Broadway shows A–Z
Theater review by Adam Feldman The Temptations are hard to resist. No matter how much you may chafe at the clunky machinery of Broadway’s latest jukebox biomusical, Ain’t Too Proud, the hits just keep coming, distracting your critical faculties with zaps of R&B greatness. And when the show is at full power—when its lavishly gifted stars are lined up for duty in natty matching suits, moving and singing in synch through songs like “My Girl,” “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”—the gleam of well-polished nostalgia is strong. Is that enough, though? The problem with telling the story of the Temptations is that there isn’t a clear central story to tell. Much of Ain’t Too Proud focuses on the so-called Classic Five period from 1964 through 1968, when the quintet’s main frontman is the bespectacled and charismatic David Ruffin, played by the sensational Ephraim Sykes with a riveting combination of showboating dance moves and rough-edged soul vocals. High tenor Eddie Kendricks (the expressive Jeremy Pope) occasionally takes the lead vocals, backed by baritones Otis Williams (Derrick Baskin) and Paul Williams (James Harkness) and bass Melvin Franklin (the impressively deep-throated Jawan M. Jackson). But since the group’s membership has been in continual flux since its Motown debut in 1961, Ain’t Too Proud entrusts its narration entirely to the last Temp standing: Otis, who has been with the group from the start and performs with it
Aladdin. New Amsterdam Theatre (see Broadway). Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Book and additional lyrics by Chad Beguelin. Directed by Casey Nicholaw. With Adam Jacobs, James Monroe Iglehart, Courtney Reed. Running time: 2hrs 20mins. One intermission. Aladdin: In brief Disney unveils its latest cartoon-to-musical project: the tale of a boy, an uncorked spirit and an aerodynamic rug. Composer Alan Menken adds new tunes to the 1992 original soundtrack, and Chad Beguelin provides a fresh book. Reputed highlights include James Monroe Iglehart's bouncy Genie and the flying-carpet F/X. Aladdin: Theater review by Adam Feldman What do we wish for in a Disney musical? It is unrealistic to expect aesthetic triumph on par with The Lion King, but neither need we settle for blobs of empty action like Tarzan or The Little Mermaid. The latest in the toon-tuner line, Aladdin, falls between those poles; nearer in style (though inferior in stakes) to Disney’s first effort, Beauty and the Beast, the show is a tricked-out, tourist-family-friendly theme-park attraction, decorated this time in the billowing fabrics of orientalist Arabian fantasy. “It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home,” sings the genial Genie (a game, charismatic Iglehart) in the opening song, and that’s the tone of Aladdin as a whole: kid-Oriented. As in the 1992 film, the Genie steals the show from its eponymous “street rat” hero (Jacobs, white teeth and tan chest agleam). The musical’s high point i
Theater review by Helen Shaw There is a real and precious thing at the center of All My Sons, the Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s 1947 tragedy. It is the trio of Tracy Letts, Annette Bening and Benjamin Walker, playing members of the doomed Keller family. Letts is Joe, a morally slippery foundry owner, sleek with self-delusion about his complicity in selling faulty engine parts during World War II; Bening, speaking with a voice like thunder, is his wife, Kate, who is heartbreakingly certain that their missing son might yet come home from the fight. Walker plays their other son, Chris, a paragon of decency and virtue, teetering on the edge of learning the family secret. All three are believable in every detail—blockbuster actors dedicated to small, unshowy connections to one another. In scene after scene, they do wonders. Around them, though, is a flatter and falser world. The Ohio backyard of Douglas W. Schmidt's sitcom-bright set abounds in fake greenery: The proscenium drips with fabric leaves, and there’s synthetic grass underfoot. Under Jack O’Brien’s direction, much of the dialogue is delivered by the Kellers’ neighbors and friends with “Gee, mister!” artificiality, which damages the sense that we’re peering into the past. Yet when it comes to broad strokes, Miller himself is partly to blame. When his hand was at its deftest, he painted complicated families full of good intentions and human failing. But in All My Sons, he verges on the cartoonish—no one anywhere
[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
