Broadway review by Adam Feldman The beginning of Douglas Lyons’s broad comedy Chicken & Biscuits promises comic mayhem to come. The beloved pastor of a Black church in New Haven has died; his family is gathering to honor him, and his kindly son-in law, Reginald (Norm Lewis), also a pastor, is set to assume the pulpit. “Today should be a day of peace and healing for the family, not chaos,” he reminds his righteous wife, Beneatta (Cleo King). But her tacky sister Beverly (Ebony Marshall-Oliver) and Beverly’s teenage daughter, La’Trice (Aigner Mizzelle), don’t share that sense of decorum, and Beneatta’s gay son (Devere Rogers) has been to enough Black funerals to have a sense of what’s in store. “By the end of the night,” he assures his nervous white boyfriend (Michael Urie), “it’s a full on party.” That party, sadly, never gets started. Just when the comedy should gain momentum, Lyons stops it cold with a lengthy and mostly unfunny memorial service: a succession of sincere tributes to a man we don’t know, culminating in a set-piece eulogy delivered by Lewis (who is otherwise wasted) and a last-minute surprise that comes out of nowhere and tends back there again. Sentimental confessions and reconciliations ensue, but the characters and situations have not been shaped carefully enough to earn them. Advertised as 100 minutes long, Chicken & Biscuits actually lasts two full hours without intermission, and despite some successful laugh lines and several game performances, it drags
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Broadway review by Adam Feldman The Broadway epic The Lehman Trilogy, which tells the story of the Lehman Brothers and their finance company over the span of 164 years, rarely stops spinning. Es Devlin’s magnificent glass house of a set, designed to evoke the firm’s offices at the time of its collapse in 2008, rotates on a turntable as history moves forward; wrapped on the walls around it is a giant cyclorama, where Luke Hall’s black-and-white video design sweeps the action from New York Harbor to the antebellum South and beyond. Meanwhile, Stefano Massini’s play takes the raw materials of the Lehmans’ rise and fall and processes them into a vibrant yarn about greed and American values. It leaves you dazzled and a little dizzy. This cautionary tale about capitalist excess is, in several senses, an embarrassment of riches. Many Broadway plays now clock in at under 90 minutes; The Lehman Trilogy is nearly three and a half hours long, with intermissions at the crisis points of the Civil War and the stock market crash of 1929. Director Sam Mendes’s dynamic production passes swiftly, though—it’s like binge-watching a creative documentary with three hour-long episodes—and it presents an engrossing survey of U.S. history since the middle of the 19th century. (Written by an Italian and adapted into English by the U.K.’s Ben Power, it assumes a slight distance from American culture; the set sometimes might be a terrarium at a zoo.) Adding to the power are Jon Clark’s lighting and Nic
Broadway review by Adam Feldman “But you don’t hear us, though!”: That is the refrain of the seven characters in Keenan Scott II’s Thoughts of a Colored Man, voiced in unison at the end of the play. It’s a direct challenge to the world at large, but also specifically to the Broadway audience—mostly white, unlike the actors onstage—that has come to see this full-hearted survey of seven Black men in modern Brooklyn. In language that moves between dialogue and slam-poetry style jazz verse, Scott gives each of them a hearing. In some ways, the play suggests a companion piece to Ntozake Shange’s 1976 choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf, but its characters are identified by personality traits instead of colors, and it incorporates far less music and movement (though the schoolteacher called Passion, played by Luke James, sings briefly and beautifully). Much of the show consists of personal monologues; there is also a storyline that follows the men from dawn to dusk on a single day as they interact in locations including a barbershop, a grocery store and a line to buy the latest Jordans. Lust (the likable Da’Vinchi) is a young guy on the make, and Love (Dyllón Burnside) is his dreamy, moony counterpart. Anger (Tristan Mack Wilds) is a once-promising athlete sidelined by an injury, and Depression (a distinctive, snappish Forrest McClendon) is a genius who has given up his studies to support his family by working at Whole Foods. Happiness
Broadway review by Adam Feldman Remember Reality Winner? A 25-year-old Air Force veteran working as a translator for the National Security Agency, Winner was arrested in 2017 for leaking a classified report about Russian interference in the previous year’s presidential election, a crime for which she was sentenced to five years in prison. But you can be forgiven if all you recall about the case is its subject’s striking name: Amid the chaos of the news cycles, Winner was one snowflake in an avalanche. Tina Satter’s highly absorbing Is This A Room is based on the verbatim transcript of the FBI’s initial interview of Winner on June 3, 2017, at her home in Augusta, Georgia. Refocusing our attention on Winner’s case, if only for an hour, it asks us to pause and take a breath of cold air. Satter’s staging presents the inquisition austerely but with a mounting sense of tragedy. On a minimalist-classical set, the visibly nervous Winner (Emily Davis) is questioned by Agent Garrick (an excellent Pete Simpson, puffed with pseudo-bonhomie) and Agent Taylor (Will Cobbs); an unidentified third man (Becca Blackwell) is also present. Their talk starts small, but it’s clear that they know more than they're letting on—and, in fact, more than what the transcript tells us, since parts of it have been censored. The production smartly balances vérité and stylization, offering its own interrogation of the event: The FBI agents often stand unsettlingly close to Winner; some sections of text are sp
