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
Kerry Washington (Scandal) and Steven Pasquale (Rescue Me) play an estranged mixed-race couple who reunite in a police station when their teenage son goes missing. Kenny Leon (A Raisin in the Sun) directs the NYC debut of Christopher Demos-Brown's tense topical drama; the cast also includes Eugene Lee and Jeremy Jordan.
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
If theater is your religion and the Broadway musical your sect, you've been woefully faith-challenged of late. Venturesome, boundary-pushing works such as Spring Awakening, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Next to Normal closed too soon. American Idiot was shamefully ignored at the Tonys and will be gone in three weeks. Meanwhile, that airborne infection Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark dominates headlines and rakes in millions, without even opening. Celebrities and corporate brands sell poor material, innovation gets shown the door, and crap floats to the top. It's enough to turn you heretic, to sing along with The Book of Mormon's Ugandan villagers: "Fuck you God in the ass, mouth and cunt-a, fuck you in the eye." Such deeply penetrating lyrics offer a smidgen of the manifold scato-theological joys to be had at this viciously hilarious treat crafted by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, of South Park fame, and composer-lyricist Robert Lopez, who cowrote Avenue Q. As you laugh your head off at perky Latter-day Saints tap-dancing while fiercely repressing gay tendencies deep in the African bush, you will be transported back ten years, when The Producers and Urinetown resurrected American musical comedy, imbuing time-tested conventions with metatheatrical irreverence and a healthy dose of bad-taste humor. Brimming with cheerful obscenity, sharp satire and catchy tunes, The Book of Mormon is a sick mystic revelation, the most exuberantly entertaining Broadway musical in years. The high
Theater review by Adam Feldman A beautiful bad boy can be hard to resist. In Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s 1945 musical Carousel, set in 19th-century Maine, the moony, quietly nonconformist Julie Jordan (the soulful Jessie Mueller) is drawn, moth to flame, to the well-built, sexually charismatic carnival barker Billy Bigelow (Joshua Henry). She marries the rageful brute, and both pay a price they can’t afford: Julie loses her job at the local mill and her reputation in town; Billy falls from favor with his hawklike employer, Mrs. Mullin (a perfectly seasoned Margaret Colin), and is driven to crime. Their unhappy struggle—they can’t even articulate their love for each other—is set against a seemingly idyllic seaside world of busting-out-all-over Junes and real nice clambakes, and contrasted with the upward mobility of Julie’s best friend, Carrie (the huggable Lindsay Mendez, who beams like nobody’s business). Carousel's sumptuous new Broadway revival plows steadily through the show’s darker currents. Director Jack O’Brien invites us to admire the show as an exemplar of classic American musical theater, lovingly emphasizing its virtues. Prime among them is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s innovative and varied score, repolished by orchestrator Jonathan Tunick and sterlingly sung by the cast; Henry offers a powerful account of Billy’s long and winding first-act finale, “Soliloquy,” and opera star Renée Fleming—though too grand in manner for the role of Julie’s kindly
This jukebox musical traces decades in the life of one Cherilyn Sarkisian, who apparently is a singer and actor of some kind. Three women—Stephanie J. Block, Teal Wicks and Micaela Diamond—play the showbiz survivor at different stages of her career; Rick Elice, who cowrote Jersey Boys, tries to make biomusical lightning strikes twice, and Jason Moore (Avenue Q) directs. At the very least, the show is sure to have fabulous costumes: Bob Mackie is designing them.
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.