Theater review by Adam Feldman Whatever else it may or may not be, Beetlejuice is spectacularly weird. The best creative work in this musical adaptation of Tim Burton’s 1988 film—about a pair of sweet ghosts trying to rid their house of its distasteful new inhabitants—has gone into its physical form: The designers come at it from all kinds of crazy angles. David Korins’s haunted-house set seems to buckle in the middle and stretch at the edges; William Ivey Long’s costumes are a batty vision of colors and patterns at war. There are magic tricks and giant worms and a starkly linear idea of the afterlife that contrasts well with the chaotic world of the living. If only so much of the rest of Beetlejuice were not a busy mess. The film’s protagonists, milquetoast “newlydeads” Adam (Rob McClure) and Barbara (Kerry Butler), no longer seek out the loathsome “bio-exorcist” demon Beetlejuice (Alex Brightman, working overtime); he targets them in a scheme to leave the netherworld, even though only a living person is capable of making him visible there. Much of Adam and Barbara’s function has been reassigned to Lydia (the gifted young Sophia Anne Caruso), the goth teenage daughter of the house’s new owner (Adam Dannheisser), a widower with an insecure New Age girlfriend (comic dynamo Leslie Kritzer). A little of the hyperactive, rattle-voiced, lecherous Beetlejuice goes a pretty long way, but the show makes him its central figure. Sometimes he’s a murderous pansexual scuzzball (he ref
Theater review by Adam Feldman Be More Chill has been hot, hot, hot. After its New Jersey premiere in 2015, Joe Iconis and Joe Tracz’s young-adult musical attracted a massive following of teenagers online, and its Off Broadway run last summer brought those fans out in force: clutching one another other in anticipation, whooping with approval, lining up for autographs in the lobby of the Signature. But Be More Chill has now moved to Broadway’s much larger Lyceum Theatre, where the air is less thick with youthful enthusiasm. Appealing though it often was in a smaller venue, the show has a different energy in this new space. The heat is off. As in Dear Evan Hansen, the antihero here is an awkward teenage boy, with a struggling single parent, whose social standing rises through a combination of deception and modern technology. But Be More Chill approaches this scenario through the lens of goofy sci-fi, prefigured early on with spooky theremin music. Our unhappy camper is Jeremy (Will Roland), and his route to social acceptance involves a literal chill pill: a black-market Japanese capsule known as a Squip. Though the magic of “quantum nanontechnology,” the Squip (embodied by Jason Tam) sets up camp in Jeremy’s brain and tells him what to do, how to dress and whom to befriend in order to ingratiate himself with the in crowd at his high school and win the love of Christine (Stephanie Hsu), the winsomely overeager theater dork of his dreams. As is traditional in Faustian-bargain
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 Pale (Adam Driver) makes his entrance crashing and burning. It’s the middle of the night, and he’s never met Anna (Keri Russell) or Larry (Brandon Uranowitz), the erstwhile roommates of his younger brother, who died in an accident the month before. But he barges into their apartment anyhow, without warning, drunk and coked up, wild with half-coherent rage and guilt and grief. (Anna calls him truculent; “like a truck,” explains Larry.) Pale is the kind of steamroller role that is irresistible to actors—a sexy beast whose brutish pride masks a deep well of pain—and Driver gives it everything he’s got. He’s terrific, and slightly terrifying. Even in the vastness of Anna and Larry’s open, spare, high-ceilinged loft, there seems barely enough space to contain him. Pale is irresistible to Anna, too, and that’s where the Broadway revival of Lanford Wilson’s 1987 quasi-romance Burn This bumps up against its own limitations. The play features highly actable parts in Pale and in Larry, a campy wisecracker whose references range from Wagner to Lust in the Dust. (Uranowitz nails the laughs, which is what this sidekick is there for; it’s the 80s, but AIDS is never mentioned.) There is even some dimension to Anna’s screenwriter boyfriend, Burton (David Furr), who is handsome and monied and successful but doesn’t spark joy. Yet Anna is, for the most part, a noncharacter. A dancer and aspiring choreographer, she is guarded to the point of disappearing; after
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.
