Broadway shows A–Z
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
Theater review by Helen Shaw We don’t get many ancient Greek tragedies on Broadway. Tastes have changed, and what we think of as dramatic has shifted into different patterns. So Christopher Demos-Brown’s American Son seems like a play from another time. It basically consists of two-person arguments, interspersed with messenger speeches: Something has happened offstage, and we wait with the characters to find out what it is. The rhetoric is heavy-handed, the grief and fear are unremitting, the brushstrokes are asphalt-thick, and there’s no subtlety in either the characterizations or the narrative structure. In other words, Demos-Brown hasn’t written a particularly skillful modern drama. But when the fate of a nation was at stake, Euripides wrote plays like this too. A panicking mother, Kendra (Kerry Washington), sits in the waiting room of a Miami police station while rain pours down outside. (Derek McLane’s set is almost all windows, looking out on an empty parking lot.) Kendra’s son, Jamal, has been involved in an incident, but the overnight officer, Larkin (Jeremy Jordan), claims that protocol prevents him from telling her anything till morning. Larkin leaves, then reenters, adding eyedropper beads of racism to the conversation each time: “Did he have any street names?” he asks, busily taking notes. Eventually, Kendra is joined by her estranged white husband, Scott (Steven Pasquale), and the two of them fight over things that have clearly been long since decided. As writ
Theater review by Adam FeldmanBroadway musicals often feature heroines trying to find themselves, but perhaps never as literally as in Anastasia. In 1927 Leningrad, the scrappy, strapping Dmitry (Derek Klena) and the worldly, roguish Vlad (John Bolton) devise a scheme to pass off a street sweeper, Anya (Christy Altomare), as the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicholaevna Romanov, rumored to have survived the massacre of the rest of her royal family in the Russian Revolution 10 years earlier. But as the con men school her, My Fair Lady–like, in the ways of nobility—hoping to deceive Anastasia’s grandmother in Paris, the Dowager Empress (an elegant Mary Beth Peil)—it emerges that Anya may be the real Anastasia after all. Who knows? Not Anya: She has amnesia. What former self might be nested like a doll inside her, waiting to be revealed? And might there be other dolls inside that one?As Anastasia piles discovery upon discovery, the happiest surprise is how consistently good the musical turns out to be. Smartly adapted by Terrence McNally from the 1997 animated film and the 1956 Ingrid Bergman movie—with Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens impressively expanding their score from the former—Anastasia is a sweeping adventure, romance and historical epic whose fine craftsmanship will satisfy musical-theater fans beyond the show’s ideal audience of teenage girls. (When I saw it, a second-act kiss was greeted with deafening shrieks of approval.) Director Darko Tresnjak keeps the story swirling
Updated review by Adam Feldman (2018) Ten months into its Broadway run, David Yazbek and Itamar Moses’s Tony-winning musical remains quietly ravishing: It seems to have almost as much silence as music, and it trusts us to fill in the blanks. Sasson Gabay now stars as Tewfiq, the conductor of an Egyptian band stranded in an Israeli desert town—the role he played in the film from which the show is adapted. His performance is bone-dry and bone-deep, and his scenes with the stunning Katrina Lenk retain the delicate balance she had opposite Tony Shalhoub, with a slight shift in emphasis: Gabay has a more somber and paternal presence, which casts his relationship with wayward trumpet player Haled (Ari'el Stachel) into clearer relief. The richness of the writing, the nuances of David Cromer’s production and the continued excellence of the ensemble cast make each return visit a pleasure. Broadway review by Adam Feldman (2017) In a musical that is full of beautiful moments, perhaps the loveliest is the one shared on a plain park bench by Dina (Katrina Lenk), an Israeli café owner, and Tewfiq (Tony Shalhoub), an Egyptian bandleader stranded for the night in her uneventful desert town in 1996. As members of his ceremonial police orchestra play incidental music behind them, Dina asks Tewfiq how it feels to be a conductor. They each raise their arms, inhabiting an imagined experience together, and the music we have been hearing stops; what they feel is realer, and we are invited to im
[Note: Abby Mueller, the sister of original star Jessie Mueller, takes over as King starting August 7.] 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 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 fi
Tim Burton's well-loved 1988 dark comedy is the latest movie to make the transdimensional leap into Broadway musical territory, with Alex Timbers (Peter and the Starcatcher) at the directorial reins. Alex Brightman plays the ooky title character, a demon hired by a kindly dead couple (Rob McClure and Kerry Butler) to rid their former home of its distasteful live inhabitants (Leslie Kritzer and Adam Dannheisser) and their miserable goth daughter (Sophia Anne Caruso). The book is by Scott Brown and Anthony King; the original score is by King Kong tunesmith Eddie Perfect.
