Tolstoy's War and Peace, conveys its story of high-society Muscovites in stirring and surprising ways. Directed by Rachel Chavkin, this Broadway transfer of the 2012 Off Broadway hit stars global-sensation singer Josh Groban and newcomer Denée Benton. Read the full review.
If theater is your religion and the Broadway musical your sect, you've been woefully faith-challenged of late. Venturesome, boundary-pushing works such as Spring Awakening, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Next to Normal closed too soon. American Idiot was shamefully ignored at the Tonys and will be gone in three weeks. Meanwhile, that airborne infection Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark dominates headlines and rakes in millions, without even opening. Celebrities and corporate brands sell poor material, innovation gets shown the door, and crap floats to the top. It's enough to turn you heretic, to sing along with The Book of Mormon's Ugandan villagers: "Fuck you God in the ass, mouth and cunt-a, fuck you in the eye." Such deeply penetrating lyrics offer a smidgen of the manifold scato-theological joys to be had at this viciously hilarious treat crafted by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, of South Park fame, and composer-lyricist Robert Lopez, who cowrote Avenue Q. As you laugh your head off at perky Latter-day Saints tap-dancing while fiercely repressing gay tendencies deep in the African bush, you will be transported back ten years, when The Producers and Urinetown resurrected American musical comedy, imbuing time-tested conventions with metatheatrical irreverence and a healthy dose of bad-taste humor. Brimming with cheerful obscenity, sharp satire and catchy tunes, The Book of Mormon is a sick mystic revelation, the most exuberantly entertaining Broadway musical in years. The high
Theater review by Adam Feldman. The Al Hirschfeld Theatre (Broadway). Book by Harvey Fierstein. Music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. Dir. Jerry Mitchell. With Stark Sands, Billy Porter, Annaleigh Ashford. 2hrs 20mins. One intermission. [Note: The cast of Kinky Boots has changed since this review was first published. Todrick Hall is now playing the role of Lola.] The kicky crowd-pleaser Kinky Boots is the very model of a modern major musical. Adapted from a 2005 English indie film, Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper’s fizzy pop tuner tells of Charlie (the capable Sands) and his Northampton footwear factory, Price & Son—a family business in danger of closing down. Hope arrives in the unlikely form of Lola (Porter), a self-possessed drag queen with ideas for a niche product line: knee-high, skin-tight, stiletto-heeled sheaths of ostentatious color, strong enough for a man who’s made up like a woman. (Gay style and consumer dollars to the rescue! The shoe must go on!) Directed with verve by Jerry Mitchell, Kinky Boots feels familiar at every step, down to its messages about individuality, community, pride and acceptance; it could have been cobbled together from parts of The Full Monty, Billy Elliot and Fierstein’s La Cage aux Folles, and it culminates in a feel-good finale so similar to Hairspray’s (which Mitchell choreographed) that it might as well be called “You Can’t Stop the Boot.” Yet the musical holds up for the same reason Price & Son’s products do: solid craftsmanship and
Waitress: Theater review by David CoteOne’s sorely tempted to praise the delightful new musical Waitress using lots of bakery metaphors. After all, its hero is a pastry genius with relationship woes named Jenna (Jessie Mueller). She’s a perky Southern gal who can confect a mouthwatering Mermaid Marshmallow Pie but can’t measure the right ingredients for happiness. So, unable to resist, here I go: Fresh and delicious, Waitress has an excellent ratio of sweet to tart; supporting characters who provide crustiness (Dakin Matthews’s grumbly store owner) and flakiness (Christopher Fitzgerald’s loony admirer of another waitress); and cooked-to-perfection staging by Diane Paulus. The whole dish is—please forgive me—love at first bite.Based on the 2007 indie film by the late writer-director Adrienne Shelly, Waitress has been whipped (I’ll stop now) into an expertly constructed and emotionally satisfying tale of self-liberation in the face of limited options. Jessie Nelson’s broadly comic yet brooding book meshes wonderfully with a frisky, bright score by pop star Sara Bareilles, a seasoned songwriter who lets the Beatles and other Britpop influences shine through. Bareilles’s custom-built earworms address workplace pluck (“Opening Up”), first-date jitters (“When He Sees Me”), quirky, obsessive love (“Never Ever Getting Rid of Me”) and an eleventh-hour ballad of loss and regret (“She Used to Be Mine”), which will rip your heart out.That’s a nasty sounding operation, but you couldn’t fi
