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
After many years, the sassy and clever puppet musical doesn’t show its age. Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s deft Sesame Street–esque novelty tunes about porn and racism still earn their laughs. Avenue Q remains a sly and winning piece of metamusical tomfoolery. Running time: 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.
Two musical-theater freethinkers, composer Dave Malloy (Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812) and librettist Jason Craig (Beowulf—A Thousand Years of Baggage), are behind this unconventional take on Russian mystic, love machine and assassination victim Grigori Rasputin. Ellie Heyman directs a site-specific production at a Greenpoint church. Read the full review.
Beautiful—The Carole King Musical shares several virtues with its titular singer-songwriter, among them humility, earnestness and dedication to craft. If Douglas McGrath’s book never achieves the dramatic grit or comic zip of Jersey Boys, at least director Marc Bruni’s production avoids being a brain-dead, self-satisfied hit parade à la Berry Gordy’s Motown. Still, it does seem that stretches of Broadway’s newest jukebox musical consist of situations such as this: “Carole, you’ve got to write us a hit!” “I’ve written something.” “It’s a hit!” Yes, Beautiful loves its diligent, long-suffering pop genius, and invites you to do the same. It’s quite an easy task when you have the phenomenal Jessie Mueller in the lead. The effortlessly appealing star cut her teeth on Broadway flops (the mis-reconceived On a Clear Day You Can See Forever) and in supporting parts (The Mystery of Edwin Drood). Now she’s ready to carry a show. As Brooklyn-raised King, who started churning out teenybopper tunes at 1650 Broadway in the late ’50s, Mueller exudes warmth and common sense, playing up King’s old-fashioned modesty and insecurity without becoming a doormat or cipher. And when she wraps her rich, burnished voice around those hits—“So Far Away,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “It’s Too Late”—they feel as fresh as the day King penned them. McGrath’s deft, wry book tracks its hero’s tortured first marriage to lyricist-partner Gerry Goffin (Jake Epstein) and their friendly rivalry with anothe
If theater is your religion and the Broadway musical your sect, you've been woefully faith-challenged of late. Venturesome, boundary-pushing works such as Spring Awakening, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Next to Normal closed too soon. American Idiot was shamefully ignored at the Tonys and will be gone in three weeks. Meanwhile, that airborne infection Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark dominates headlines and rakes in millions, without even opening. Celebrities and corporate brands sell poor material, innovation gets shown the door, and crap floats to the top. It's enough to turn you heretic, to sing along with The Book of Mormon's Ugandan villagers: "Fuck you God in the ass, mouth and cunt-a, fuck you in the eye." Such deeply penetrating lyrics offer a smidgen of the manifold scato-theological joys to be had at this viciously hilarious treat crafted by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, of South Park fame, and composer-lyricist Robert Lopez, who cowrote Avenue Q. As you laugh your head off at perky Latter-day Saints tap-dancing while fiercely repressing gay tendencies deep in the African bush, you will be transported back ten years, when The Producers and Urinetown resurrected American musical comedy, imbuing time-tested conventions with metatheatrical irreverence and a healthy dose of bad-taste humor. Brimming with cheerful obscenity, sharp satire and catchy tunes, The Book of Mormon is a sick mystic revelation, the most exuberantly entertaining Broadway musical in years. The high
A boy must choose between his law-abiding, bus-driving father and a smooth-talking mob boss in Chazz Palminteri’s coming-of-age story, which began as a monologue, became a movie and now returns as a Broadway musical. With songs by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater (Leap of Faith), the piece is directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks. Read the full review.
Cagney: Theater review by Raven Snook [Note: This is a review of the production of Cagney that opened at the York Theatre in 2015. The production moves to an open-ended engagement at the Westside Theatre on March 16, 2016, with the same cast.] Biomusicals are tricky. Boiling all the ups and downs of a celebrity’s life into a couple of tuneful hours is tough, but the biggest challenge is finding a performer who can convincingly channel the star. One glance at Robert Creighton, and you understand why this veteran Broadway character actor spent years bringing regional hit Cagney to the York Theatre Company. A compact, quadruple-threat spitfire (he cowrote the songs), Creighton smartly avoids impersonation and lets some of his own personality shine through in his take on James Cagney, the versatile Golden Age of Hollywood icon who was often pigeonholed as a gangster. Yes, Peter Colley’s book is predictable and takes liberties, and Creighton and McGovern’s old-fashioned numbers aren’t as catchy as the George M. Cohan standards used in the rousing USO medley. But the crackerjack six-person cast nails choreographer Joshua Bergasse’s exhilarating tap routines while committing to the emotional core of the story. That makes Cagney a York doodle dandy.—Raven Snook York Theatre Company (Off Broadway). Book by Peter Colley. Music and lyrics by Robert Creighton and Christopher McGovern. Directed by Bill Castellino. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 25mins. One intermission. Throu
Andrew Lloyd Webber's iconic musical returns as a taxidermied pet. In other words, this is the same tacky and tedious '80s spectacle that ran an inexplicable 18 years on Broadway. Very little can freshen up the synth-heavy tunes or bolster the scattershot book. If you loved Cats as a kid, this could sour your "Memory." Read the full review
This John Kander–Fred Ebb–Bob Fosse favorite—revived by director Walter Bobbie and choreographer Ann Reinking—tells the saga of chorus girl Roxie Hart, who murders her lover and, with the help of a huckster lawyer, becomes a vaudeville star.—David Cote Running Time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.