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 What do you expect from a Jimmy Buffett jukebox musical? The alley outside the Marquis Theatre has been done up as an empty stretch of beach, and that pretty much sums up Escape to Margaritaville, which seems intended to be watched with your feet up and a melting frozen drink in your hand. Along with more than two dozen songs from Buffett’s tropical-burnout catalog, the show offers steel drums, jean shorts, palm trees and dancers dressed as fluffy white clouds. It’s often hokey and sometimes pokey. But I’ll level with you: I had fun. Oh, right, there is a plot. Paul Alexander Nolan plays a songwriter who works at a shabby Caribbean resort with his bartender pal (an endearing Eric Petersen), and Alison Luff is a spunky environmental scientist on a weeklong trip there with her soon-to-be-married best friend (Lisa Howard). Romance predictably ensues, stumbles, and ensues anew. Written by sitcom veterans Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley, the show doesn’t shoehorn Buffett’s songs into a story so much as cobble a story around them, extrapolating characters and situations from details in the lyrics, which is more successful in small ways than in large ones. (Shrimp, sponge cake and a lost shaker of salt are neatly planted, for example, to yield comic fruit.) Performed by a vocally overqualified cast that also includes Don Sparks, Rema Webb and Andre Ward, the score is pleasantly catchy—I’ve had “Fins” swimming in my head for days—and it probably help
Jez Butterworth's 2009 drama Jerusalem astonished audiences with its ambitious mix of modern conflict and ancient myth. The English playwright attempts a related combination in this hugely acclaimed 2017 drama about a family of Northern Irish farmers in 1981, the year of the fatal hunger strike that proved a landmark in the timeline of the Troubles. The Broadway transfer of Sam Mendes's London production includes most of the large original cast.
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
Theater review by Adam Feldman You can smell the flop sweat before Gettin’ the Band Back Together even begins, as Ken Davenport—the show’s lead producer and also, not coincidentally, its principal author—takes the stage with a handheld mic to deliver a curtain speech. “What you’re about to see is one of those rare things on Broadway these days: a totally original musical,” he claims. But although the show is not based on any single preexisting souce, it is, in fact, supremely unoriginal, from its formulaic ’90s-movie plot to its instantly forgettable ’80s-rock score. A community-theater vanity production that has somehow surfaced at a Broadway house, it is schlocky at every turn. In essence the show is a fusion of Rock of Ages, minus the hit songs, and The Full Monty, minus the sincerity, charm and character development. Mitchell Jarvis plays Mitch, a 40-year-old New York stockbroker who loses his job and returns to his New Jersey hometown to move in with his mother, Sharon (Marilu Henner). To save her from eviction, Mitch must reassemble his high-school rock combo and compete a week later in a Battle of the Bands against his preening high-school rival, Tygen (Brandon Williams), who is now a villainous real-estate tycoon. Joining Mitch on this unlikely man-child odyssey are math teacher Bart (Jay Klaitz), inept cop Sully (Paul Whitty) and dermatologist Robbie (Manu Narayan), whose stereotypical Indian dad is forcing him into an arranged marriage; rounding out the group is
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 shrouded in
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
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
Five years after its shaky Australian premiere, and after several abortive attempts at Broadway since, this musical version of Hollywood's most famous ape-meets-girl story finally arrives in New York City with an entirely new creative team. The new iteration, directed by Drew McOnie, features a book by Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and songs by Marius de Vries and Eddie Perfect. Expect one enormous puppet.
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
As Harry Potter and the Cursed Child continues its hit run 12 blocks away, grown-up boy wizard Daniel Radcliffe returns to Broadway in a new drama about the magic of literary nonfiction. Based on real events, the play stars Bobby Cannavale as a celebrated quasijournalist, Cherry Jones as his editor and Radcliffe as a fastidious fact-checker troubled by liberties he has taken in an ssay. Leigh Silverman directs the world premiere.
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 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 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
What would a modern Broadway season be without a generous sampling of English theater? Manhattan Theatre Club presents the U.S. premiere of a comedy by Richard Bean (One Man, Two Guvnors), in which a promising snooker player is pressured into fixing a big match. Daniel Sullivan directs a cast that includes Ben Schnetzer as the hero, John Ellison Conlee and Johanna Day as his parents and Transparent's Alexandra Billings as a transgender gangster.
Bryan Cranston plays a mad-as-hell news anchor who defies broadcasting conventions in this stage version of the darkly satiric 1975 film, adapted by Lee Hall from Paddy Chayefsky's Oscar-winning screenplay. Minimalist-expressionist bad boy Ivo van Hove (A View from the Bridge) collaborates with his longtime partner, designer Jan Versweyveld, on a production that debuted at London's National Theatre last year and won Cranston an Olivier Award for his troubles.
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
In this original musical comedy, press-hungry Broadway hams descend upon a small-town Indiana high school after a lesbian student is forbidden from bringing a female date to prom. Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon) directs and choreographs a show by Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone) and the Elf team of Chad Beguelin and Matthew Sklar (Elf); the cast includes musical-comedy pros Brooks Ashmanskas, Beth Leavel, Angie Schworer, Christopher Sieber, Michael Potts and Josh Lamon.
