If you're looking to find the best Broadway shows, or are curious about what's happening Off Broadway or Off-Off Broadway, we can help. Time Out New York's theater critics are constantly on the lookout to guide you to the most exciting, original and moving shows in the city—and to steer you away from the ones that might not be worth your time. Here is a complete list of our reviews of productions that are currently playing in New York City.
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 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
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
After more than 15 years at the Waldorf Astoria, Steve Cohen, billed as the Millionaires’ Magician, now conjures his high-class parlor magic in the marble-columned Madison Room at the swank Lotte New York Palace. Audiences must dress to be impressed (cocktail attire is required); tickets start at $100, with an option to pay more for meet-and-greet time and extra tricks with Cohen after the show. But if you've come to see a classic-style magic act, you get what you pay for. Sporting a tuxedo and bright rust hair, the magician delivers routines that he has buffed to a patent-leather gleam: In addition to his signature act—"Think-a-Drink," involving a kettle that pours liquids by request—highlights include a lulu of levitation trick and a card-trick finale that leaves you feeling like, well, a million bucks.
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. (Jordan Fisher takes over the role on January 28.) 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 Raven Snook Keith Harrison and Laura Schein's over-the-top musical comedy Emojiland aims for 🤣but inspires 🙂at best. Inside a smartphone, bedazzled diva Princess (Lesli Margherita) and her digital denizens are excited to greet their annual update. But two new arrivals, Prince (Josh Lamon) and Nerd Face (George Abud), disrupt their superficially happy texistence, sparking romantic and societal crises. A hit at the 2018 New York Musical Festival (R.I.P.), the show has gotten a major cast upgrade. Under Thomas Caruso's broad direction, an impressive roster of Broadway favorites give their all to the middling material. Margherita and Lamon, who have been with the project from the beginning, lean into camp as a pair of narcissistic tyrants who rap and belt with abandon. Abud's Nerd Face is an affable underdog who nails pop power ballads while saving the cyberworld and wooing Smize (cowriter Schein). As the dangerously depressive Skull, Lucas Steele is a goth dreamboat who croons Radiohead-style odes to death. Disappointingly, however, the brilliant Ann Harada is wasted as Pile of Poo; her single scene is a real number two. With 16 musical numbers, dozens of characters, three main plot lines (including a heavy-handed political one about building a firewall) and a running time of well over two hours, Emojiland is a case of more-is-way-too-much—especially since the cyber-silliness isn't that well scripted. Thankfully, its good old-fashioned analog performance
Theater review by Raven Snook The Great White Way has changed a lot over the past four decades, but Forbidden Broadway is still much the same. That’s both a comfort and a limitation. In Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation, the first new edition since 2014 of his (mostly) affectionate satirical revue, musical parodist Gerard Alessandrini takes fresh aim at Broadway’s newcomers. But like Scott Rudin last season, he ends up with as many misses as hits. If that last reference confounds you, Forbidden Broadway may not be up your Shubert Alley: Much of its humor assumes a more-than-working knowledge of theater culture on Broadway and slightly beyond. Lampoons of Fosse/Verdon and Renée Zellweger in Judy are highlights of the evening, thanks to series vet Jenny Lee Stern, who convincingly conjures those divas along with Julie Andrews (in a clever spoof that transforms Mary Poppins Returns’s “The Place Where Lost Things Go” into a memorial for flop shows). An uproarious Oklahoma! medley pokes fun at woke cowpokes, and a zany bit about The Ferryman finds the comedy in Irish drama. Alessandrini’s mordant wit is less in evidence as he struggles to find what’s funny about some other shows; his takes on Tootsie, The Prom and Harry Potter miss the mark widely. And while Stern and the sparkling Aline Mayagoitia are crack impressionists who can sell the slighter material, the male performers (Immanuel Houston, Chris Collins-Pisano and child actor Joshua Turchin) are stronger as singer
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
