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
[Note: Chilina Kennedy, who replaced Jessie Mueller as King in 2015 and has played the role for most of the run, returns to the production starting January 3, 2019.] Beautiful—The Carole King Musical shares several virtues with its titular singer-songwriter, among them humility, earnestness and dedication to craft. If Douglas McGrath’s book never achieves the dramatic grit or comic zip of Jersey Boys, at least director Marc Bruni’s production avoids being a brain-dead, self-satisfied hit parade à la Berry Gordy’s Motown. Still, it does seem that stretches of Broadway’s newest jukebox musical consist of situations such as this: “Carole, you’ve got to write us a hit!” “I’ve written something.” “It’s a hit!” Yes, Beautiful loves its diligent, long-suffering pop genius, and invites you to do the same. It’s quite an easy task when you have the phenomenal Jessie Mueller in the lead. The effortlessly appealing star cut her teeth on Broadway flops (the mis-reconceived On a Clear Day You Can See Forever) and in supporting parts (The Mystery of Edwin Drood). Now she’s ready to carry a show. As Brooklyn-raised King, who started churning out teenybopper tunes at 1650 Broadway in the late ’50s, Mueller exudes warmth and common sense, playing up King’s old-fashioned modesty and insecurity without becoming a doormat or cipher. And when she wraps her rich, burnished voice around those hits—“So Far Away,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “It’s Too Late”—they feel as fresh as the day King penned
Theater review by Adam Feldman Whatever else it may or may not be, Beetlejuice is spectacularly weird. The best creative work in this musical adaptation of Tim Burton’s 1988 film—about a pair of sweet ghosts trying to rid their house of its distasteful new inhabitants—has gone into its physical form: The designers come at it from all kinds of crazy angles. David Korins’s haunted-house set seems to buckle in the middle and stretch at the edges; William Ivey Long’s costumes are a batty vision of colors and patterns at war. There are magic tricks and giant worms and a starkly linear idea of the afterlife that contrasts well with the chaotic world of the living. If only so much of the rest of Beetlejuice were not a busy mess. The film’s protagonists, milquetoast “newlydeads” Adam (Rob McClure) and Barbara (Kerry Butler), no longer seek out the loathsome “bio-exorcist” demon Beetlejuice (Alex Brightman, working overtime); he targets them in a scheme to leave the netherworld, even though only a living person is capable of making him visible there. Much of Adam and Barbara’s function has been reassigned to Lydia (the gifted young Sophia Anne Caruso), the goth teenage daughter of the house’s new owner (Adam Dannheisser), a widower with an insecure New Age girlfriend (comic dynamo Leslie Kritzer). A little of the hyperactive, rattle-voiced, lecherous Beetlejuice goes a pretty long way, but the show makes him its central figure. Sometimes he’s a murderous pansexual scuzzball (he ref
Broadway review by Adam Feldman The 1978 drama Betrayal is mostly told backward, but, paradoxically, it may be Harold Pinter’s most straightforward work. The first scene depicts a meeting between Jerry (Charlie Cox) and Emma (Zawe Ashton), two years after the end of the long extramarital relationship they conducted behind the back—or at least to the side—of her husband, the slick Robert (Tom Hiddleston), who was Jerry’s close friend at the time; the final scene, set nine years earlier, shows the night their duplicity began. In between, Pinter traces the disintegration of each side of the play’s romantic triangle, sketching in details of events that have already been alluded to. (The back-to-front structure is not rigorous; three of the scenes follow the ones before them in chronological order.) But unlike, say, The Birthday Party or The Homecoming, Betrayal has no overarching sense of enigma. The solutions to its mysteries are handed to us in advance; since we already know what will happen, the play's interest largely involves our knowledge of who knows what when, and who knows that they know it, and what they aren’t saying. As is Pinter’s wont, the script is replete with moments when the characters don’t speak—a very slow cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” is heard between scenes—which invites us to fill in the play’s emotional blanks. These are pauses that send out tasteful announcements of their pregnancy. Pinter’s bone-dry, stiff-lipped tale of infidelity reli
Three deadpan blue-skinned men with extraterrestrial imaginations carry this tourist fave, a show as smart as it is ridiculous. They drum on open tubs of paint, creating splashes of color; they consume Twinkies and Cap'n Crunch; they engulf the audience in a roiling sea of toilet paper. For sheer weird, exuberant fun, it's hard to top this long-running treat. (Note: The playing schedule varies from week to week, with as many as four performances on some days and none on others.)
