Broadway shows A–Z
Director Des McAnuff and choreographer Sergio Trujillo, who helped make Jersey Boys a smash in 2006, put anther dime in the jukebox musical with this biographical look at the Temptations. Ephraim Sykes, Jeremy Pope, Derrick Baskin, James Harkness and Jawan M. Jackson play the Motown quintet behind such nostalgia-producing hits as "My Girl," "Just My Imagination" and "Papa Was a Rolling Stone."
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
More than three decades after making a splash in Coastal Disturbances, Annette Bening makes a long-overdue return to the Broadway stage, starring opposite Tracy Letts in the latest revival of Arthur Miller's 1947 tragedy. Letts plays a war profiteer whose malfeasance comes back to haunt him; Bening is his denial-prone wife, and Benjamin Walker is their aggrieved son. Jack O'Brien directs for the Roundabout.
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: Chilina Kennedy, who replaced Jessie Mueller as King in 2015 and has played the role for most of the run, returns to the production starting January 3, 2019.] 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
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.
Will Roland (Dear Evan Hansen) stars as a teenager who pops a pill to be popular in this sci-fi high school musical by Joe Iconis and Joe Tracz, based on a 2004 novel by Ned Vizzini. The cast album from the show's 2015 premiere in New Jersey has become an online sensation with the young-adult audience, and now the show moves to Broadway after a sold-out Off Broadway run last year. Stephen Brackett directs a cast that includes much of the 2015 company as well as longtime Iconis associates Jason Tam and Jason SweetTooth Williams.
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
Big-time stars Adam Driver and Keri Russell share top billing in this a revival of Lanford Wilson's 1987 drama about grief and love in the aftermath of a tragic accident. Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening) directs the play's first Broadway revival; completing the cast are David Furr (Noises Off) and Brandon Uranowitz (Falsettos).
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.
Theater review by Adam Feldman The idea of choir boys as paragons of churchly virtue has often been predicated on silence around an open secret: that many of the young men drawn to the ecstasies of religious music are queer. Boys who might elsewhere be shunned can be, in this context, celebrated and rewarded for the same qualities (emotionality, musicality, sentimentality) that would otherwise mark them as other. But what happens when this process, a sublimation into the sublime, becomes visible? In Tarell Alvin McCraney’s absorbing drama Choir Boy, the superb Jeremy Pope plays Pharus, whose beautiful tenor has helped earn him a scholarship to the high-toned Charles R Drew Prep School for Boys. He can’t hide his buoyant effeminacy (he knows he is thought of as “the lil Sweet Boy they been trying to straighten out for years”), which leads to friction with some of his peers at the all-black academy. But the choir gives him space not just to be himself but also to lead others. Within his sphere of swish-fulfillment power, he is ambitious and assertive—to the annoyance of boys like the homophobic Bobby (J. Quinton Johnson). For Pharus, music is both an escape route and a destination unto itself, and Choir Boy is suffused with it. At regular intervals, the choir—which includes the nervous David (Caleb Eberhardt), the immature Junior (Nicholas L. Ashe) and Pharus’s kindhearted jock roommate, Anthony (John Clay III)—performs gorgeous musical numbers, arranged by Jason Michael We
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, actual teenager Andrew Barth Feldman 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 [Note: Most of the British cast is scheduled to depart the show on February 17. The new cast includes Brian d'Arcy James, Shuler Hensley, Holley Fain, Emily Bergl, Fred Applegate and, starting April 16, Blair Brown.] 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 bec
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
Donwtown freak flag–bearer and MacArthur "genius" grantee Taylor Mac's Broadway playwriting debut is a dark comedy set in the gory aftermath of Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare's most grotesquely violent tragedy. Two of the great stage comedians of our time, Nathan Lane and Andrea Martin, play servants tasked with cleaning up the mess. George C. Wolfe (Angels in America) directs the world premiere, whose cast also includes the hilarious Kristine Nielsen (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike).
Singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell’s folk opera blends the ancient myth of Orpheus and Eurydice with a modern sensibility and a rich topper of New Orleans jazz. After a 2016 run at New York Theatre Workshop and a 2018 London production in 2018, the show now arrives on the Great White Way, directed again by the imaginative Rachel Chavkin (Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812). Leading the cast are Reeve Carney, André De Shields, Amber Gray, Eva Noblezada and that expert stage baddie Patrick Page.
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 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 (Poppy Miller), and his friends Hermione (Noma Dumezweni) and Ron (Paul Thornley), things turn dark very fast. Set designer Christine Jones and lighting designer Neil Austin keep much of the stage shroude
Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow, multiple Tony Award and Emmy Award winners both, star in the Broadway premiere of this unconventional political play, which reunites Metcalf with the playwright (Lucas Hnath) and producer (Scott Rudin) of 2017's marvelous A Doll's House, Part 2. Don't expect a rehash of the 2016 election: Hillary and Clinton is set during the 2008 primary race for the Democratic nomination, and its dramatization of its main characters departs liberally from history.
No Broadway season would be complete without a few prestige London imports. Filling that slot this spring is James Graham's play, set in 1969, about the rise of foxy media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. Rupert Goold directs the production, which features Bertie Carvel (Matilda) as Murdoch—a role for which he won an Olivier Award last year—and Jonny Lee Miller (Elementary) as tabloid editor Larry Lamb.