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: The production's new cast, starting February 17, includes Brian d'Arcy James, Shuler Hensley, Holley Fain, Emily Bergl and Fred Applegate.] 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 talks too much about how the dead man got that way. Although it is more than three hours long, The Ferryman never drags, in part because Butterworth continually shifts and expands the play’s focus to w
Two major stage attractions, Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon, costar in Terrence McNally's romantic 1987 two-hander about a lonesome cook and a love-averse waitress who spend a night trying to whip up a relationship. Arin Arbus directs the latest Broadway revival.
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 “A fool’s ambition is to change the world,” says Gary, the title character of Taylor Mac’s zany, bloody, audacious new play. Who but a fool would even try? But as Mac imagines him, Gary is not even a real fool—the worldly-wise and feeling jester familiar from Shakespearean drama, who bends the ear of the king toward justice. Rather, he is a lowly clown tasked, in Gary’s hilarious conceit, with cleaning the heaps of mutilated bodies left by the gory end of the Bard’s Titus Andronicus. (His plot summary of the earlier play: “Long story short most everybody dies.”) Beyond Gary’s white makeup, honking gag horn and Cockney accent, however, there is latent greatness, in part because he is played by the matchless stage comic Nathan Lane, whose very face suggests a composite of the classical masks of comedy and tragedy. Gary doesn’t want to stay a clown. He wants to play the fool. Much of Gary is an outrageous mix of the grotesque and the absurd, designed to make audiences gape. Lane is joined onstage by Kristine Nielsen as Janice, a maid and a veteran of multiple massacres who has become inured to the routines of casualty maintenance: the mopping of blood, the sorting of cadavers, the draining and squeezing of fluids and gases. As in Rajiv Joseph’s Guards at the Taj and Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore, the volume of the slaughter has its own dark humor—it piles up on itself—onto which Mac shovels low-comedy shocks: fart jokes, pee joke
Theater review by Adam Feldman Here’s my advice: Go to hell. And by hell, of course, I mean Hadestown, Anaïs Mitchell’s fizzy, moody, thrilling new Broadway musical. Ostensibly, at least, the show is a modern retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy goes to the land of the dead in hopes of retrieving girl, boy loses girl again. “It’s an old song,” sings our narrator, the messenger god Hermes (André De Shields, a master of arch razzle-dazzle). “And we’re gonna sing it again.” But it’s the newness of Mitchell’s musical account—and Rachel Chavkin’s gracefully dynamic staging—that bring this old story to quivering life. In a New Orleans–style bar, hardened waif Eurydice (Eva Noblezada) falls for Orpheus (Reeve Carney), a busboy with an otherworldly high-tenor voice who is working, like Roger in Rent, toward writing one perfect song. But dreams don’t pay the bills, so the desperate Eurydice—taunted by the Fates in three-part jazz harmony—opts to sell her soul to the underworld overlord Hades (Patrick Page, intoning jaded come-ons in his unique sub-sepulchral growl, like a malevolent Leonard Cohen). Soon she is forced, by contract, into the ranks of the leather-clad grunts of Hades’s filthy factory city; if not actually dead, she is “dead to the world anyway.” This Hades is a drawling capitalist patriarch who keeps his minions loyal by giving them the minimum they need to survive. (“The enemy is poverty,” he sings to them i
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
Theater review by Adam Feldman Too soon? Although more than two years have passed since the 2016 presidential election, the wounds that Lucas Hnath picks at in Hillary and Clinton still feel barely scabbed. But this domestic dramedy about the marriage of Hillary and Bill Clinton, a backstage look at the theater of national politics, has a helpful sense of distance built into it. For one thing, it takes place not during the 2016 election campaign—when Hnath’s play premiered in Chicago—but amid the hustle and bustle of the New Hampshire primary for the Democratic nomination in 2008. Also, it takes place in an alternate reality: As the excellent Laurie Metcalf, who plays Hillary, explains in a curtain speech at the start of the show, the play unfolds on some other planet Earth (“like this one but slightly different”), which affords Hnath some latitude in imagining what the Clintons might really be like behind closed hotel-room doors. In many ways, Hillary and Clinton is about public and private selves, and the difficulty that Hillary has faced in uniting them to perform herself as a person—so unlike, in that regard, her glad-handing husband, depicted skillfully here by John Lithgow. The play, in effect, is a fantasy of closing that gap: of offering, in public, a view of private Hillary. This Hillary is strong but hurt, and understandably frustrated with Bill and his baggage; as played by Metcalf, she is flustered, cutting and profoundly sympathetic. Like Hnath’s A Doll's Hou