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
Major comedic actors prick the bubble of autobiographical puffery by performing droll, verbatim readings from stars' memoirs in Eugene Pack’s acclaimed series. Now the show kicks it up a notch with a series of Broadway performances. All three editions feature Mario Cantone and Rachel Dratch as well as Pack and Dayle Reyfel; joining them for select performances are SNL star Cecily Strong (Dec 10), actors Susan Lucci (Dec 10, 17), Alec Baldwin (Dec 10), Tony Danza (Dec 10) and Michael Urie (Dec 17), and avocado enthusiast Antoni Porowski (Dec 17).
Theater review by Adam Feldman “I’m a goddam Goddess Warrior!” declares the title character—one of them, anyhow—in the camp-carnival musical The Cher Show, and who would dare to argue? If this cultural icon (and newly anointed Kennedy Center Honoree) has managed to hold our attention for more than five decades, it’s been largely on the basis of her kick-ass poise. “You may not be the prettiest, or the smartest, or the most talented,” says her mother, Georgia (a flinty Emily Skinner), in an early scene. “But you’re special”—so special, in fact, that The Cher Show deploys not one but three performers to embody the diva at different ages. This may seem a strange approach to a star defined by her individuality, but it is true to her more-is-more spirit and, on a practical level, a useful device for navigating the vast swath of time that the musical depicts, from 1952 through the very celebration we are seeing. All Chers, mind you, have not been created equal: In this glitzy account, there is Cher and there are Cher-alikes. The oldest of the trio, identified as Star—and played by the terrific Stephanie J. Block in a full-throated impersonation that avoids the trap of the impersonal—dominates the proceedings; she is flanked by two younger ones, Lady (the capable Teal Wicks) and Babe (Micaela Diamond, a very assured teenager). The three of them alternate duties and occasionally argue with each other in limbo, Three Tall Women—style. Some of the scenes are played straight; others
This John Kander–Fred Ebb–Bob Fosse favorite, revived by director Walter Bobbie and choreographer Ann Reinking, tells the saga of chorus girl Roxie Hart, who murders her lover and, with the help of a huckster lawyer, becomes a vaudeville sensation. The cast frequently features guest celebrities in short stints.
More than five years after the play's Off Broadway debut, Manhattan Theatre Club moves Tarell Alvin McCraney’s sensitive drama to Broadway, with the remarkable Jeremy Pope reprising his central performance as an effeminate senior and choir leader in an all-male, all-black prep school. Like 2002's Take Me Out, with which it has much in common, the play explores themes of identity and escape; the cast, directed by Trip Cullman, includes Chuck Cooper and Austin Pendleton.
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.
In this captivating original musical, Hello, Dolly! scene-stealer Taylor Trensch now plays the title role of 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. Read the full review.