Todd Robbins (Play Dead) is a sideshow master who combines technical expertise with humor, historical knowledge and good old-fashioned showmanship. In his soirees at the McKittrick's Club Car venue, he welcomes a live jazz pianist to set the atmosphere and guest magicians (such as Alex Boyce, Jason Suran, Mark Calabrese, Matthew Holtzclaw, Prakash Puru and Rachel Wax) to perform feats of close-up magic in an intimate setting. Review by Adam Feldman The low-key dazzling Speakeasy Magick has been nestled in the atmospheric McKittrick Hotel for more than a year, and now it has moved up to the Lodge: a small wood-framed room at Gallow Green, which functions as a rooftop bar in the summer. The show’s dark and noisy new digs suit it well. Hosted by Todd Robbins (Play Dead), who specializes in mild carnival-sideshow shocks, Speakeasy Magick is a moveable feast of legerdemain; audience members, seated at seven tables, are visited by a series of performers in turn. Robbins describes this as “magic speed dating.” One might also think of it as tricking: an illusion of intimacy, a satisfying climax, and off they go into the night. The evening is punctuated with brief performances on a makeshift stage. When I attended, the hearty Matthew Holtzclaw kicked things off with sleight of hand involving cigarettes and booze; later, the delicate-featured Alex Boyce pulled doves from thin air. But it’s the highly skilled close-up magic that really leaves you gasping with wonder. Holtzclaw’s table
Broadway review by Adam Feldman Who doesn’t enjoy a royal wedding? The zingy Broadway musical Six celebrates, in boisterous fashion, the union of English dynastic history and modern pop music. On a mock concert stage, backed by an all-female band, the six wives of the 16th-century monarch Henry VIII air their grievances in song, and most of them have plenty to complain about: two were beheaded, two were divorced, one died soon after childbirth. In this self-described “histo-remix,” members of the long-suffering sextet spin their pain into bops; the queens sing their heads off and the audience loses its mind. That may be for the best, because Six is not a show that bears too much thinking about. Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss wrote it when they were still students at Cambridge University, and it has the feel of a very entertaining senior showcase. Its 80 minutes are stuffed with clever turns of rhyme and catchy pastiche melodies that let mega-voiced singers toss off impressive “riffs to ruffle your ruffs.” The show's own riffs on history are educational, too, like a cheeky new British edition of Schoolhouse Rock. If all these hors d’oeuvres don’t quite add up to a meal, they are undeniably tasty. Aside from the opening number and finale and one detour into Sprockets–style German club dancing, Six is devoted to giving each of the queens—let’s call them the Slice Girls—one moment apiece in the spotlight, decked out in glittering jewel-encrusted outfits by Gabriella Slade that are Tu
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 in
Theater review by Adam Feldman Red alert! Red alert! If you’re the kind of person who frets that jukebox musicals are taking over Broadway, prepare to tilt at the windmill that is the gorgeous, gaudy, spectacularly overstuffed Moulin Rouge! The Musical. Directed with opulent showmanship by Alex Timbers, this adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 movie may be costume jewelry, but its shine is dazzling. The place is the legendary Paris nightclub of the title, and the year is ostensibly 1899. Yet the songs—like Catherine Zuber’s eye-popping costumes—span some 150 years of styles. Moulin Rouge! begins with a generous slathering of “Lady Marmalade,” belted to the skies by four women in sexy black lingerie, long velvet gloves and feathered headdresses. Soon they yield the stage to the beautiful courtesan Satine (a sublimely troubled Karen Olivo), who makes her grand entrance descending from the ceiling on a swing, singing “Diamonds Are Forever.” She is the Moulin Rouge’s principal songbird, and Derek McLane’s sumptuous gold-and-red set looms around her like a gilded cage. After falling in with a bohemian crowd, Christian (the boyish Aaron Tveit), a budding songwriter from small-town Ohio, wanders into the Moulin Rouge like Orpheus in the demimonde, his cheeks as rosy with innocence as the showgirls’ are blushed with maquillage. As cruel fate would have it, he instantly falls in love with Satine, and she with him—but she has been promised, alas, to the wicked Duke of Monroth (Tam Mutu)
Manhattan Theatre Club reopens its Off Broadway home with the world premiere of a play by England's Simon Stephens (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) that tracks a woman through five decades of life in New York City, including Greenwich Village in its folkie-bohemian phase. The formidable cast—which comprises Edie Falco, Blair Brown and Marin Ireland—is directed by Lila Neugebauer (The Waverly Gallery).
