Broadway shows in NYC: They’re practically synonymous with New York City, often used as shorthand for theater itself (which, to be fair, means Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway, too). Throughout NYC history, the Great White Way has evolved and kept reinventing itself. Today Broadway consists of 41 theaters (used to be a lot more), the majority of which are concentrated near Times Square. Each year millions of tourists flock to the city to see the best Broadway shows, whether that means a long-running phenomenon such as The Phantom of the Opera or a recent hit like Hamilton. Many of them are proud winners of Tony Awards and were part of some of the best Tony Awards performances. Don’t feel like you have to limit yourself to the show with the greatest accolades. There’s a lot of variety out there; witness our complete A-Z listing below.
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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 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
Theater review by Adam FeldmanThe resonant original musical Bandstand dances a delicate line between nostalgia and disillusion. What it seems to promise, and often delivers, is Broadway escapism: a tale of soldiers returning from World War II into a lively world of big-band music, boogie-woogie dancing and a booming American economy. Donny (the very engaging Corey Cott) assembles a music combo composed entirely of fellow veterans, hoping to win a competition in New York and earn a shot at Hollywood. Sounds like a happy old movie, right? But these soldiers, we soon learn, have trouble getting into the swing of things. Try though they may—through work, repression, copious drinking—they can’t shake off the horror of war. Director-choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton) doesn’t stint on period vitality; the terrific group dance numbers, including an Act I showstopper called “You Deserve It,” burst with snazzy individuality. But Bandstand’s heart is in its shadows—the entertainers often share the stage with ghosts of lost comrades—and in the persistence of its efforts to shed light on them. That happens, most of all, through music. The actors in Donny’s motley band—Brandon J. Ellis, Alex Bender, Geoff Packard, Joe Carroll and James Nathan Hopkins—play their instruments live (and extremely well), fronted ably by Laura Osnes as singer-lyricist Julia, the widow of Donny’s closest buddy in the Pacific. (Beth Leavel adds welcome comic support as her mother.) As the stakes rise, B
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
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
A boy must choose between his law-abiding, bus-driving father and a smooth-talking mob boss in Chazz Palminteri’s coming-of-age story, which began as a monologue, became a movie and now returns as a Broadway musical. With songs by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater (Leap of Faith), the piece is directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks. Read the full review.
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
Theater review by David CoteStrangers with candy should be avoided, our parents warn. Roald Dahl urges us to grab the sugary goods—but be prepared for the consequences. Families who accept the treats currently proferred at the Lunt-Fontanne, though, are in for a rough time on Broadway. Joyless, shapeless and grating, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a stale Necco wafer of a musical.Where did such promising material—gut-renovated after its 2013 London debut—go wrong? Let’s start at the top: Eccentric sweets manufacturer Willy Wonka (Christian Borle in fey bully mode) saunters on at the very beginning and tells us he’s on a mission to find his replacement. Farewell, dramatic tension! In the movie, the Wonka legend is built up so that when Gene Wilder appears, it’s a genuine thrill. Here Borle encourages us to loathe Wonka at our earliest convenience; and we know he’s going to favor plucky poor-kid Charlie (Ryan Foust, alternating with two other boys).Wonka then disguises himself as a store proprietor and warbles “The Candy Man,” Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s dreamy ditty from the 1971 film. That number and the rapturous “Pure Imagination” are little oases in the desert of cheap, cynical pastiche that Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman crank out all night.The limping first act is riddled with countless missteps and badly placed songs, sludgy narrative movement and jokes that go splat.Act Two at least has the benefit of seeing the nasty children who’ve won a guided tour of
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 star.—David Cote Running Time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.
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, Ben Platt gives a stunning 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.
Theater review by Adam FeldmanWith Lucas Hnath’s lucid and absorbing A Doll’s House, Part 2, the Broadway season goes out with a bang. It is not the same kind of bang, mind you, that ended Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 social drama, A Doll’s House, in which bourgeois Norwegian wife Nora Helmer walked out on her doting husband and young children with a decisive (and divisive) slam of the door. In Hnath’s taut sequel, set 15 years later, the runaway bride—played by the great Laurie Metcalf, with magnificent grit and frustration—returns to confront the people she left behind: her husband, Torvald (a sympathetic Chris Cooper); her now-grown daughter, Emmy (Condola Rashad, poised and glinting); and the family servant, Anne Marie (the uncommonly sensible Jayne Houdyshell).If Ibsen’s play is about suffocation, Hnath’s is about airing things out. Modern in its language, mordant in its humor and suspenseful in its plotting—Nora, now a scandalous writer, needs Torvald’s help to avoid being blackmailed by a judge—the play judiciously balances conflicting ideas about freedom, love and responsibility. And Sam Gold’s exemplary direction keeps you hanging on each turn of argument and twist of knife. Everything about the production works. It’s a slam dunk. John Golden Theatre (Broadway). By Lucas Hnath. Directed by Sam Gold. With Laurie Metcalf, Chris Cooper, Jayne Houdyshell, Condola Rashad. Running time: 1hr 25mins. No intermission. Through July 23. Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam Kee
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.
