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New York, New York

  • Theater, Musicals
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
New York, New York
Photograph: Courtesy Paul KolnikNew York, New York

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

The big city takes center stage in a new show with songs by Kander and Ebb.

Broadway review by Adam Feldman 

There are eight million stories in the naked city, and the new musical New York, New York seems to include about half of them. Set in the 1940s in what the iconographic title tune calls “the city that never sleeps,” this hustling, bustling show doesn’t rest for a minute. There are more than 20 songs—mostly by the legendary team of John Kander and Fred Ebb—and director-choreographer Susan Stroman fills the spaces between them with diverting vignettes of character dance, performed by a large ensemble that gives us Grand Central Terminal by way of Central Casting: pin-striped gangsters, nuns in full habit, artists, tourists, a sailor, a bride, an opera singer who moonlights cleaning floors at the museum. 

These lively doodles brighten the margins of what amounts to a slender book in big type. The musical is nominally inspired by the 1977 Martin Scorsese movie New York, New York, but the show retains almost nothing from the film except three Kander and Ebb songs: the eponymous one, of course, as well as “Happy Endings” and the terrific torch anthem “But the World Goes ’Round.” The rest of the score is a quilt of selections from other old Kander and Ebb works—from Flora the Red Menace’s lovely “A Quiet Thing” to a ditty from Funny Lady and numbers that were cut from The Rink and The Act—augmented by pieces that Kander has written himself or with Lin-Manuel Miranda since Ebb’s death in 2004. 

While they don’t deliver the big hits of Kander and Ebb’s best collaborations—New York, New York is no Chicago—the new or refurbished songs come out swinging, as orchestrated by Daryl Waters and Sam Davis and delivered by a big and brassy band. But they are sewn together, by book writer David Thompson and co-writer Sharon Washington, with narrative threads too flimsy to keep them attached to each other or to us. The central romance is crowded out by side plots that barely have time to register.

New York, New York | Photograph: Courtesy Paul Kolnik

Music is the core of this Big Apple fantasy. Jimmy (Colton Ryan) is an irascible multi-instrumentalist hoping to find the three parts of what he calls a “major chord” of good living: “One is music. Two is money. And three is love.” A chance at the last comes when an ambitious singer named Francine (Anna Uzele) emerges from a crowd, suitcase in hand, like the Star-to-Be in Annie’s “N.Y.C.” Although the difference in their races is a challenge (“Perform? Together? A white Irish jazz musician and a Negro singer?”), they are united by a shared love of song—at least until suspicion, alcohol and very bad communication gum up the gears.

Meanwhile, other stories are vying for stage time. Mateo (Angel Sigala), a gay Cuban bongo player, tries to protect his beloved mother (Janet Dacal) from his macho father. Jesse (John Clay III), an African-American soldier, seeks recognition as a trumpet player; Alex (Oliver Prose), a teenage violinist whose Polish family died in the Holocaust, takes lessons with Madame Veltri (Emily Skinner), whose son has not yet returned from fighting in the Pacific. (“He’ll be coming home soon, any day now,” she foreshadowingly insists.) 

Also in the picture is Tommy (a gung-ho Clyde Alves), whose main function is to invite Jimmy up to a construction site where Stroman can stage her biggest show-stopper—a tap bonanza for workers balanced on the beams of an uncompleted skyscraper. And that is as good a metaphor as any for the musical as a whole. New York, New York is an affection project: a loving group tribute, with 40 producers above the title, to the 96-year-old Kander, one of Broadway’s most beloved creators. It’s an excuse for a big, old-fashioned dance on not-quite-finished materials. And thanks to the elements of it that do shine—the craftsmanship of the score, the wrought-iron fire escapes of Beowulf Boritt’s set, the splendid variety of Donna Zakowska’s costumes, the command of Uzele’s vocals, the infectious energy of the production numbers—there’s a lot to enjoy if you don’t look down. 

New York, New York. St. James Theatre (Broadway). Music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb. Additional lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Book by David Thompson and Sharon Washington. Directed by Susan Stroman. With Colton Ryan, Anna Uzele. Running time: 2hrs 40mins. One intermission.

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New York, New York | Photograph: Courtesy Emilio Madrid

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman


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