Theater review by Adam Feldman Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman is a tremendously noisy play about silence and its price. Rob Howell’s expertly detailed set, festooned with memorabilia and kids’ drawings, depicts a farmhouse in Northern Ireland in 1981. More than 20 actors stream on and off the stage, including many children of various ages, plus a live baby and a goose; there is music, both traditional and contemporary, and a celebratory dance. The whole thrilling production seems alive, as few Broadway shows do, with the clutter and scope of reality. It is harvest day, and for Quinn Carney (Paddy Considine) it starts with a sweet early-morning flirtation with Caitlin (Laura Donnelly). They seem a happy couple, but we soon piece together that she is not Quinn’s wife and the mother of his seven children—that would be the sickly Mary (Genevieve O’Reilly)—but the presumed widow of his long-missing brother, Seamus. As we have learned in the play’s prologue, Seamus’s corpse has just been discovered in a local bog, and the quietly menacing local Irish Republican Army warlord, Muldoon (Stuart Graham), is intent on ensuring that no one talk too much about how the dead man got that way. Although it is more than three hours long, The Ferryman never drags, in part because Butterworth continually shifts and expands the play’s focus to what had seemed like side characters, such as the sometimes-lucid madwoman Aunt Maggie Far Away (Fionnula Flanagan), the slow-witted Tom Kettle (Justi
Theater review by Adam Feldman At the end of the first act of Frozen, there is a moment that zaps the audience to life like a blast of cold air. Elsa (Caissie Levy), the young queen of a Nordic realm, has witchy ice-creation powers that she has been forced to keep hidden; now, self-exiled to a Fortress of Solitude–like castle, she exults in reckless freedom and power. As she belts the show’s takeaway number, “Let It Go,” her heavy royal garments transform, in one thrilling instant, into a shimmery frost-blue party dress. It’s “Defying Gravity” on the rocks, and for the duration of this Wicked-cool number, Frozen breaks free from the forces that keep most of Disney’s latest musical earthbound. Otherwise, there is altogether too little magic in the kingdom of Arendelle, which Elsa’s impulsive younger sister, Anna (Patti Murin), must save from the eternal winter to which Elsa has unwittingly condemned it. In adapting their smash 2013 movie to the stage, Frozen’s creators—including screenwriter Jennifer Lee and songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez—faced a challenge: Many of the film’s key sequences are adventure scenes (a wolf attack, a giant snow monster, a climactic blizzard) that are hard to re-create onstage. Julie Taymor solved this problem in The Lion King by coming up with a comprehensive aesthetic vocabulary of her own, but Frozen director Michael Grandage’s reach is less ambitious. In lieu of the great outdoors, he moves much of the show to lofty and stu
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
Theater review by Adam Feldman [NOTE: A new block of tickets for 2019 performances in June through September goes on sale at 11am on November 29, 2018. Join the Virtual Waiting Room between 10:30am and 11am for a crack at the best seats.] The world of Harry Potter has arrived on Broadway, Hogwarts and all, and it is a triumph of theatrical magic. Set two decades after the final chapters of J.K. Rowling’s world-shaking kid-lit heptalogy, the two-part epic Harry Potter and the Cursed Child combines grand storytelling with stagecraft on a scale heretofore unimagined. Richly elaborated by director John Tiffany, the show looks like a million bucks (or, in this case, a reported $68 million); the Lyric Theatre has been transfigured from top to bottom to immerse us in the narrative. It works: The experience is transporting. Jack Thorne’s play, based on a story he wrote with Rowling and Tiffany, extends the Potter narrative while remaining true to its core concerns. Love and friendship and kindness are its central values, but they don’t come easily: They are bound up in guilt, loneliness and fear. Harry (Jamie Parker) is weighted with trauma dating back to his childhood, which hinders his ability to communicate with his troubled middle son, Albus (Sam Clemmett); it doesn’t help that Albus’s only friend is the bookish outcast Scorpius Malfoy (the exceptional Anthony Boyle), son of Harry’s erstwhile enemy, Draco (Alex Price). Despite the best intentions of Harry’s solid wife, Ginny
Theater review by Adam Feldman To enjoy Head Over Heels, which offers quite a lot to enjoy, it is probably best to kick up your heels and put your head on hold. That’s not to say that this saucy, boisterous musical doesn’t have a brainy side, starting with its ambitious crossbreeding of four time periods: It grafts a 2010s queer sensibility onto songs from the 1980s—by the all-girl pop-punk quintet the Go-Go’s (plus two hits from lead singer Belinda Carlisle’s solo career)—and fits them into a 16th-century story that is set in ancient Greece. The dialogue, in iambic pentameter liberally sprinkled with thou and thee, contrasts amusingly with the unornamented lyrics of such go-to Go-Go’s bops as “Vacation,” “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat.” But at heart the show is a campy romp. Loosely adapted from Sir Philip Sidney’s Elizabethan prose adventure Arcadia, the musical spins a complicated tale of romance, lust, intrigue and cross-dressing. (Its original book, by Avenue Q’s Jeff Whitty, was extensively rewritten by James Magruder.) Stubborn Basilius (Jeremy Kushnier) and his frustrated queen, Gynecia (a smashing Rachel York), rule a kingdom blessed by “the beat,” a divine gift that keeps their realm in a happy groove. Their beautiful but vain daughter Pamela (the big-bodied and big-voiced Bonnie Milligan, in a triumphant Broadway debut) refuses to marry; her overshadowed sister, Philoclea (the affecting Alexandra Socha), is courted by a passionate shepherd, Musidoru
After taking a year off, the elaborate traveling magic show returns to Broadway for its fourth edition. This year's lineup features America's Got Talent winner Shin Lim, Adam Trent (who has appeared in two previous versions), Darcy Oake, Colin Cloud, Chloé Crawford and the high-tech dance troupe Light Balance.