Self-described “bubble scientist” Fan Yang's blissfully disarming act (now performed in New York by his son Deni, daughter Melody and wife Ana) 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 TIME OUT DISCOUNT TICKET OFFER:THE GAZILLION BUBBLE SHOW It will blow you away!!!Tickets as low as $49 (regular price $79) Promotional description: After twenty years as a Master of Bubbles, Fan Yang brought his unique brand of artistry to the Big Apple in 2007 and has since wowed bubble lovers of all ages. The Gazillion Bubble Show truly is a family affair for Fan: His wife Ana, son Deni, daughter Melody and brother Jano all can be found on stage in New York and around the world performing their bubble magic. Audiences are delighted with an unbubblievable experience and washed with a bubble tide; some even find themselves inside a bubble. Mind-blowing bubble magic, spectacular laser lighting effects and momentary soapy masterpieces will make you smile, laugh and feel like a kid again.THREE WAYS TO BUY TICKETS:1. Online: Click here to buy tickets through Telecharge2. By phone: Call 212-947-8844 and mention code: GBTONYF453. In person: Print this offer and bring it to the New World Stages box officePerformance schedule: Friday at 7pm; Saturday at 11am, 2pm and 4:30pm; Sunday at 12pm and 3pm Running time: 1h
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 Raven Snook Five years ago, when playwright Talene Monahon began talking to historical reenactors of American wars, their offbeat pastime probably seemed oddly charming. But after the 2016 election, the political battles of the present started to seep more overtly into their commemorations of the past, making for quite uncivil wars. It's no wonder, then, that Monahon's fascinating if unfocused docutheater play How to Load a Musket, woven from verbatim interviews with hardcore costumed hobbyists, starts off kooky and sweet before coming out with guns blazing in a polarized post-45 world. The bang-up ensemble, all double cast, makes sure these eccentrics never come off as caricatures or villains, even when they are spouting incendiary stuff—as when fiftysomething Virginian Jeffrey (an empathetic Richard Topol) compares the removal of Confederate flags and monuments to “a genocide” against his heritage. We also hear from reenactors of color (David J. Cork and Nicole Villamil) who want to correct the whitewashing of history by highlighting little-known stories of black and Latinx people in centuries past. Director Jaki Bradley smartly avoids trying to stage any skirmishes; there’s action enough in the emotionally charged testimony these folks deliver directly to the audience. But while much of what they have to say about the United States, both then and now, is thought-provoking, How to Load a Musket, produced by Less Than Rent Theatre, still feels like a work
Theater review by Helen Shaw [Note: This is a review of the 2017 production of The Hunger Artist. The show returns to the Connelly Theater in January, 2020, for an encore run.] In Franz Kafka’s jet-black 1922 fable “A Hunger Artist,” one of the last stories he wrote, the title character is both a sort of holy man and physical freak, a fame-hungry ascetic who can starve himself for 40 days straight. Sitting in a cage, this living skeleton hypnotizes paying audiences with his extreme self-denial; but when abnegation falls out of favor, he withers away for good. As a metaphor for life in the theater this is almost too perfect, and it’s hard to come away from the story unscarred. But at the Connelly Theater, where the physical-theater company Sinking Ship is presenting a surprisingly lovable version of it, any scarring is light. Josh Luxenberg’s sweetly drawn bouffon adaptation of Kafka’s parable is full of jokes and sudden sympathy. It’s a one-man show, but there’s a communal feeling to it; the athletic Jonathan Levin plays the starving artist and a plump impresario and the artist’s eventual circus master with just a little quick-change magic. And there are helping hands, too, first through audience participation and then from a pair of overcoats, which Levin’s deft puppetry turns into cloth giants. Director Joshua William Gelb and the company use “poor theater” conventions of making much with little—props emerge from battered suitcases, a big set reveal involves four strin
[Note: The review below is for a 2014 version of this show, which was then titled The Imbible. A revised version now plays at New World Stages. A different, brunch-theater edition, titled Day Drinking, plays on weekend matinees.] 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.—Amelia Bienstock