Creator-directors Darren Lee Cole and Alexander Wright transform the SoHo Playhouse into a Jazz Age speakeasy with 15 different rooms in this immersive theater experience, set on the night of the 1929 municipal election in which incumbent Jimmy Walker—abetted by the mighty Tammany Hall political machine—trounced Fiorello H. La Guardia. Expect to hobnob with such historical figures as Franklin D. Roosevelt, gangster Legs Diamond and showgirls Betty Compton and Marion “Kiki” Roberts. (The actual theater is located on the site of a former Tammany Hall outpost and clubhouse.)
Composer Tom Kitt and librettist Brian Yorkey, the team behind the Pulitzer Prize–winning musical Next to Normal, reunite for this adaptation of Tom McCarthy's acclaimed 2007 indie film (with the Young Vic's Kwame Kwei-Armah joining them as coauthor of the book). The highly lovable David Hyde Pierce stars as a college professor fighting on behalf of two undocumented immigrants (Alysha Deslorieux and The Band's Visit's Ari'el Stachel) who have been living in his apartment. Master helmer Daniel Sullivan directs the show's world premiere at the Public, which features choreography by Lorin Latarro.
The Grown-Ups: Theater review by Adam Feldman It is an unfortunate fact of small-scale theater that by the time you find out that something really cool is going on, it is often nearly impossible to get a ticket. And so it is that the hardest show to get into right now is not Hamilton, The Lion King or anything else you’ve probably heard of, but The Grown-Ups, a new immersive play by the youthful company Nightdrive. The Grown-Ups is, in fact, really cool; better than that, it is smart, funny, topical and very well-performed. It is also completely sold out through its current scheduled run. In this case, the issue has more to do with supply than demand. Skylar Fox and Simon Henriques’s play is set at a sleepaway camp, and it unfolds around a campfire, where the senior counselors—who are barely older than the kids under their charge—gather to unwind once their cabins have been put to bed. Nightdrive’s site-specific production, directed by Fox, takes place outdoors around an actual fire in a backyard in North Brooklyn, and the five actors perform the entire 100-minute play for only six to eight audience members at a time, with the spectators interspersed among the cast. The members of the company quarantined together during the shutdown, and they share a deep rapport that fits well with the characters, of whom four have been attending Camp Indigo Woods continually since they were young. (The camp is more than a century old, but its name is new; the former one was Native American
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. A
Theater review by Naveen Kumar A romance that begins with a proposal has a circuitous road ahead. From the moment Captain Wentworth (Rajesh Bose) drops to one knee in the opening scene of Persuasion, it’s clear he’s the only one for Anne (Arielle Yoder). Still, she’s dissuaded from him by her relations, especially the overbearing Lady Russell (Annabel Capper), a proxy for Anne’s deceased mother. Fast-forward seven years, and a still-single Anne is dangerously close to spinsterhood by Regency standards—but guess who just returned a hero from sticking it to Napoleon? Even in the age-old tradition of marriage plots, the outcome of this fated union is more obvious than most. So what’s a play to do? With its love plot sealed from the jump, Persuasion—adapted by Sarah Rose Kearns from the novel by Jane Austen—presents a gleeful if ultimately overstuffed exercise in diversion. This world-premiere production owes much of its theatrical appeal to the creative flourishes fans have come to expect from artistic director Eric Tucker and his acclaimed downtown company Bedlam, which has a knack for reinvigorating classic texts. Beneath the Connelly Theater’s compact but ornate proscenium, actors whistle birdsong into standing mics to conjure the English countryside. The light clack of fingernails across a plastic vase suggests rain, as do squirts from a spray bottle into the face of an arriving dinner guest. Tucker’s sly hand with striking tableaus is aided by Les Dickert’s lighting and Joh
Broadway review by Adam Feldman The wind is everywhere in Conor McPherson’s Girl from the North Country. You can’t see it, but you can hear it, insistently, in the lyrics of the 20 songs by Bob Dylan that McPherson has woven into his adumbral evocation of America in the Great Depression. It’s the heavy wind of the title song, the howling wind of “Hurricane,” the wicked wind of “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power),” the wind of change in “Make You Feel My Love,” the idiot wind in “Idiot Wind.” What the show doesn’t give us is “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and the omission seems deliberate. McPherson gracefully avoids the trap of a greatest-hits survey; only three songs in the score are from Dylan’s cultural heyday in the 1960s, and even the most famous ones have been rearranged, truncated, combined into medleys. The show makes Dylan’s songs as unfamiliar as it can; it freezes them in timelessness. Girl from the North Country takes place in 1934 at a boarding house in Dylan’s hometown of Duluth, Minnesota. Its exhausted proprietor, Nick (Jay O. Sanders), is on the verge of bankruptcy; his wife, Elizabeth (the superb Mare Winningham), has lost her mind, and absorbs her surroundings with the air of a fascinated, headstrong child. They have two children: Gene (Colton Ryan), a truculent would-be writer, and Marianne (Kimber Elayne Sprawl), who is pregnant. Guests include a sinister Bible salesman (Matt McGrath), a young black boxer on the run (Austin Scott), a widow (Jeannette Bayardelle) and
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.