Theater review by David CoteThe meta way to review Groundhog Day would be to repeat the same sarcastic, nit-picking paragraph three or four times before softening up and saying aw, heckfire, it’s great!—thus breaking the spell of grouchy repetition. And while there are likeable, inspired elements in this musical adaptation of the great Bill Murray movie, time crawls as you wait for boorish weatherman Phil Connors to surrender to human kindness and true romance.First, let’s salute the heroic Andy Karl as Connors, trapped in a spiritual-temporal loop, reliving February 2 over and over again in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. As he did in Rocky, Karl carries the show with inexhaustible physical and vocal energy, bounding over and around Rob Howell’s whirling set pieces without breaking his fine-honed douche-bag stride. As everyone knows, such comic gusto takes its toll: Four days before opening night, Karl injured his knee—but was deemed well enough to perform on opening night. May he soon bounce back to 100 percent.On to the show itself, whose manic, morphing surface partly hides a deeply conflicted interior. To musicalize an essentially cinematic tale (enabled by montages and quick cuts not achievable on stage), director Matthew Warchus and his design team use a range of theatrical tricks: model cars and houses, body doubles and actors repeating scenes. Unfortunately, the tone throughout is gratingly cartoonish, replacing the dry whimsy of the movie with overwrought clownishness.
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 FeldmanThe secret of Dolly Levi’s success is revealed at the top of Hello, Dolly!’s unstoppable title song. The number is usually recalled as a paean to the star, sung by the adoring waiters of the ritzy Harmonia Gardens Restaurant as she descends a staircase in triumph and a bright red dress. But it begins, tellingly, with Dolly singing to them: “Hello, Harry / Well, hello, Louie…” It’s been years since her last visit, but she remembers them all and greets them by name. No wonder they love her. She makes them feel loved.In the musical’s blissful Broadway revival, the same thing happens between Bette Midler and the audience. Midler fans out her performer’s wares with expert self-assurance—she delivers her jokes at a steady vaudevillian clip, like Mae West in a hurry—but she also seems like she couldn’t live without us. And the part of Dolly, a matchmaker in late-19th-century New York, is exquisitely suited to Midler’s enormous warmth, savvy and drive. (She cuts her schmaltz with zest.) It’s hard to imagine a better match of actor and role: It is, in a word, perfection.Adapted by Michael Stewart from a Thornton Wilder comedy, Hello, Dolly! may be a vehicle for its star, but this revival treats it like a vintage Rolls-Royce. From the rousing overture on, everything about the production, directed with joyful aplomb by Jerry Zaks, gleams with old-fashioned charm. David Hyde Pierce brings droll dignity and adorable flashes of cartoon clowning to his performa
Theater review by Adam Feldman The very notion of live theater contains an intimation of its future: dead theater. Now the play is before us, moving and breathing along with its audience; then it is done, and banished to the shadow realm of memory. This is true not just of a single performance but also of the run of a production—even The Phantom of the Opera will one day throw in the mask—and, writ larger, of entire theater worlds. Sometimes such worlds age and fade with time; sometimes, as with Yiddish theater, they are violently erased. Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman’s gorgeous Indecent is written on the palimpsest of that erasure. The play tracks the history of Sholem Asch’s drama God of Vengeance, the story of a Jewish flesh peddler whose daughter has a lesbian love affair with one of his prostitutes, from its first stirrings in Warsaw through its controversial 1923 stint on Broadway and beyond. (Partly at the urging of Jewish leaders, who worried that the show would fan anti-Semitism, the New York cast was prosecuted for obscenity.) History, for 100 minutes, returns to life. I was deeply moved by the play when it was at the Vineyard Theatre last year. On Broadway, with the same wonderful ensemble cast, it fills a much larger space without losing its essential intimacy. The script is Vogel’s, the staging Taichman’s, but the two are so lovingly intertwined as to be almost inseparable. The seven actors—Katrina Lenk, Mimi Lieber, Max Gordon Moore, Tom Nelis, Steven Ratt
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. Panic at the Disco frontman Brendan Urie makes his Broadway debut, playing the musical's straight man, from May 26 through August 6, 2017.] 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.” Ye
Director-designer Julie Taymor takes a reactionary Disney cartoon about the natural right of kings—in which the circle of life is putted against a queeny villain and his jive-talking ghetto pals—and transforms it into a gorgeous celebration of color and movement. The movie’s Elton John–Tim Rice score is expanded with African rhythm and music, and through elegant puppetry, Taymor populates the stage with an amazing menagerie of beasts; her audacious staging expands a simple cub into the pride of Broadway, not merely a fable of heredity but a celebration of heritage.—Adam Feldman Running time: 2hrs 40mins. One intermission.