Aladdin. New Amsterdam Theatre (see Broadway). Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Book and additional lyrics by Chad Beguelin. Directed by Casey Nicholaw. With Adam Jacobs, James Monroe Iglehart, Courtney Reed. Running time: 2hrs 20mins. One intermission. Aladdin: In brief Disney unveils its latest cartoon-to-musical project: the tale of a boy, an uncorked spirit and an aerodynamic rug. Composer Alan Menken adds new tunes to the 1992 original soundtrack, and Chad Beguelin provides a fresh book. Reputed highlights include James Monroe Iglehart's bouncy Genie and the flying-carpet F/X. Aladdin: Theater review by Adam Feldman What do we wish for in a Disney musical? It is unrealistic to expect aesthetic triumph on par with The Lion King, but neither need we settle for blobs of empty action like Tarzan or The Little Mermaid. The latest in the toon-tuner line, Aladdin, falls between those poles; nearer in style (though inferior in stakes) to Disney’s first effort, Beauty and the Beast, the show is a tricked-out, tourist-family-friendly theme-park attraction, decorated this time in the billowing fabrics of orientalist Arabian fantasy. “It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home,” sings the genial Genie (a game, charismatic Iglehart) in the opening song, and that’s the tone of Aladdin as a whole: kid-Oriented. As in the 1992 film, the Genie steals the show from its eponymous “street rat” hero (Jacobs, white teeth and tan chest agleam). The musical’s high point i
In this captivating original musical, Ben Platt gives a Tony-caliber performance—funny, sweet, beautifully sung and exquisitely worked-out in its physical details—as a high school student thrust into social relevance after a classmate's suicide. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's score combines well-crafted lyrics with an exciting pop sound, and Steven Levenson’s book gives all the characters shaded motives. The production has moved to Broadway after its sold-out run at Second Stage Theatre. Read the full review.
School of Rock: Theater review by David CoteEver see the pitch-perfect 2003 Jack Black comedy School of Rock? Then you know what to expect from the musical version: fake substitute teacher Dewey Finn frenetically inspiring his charges to release their inner Jimi Hendrix; uptight preppy tweens learning classic riffs; and the band’s pivotal, make-or-break gig, with their overbearing parents watching in horror. We expect cute kids in uniform, a spastic Dewey and face-melting riffs—along with heart-tugging family stuff. It worked for the movie, and wow, does it work on Broadway, a double jolt of adrenaline and sugar to inspire the most helicoptered of tots to play hooky and go shred an ax. For those about to love School of Rock: We salute you. What a relief to see that an unlikely creative team—Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, veteran composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Glenn Slater (Leap of Faith)—successfully execute such a smart transfer of film to stage. This is one tight, well-built show: underscoring the emotional arcs (Dewey as both surrogate kid and parent; the students’ yearning to be heard); gently juicing the romantic subplot between Dewey and buttoned-up school principal Rosalie Mullins (sweetly starchy Sierra Boggess); and knowing when to get out of the way and let the kids jam. School of Rock has absorbed the diverse lessons of Rent, Spring Awakening and Matilda and passes them on to a new generation.You’d have to have zero sense of humor about pop to no