Paramour: Theater review by David CoteThe global neocircus giant Cirque du Soleil does things no one else on Broadway can. Its acrobats execute quadruple backflips off a teeterboard, their heels seeming to brush the rigging high above the stage. They contort their bodies into positions that would cripple even the supplest chorus girl. There’s a reason the Tonys doesn’t award Best Trapeze Artist: We’re talking ultra-rare talents here. What Cirque cannot do, alas, is craft a decent Broadway musical. Paramour is a desperately mediocre (if extravagant) song-and-dance affair tricked out with specialty acts that are far more engaging than the dopey romantic triangle meant to hold our attention.Said love story involves megalomaniacal movie director A.J. Golden (Jeremy Kushnier), ingénue-chanteuse Indigo (Ruby Lewis) and her songwriting partner Joey (Ryan Vona). Per the program, we’re in “The golden age of Hollywood,” crammed with gaudy Art Deco interiors and soundstage clowns mugging like crazy. In search of a muse, A.J. discovers Indigo warbling in a speakeasy, signs her as his next star and proceeds to muscle in between her and Joey. Although we’re repeatedly told that A.J. is a visionary auteur, he excels mainly at abusing employees between inane takes of jugglers and tumblers. Joey mopes on the sidelines, pining for Indigo and struggling to pen the perfect love song for her. Rather than being forced to choose which man to love, Indigo is trapped between a shouty sociopath and a
Dear Evan Hansen: Theater review by Adam Feldman “I wish that everything was different,” writes Evan Hansen (Ben Platt). “I wish that I was a part of…something. I wish that anything I said…mattered, to anyone.” It’s a letter to himself, because he has no one else to write to; cripplingly shy, he is all but invisible at high school. But his wish comes true via a tragic twist: A troubled, rageful misfit named Connor (Mike Faist)—the brother of Evan’s crush, Zoe (Laura Dreyfuss, delicately sad)—kills himself after stealing the letter; his grieving parents (Jennifer Laura Thompson and John Dossett) mistake it for a letter that Connor had written to Evan. He doesn’t correct them, and things snowball from there: A speech that Evan gives about his supposed secret friendship with the dead boy goes viral online, and he is suddenly in the middle of a national movement of sympathy. He becomes popular—or at least important—over Connor’s dead body. This may sound like a young-adult novel, but the captivating original musical Dear Evan Hansen treats its story with decidedly adult sensitivity and intelligence. The score, by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, combines insightful, well-crafted lyrics with an exciting contemporary-pop sound, and Steven Levenson’s book gives all the characters shaded motives, including Evan’s fellow students (Will Roland and Kristolyn Lloyd) and his overworked, guilt-ridden single mother (the superb Rachel Bay Jones). A close cousin to Next to Normal—which Michae
In this captivating original musical, Ben Platt gives a Tony-caliber performance—funny, sweet, beautifully sung and exquisitely worked-out in its physical details—as a high school student thrust into social relevance after a classmate's suicide. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's score combines well-crafted lyrics with an exciting pop sound, and Steven Levenson’s book gives all the characters shaded motives. The production has moved to Broadway after its sold-out run at Second Stage Theatre. Read the full review.
Though Wallace Shawn may be best known for his adorable persona as a character actor, he is cherished by theater fans as the author of such smart, dark and menacing plays as The Designated Mourner and Aunt Dan and Lemon. In his latest, Matthew Broderick stars as a playwright; the supporting cast includes married couple Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker, Larry Pine, Claudia Shear, John Epperson and Shawn himself, directed by Scott Elliott for his New Group. Read the full review.
Resident Signature playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (An Octoroon) reworks the 15th-century morality play The Summoning of Everyman, with one cast member chosen at random at each performance to serve as the central character. Lila Neugebauer (The Wolves) directs an ensemble that includes Jocelyn Bioh, Brooke Bloom, Louis Cancelmi, Marylouise Burke and Chris Perfetti. Read the full review.