Broadway review by Adam Feldman The first thing you see of Kong is his teeth: sharp, white, gleaming in the dark, the mouth of an enormous Cheshire ape. He has been summoned by an ambitious young actress, Ann Darrow (Christiani Pitts), who senses that some great creature lurks on the ominously named Skull Island: “It seems empty, but it feels alive,” she says. And sure enough, no sooner has Ann tangled herself in vines and let out a scream than the fearsome monster emerges from the jungle to find her, grab her and spirit her off to his lonely mountain lair—Christine Daaé to his megafauna Phantom—as the audience gapes, claps and whoops with glee. This is the first moment in the misbegotten Broadway musical King Kong that really connects, and it is not the last. The titular creation, designed by Sonny Tilders, is truly impressive: a 20-foot, 2,000-pound animatronic marvel that would be the pride of any amusement-park thrill ride. Manipulated by more than a dozen ninja-like puppeteers, this Kong has the jacked, hairless body and gnarled, wrinkled face of a steroidal leather granddaddy. But his eyes and brows are preternaturally expressive, and when he rears up on his stubby legs and lets out a gutteral roar—Jon Hoche provides the voice, amplified and shaped by Peter Hylenski’s sound design—the theater trembles. (When he’s merely suspended by wires, the spell is broken; he looks like a Macy’s balloon.) Yet this very special effect is trapped in a show that is mostly pretty a
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. Currently, American Idol winner David Cook plays straight man to Wayne Brady's high-heeled 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
Theater review by Adam Feldman The Lifespan of a Fact is billed as “a new play based on a true-ish story,” and there’s a lot of history built into that qualification. In 2003, creative nonfiction writer John D’Agata wrote a quasijournalistic essay about the suicide of a teenage boy in Las Vegas. After Harper’s Magazine passed on it, the piece wound up at The Believer, where in 2005 a fastidious fact-checker named Jim Fingal took objection to numerous literary liberties that D’Agata had taken in the story. The resulting tug-of-war dragged on for years (D’Agata’s piece was finally published in 2010), and the two men reproduced their voluminous correspondence in a 2012 book. Now that book has been adapted, by a team of three writers, into a quick and entertaining play that makes a good case for the value of truth—even as, in telling its own story, it takes generous advantage of dramatic license. Moved to the present, with a highly compressed timeline and an important composite character—a magazine editor played by Cherry Jones with her characteristic focus and measure—The Lifespan of a Fact takes pains to present both sides of its central conflict. For D’Agata (Bobby Cannavale), accuracy can be sacrificed in the interest of “the central truth of the piece” (and in the service of literary effects like sentence rhythm). For the hypermeticulous Fingal (Daniel Radcliffe), a veritable facts machine, any deviation from the strict truth is a violation of journalistic integrity and, b
Theater review by Adam Feldman Teenage girls rule in the tart but sweet new Broadway musical Mean Girls. But their system of high-school government is far from a democracy: It’s a reign of terror, angst and mall fashions, where popularity is arrogated and then ruthlessly enforced. Having spent her childhood being home-schooled in Kenya, nature and math enthusiast Cady (Erika Henningsen) is initially confused by the rigid caste system of her new school in Chicago. She tries to be nice, but the ruthlessness of American teenage culture brings out Cady’s predatory instincts. She reverts to the mean. A canny crossbreed of Heathers and Hairspray, the musical has been adapted by Tina Fey from her own 2004 cult movie, and updated to reflect the new realities of smartphones and social media. Fey is one of the sharpest comic writers in America, and the show remains, in some sense, her vehicle: an auto de Fey, burning with bookish anger at the limits young women place on each other and themselves. (Her film role as a pushy calculus teacher is amusingly evoked by Kerry Butler, who also plays the other adult women.) But this version of Mean Girls is not just a copy of the original. The most famous lines from the screenplay are here, but Casey Nicholaw’s energetic staging wisely breezes past them; the newer jokes get bigger laughs, while the score—by Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin—successfully builds on Fey’s knowingly corrective tone. (“This is modern feminism talkin’,” sings a high-