Andrew Lloyd Webber's iconic musical returns as a taxidermied pet. In other words, this is the same tacky and tedious '80s spectacle that ran an inexplicable 18 years on Broadway. Very little can freshen up the synth-heavy tunes or bolster the scattershot book. If you loved Cats as a kid, this could sour your "Memory." Read the full review
Beautiful—The Carole King Musical shares several virtues with its titular singer-songwriter, among them humility, earnestness and dedication to craft. If Douglas McGrath’s book never achieves the dramatic grit or comic zip of Jersey Boys, at least director Marc Bruni’s production avoids being a brain-dead, self-satisfied hit parade à la Berry Gordy’s Motown. Still, it does seem that stretches of Broadway’s newest jukebox musical consist of situations such as this: “Carole, you’ve got to write us a hit!” “I’ve written something.” “It’s a hit!” Yes, Beautiful loves its diligent, long-suffering pop genius, and invites you to do the same. It’s quite an easy task when you have the phenomenal Jessie Mueller in the lead. The effortlessly appealing star cut her teeth on Broadway flops (the mis-reconceived On a Clear Day You Can See Forever) and in supporting parts (The Mystery of Edwin Drood). Now she’s ready to carry a show. As Brooklyn-raised King, who started churning out teenybopper tunes at 1650 Broadway in the late ’50s, Mueller exudes warmth and common sense, playing up King’s old-fashioned modesty and insecurity without becoming a doormat or cipher. And when she wraps her rich, burnished voice around those hits—“So Far Away,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “It’s Too Late”—they feel as fresh as the day King penned them. McGrath’s deft, wry book tracks its hero’s tortured first marriage to lyricist-partner Gerry Goffin (Jake Epstein) and their friendly rivalry with anothe
Inspired by the 1997 animated movie, this new musical by composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens explores the life of Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov and the enduring mystery of her true identity. Darko Tresnjak (A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder) directs. Fetching newcomer Christy Altomare takes on the title role.
Jake Gyllenhaal, who revealed surprising musical-theater chops in Little Shop of Horrors in 2015, stars opposite Broadway It girl Annaleigh Ashford (Kinky Boots) in a revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Pulitzer Prize–winning 1984 musical. It's a gorgeous portrait (in two halves) of artistic ambition and compromise. Read the full review.
Paramour: Theater review by David CoteThe global neocircus giant Cirque du Soleil does things no one else on Broadway can. Its acrobats execute quadruple backflips off a teeterboard, their heels seeming to brush the rigging high above the stage. They contort their bodies into positions that would cripple even the supplest chorus girl. There’s a reason the Tonys doesn’t award Best Trapeze Artist: We’re talking ultra-rare talents here. What Cirque cannot do, alas, is craft a decent Broadway musical. Paramour is a desperately mediocre (if extravagant) song-and-dance affair tricked out with specialty acts that are far more engaging than the dopey romantic triangle meant to hold our attention.Said love story involves megalomaniacal movie director A.J. Golden (Jeremy Kushnier), ingénue-chanteuse Indigo (Ruby Lewis) and her songwriting partner Joey (Ryan Vona). Per the program, we’re in “The golden age of Hollywood,” crammed with gaudy Art Deco interiors and soundstage clowns mugging like crazy. In search of a muse, A.J. discovers Indigo warbling in a speakeasy, signs her as his next star and proceeds to muscle in between her and Joey. Although we’re repeatedly told that A.J. is a visionary auteur, he excels mainly at abusing employees between inane takes of jugglers and tumblers. Joey mopes on the sidelines, pining for Indigo and struggling to pen the perfect love song for her. Rather than being forced to choose which man to love, Indigo is trapped between a shouty sociopath and a
This musical prequel to The Wizard of Oz addresses surprisingly complex themes, such as standards of beauty, morality and, believe it or not, fighting fascism. Thanks to Winnie Holzman’s witty book and Stephen Schwartz’s pop-inflected score, Wicked soars. Currently, the cast features Rachel Tucker as Elphaba and Carrie St. Louis as Galinda.