Broadway review by Adam Feldman In the first new Broadway production of the season, Pass Over, a grand picnic of home cooking is laid out onstage and then yanked away; the second, Lackawanna Blues, provides plentiful comfort food for its characters and its audience alike. Among the dishes mentioned in this show are fried fish, smoked ribs, pork chops, chicken feet and dumplings; when I saw it, a reference to glazed ham with cloves got a smattering of applause. Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s autobiographical solo is a gentle and generous tribute to the staunch woman who raised him—Rachel Crosby, known to many in her wide orbit as “Nanny”—and the gallery of misfits who passed through her boarding houses in upstate New York. In the late 1950s, when Santiago-Hudson was born, the thriving steel town of Lackawanna was a magnet for ambitious Black workers, but not everyone found it easy. That’s where Crosby came in, providing sustenance, shelter, inspiration and occasional protection for the vulnerable people under her wing—including the young Ruben, who had been neglected by his birth parents. As Santiago-Hudson puts it, in the show’s biggest applause line: “Nanny was like the government if it really worked.” Santiago-Hudson slides smoothly into dozens of roles in this 90-minute collage of vignettes, including Nanny, and many of the people he plays are wounded: older men with one leg or one arm or no fingers or no marbles and no place else to go. (Even the animals in the play are damag
Waitress: Theater review by David Cote [Note: After closing in early 2020, Waitress is returning for a limited run through January 9, with Sara Bareilles as Jenna through October 17. ]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 ele
In this captivating original musical, Jordan Fisher 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.
[Note: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child returns to Broadway on November 12 in a new form: as a single show instead of in two parts. The new running time is estimated to be under 3.5 hours.] 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), a
From the delightfully fractured mind of Douglas Carter Beane (Xanadu, The Little Dog Laughed) springs this comedic mash-up of classic fairy tales and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Beane himself directs the world premiere with a primo cast that features some of the very funniest comic actors in America, including Mo Rocca, Jackie Hoffman, Ann Harada, Julie Halston and Arnie Burton. Who could wish for more?
The dance-theater duo Welcome to Campfire, which consists of of Sleep No More alums Ingrid Kapteyn and Tony Bordonaro, premieres its largest installation-performance to date. In this immersive sci-fi tale, set in New York City after a nuclear war—and staged in a large space on 42nd Street that has been christened the Memredux Laboratories for this show—the dancers play test subjects for a new drug designed to erase traumatic memories.
In John S. Anastasi’s old-fashioned courtroom thriller, which won top honors at the 2019 New York Summerfest festival, Emanuele Secci plays a heart surgeon with a Harvard degree (and a gambling addiction) who must defend himself in against a potentially career-ending malpractice suit. Peter J. Loewy directs the Off Broadway premiere.
Jim Niesen stages Lewis Carroll’s adventure as an environmental production by converting the considerable Irondale Center space (a refurbished 19th-century church building) into a warren of rabbit holes, attics and tea parties. First mounted in 2010, this ambitious show, adapted collaboratively by Niesen and the Irondale Ensemble and designed by Ken Rothchild, veers among multiple styles and tones to convey the topsy-turvy world of Alice's journey. Five actors perform multiple roles for a peripatetic audience of 30.
Innovation goes hand in glove with theater at this biannual festival of new puppetry for grown-ups. This year's collection includes the Butoh-inspired Body Concert (Oct 7–10), a wordly fugure of giant skinless body parts that is the first NYC performance by Kevin Augustine's Lone Wolf Tribe since its 2016 revival of the epic The God Projekt. Also on the lineup are Shoshana Bass's When I Put On Your Glove (Oct 7–10), a meditation on father, daughters and memory; Torry Bend and Howard L. Craft's Dreaming (Oct 14–17), which looks at the legacy of early 20th-century comic strip artist Winsor McCay; and Jump Start (Oct 21–24), which is devoted to five works-in-progress.