Theater review by Raven Snook [Note: This review is for The New One's Off Broadway run, which ended in August. The show moves to Broadway for nine weeks starting October 25.]Mike Birbiglia may not be thankful for his eventful medical history—a bladder tumor as a teen! an injury by a drunk driver! a life-threatening sleepwalking disorder!—but his fans certainly are. He's a master at turning his travails into dark comedies that are as unflinchingly honest as they are entertaining. Although he honed his punch-line skills on the comedy circuit, his solo performances aren't just glorified stand-up. Since making his Off Broadway debut ten years ago with Sleepwalk with Me, which he later transformed into a best-selling book and an indie film, he's proved to be a gifted theatrical raconteur who weighs the impact and delivery of every word to uproarious effect.Thanks to his fervent following and the small size of the Cherry Lane Theatre, Birbiglia was able to sell out his latest show in advance, without even revealing its theme. But I'll clue you in: The New One is about his reluctant (and, of course, medically arduous) journey to fatherhood and how it has changed his life. That may sound about as scintillating as potato salad, but Birbiglia isn't some generic straight white guy whining about domesticity. He is raw, self-deprecating and painfully aware of both his privilege and his failings. When he admits to thoughts about romance and parenting that are verboten but common, you can
Theater review by Adam Feldman We’ve grown accustomed to the grace of Bartlett Sher’s revivals of American stage classics, but that doesn’t mean we should take them for granted. Working in blessed harmony with his trusty creative team—including set designer Michael Yeargan and costumer Catherine Zuber—Sher is not an iconoclast or radical re-sculptor; instead, he acts as a restorer, leaving the shows on their pedestals but stripping off years of obscuration to reveal layers the works have possessed all along. So it is with the splendid new Lincoln Center Theater revival of My Fair Lady. Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s sparkling 1956 musical doesn’t need much retooling. Its delightful songs—including “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?,” “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “The Rain in Spain”—spring like fresh water from the show’s source, George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 parable Pygmalion. In Edwardian London, a haughty and misogynist professor of phonetics, Henry Higgins (Harry Hadden-Paton), makes a bet with his friend Pickering (Allan Corduner) that he can take lowborn flower girl Eliza Doolittle (Lauren Ambrose) and give her the manners and elocution of a poised aristocrat. Or as he says, with nasty Shavian snap: “I’ll make a duchess of this draggle-tailed guttersnipe!” In the original Broadway production of My Fair Lady, Henry was played by an imperious headliner, Rex Harrison, and Eliza by the then-unknown Julie Andrews. In this one, the star-power dynamics have shifted. The lu
Theater review by Adam Feldman Bryan Cranston has a hell of a mad scene in the middle of Network. It’s the most famous sequence in the 1976 film from which Lee Hall's play has been adapted, and it gets pride of place in the Broadway production directed and then directed some more by the busy Ivo van Hove. Cranston portrays Howard Beale, a veteran anchorman who has been fired by his company, UBS (get it?), and has responded with a nervous breakdown on live TV, threatening to kill himself and rejecting the “bullshit” (got it) that passes for news. Now, having wandered into the studio from the street in his pajamas, he calls on his viewers to rise up, scream out and repeat after him: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Van Hove draws out the scene, lingering on Cranston—via live-video closeups that the audience sees on screens throughout the Belasco Theatre—as he struggles through a fog of messianic psychosis. It’s riveting stuff, because Cranston is an extraordinary actor, and also because, for an extended moment in this tech blitz of a show, there appears to be a human being onstage. Paddy Chayefsky’s Oscar-winning screenplay was a satire of the values of the television age, but humor has never been Van Hove’s strength, and this Network has virtually none of it. The show presents Beale’s story with a deep sense of portent and weight, and leaves little oxygen for anything else. Even as the show, by design, bombards us with distractions—the set and lighti
Theater review by Adam Feldman After seeing the imaginative and dynamic Once on This Island, you may feel that once is not enough. Michael Arden’s immersive revival of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s 1990 musical is staged in the round and constantly on the move, drumming its story forward to a steady throb of pop-Caribbean beats. Framed as a folktale shared among impoverished islanders—Dane Laffrey’s sandy set suggests the aftermath of a natural disaster—the plot follows naive orphan Ti Moune (Hailey Kilgore, in a winsome Broadway debut), who falls for a boy above her station: the rich and light-skinned Daniel (Isaac Powell). Overseeing their quasi-romance, which defies the strict class and color divides of their French Antilles isle, is a quartet of sometimes capricious gods, played by Lea Salonga, Quentin Earl Darrington, the striking Merle Dandridge and the remarkable Alex Newell (in an astonishing drag diva turn). One of Ahrens and Flaherty’s earliest collaborations, Once on This Island is patchy in parts. Its best-known songs, “Waiting for Life” and “Mama Will Provide,” bring down the house, but there are also languors (such as the drippy “The Human Heart”). And the central story of female sacrifice and degradation, which borrows liberally from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” is treated as more inspirational than it actually is. But it is hard to imagine a better account of the show than the one that Arden and his team—including choreographer Camill
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.