Theater review by Helen Shaw When a show doesn’t know what it’s about, it starts asking itself existential questions. “What makes a good story?” a character might ask another character, portentously. This is exactly the moment the theatergoer should start worrying. The word story is to bad plays what the word family is to bad action films: a sign of vapidity taking itself seriously. In James Graham’s Ink, publisher Rupert Murdoch (Bertie Carvel) asks editor Larry Lamb (an overtaxed Jonny Lee Miller) “What makes a good story?” in line seven. At the time, they are backlit and wreathed in smoke, peering angrily out of stygian darkness. Perhaps it’s too dim for them to see the obvious? What makes a good story is not, as this Lamb tells Murdoch in 1969, the five W’s of Who, What, Where, When and What Next. Those W’s are the components of an adequately reported journalistic piece—something the Sun, the influential British tabloid that Murdoch is about to buy and make over, will treat roughly. A good dramatic story, though, has more than the newsroom basics. It has pressure, argument, surprise, suspense. Instead, Ink regales us with the tale of the revamped Sun’s first year, complete with minute accounts of which guy got hired for the sports desk. (It was Frank Nicklin! I know!) In a bid to shape the show, Graham establishes a “clock”—Murdoch sets a sales target for Lamb’s first year—but this deadline means nothing to us and seemingly little to the characters. Graham’s version o
Broadway review by Adam Feldman The first thing you see of Kong is his teeth: sharp, white, gleaming in the dark, the mouth of an enormous Cheshire ape. He has been summoned by an ambitious young actress, Ann Darrow (Christiani Pitts), who senses that some great creature lurks on the ominously named Skull Island: “It seems empty, but it feels alive,” she says. And sure enough, no sooner has Ann tangled herself in vines and let out a scream than the fearsome monster emerges from the jungle to find her, grab her and spirit her off to his lonely mountain lair—Christine Daaé to his megafauna Phantom—as the audience gapes, claps and whoops with glee. This is the first moment in the misbegotten Broadway musical King Kong that really connects, and it is not the last. The titular creation, designed by Sonny Tilders, is truly impressive: a 20-foot, 2,000-pound animatronic marvel that would be the pride of any amusement-park thrill ride. Manipulated by more than a dozen ninja-like puppeteers, this Kong has the jacked, hairless body and gnarled, wrinkled face of a steroidal leather granddaddy. But his eyes and brows are preternaturally expressive, and when he rears up on his stubby legs and lets out a gutteral roar—Jon Hoche provides the voice, amplified and shaped by Peter Hylenski’s sound design—the theater trembles. (When he’s merely suspended by wires, the spell is broken; he looks like a Macy’s balloon.) Yet this very special effect is trapped in a show that is mostly pretty a
Theater review by Adam Feldman “Nothing will come of nothing,” chides King Lear when his favorite daughter, the honest Cordelia, refuses to dote on him as richly as he demands. Enraged, he disinherits her, dividing her share of his realm between her honey-tongued but stone-hearted sisters, Goneril and Regan. From this vain fit of pique the rest of Lear’s troubles derive; and at this moment in Sam Gold’s handsome, scattered staging, one begins to sense that this production of Shakespeare’s tragedy, with the estimable but withholding Glenda Jackson in the title role, may not deliver the greatness it promises. In his pivotal rejection of Cordelia, this Lear seems less furious than peevish, which proves true of Jackson’s performance throughout. So deeply does Jackson adopt the king’s sense of entitlement, perhaps, that she barely stoops to emotional display at all. With her cracked cheeks and acidic voice, the great English actor—who made a stunning return to the Broadway stage last year in Three Tall Women—ploughs through the text with withering dismissiveness. She is small and nearly self-contained: declamatory and well-spoken, but detached from the action. Her Lear never seems to lose his marbles; he merely seems inclined to play with them alone, leaving everyone around him to scrounge for other games. Gold’s production is full of interesting directorial choices that do not quite cohere into a shared universe for King Lear’s characters to inhabit. The subtle Ruth Wilson p