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 Are you ready? The splashy new Broadway musical SpongeBob SquarePants, whose arrival was greeted in some circles with sneers of anticipatory derision, turns out to be a joy. Like its irrepressible yellow hero, played by the peppy and limber-limbed Ethan Slater, the show is unabashedly committed to imagination and dorky enthusiasm. As SpongeBob and his squirrel friend, Sandy (Lilli Cooper), labor to save their undersea town—the cheekily named Bikini Bottom—from a local volcano, the wonders of Tina Landau’s production pour from the stage in a ravishing stream of color and invention that sucks you into its merry, silly currents. Adapted by Kyle Jarrow from Nickelodeon’s popular cartoon, the show takes time to find its sea legs. The introductory sequences seem squarely aimed at kids, and there are early weak spots in the eclectic score, which comprises original songs by pop stars including the Flaming Lips, Panic! at the Disco, T.I., Lady Antebellum and John Legend (plus a David Bowie tune from the 1990s). But music supervisor Tom Kitt manages to bring them all into the same world, sometimes with magical results. In a gospel number by Yolanda Adams, “Super Sea Star Savior,” SpongeBob’s indolent starfish pal, Patrick (Danny Skinner), is hilariously worshipped by a cult of sardines. And Gavin Lee, as SpongeBob’s dour neighbor Squidward, gets the takeaway musical number of 2017. In the fantasy Broadway showstopper “I’m Not a Loser”—choreographed by C
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 The title characters of Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men may or may not be guilty, but they’ve definitely been framed. It is Christmas, and Ed (Stephen Payne), a widower and retired engineer, is hosting a reunion of his three fortysomething sons: Drew (Armie Hammer), an acclaimed novelist; Jake (Josh Charles), a divorced banker; and Matt (Paul Schneider), the eldest, a—well, no one seems sure. The play’s three scenes unfold in Ed’s family room, a comfort zone of board games, DVDs and stockings hung by the fireplace. This set, however, is contained within a large wooden frame with a plaque in front of it that says STRAIGHT WHITE MEN—the name of the play or, perhaps, of their exhibition at a museum of cultural history. And outside this frame is another device: a pair of fancifully costumed figures called the Persons in Charge (played by trans performers Kate Bornstein and Ty Defoe), who talk to the audience at the start of the show and supervise the set changes. This contextualization gives a touch of edge to a play that is otherwise quite square. Lee made her name with experimental provocations such as Lear and The Shipment, but here she offers a conventional issue play on themes of power and identity. Matt has moved back in with his father and is working as an office temp, which the other men consider a crisis—a betrayal of his own potential. All of them are well-meaning and intensely aware of their own privilege, but Matt’s stasis poses a
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
Having overcome some courtroom drama of its own—a legal challenge from the estate of the late Harper Lee—Aaron Sorkin's stage adaptation of Lee's revered novel arrives as planned on Broadway, starring Jeff Daniels as small-town lawyer Atticus Finch. Bartlett Scher, an expert at revitalizing tried-and-true material, directs a promising company that includes Celia Keenan-Bolger, Will Pullen, Gideon Glick, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Stark Sands, Frederick Weller, Erin Wilherlmi and Dakin Matthews.
On the high heels of its successful 2017 run Second Stage last year, this welcome and well-assembled revival of Harvey Fierstein's trailblazing 1982 play transfers to the company's Broadway house. The very appealing Michael Urie plays a Jewish drag queen dealing with a range of topics related to gay men in the window between Stonewall and AIDS, including a tense relationship with his mother (the acidic Mercedes Ruehl). Working hard to dispel any scent of schmaltz, director Moisés Kaufman lovingly tends to Fierstein’s flame.
Waitress: Theater review by David Cote [Note: American Idol and Smash star Katharine McPhee takes over the leading role on April 10, 2018.]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 (“She U
Having already headlined the Broadway productions of Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth and Lobby Hero, cringe prince Michael Cera returns to the well in this revival of the playwright's 1999 drama, a memory play about memory loss. Comedy legend Elaine May plays a once-formidable art dealer in the final throes of Alzheimer's disease; the cast, directed by Lila Neugebauer (The Wolves), also includes rising star Lucas Hedges and The Band's Visit director David Cromer.
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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