Theater review by Adam Feldman Ah, the joy of watching theater fail. The looming possibility of malfunction is part of what makes live performance exciting, and disasters remind us of that; the rite requires sacrifice. There is more than schadenfreude involved when we giggle at, say, a YouTube video of a high-school Peter Pan crashing haplessly into the scenery. There is also sympathy—there but for the grace of deus ex machina go we all—and, often, a respect for the efforts of the actors to somehow muddle through. Mischief Theatre’s The Play That Goes Wrong takes this experience to farcical extremes, as six amateur British actors (and two crew members who get pressed into service onstage) try to perform a hackneyed whodunnit amid challenges that escalate from minor mishaps (stuck doors, missed cues) to bona fide medical emergencies and massive structural calamities. Depending on your tolerance for ceaseless slapstick, The Play That Goes Wrong will either have you rolling in the aisles or rolling your eyes. It is certainly a marvel of coordination: The imported British cast deftly navigates the pitfalls of Nigel Hook’s ingeniously tumbledown set, and overacts with relish. (I especially enjoyed the muggings of Dave Hearn, Charlie Russell and coauthor Henry Lewis.) Directed by Mark Bell, the mayhem goes like cuckoo clockwork. If you want to have a good time at this show, chances are good that you will; there are many funny sequences, and I laughed a lot. But you may find it
Theater review by Adam Feldman Are you longing to see a witty, complex Broadway musical about a lovely but rough-edged young woman from the streets who is swept up by a wealthy but distant older man, tutored in the ways of high society, swathed in expensive clothing and then left to wonder how she could return to the life she once led? If so, you’re in luck: That show exists and is called My Fair Lady. Also currently on Broadway is Pretty Woman, a tawdry 1980s gloss on the same Pygmalion myth, adapted from the hit rom-com about a prostitute who is Julia Roberts and who is hired for a week of sex and shopping with a handsome corporate raider who is Richard Gere. This latter musical—let’s call it My Fare Lady—is mostly just a dutiful replica of the movie, except when it stops to make way for new songs, by period rocker Bryan Adams and his writing partner Jim Vallance, that raise the eternal question: Tell me, have you ever really, really, really ever bought a woman? Pretty Woman has a patina of fairy-tale romance, but its true love is conspicuous consumerism; in the Act I finale, our heroine, Vivian (Samantha Barks), enjoys the kind of joyful self-actualization that can only come from a spending spree. Minimally adapted by the film’s director (the late Garry Marshall) and screenwriter (J.F. Lawton), the show makes a few grudging tweaks to its source to accommodate modern sensibilities—Vivian no longer gets punched in the face—but otherwise cleaves closely to the original scr
Theater review by Adam Feldman At the opening-night party for an ill-starred Broadway musical, the show’s leading players, Dee Dee Allen (Beth Leavel) and Barry Glickman (Brooks Ashmanskas), are smarting dumbly from a brutal review. She is a grandiose diva prone to sequins and grand gestes, he is a prancing pony “as gay as a bucket of wigs,” and neither of them can understand why they didn’t go over like gangbusters in Eleanor!, a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt. “It’s not the show,” explains their publicist (Josh Lamon). “It’s you two. You’re not likable.” Stung, they resolve to burnish their images through high-profile, low-risk activism. Thus begins The Prom, a sweet-hearted original musical that, despite a few missteps, leaves you grinning by the last dance. Joined by a puffed-up actor-waiter (Christopher Sieber) and a leggy career chorus girl (Angie Schworer, who looks like someone stretched Jane Krakowski on a rack), Dee Dee and Barry decamp—albeit very campily—to rural Indiana. Their goal: to help a local teenager, Emma (Caitlin Kinnunen, a natural actor and wonderful singer), who has been barred from bringing her girlfriend to a high-school dance. Eager for attention, the carpetbagging celebrity protesters come on too strong (“How do you silence a woman who’s known for her belt?” demands the imperious Dee Dee), to the distress of the school’s kindly principal (Michael Potts) and its homophobic PTA leader (Courtenay Collins, drawing blood from a stony role). Backs a
Way back in the winter of 2003, Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken faced off in the finals of the second season of American Idol and dutifully sang their faces off. Now the onetime rivals reunite to spread Christmas cheer in a Broadway holiday concert. A portion of proceeds from the show goes toward the National Inclusion Project, a nonprofit organization (cofounded by Aiken) devoted to increasing opportunities for children with disabilities.