Theater review by David CoteIn Manhattan Theatre Club’s latest offering, a lawless family schemes and backstabs in the ruthless pursuit of wealth and power. Surprisingly, the setting is not the White House: It’s Lillian Hellman’s 1939 potboiler, in which Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon alternate performances as sisters-in-law Regina Giddens (lusty and rapacious) and Birdie Hubbard (cowed and kindly).Daniel Sullivan directs Hellman’s Alabama tale with a crisp vigor that smooths over its melodramatic bumps. The prime mover is Regina, who plots with brothers Ben and Oscar (malevolently perfect Michael McKean and Darren Goldstein) to close a deal on a cotton mill in order to make them all filthy rich. The cast is uniformly strong, and outstanding work comes from the leading ladies. Linney is fire and ice: regal yet ready to spit venom. And Nixon, in the configuration I saw, is delicately touching as the meek, damaged Birdie. The Little Foxes may not command as high a prospect in the pantheon of American drama as more poetic work by Tennessee Williams or Eugene O’Neill, but it’s cunningly built and packs a punch; it’s the August: Osage County of the interwar years.Critics were invited to see Linney and Nixon in both roles to comment on their range, but I only had time to see Linney’s Regina. This is such a richly satisfying revival, I’m going back for seconds.Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. By Lillian Hellman. Directed by Daniel Sullivan. With Laura Linney, Cynthia Nixon. Running time:
Janeane Garofalo, Lili Taylor and Celia Weston play estranged family members brought together by life-threatening illness in the Broadway debut of this acclaimed 1990 dark comedy by Scott McPherson, who died (tragically young) two years later. The astute Anne Kauffman (Marjorie Prime) directs for the Roundabout.
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
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. (Note: Malloy returns to the role of Pierre from May 4 through May 9, during Groban's scheduled vacation.) Read the full review.
You are watching Big Brother! Tom Sturridge, Olivia Wilde and the indispensable Reed Birney play inhabitants of a dystopian surveillance state in Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan's stage version of George Orwell's classic novel. After several successful runs in the U.K., the play arrives in New York for a limited run, courtesy of prestige producers Sonia Friedman and Scott Rudin.
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
Theater review by Adam Feldman The approach to politics practiced in (and preached by) Oslo is so different from our current discourse that it might seems quaint if it weren’t so persuasive. J.T. Rogers’s account of 1993 meetings between Israelis and Palestinians, which led to the breakthrough Oslo Accords, is a testament to the potential value of diplomacy, cooperation, mutual recognition of opponents’ humanity and—contra the now-trending WikiLeaks ethos—backroom secrecy. Arriving at those things was not easy even then: As Rogers lays out, in a narrative flush with historical detail, it took the ingenious private openness and public duplicity of a well-connected Norwegian couple, Terje Rød-Larsen (Jefferson Mays) and Mona Juul (Jennifer Ehle), to get the warring parties to the negotiating table—and, no less crucially, the dining table. Directed by Bartlett Sher with the same distinguished ensemble cast as in its Off Broadway run last year, Oslo is a study in grays, both literally (in Michael Yeargan’s set and Catherine Zuber’s costumes) and in its studious rejection of black-and-white visions of the Middle East. Nearly three hours long, the play demands attentiveness and works hard to achieve it. (The actors, at times, deliver their lines at alarm-clock volume.) In its bittersweet final swell of hopefulness and humanity, it rewards one of our most endangered virtues, in theater as well as in politics: patience. RECOMMENDED: Our review of the 2016 Off Broadway production of
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 David CoteI’ve just learned what it takes to create an absolutely splendid revival of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter: Step 1: Cast Kevin Kline; Step 2: Hire a director whose name sounds like a punch line Coward might have considered—Moritz von Stuelpnagel. But not any Moritz will do. Find the one who helmed the equally hilarious but tonally rather different demon-possessed–sock-puppet satire Hand to God. There are further details (inviting design, surrounding Kline with a smashing cast), but the simple act of handing America’s greatest exemplar of comic suavity a role he was born to play is half the battle.Not that Kline merely swans about in smoking jackets dispensing Coward’s lemony bon mots; he’s working up there, maintaining the patter’s merciless pace, reclining lengthwise over divans or tearing up and down the stairs in designer David Zinn’s elegant yet cozy living-room set. Kline just makes it look easy. And although he portrays stage egomaniac Garry Essendine, Kline is the very model of a star who lets his brilliance illuminate everyone around him.And what a gorgeous constellation they form: empress of daffy confusion Kristine Nielsen as Garry’s put-upon secretary; archly amused Kate Burton as his not-quite-ex-wife; Reg Rogers in rolling bluster as a neurotic director; and Bhavesh Patel being genuinely creepy as the unhinged young playwright Roland Maule. I could go on, doling praise to Peter Francis James’s dapper cuckold of a producer and Tedra Mil