Theater review by Adam Feldman After all the discussion last season about the sexual politics of My Fair Lady and Carousel, it may seem like a suboptimal time to revive, of all musicals, Kiss Me, Kate: a 1940s lark, inspired by Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, in which the tempestuous leading lady is—at least in the original version—spanked onstage by her ex-husband before returning to him, in the end, to sing a paean to feminine submission. Roundabout Theatre Company’s very diverting production is nothing if not sensitive to the show’s potential dangers. In his Playbill note, artistic director Todd Haimes promises a Kiss Me, Kate that “resurrects all the magic of its 1948 premiere while rising to the responsibility of a 2019 revival.” Gone is the spanking, and changed are some of the lyrics. In the most important instance, the chastened Kate no longer laments, in verse borrowed straight from the Bard, that “women are so simple”; her reproach now applies to “people” as a whole. If only adjusting a show to fit modern sensibilities were quite so simple as that. At the center of Kiss Me, Kate is an enmeshed love-hate relationship between two headstrong actors that mirrors the plot of the version of Shrew they’re performing together. Actor-producer Fred Graham (Will Chase, in fine voice and a dashing period mustache) has pinned his tenuous financial hopes on a touring Shakespearean musical; his costar is his ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi (Kelli O’Hara), who has a reputation for
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 Eliza Doolittle, and Harry Hadden-Paton and Allan Corduner remain in their original roles. They are joined by Rosemary Harris as Mrs. Higgins, Alexander Gemignani as Alfred Doolittle and Christian Dante White as Freddy.] 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 duches
Theater review by Adam Feldman Bryan Cranston has a hell of a mad scene in the middle of Network. It’s the most famous sequence in the 1976 film from which Lee Hall's play has been adapted, and it gets pride of place in the Broadway production directed and then directed some more by the busy Ivo van Hove. Cranston portrays Howard Beale, a veteran anchorman who has been fired by his company, UBS (get it?), and has responded with a nervous breakdown on live TV, threatening to kill himself and rejecting the “bullshit” (got it) that passes for news. Now, having wandered into the studio from the street in his pajamas, he calls on his viewers to rise up, scream out and repeat after him: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Van Hove draws out the scene, lingering on Cranston—via live-video closeups that the audience sees on screens throughout the Belasco Theatre—as he struggles through a fog of messianic psychosis. It’s riveting stuff, because Cranston is an extraordinary actor, and also because, for an extended moment in this tech blitz of a show, there appears to be a human being onstage. Paddy Chayefsky’s Oscar-winning screenplay was a satire of the values of the television age, but humor has never been Van Hove’s strength, and this Network has virtually none of it. The show presents Beale’s story with a deep sense of portent and weight, and leaves little oxygen for anything else. Even as the show, by design, bombards us with distractions—the set and lighti
Theater review by Adam Feldman After a hit run at St. Ann's Warehouse last year, Daniel Fish’s fascinating and unsettling reimagination of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! has moved to Broadway, with its immediacy, strangeness and eerie sense of danger intact. (See original review below.) The show is now played in deep thrust, with the audience on three sides of the action. Nearly the entire cast of the Off Broadway version returns: Rebecca Naomi Jones and Damon Daunno are the main couple, Laurey and Curly, stained in this version by their unkind treatment of Jud (a rivetingly emotional Patrick Vaill); Ali Stroker and James Davis provide superb (and much-needed) comic relief as the sexed-up Ado Annie and her ardent wooer Will Parker, and Will Brill has assumed the part of the commitment-averse suitor Ali Hakim. Seeing the production a second time allows one to appreciate not only the striking darkness that Fish and company have teased out of the material, but also the light they shine on small details. (Mallory Portnoy and Mitch Tebo are marvelous in small roles.) It's thrilling to see a Broadway classic rise to the challenge of so modern a conception. Oklahoma! it remains, but there's nothing corny about it. RECOMMENDED: A guide to Broadway's shocking revival of Oklahoma! [Note: The following is a review of the 2018 production at St. Ann's Warehouse.] Director Daniel Fish’s bold, spare revival of Oklahoma! gives us the ranch but not the dressing. The musical’s ca