Broadway review by Adam Feldman The Inheritance is in many ways a ghost story: It is set among a group of gay men in present-day New York City, but it is animated by spirits of the past. Foremost among them is the English novelist E.M. Forster (the marvelous Paul Hilton), whom Matthew Lopez’s script—like Forster’s friends—calls Morgan. In the prologue, when the play’s characters are fishing for a way to tell their story, Forster appears to them as a plummy, chummy guide. So begins Lopez’s intimate Broadway epic: a searching, expansive and sometimes very moving exploration of love, money, community and memory. The play is presented in two parts, each more than three hours long. But as directed by Stephen Daldry, who helmed its premiere in London last year, the production mostly goes by fast: With two intermissions in each half, it's not unlike binge-watching six episodes of a Netflix series. Lopez borrows heavily from Forster’s Edwardian novel Howards End for his characters and plot, but shuffles them to suit his purposes. The Schlegel sisters of the novel are recast, grosso modo, as kindhearted otter Eric Glass (a gentle Kyle Soller), soon to be evicted from his rent-controlled apartment, and his extroverted and impetuous boyfriend, Toby Darling (the blazing Andrew Burnap, tossing his hair to fine effect). Toby is adapting his young-adult book, the aspirationally titled Loved Boy, into a play that might star their new friend Adam (Samuel H. Levine, who doubles as a hard-u
Theater review by Helen Shaw It's possible that you think you’ve already had your fill of dick jokes. If so, the sly, digressive comedian Jacqueline Novak might be able to turn you around. In her languid one-woman stage special Get On Your Knees, Novak talks for nearly 90 minutes about blow jobs, discussing men’s strangely shy appendage (“Calling it a cock is…telling it what it wants to hear”), the vulva (which she assures us does not look like a rose) and her own winding path through high-school self-consciousness and collegiate anxiety toward full oral confidence. There’s no non-innuendo-y way to say that the show has a slow build, that Novak and director John Early delay its climax a little too long, and that the poetry-minded Novak sometimes extends her riffs to the point that they’re serving her pleasure more than ours. But Novak’s ultimately winning show does what the best comedy can do: It changes the conversation. Chevy Chase made Gerald Ford permanently seem like a bumbling yo-yo; Novak does the same for the D. The show’s most effective section is her systematic dismantling of the male-determined phallic lexicon. “Rock hard”? She rolls her eyes, then does a very good imitation of a penis flopping daintily over “the fainting couch that is the inner thigh.” This is but one example of how Novak can be absurd, real, hilarious and—though I hate to sound uncool—useful. While the show is sex-positive as hell, it’s crucially aggression-negative. The next time a guy on th
Broadway review by Adam Feldman The seemingly happy Healys are a well-to-do Connecticut nuclear family in serious danger of fissure. Perky mother Mary Jane (the excellent Elizabeth Stanley) is secretly hooked on painkillers, which puts a strain on her relationship with her too-absent lawyer husband, Steve (Sean Allan Krill). Son Nick (Derek Klena) is a star student athlete who feels pressured to overachieve; bisexual daughter Frankie (Celia Rose Gooding), who is black and adopted, feels unseen. This is the core of Jagged Little Pill, a sincere jukebox musical built around the songs of Alanis Morissette, including all 13 tracks from her era-defining 1995 alt-rock album of the same name. The script, by Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody, bears a strong familial resemblance to 2008’s Next to Normal—mother coming apart, father trying to keep it together, perfect son, invisible daughter—with elements of two other big musicals originally directed by Michael Greif. (From Dear Evan Hansen, we get high school angst; from Rent, a chorus of young people lining up to sing messages.) But Next to Normal has a strong focus on a single story, and an original score created to support that focus. Morissette’s songs, most of them cowritten with Glen Ballard, weren’t designed for that work. Cody has found clever places for some of them—“Ironic” is framed, self-deprecatingly, as a high school student’s gangly attempt at writing poetry—but the balance is off. Two of Morissette’s definitive numbers,
Director-designer Julie Taymor takes a reactionary Disney cartoon about the natural right of kings—in which the circle of life is putted against a queeny villain and his jive-talking ghetto pals—and transforms it into a gorgeous celebration of color and movement. The movie’s Elton John–Tim Rice score is expanded with African rhythm and music, and through elegant puppetry, Taymor populates the stage with an amazing menagerie of beasts; her audacious staging expands a simple cub into the pride of Broadway, not merely a fable of heredity but a celebration of heritage. Minskoff Theatre (Broadway). Music by Elton John. Lyrics by Tim Rice. Book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi. Directed by Julie Taymor. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 40mins. One intermission.