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 David CoteYes, John Guare’s 1990 hit feels dated. Two Upper East Side culture vultures are swindled by an African-American youth pretending to be Sidney Poitier’s son and their child’s Harvard classmate: In 2017, such a plot would quickly unravel with a few Google clicks and a text to the kids. And yet, while technology nails this period as pre–World Wide Web, it swings both ways. Guare’s elegant and elegiac social dramedy actually seems startlingly prophetic in the age of data mining, catfishing and avatars.Take Paul (Corey Hawkins), a young man with limited prospects who (we learn in the latter part of the play) absorbs an improbably large volume of personal detail about various well-heeled New Yorkers—right down to the prize Kandinsky. Paul may be a writerly invention (based on real-life con man David Hampton), but in a funny way, he symbolizes the internet: a place where information is dumped and reconfigured for gain.Of course, Paul’s really a confused, possibly bisexual petty criminal, and Hawkins endows him with just the right balance of vulnerability and class resentment. Paul’s long, heady speech on Catcher in the Rye—Guare at his stem-winding best—comes through with striking clarity and urgency, serving as a key to the work: Imagination is the root of our being, but what if our being is nothing but a tissue of fabulation?Allison Janney is a perfect Ouisa Kittredge: martini-dry and quick with a quip, almost undone by maternal instinct. John Benjamin
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.
Theater review by David CoteThe core message of Lynn Nottage’s wake-up social tragedy Sweat is clarion clear and to share it does not spoil the show: We must help each other or we’re dead. Whether that means the rich pay more, the poor get health care or trans people enjoy greater legal protections, we have to unite these states. Nottage’s passionate and necessary drama, which transferred to Broadway after a run last year at the Public Theater, is a masterful depiction of the forces that divide and conquer us. Those agents shattering friendships and unions range from alcohol—used and abused nightly at the bar in Reading, Pennsylvania, where most of the scenes are set—to inhumane negotiating tactics used by the local factory to drive down workers’ wages. Drug addiction and anti-immigrant bigotry work like acid, destroying marriages and turning a convivial refuge into a hate-crime scene.Director Kate Whoriskey’s fluid and propulsive staging benefits from an excellent cast led by the fearless triad of Johanna Day, Michelle Wilson and Alison Wright, who play plant drones and tight friends destabilized when one of them moves into management. James Colby adds sensible notes as a kindhearted but ineffectual bartender, and the vibrant Khris Davis and Will Pullen are young buddies whose hope curdles into anger and violence. Sweat communicates its points with minimal fuss and maximum grit. Along with the rage, despair and violence, there's humor and abundant humanity. Prophetic before
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
Theater review by Adam Feldman At first blush, the new Broadway musical War Paint looks like a face-off between rival 20th-century cosmetics magnates Helena Rubinstein (Patti LuPone) and Elizabeth Arden (Christine Ebersole). In fact, it’s more about putting faces on. Titans of the beauty industry, Rubinstein and Arden made their names in makeup and put their names on it, but they never actually met—a serious challenge for War Paint’s authors. As the show contrasts their personas and careers, it does what it can to keep them in the same frame—sitting, for example, in adjacent booths at a hotel bar—as it cuts back and forth between their stories. (It’s like a conjoined-twins relative of Coco, the 1969 Coco Chanel biomusical: Co-Coco.) With two narratives to track, and a lot of time soaked up by musical numbers about customers and sales pitches, the show is heavy on primer and contours but light on blending and shading.There are two excellent reasons to see War Paint, and their names are above the title. As Rubinstein, a Jewish immigrant with a Polish accent and a penchant for gaudy jewels, LuPone owns the stage with the confidence of someone who knows she has earned it; her gloriously rich singing sweeps all else aside. And the two distinct modes of Ebersole’s voice—the lovely head range and the brassier chest—are well suited to the contradictions of the genteel Arden, an Ontario farm girl who became high society’s beauty queen.In the musical’s final stretch, the stars prove
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.