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
Theater review by Adam Feldman “I'm no hero, that’s understood,” sings Bruce Springsteen in “Thunder Road,” self-effacingly but also with the knowledge that a cardinal rule of heroism is denying it. He's got the dirty hood, sure, but it’s a hoodwink of a kind, and in the extraordinary concert show Springsteen on Broadway he is candid about that: Rock stardom, he says, is partly “a magic trick.” He's the young man without a driver’s license writing songs about the road; the artist costumed in the “factory clothes” of his emotionally withholding father; the working man who is also always the Boss. For more than four decades, Springsteen has maintained a sturdy performance of authenticity. He writes unforgettable character songs and sings them, essentially, as an actor; between them, he recites eloquently plain-spoken monologues—full of lists that touch on joy and sex and pain—that he writes for the character of Bruce. So Springsteen on Broadway is less of a contradiction in terms than it may seem. Dressed in simple black with no band (though his wife, Patti Scialfa, joins him for two duets), he performs what amounts to a two-hour solo musical about himself, a rock-star cabaret act. The hits are here, including “Born to Run” and “Dancing in the Dark,” but stripped down and edged with wistfulness; “Born in the U.S.A.” is pared into a skeletal, nearly a cappella blues. It’s an intimate show and a generous one, not just to past friends and collaborators but also to the audience,
Theater review by Adam Feldman Heaven knows what the creators of Summer are thinking, if any thought at all has gone into this disco dud of a show. Three talented and blameless women—LaChanze, Ariana DeBose and Storm Lever—play the late Donna Summer at different stages of her life in a tacky, sub-Vegas jukebox biomusical that draws from the singer’s groovy catalog of hits, including “I Feel Love,” “MacArthur Park,” “On the Radio” and “Last Dance.” At its most watchable, the show plays like a barely dramatized adaptation of Summer’s Spotify and Wikipedia pages. But when it’s bad, it’s so, so bad. Director Des McAnuff ably steered the Four Seasons musical Jersey Boys but is less adept with just Summer. Nearly two dozen songs are crammed into this intermissionless 100-minute survey, which relies heavily on narration to yank us through a blanched account of the diva’s rise from humble beginnings in Boston to sex-symbol stardom in the Studio 54 era (with a dozy nod to her subsequent years as a born-again Christian); there is also a smattering of bathetic TV-movie dialogue. (Summer, on leaving her baby daughter to be raised by her parents: “Why is there always a price?”) The general level of befuddled kitsch is raised by the bizarre background presence of a nearly all-female ensemble, which spends much of the show in boxy drag-king suits and clumpy short wigs. By the time we reach the halfway mark of “Enough Is Enough”—cued by an out-of-nowhere scene of domestic violence, in whi
Theater review by Adam Feldman The defense never rests in Aaron Sorkin’s cagey adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. That the play exists at all is an act of boldness: Turning Harper Lee’s 1960 novel into a play in 2018 is no easy task. The hero of the story, as every schoolchild knows, is Atticus Finch (Jeff Daniels), a lawyer in rural Alabama in the early 1930s, who bravely defends a disabled black man, Tom Robinson (Gbenga Akinnagbe), against a false accusation of rape. Slow to anger and reluctant to judge—“You never really understand a person,” he says, “until you climb into his skin and walk around in it”—Atticus is a paragon of that most fabled of American values: decency. But while To Kill a Mockingbird has a special place in the literature of American civil rights, the book is also now a minefield. As seen through the eyes of his preteen tomboy daughter, Scout (Celia Keenan-Bolger), Atticus is very much a white-daddy savior, albeit one who can’t perform miracles, in a narrative that has little room for the perspectives of black people beyond the respect and gratitude they show him. At its center is a story about a young woman—Tom’s accuser, Mayella (Erin Wilhelmi)—whose allegations of sexual assault must not be believed. Even more problematic, to some modern ears, is the scope of Atticus’s magnanimity. It is not just the black skins that he urges his children to walk around in; it is also the skins of the white farmers who try to lynch Tom Robinson before his trial.