Theater review by Adam Feldman Little Shop of Horrors is a weird and adorable show with teeth. Based on Roger Corman’s shlocky 1960 film, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s 1982 musical tells the Faustian story of a dirt-poor schlub named Seymour (Jonathan Groff), a lowly petal pusher at a Skid Row flower shop, who cultivates a relationship with a most unusual plant. What seems at first a blessing—a way for the lonely Seymour to earn money and to get closer to his boss, Mushnik (Tom Alan Robbins), and his used and bruised coworker, Audrey (Tammy Blanchard)—soon turns sinister. The plant, whom he names Audrey II (designed by Nicholas Mahon and voiced by Kingsley Leggs), requires human blood to grow, and Seymour doesn’t have enough of his own to spare. He doesn’t want to feed the beast, but he can’t resist the lure of the green. Arguably the best musical ever adapted from a movie, Little Shop does for B flicks what Sweeney Todd does for Grand Guignol. Librettist Ashman and composer Menken—who, between this show and their Disney animated films, did more than anyone to return musical theater from its mass-culture exile in the late 20th century—brilliantly wrap a sordid tale of capitalist temptation and moral decay in layers of sweetness, humor, wit and camp. Their extraordinary score bursts with colorful rock & roll, doo-wop, girl-group pop and R&B; Ashman’s lyrics blend masterful character comedy with carefully seeded double meanings. And Michael Mayer’s deeply satisfying reviva
Theater review by Raven Snook For fans of 19th-century farce who yearn for options beyond The Importance of Being Earnest, the Irish Rep's handsome revival of Dion Boucicault's 1841 smash London Assurance offers similar silly pleasures. The comedy revolves around the preening peacock Sir Harcourt Courtly (the delicious Colin McPhillamy) and his rakish son Charles (Ian Holcomb), both of whom are wooing the fetching Grace Harkaway (Caroline Strang). A rouge-cheeked buffoon who fancies himself a fashion plate, Courtly has been promised Grace's hand in marriage as part of a financial arrangement with her uncle (Brian Keane), whereas Charles is just a young man who falls unexpectedly in love. Chaos ensues on the weekend of the planned engagement, thanks to a zany array of stock characters, including the seductive huntress Lady Gay Spanker (Rachel Pickup, dazzling), her milquetoast husband (Robert Zuckerman), a sleazy lawyer (Evan Zes, overplaying) and Charles’s layabout pal (Craig Wesley Divino). Old comedies can feel tragically outmoded, and although the cast is solid and spirited, and James Noone's revolving set is lovely, London Assurance inspires more grins than guffaws. But while this antique can never truly shake off all its dust, director Charlotte Moore is blessed to have gifted stage vet McPhillamy in the central role. He's unafraid to look ridiculous, and his expressive delivery leaves no funny line unpunched. More importantly, he smooths over his character's lechery, w
Theater review by Raven Snook Equally giggly and grisly, Erica Schmidt's unnerving adaptation of Macbeth for Red Bull Theater features seven young actresses performing Shakespeare's tragedy as uniform-clad schoolgirls in an abandoned lot. The language is mostly the Shakespeare’s, albeit pared down to one whirlwind act. The sensibility, however, is decidedly contemporary, as these hyperactive drama queens get lost in a gruesome fantasy world that casts some of them as villains and others as victims. Mac Beth alternates between heightened high jinks and chilling violence. At first, you may chuckle at these bad girls’ adolescent antics—squealing, taking selfies with pink cell phones, sucking on Ring Pops, stomping around to Beyoncé's "Bow Down"—even as Macbeth (Isabelle Fuhrman of The Hunger Games, working hard) and her wife (standout Ismenia Mendes) go on an ambition-fueled rampage of destruction. But the remaining five actors play all the other parts, sometimes confusingly; aside from the three Witches (AnnaSophia Robb, Sophie Kelly-Hedrick and Sharlene Cruz) and Macduff (a heartbreaking Lily Santiago), the characters are insufficiently delineated, and the poetry is often dulled by lack of nuance. The production works better when it veers into horror territory. (Schmidt's inspiration is the 2014 Slender Man case in Wisconsin, when two 12-year-old girls stabbed a classmate.) During a furious rainstorm, the Weird Sisters stir gnarly science-lab detritus and even used tampons
Thrice a week, after closing time, 20 people crowd into the city’s oldest magic shop, Tannen’s, for a cozy evening of prestidigitation by the young and engaging Noah Levine. The shelves are crammed with quirky devices; there's a file cabinet behind the counter, a mock elephant in the corner and bins of individual trick instructions in plastic covers, like comic books or sheet music. The charm of Levine's show is in how well it fits the environment of this magic-geek chamber of secrets. As he maneuvers cards, eggs, cups and balls with aplomb, he talks shop, larding his patter with tributes to routines like the Stencel Aces and the Vernon Boat Trick—heirlooms of his trade that he gently polishes and displays for our amazement.