Tennessee Williams's oft-revived family drama (last seen on Broadway in 2014) returns starring Sally Field as Amanda Wingfield. She plays opposite Joe Mantello as Tom, remembering days gone by, and Madison Ferris as delicate, damaged Laura. The ingenious Sam Gold directs. Read the full review.
If producers wanted to make a Broadway musical out of the 2001 French film fantasy, who on earth could they get to do the Audrey Tautou part? Enter Phillipa Soo. The dulcet-voiced powerhouse ingenue from Hamilton and Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 rises even higher to divadom with this whimsical new tuner. The score is by Daniel Messé, lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Messé.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic, bombastic musical goes on. Directed by Harold Prince, The Phantom of the Opera is lavish and engaging enough to draw tourists more than two decades into its run. Although the score often strikes a cheesy 1980s synth-pop note, the spectacle and romance remain more or less intact. James Barbour now plays the Phantom.—David Cote Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.
In Joshua Harmon’s mordantly amusing and well-observed new play, the sweetly tremulous Gideon Glick plays a nice gay Jewish boy whose closest female friends peel away from him on nuptial exit ramps. Directed with a gimlet eye by Trip Cullman, this sharp and bittersweet comedy makes you slap your knees until you notice they’re bruised. Read the full review.
Glenn Close returns to the role she last played on Broadway more than 20 years ago: the delusional fading film star Norma Desmond. Andrew Lloyd Webber continues his renaissance on the Great White Way (Phantom, Cats and School of Rock) with this lushly orchestrated revival, staged by Lonny Price. Read the full review.
This new big-band jazz musical is set in the immediate aftermath of World War II. A singer-songwriter (Corey Cott) rounds up a motley group of veterans to form a band fronted by a comely war widow (Laura Osnes). Andy Blankenbueler (Hamilton) directs and choreographs the swing-filled action.
On Your Feet!: Theater review by Adam Feldman There’s not much to dislike about On Your Feet!, because there’s not much about it to inspire reaction of any kind. A serviceable jukebox musical about Cuban-American recording star Gloria Estefan (Ana Villafañe) and her husband, Emilio (Josh Segarra), the show starts at what may be an insurmountable disadvantage: Neither Estefan nor her life nor her music are especially dramatically interesting. This is the story of a sensible, talented, hard-working woman in a happy marriage who made successful professional dance pop. Opera it is not. With the bland diligence of an authorized mass-market biography, Alexander Dinelaris’s script trudges through Estefan’s journey from psychology student to Miami Sound Machine singer and beyond. Villafañe and Segarra are likable and credible, but the time line is muddled, and what pass for conflicts seem inflated: an obstinate mother (flinty Andréa Burns), a record label briefly resistant to the couple’s plans. The audience perks up each time one of Estefan’s Latin-flavored hits begins, then palpably wilts as the numbers go on. Rhythm can only get you so far. Marquis Theatre (Broadway). Book by Alexander Dinelaris. Music and lyrics by various artists. Directed by Jerry Mitchell. With Ana Villafañe, Josh Segarra. Running time: 2hrs 20mins. One intermission. Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam
Roald Dahl's beloved parable about kids, candy and capitalism, which inspired a beloved film with Gene Wilder and also one with Johnny Depp, arrives on Broadway as a musical. Expertly zany two-time Tony winner Christian Borle plays eccentric factory owner Willy Wonka in David Greig's adaptation of Dahl's 1964 book, with a score by Hairspray's Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (augmenting tunes from the 1971 movie). Jack O'Brien directs the production, which features puppets by downtown marvel Basil Twist.
Three superb stage veterans—Jessica Hecht, Mark Ruffalo and Tony Shalhoub—star in this Roundabout Theatre Company revival of Arthur Miller's 1968 family drama. Estranged brothers sift through their dead father's belongings and weigh their value, ethical and otherwise. Danny DeVito plays a savvy appraiser.