Theater review by Adam Feldman [Note: This is a review of the 2017 production at Second Stage Theater. That production has now transferred to Second Stage's Broadway venue, the Helen Hayes Theater, with the same cast.] For gay history to stay alive, torches must be passed. So it is with Second Stage Theatre’s welcome and well-assembled revival of Harvey Fierstein’s plangently funny and touching play, which opened on Broadway in 1982 and ran there for three years. Then called Torch Song Trilogy, it was four hours long and covered a range of topics related to gay men in the window between Stonewall and AIDS: self-esteem, dating, violence, adoption, family tension. What it isn’t about is shame: Its central character, Jewish drag queen Arnold Beckoff, accepts his own queerness without fuss and with plenty of pithy quips. The original version was a Neil Simon–ized vehicle for writer-star Fierstein; director Moisés Kaufman’s production retools it effectively for its new star, the different but very appealing Michael Urie. More than an hour shorter than before, the play remains a triptych. The first part, "The International Stud,” is the story of Arnold’s flickering romance with the handsome, bisexual Ed (Ward Horton), and is told mostly in monologues; the second, “Fugue in a Nursery,” is a country-house sex comedy staged with all four characters—Arnold, Ed, Arnold’s pretty-boy lover (Michael Rosen) and Ed’s wary girlfriend (Roxanna Hope Radja)—in one giant bed. The third section,
Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano costar in Sam Shepard’s 1980 classic, which imagines two quarrelsome brothers who tussle over everything from toast to the proper incarnation of American masculinity. James Macdonald directs the revival for Roundabout Theatre Company; Marylouise Burke and Gary Wilmes round out the cast.
Waitress: Theater review by David Cote [Note: Stephanie Torns plays the lead role of Jenna through January 5. Sara Bareilles returns to the role from January 7 through February 3, opposite Gavin Creel.]One’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
Theater review by Adam Feldman The Waverly Gallery is a memory play, which is a solid dark irony for a story of memory loss. In the first scene, Daniel (Lucas Hedges)—our narrator and a surrogate for playwright Kenneth Lonergan—listens with slight irritation as his loquacious octogenarian grandmother, Gladys (Elaine May), natters on about people they know. He’s clearly heard a lot of this stuff before, and soon, so have we: Once an intellectually engaged left-wing political activist, Gladys is sliding deeper and deeper into dementia. She repeats herself, she forgets herself, she loses herself bit by bit. The disease robs her of personhood; as the play creeps forward, she moves from being an irritation to a source of worry and, finally, a terrifying burden. Spending time with Gladys isn’t easy for her family—especially her necessarily patient daughter, Ellen (a wonderfully contained Joan Allen), and Ellen’s blunt husband, Howard (David Cromer)—or for the audience. First staged in 1999, the play has little plot except for what is, perhaps, the default plot of life: the inexorable decay of something into nothing. For two hours, The Waverly Gallery forces us to deal with the walking memento mori that Gladys has become, but in a way that never seems cruel. Infuriating though she often is, it’s impossible to hate her, and the casting of May, in her return to the Broadway stage after more than half a century, works brilliantly. She is funny and warm, and she’s familiar, which hel
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. The current cast includes Jackie Burns as Elphaba and Amanda Jane Cooper as Glinda.
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