Dan White is something of a local sensation and a regular guest on Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show, and it's not hard to see why. His NoMad Hotel show, which sells out weeks in advance, is an ideal fancy-date night. Handsome and smooth, White offers modern variations on classic routines, blending multiple kinds of magic (mentalism, card tricks, illusionism) into an admirably variegated evening of entertainment. If a few of the effects don't fit the intimacy of the room—when I saw the show, a transformation illusion didn't quite come off—most of the tricks leave you happily agape, especially when performed in such cosy quarters. You'll probably never see a levitation act at such close range, and you may leave feeling a few feet off the ground yourself.
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 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 Mu
Theater review by Adam Feldman There is a profound isolation to the title character, played by Laura Linney, in the Broadway solo play My Name Is Lucy Barton. “In spite of my plenitude, I was lonely,” she confides to us. “Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me.” Reflecting on her traumatically impoverished childhood in rural Illinois, she recalls being locked in a truck by her father, a PTSD-scarred veteran. Now, as she savors her first success as a writer in 1980s New York City, she is by herself again: hospitalized for nine weeks after complications from an appendectomy. (Her husband has a fear of visiting hospitals, but has arranged for her to have a room of her own.) Exactly what ails her is unclear even to her doctor. “I might have a blockage,” she says, and one gets the sense she is not just talking about her veins. Some measure of emotional unblocking arrives in the unexpected form of her estranged and withholding mother, who visits her bedside for five days. This encounter forms the spine of the play, which has been faithfully adapted by Rona Munro from Elizabeth Strout’s 2016 novel. Lucy’s mother, who is pointedly not named, pours forth gossipy, judgmental stories about common acquaintances back home who have messed up their lives with infidelities and other failings. Lucy is grateful for the company—she identifies with the children in the sculpture of the cannibal Ugolino
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 Helen Shaw [Note: This is a review of the 2018 production of A Pink Chair at the Performing Garage. On January 23, 2020, the production returns for an encore run at the Skirball Center.] Going to the Performing Garage on our yearly trips to see the Wooster Group has started to feel like a pilgrimage. We’re visiting a place where the memorials are carved out of video and drollery, a graveyard where the gravestones dance. In the program note for A Pink Chair (In Place of a Fake Antique), director Elizabeth LeCompte says that the company’s work has always been “absorbed with conjuring ghosts and shadows from history”—and certainly, the Woosters love paying homage to other artists’ oeuvres. The experimental-theater titans taught themselves to dance for the Jerzy Grotowski–meets–William Forsythe work Poor Theater; they acted out a version, complete with fast-forwarding, of Richard Burton’s filmed Hamlet. Indeed, avant-garde ventriloquism is their métier. After nearly forty years of theater-making, the marker of a Wooster performance is the abstracted look the actors get as they juggle their lines, complex choreography, in-ear microphone prompts and multi-channel video cues. The actors are always listening to some call we can’t hear. Their eyes look where we can’t follow. This time the Woosters have answered a call by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute to make a piece about the Polish director Tadeusz Kantor, whose work was featured at La MaMa several times in the