The Fantasticks: Theater Review by Adam Feldman[Note: The cast and the name of the theater have changed since this review was published in 2009.] The Fantasticks, which opened in 1960 and went on to run for some 42 years, must at some point have worked like a charm. But whatever magic it once had is in woefully short evidence at the show’s flimsy new revival. The musical itself is a semi-precious trifle: a metatheatrical fable in which a group of players stages the tale of young lovers devided by a wall, with obvious echoes of the Rude Mechanicals’ take on Pyramus and Thisby in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (In this case, the lover’s warring parents are secretly setting them up.) While this strenuously puckish show is never rude, it does feel mechanical. Librettist-director Tom Jones gives a delightful sense of wonder to his scenes as an elderly actor, and his slapstick sidekick, Robert R. Oliver, is a savory ham; newcomer Santino Fontana brings a full voice and suprising shadings to his role as the Boy. But the performances otherwise run like creaky clockwork, and the dialogue—much of it rhyming—has faded. The whole enterprise seems to have been simply lifted from a musty old trunk and plunked down in an equally musty new trunk (the shabby Snapple Theater Center, with its low ceilings and terrible sightlines); and charging $75 for this no-frills, no-thrills experience takes nerve. Those who enjoyed the original should try to remember it as it was, instead of this tourist trap
Self-described “bubble scientist” Fan Yang's blissfully disarming act (now performed by his son, Deni) consists mainly of generating a dazzling succession of bubbles in mind-blowing configurations, filling them with smoke or linking them into long chains. Lasers and flashing colored lights add to the trippy visuals.—David Cote Running time: 1hr 20mins. No intermission.
Deadpan antinaturalist Richard Maxwell remounts his odd and touching 2004 show, a semimusical about an unlikely love affair at a drug rehab center. Rosemary Allen and Kevin Hurley reprise their original roles, and Stephanie Nelson re-creates her evocatively shabby production design. Read the read review.
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
As Steven Levenson's Dear Evan Hansen burns up the box office on Broadway, Roundabout mounts his new nonmusical drama, in which a Jewish family argues about its history and its future at the turn of the 21st century. The expert Daniel Sullivan (Good People) directs a promising ensemble cast that comprises Larry Bryggman, Maria Dizzia, Tasha Lawrence, Jeremy Shamos, Seth Steinberg, Kate Walsh and Gary Wilmes. Read the full review.
[Note: The review below is for the version of The Imbible at the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival. A revised version now plays at New World Stages.] Remember Bill Nye the Science Guy? Great! Now imagine him as a bartender who is deeply interested in the history of ethanol alcohol, really likes wigs and costumes, and just joined a coed barbershop quartet. That description of Anthony Caporale’s The Imbible: A Spirited History of Drinking may sound far-out, but the show is both educational and entertaining. (It's also a fine showcase for a cappella classics arranged by Josh Ehrlich and performed by a gifted ensemble that includes the show's director, soprano Nicole DiMattei.) Mixing whimsy and information, Caporale makes the story of our relationship with alcohol remarkably compelling. And the show's lessons—on subjects like the drinks served at Prohibition-era speakeasies, the origin of the gin and tonic, and the difference between a cocktail and a mixed drink—can be washed down with complimentary, thematically appropriate beverages. As Caporale says, “Trust me, I get funnier with every sip.” That makes the show a must-see for anyone who enjoys free booze, which is probably nearly everyone.
Seen in an earlier version at Primary Stages in 2010, this new a cappella tuner features a book and music by Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Frozen), James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth. Eleven New Yorkers explore love, hope, fear and other big issues while shuttling on the subway. Kathleen Marshall choreographs and directs. Read the full review.
All but one of August Wilson's Century Cycle history plays have been on Broadway—until now. Manhattan Theatre Club presents a revival of Wilson's 1970s-set drama about drivers of unlicensed cabs in Pittsburgh. The cast includes John Douglas Thompson, Michael Potts and André Holland. Ruben Santiago-Hudson directs. Read the full review.
John Kander, who wrote such classics as Cabaret and Chicago with Fred Ebb, is pushing 90 now, and he's still composing music that would make many a younger songsmith envious. Liesl Tommy (Eclipsed) directs the world premiere of his latest musical, written with librettist Greg Pierce: the story of a teenager who returns to his Kansas hometown after a mysterious one-year absence. Read the full review.
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. Todrick Hall is now playing the role of 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 Price & Son’s products do: solid craftsmanship and