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
After a triumphant return to the Broadway stage in last year's Three Tall Women, the 82-year-old master thespian Glenda Jackson plays the title role in Shakespeare's tragedy of nothingness and being. Ruth Wilson, Elizabeth Marvel and Aisling O'Sullivan are her daughters, and Jayne Houdyshell is the unfortunate Gloucester; the starry cast also includes Pedro Pascal, John Douglas Thompson and Sean Carvajal. Sam Gold (Fun Home) directs the production, which features an original score by Philip Glass.
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
Brush up your Cole Porter at the Roundabout's revival of this hit 1948 musical comedy, which stars Kelli O'Hara and Will Chase as squabbling actors in a touring musical adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew. Scott Ellis directs the show's first Broadway revival in 20 years, with a cast that also includes Corbin Bleu, Stephanie Styles and, as a pair of Bard-loving gangsters, John Pankow and Lance Coadie Williams. The book is by the married team of Sam and Bella Spewack; hits from Porter's score include "Too Darn Hot," "So in Love" and the ever-relevant "I Hate Men."
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 Adam Feldman [Note: Laura Benanti now plays the role of Eliza Doolittle. Danny Burstein plays her father through April 28. The role of Mrs. Higgins is now played by Rosemary Harris.] 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
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
After a hit run at St. Ann's Warehouse last year, Daniel Fish’s bold, dark, spare revival of Oklahoma! now moves to Broadway. The musical’s cast of 12 performs in modern clothing, mostly without microphones, with the audience seated on either side of the minimal stage. Fish’s vision treats Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1943 musical with deep respect, shining a hard light on its underlying issues of justice, violence and the autonomy of women. It ventures into rough territory and leaves the show in a brand-new state. Read the 2018 review here.
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 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
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.
The 1982 cross-dressing comedy Tootsie took the top spot in Time Out's list of the best movies of all time (as chosen by actors), and now it has been made over into a Broadway musical, with a score by David Yazbeck (The Band's Visit) and a book by Robert Horn. Santino Fontana (My Crazy Ex-Girlfrend) has the Dustin Hoffman role, surrounded by an ace cast that includes Lilli Cooper, Sarah Stiles, John Behlmann, Andy Grotelueschen, Julie Halston, Michael McGrath and Reg Rogers. Scott Ellis (She Loves Me) directs. Word from the show's out-of-town tryout in Chicago was positive, so we have high hopes.
Theater review by Adam Feldman Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano play estranged brothers in the Broadway revival of Sam Shepard’s yin-yang drama True West, and the contrast between them couldn’t seem starker. As the older of the two, Lee, a loner and thief who has recently spent three months in the Mojave Desert, Hawke is raspy and slinky and implacable, with a scruffy beard and filthy clothes; as Austin, an Ivy-educated writer with a wife and kids and a screenplay in the works, Dano is pale and bespectacled and yielding. It’s the difference between beef jerky and a slice of white bread soaked in milk. (This dichotomy is mirrored in Mimi Lien’s sharply divided set: on one side, an orderly kitchen with appliances and cherry-print wallpaper; on the other, plants and wood and a view of the mountains.) Austin is looking after their mother’s suburban Southern California home while she is on a trip to Alaska, and his plans are upended by Lee, who imposes his will through the sheer power of shamelessness. But as the play presses forward, the tables are turned—or, literally, overturned—and the brothers try each other’s lives on for size. If the charismatic Hawke all but wipes the floor with Dano in the play’s first half, Dano gets his turn to act out in Act Two. These are showcase roles, and the actors play them with gusto. James Macdonald’s Roundabout Theatre Company production occasionally errs on the side of the obvious: Marylouise Burke brings her customary off-kilter comic panache t
Waitress: Theater review by David Cote [Sara Bareilles returns to the lead role of Jenna 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 of Me”) and an eleventh-hour ballad of loss and regret
Theater review by Helen Shaw [Note: This review of What the Constitution Means to Me at New York Theatre Workshop was published on September 30, 2018. The production transfers to Broadway in 2019; previews begin March 14, and opening night is March 31.] September 27 was a strange day to see What the Constitution Means to Me. Heidi Schreck’s excellent close-to-solo show hasn’t changed much since its short run in Clubbed Thumb’s 2017 Summerworks festival: It is still delightful, still passionate, still data- and detail-rich. Schreck tells us her (true) story of earning college money by winning oratorical contests, which had her traveling around the country delivering a short speech on the Constitution and competing in rapid-fire challenges about its amendments. Standing in Rachel Hauck’s poetic reimagining of an American Legion Hall (Mike Iveson plays a Legionnaire, complete with a little soft hat), Schreck tries to recall what she might have said at 16, when her patriotism was heavily flavored with horniness and a love of witches. Her reconstruction goes “over time” when Schreck relates how the government has and hasn’t protected women, citing statistics and cases as well as her own family’s hellish experiences. The show offers a compelling mix of earnest sweetness and thundering mountaintop fury. As the show began on the 27th, though, the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings were still ringing in the audience’s ears, and Schreck—a fizzy presence—cried through nearly the
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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