Theater review by Adam Feldman [Note: This is a review of the 2017 Broadway production, which moves Off Broadway to New World Stages in 2019 with a new cast.] Ah, the joy of watching theater fail. The looming possibility of malfunction is part of what makes live performance exciting, and disasters remind us of that; the rite requires sacrifice. There is more than schadenfreude involved when we giggle at, say, a YouTube video of a high-school Peter Pan crashing haplessly into the scenery. There is also sympathy—there but for the grace of deus ex machina go we all—and, often, a respect for the efforts of the actors to somehow muddle through. Mischief Theatre’s The Play That Goes Wrong takes this experience to farcical extremes, as six amateur British actors (and two crew members who get pressed into service onstage) try to perform a hackneyed whodunnit amid challenges that escalate from minor mishaps (stuck doors, missed cues) to bona fide medical emergencies and massive structural calamities. Depending on your tolerance for ceaseless slapstick, The Play That Goes Wrong will either have you rolling in the aisles or rolling your eyes. It is certainly a marvel of coordination: The imported British cast deftly navigates the pitfalls of Nigel Hook’s ingeniously tumbledown set, and overacts with relish. (I especially enjoyed the muggings of Dave Hearn, Charlie Russell and coauthor Henry Lewis.) Directed by Mark Bell, the mayhem goes like cuckoo clockwork. If you want to have a
Theater review by Helen Shaw When you walk into Say Something Bunny!, you enter another time. You might not notice that at first, because the brick office space where it takes place is so determinedly ordinary-looking. The small audience sits around a doughnut-shaped conference table, and as Alison S.M. Kobayashi begins her multimedia docuplay, some spectators are already paging through the scripts that have been placed in front of each chair. The text turns out to be the full transcript of a real, unlabeled 65-year-old recording that Kobayashi found hidden in an antique wire recorder: the audio relic of a teenage boy in Woodmere, Queens, enthusiastically taping two dozen family members and neighbors. Kobayashi has listened to the recording hundreds of times and has a seemingly boundless interest in the people whose voices it preserves, including amateur recordist David, mother Juliette and neighbor Bunny. She conducts us through a pair of after-dinner conversations, the first in 1952—she deduced the date from song lyrics mentioned on the wire—and the second in 1954. Aided by coauthor Christopher Allen, she pursues hints and half-heard jokes to determine who these people were and what befell them; she shows us the census records she used to find their old houses. The play unspools unhurriedly, leaving space for Kobayashi to make jokes, play short films and highlight points of historical interest. It takes a while for it to sink in that—of course—many of these vibrant people
To untimely rip and paraphrase a line from Macbeth: Our eyes are made the fools of the other senses, or else worth all the rest. A multitude of searing sights crowd the spectator's gaze at the bedazzling and uncanny theater installation Sleep No More. Your sense of space and depth---already compromised by the half mask that audience members must don---is further blurred as you wend through more than 90 discrete spaces, ranging from a cloistral chapel to a vast ballroom floor. Directors Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle, of the U.K. troupe Punchdrunk, have orchestrated a true astonishment, turning six warehouse floors and approximately 100,000 square feet into a purgatorial maze that blends images from the Scottish play with ones derived from Hitchcock movies—all liberally doused in a distinctly Stanley Kubrick eau de dislocated menace. An experiential, Choose Your Own Adventure project such as this depends on the pluck and instincts of the spectator. You can follow the mute dancers from one floor to the next, or wander aimlessly through empty spaces. I chose the latter, discovering a room lined with empty hospital beds; a leafless wood in which a nurse inside a thatched cottage nervously checks her pocket watch; an office full of apothecary vials and powders; and the ballroom, forested with pine trees screwed to rolling platforms (that would be Birnam Wood). A Shakespearean can walk about checking off visual allusions to the classic tragedy; the less lettered can just revel in
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 act comes to fruition with a highly effective variation on the classic cups-and-balls routine; the elegant, Singapore-born Prakash and the dauntingly tattooed Mark Calabrese—a razor of a card sharp—both find clever ways to integrate cell phones into their acts. Each performer has a tight 10-minute act, and most of them are excellent, but that’s the nice thing about the way the show is structured: If one of them happens to fall