More than three decades into its Broadway run, Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera continues to draw tourists to its candlelit lair. The plot, borrowed from a 1910 potboiler by Gaston Leroux, tells of Christine Daaé, a naïve young soprano whose secretive voice teacher turns out to be a deformed musical genius who lives beneath the Paris Opera House. (Although the Phantom is serial killer, extortionist, kidnapper and probable rapist, Christine and audiences are mysteriously drawn to him. Who doesn’t love a bad boy?) While the epic synth-rock chords of the title song may ground Phantom in the 1980s, the show’s Puccini-inflected airs are far grander than most of what one hears elsewhere on Broadway. And although there may not be much depth to the musical’s story (by Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe) or lyrics (mostly by Charles Hart), the production—directed by Hal Prince—has been carefully maintained and refurbished over the years, and remains a marvel of sumptuous surfaces. Majestic Theatre (Broadway). Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics by Charles Hart. Book by Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Directed by Harold Prince. 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.
Theater review by Adam Feldman The most glorious words in the English language, the director of the show-within-a-show in 42nd Street once declared, are musical comedy. But few musicals on Broadway these days live up to the second part of that term: They evoke fond chuckles of appreciation, but they don’t suck the laughs from your belly. Enter Tootsie, all dolled up in a red sequined gown, to drag out the real comic goods. Let other shows mope or brood or inspire, as some of them do very well. This one is out to give you a good time, and that’s just what it does. Tootsie rocks. Tootsie rolls. Tootsie pops. Santino Fontana, in the performance of his career to date, stars as Michael Dorsey, a talented but difficult actor whose professional clock is ticking. Broke, unemployable and newly 40 years old, he feels increasingly desperate: “Caught in the gap between ‘What the hell just happened’ and ‘What the hell is gonna happen next.’” Through a neurotic ex-girlfriend, Sandy (the magically amusing Sarah Stiles, in Bernadette Peters curls), he learns of an open role in an ill-conceived musical sequel to Romeo and Juliet called Juliet’s Curse. Disguised in glasses, a blue dress, a teased-out wig and a clipped Southern accent, he reinvents himself as an actress named Dorothy Michaels, auditions for the show—and lands the part. Robert Horn’s crackerjack script, the funniest book of a Broadway musical since The Book of Mormon, evinces uncommon finesse in its approach to updating the
Waitress: Theater review by David Cote [Note: Shoshana Bean plays the lead role of Jenna through July 7, opposite Jeremy Jordan through June 2.]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 (“
Broadway review by Helen Shaw There’s a sense of rightness—a final puzzle piece fitting into place, a key clicking into a lock—about Heidi Schreck’s quasi-solo play What the Constitution Means to Me moving to Broadway. It has always been about rhetoric and amplifying women’s voices; it’s the rare indie theater piece that doesn’t require intimacy. Does theater matter? Is it necessary? Sometimes our razzle-dazzled hearts aren’t sure. But here is something that every citizen must see: It’s theater in the old sense, the Greek sense, a place where civic society can come together and do its thinking and fixing and planning. Schreck starts her address to us at lightning speed in a scene-setting introduction, telling us that, when she was 15, she participated in American Legion oratory contests, eventually dominating the vet-sponsored speech-giving circuit enough to pay for college. With the aid of an American Legion moderator (drolly played by Mike Iveson, in oversize 1980s pants), Schreck re-creates her “terrifyingly turned-on” younger self, whose enthusiasms included Patrick Swayze, witchcraft and civic responsibility. “The Constitution…is a living, warm-blooded, steamy document!” she cries, and for the first time in your life you imagine the Constitution with its shirt off. The performance is itself an exercise in critical thinking. Schreck almost immediately goes “over time” to talk about how the Constitution has both liberated and imprisoned women’s bodies. She burrows into
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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