At first blush, Then She Fell seems to be a small-scale cribbing of Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More. Yes, you wander solo through intricately dressed rooms in a creepy building; yes, that man in a cravat is crawling up the wall in front of you. But you begin to realize that Third Rail Projects’ interactive riff on Lewis Carroll’s Alice books is using a similar language to give you a different experience: When you peer into the looking glass, it stares right back at you. Performed in the former Greenpoint Hospital, the show only permits 15 audience members a pop—making for a distinctly intimate experience. You’re given a shot of mulled wine and a set of keys before nurses, Carroll characters and even the psychotropic author himself usher you through a combination Wonderland–psych ward. As in Sleep No More, no two individuals will have the same evening. You may find yourself taking dictation for the Hatter (the mesmerizing Elizabeth Carena), painting cream-colored roses red with the White Rabbit (Tom Pearson) or sitting down to the infamous tea party with the whole gang. The experiences that director-designer-mastermind Zach Morris and his company offer are stunningly personal. You don’t have a mask to hide behind here—when you peep in on the Red Queen (Rebekah Morin) having a private breakdown, she catches you watching through the two-way mirror. And then—well, I don’t want to give away the game. And it is a game; as you’re pulled from place to place, you begin to realize that M
Theater review by Adam Feldman In theater, quiet can be more arresting than noise. Hilda, the central figure in Lucas Hnath’s eerie The Thin Place, sucks us in with her smallness. As played with precise oddity by Emily Cass McDonnell, she is mousy and pale; in the company of others, she almost disappears into her chair. But when she speaks to the audience directly—on a nearly bare stage, with the house lights up and a mug of tea in her hand—she has an intimate confidence. Hilda’s extended ghost story begins in her childhood, when she practiced psychic communication with her grandmother, hoping one day to be able to talk to her beyond the grave; later, she tries to do exactly that with help from Linda (the splendid Randy Danson), a flimflam spiritualist with a rough English brogue that gives her chicanery a brisk air of candor. (Linda describes Hilda to others as “a very curious person,” which cuts two different but accurate ways.) This slender work bulges out dramatically in the middle when Hilda and Linda, who have obliquely become romantically involved, attend a party with two much louder friends of Linda’s: Jerry (Triney Sandoval), a political consultant, and Sylvia (Kelly McAndrew), Linda’s wealthy patron. As they drink, their conversation turns philosophical and at times confrontational. But although the switch in tone and volume is marked, and perfectly managed by director Les Waters and his cast, the concerns of this section are consonant with those of the rest of t
Broadway review by Adam Feldman The test of any star is the ability to rise above adversity, and Tina Turner has had more than her share. Abandoned by her parents as a child in rural Tennessee, she ascended to R&B fame in the 1960s at the side of Ike Turner, who exploited her and beat her before she climbed to even greater heights as a solo artist in the 1980s. The hugely talented Adrienne Warren, who plays her in the jukebox biomusical Tina, has different obstacles to overcome. Mediocrity surrounds her at every turn: an overstretched narrative that, in trying to span more than three decades of personal and artistic history, feels both rushed and overlong; a time line that is often confusing; dialogue that is rarely more than functional when it doesn’t sink into corn (“You know, Carpenter, you always said I had a good ear, but, you know, I have a good nose, too… for bullshit”). Director Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!) has staged the show with minimal subtlety—whenever Ike (Daniel J. Watts, in the ultimate thankless role) does cocaine, which is often, he waves a big bag of white powder in the air—and several of the supporting actors pitch their performances to the second balcony. (The Lunt-Fontanne doesn’t have a second balcony.) These failings might not register as much in a lighthearted show, but they don’t serve the seriousness of Turner’s journey; this is a musical in which women and children are repeatedly brutalized onstage, and the heroine ends the first act with her fac
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.
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.