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.
Review by Raven Snook Lewis Carroll's trippy Alice in Wonderland books have inspired many a theatrical spectacle, but Company XIV's seductive Queen of Hearts is a singular sexcess: a transporting fusion of haute burlesque, circus, dance and song. Your fall down the glamorous rabbit hole begins upon entering the troupe's louche Bushwick lair, where scantily clad server-performers slink about in flattering red lighting. A cursory knowledge of the source material will help you make sense of the show’s three-act cavalcade of Alice-inspired routines, as our blue-haired heroine (sweet-voiced siren Lexxe) embarks on an NC-17 coming-of-age journey under the guidance of the White Rabbit (Michael Cunio, strutting confidently in heels and screeching like a hair-metal star). As usual, Company XIV’s impressive impresario, Austin McCormick, has assembled an array of alluring and highly skilled artists, who look smashing in Zane Pihlstrom's lace-and-crystal-encrusted costumes. Standouts include contortionist Lilin Lace, who emerges in an S/M-vinyl cocoon and transforms into a beauteous butterfly; mustachioed twins Nicholas and Ross Katen as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, performing a cheeky spin on the Marx Brothers' mirror trick; ballet dancers Jourdan Epstein and Ryan Redmond doing a doozy of a pas de deux as the Cheshire Cats; and acrobat-chanteuse Marcy Richardson as the Mad Hatter, who turns modern-day hits into politically charged popera, often while literally swinging from the chandelie
In this captivating original musical, actual teenager Andrew Barth Feldman now plays the title role of a high school student thrust into social relevance after a classmate's suicide. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's score combines well-crafted lyrics with an exciting pop sound, and Steven Levenson’s book gives all the characters shaded motives. Read the full review.
Broadway review by Adam Feldman The British mentalist Derren Brown is up to his old tricks in Secret, and very fine tricks they are. Not for nothing has Brown become a celebrity in his native England: He is a first-class stage magician, and in his Broadway debut he commands our fascination for nearly two and a half hours. Deploying a mixture of techniques (cold reading, subtle psychological manipulation, even mass mesmerism), he repeatedly gets members of the audience to seem to do his bidding. But although much of his act looks like mind reading, he renounces any claim to psychic ability—cannily disarming us of our skepticism, the better to catch us off guard. With help from directors Andy Nyman and Andrew O’Connor, he misdirects us in plain sight. The secret of Secret’s success lies not in the big-reveal tentpoles of the act (which are highly skillful variations on standard mentalist routines) but in the partly improvised patter that cloaks them in genuine risk and spontaneity. When things don’t go perfectly smoothly—when the good-natured and self-assured Brown bobbles a prediction or two—the hitches only add to the tension and impressiveness of what he is doing, as when a juggler’s dropped ball reminds you how many are still in the air. The show leaves you in a state of joyful bafflement. Can you believe it? You don’t have to, and that’s the fun. It’s a con game, and Brown is a consummate pro. Cort Theatre (Broadway). By Andy Nyman, Derren Brown and Andrew O’Connor. Di
Theater review by Diane Snyder As potent as a shot of whiskey, Conor McPherson’s Dublin Carol forces a man nearly ruined by alcohol to face his ghosts on Christmas Eve. Fiftysomething Irish undertaker John Plunkett (Jeffrey Bean) gets a visit from Mary (Sarah Street)—the adult daughter he hasn’t seen in a decade—because his long-abandoned wife is dying and wants to see him. For many years, John’s method of survival has been to avoid his painful past and the damage he’s caused, but that’s no longer an option. On this day of reckoning, John drinks, makes excuses, revisits his past and wrestles with his guilt. Bean’s exquisite portrayal of this bruised and haunted man delves deeply into his restless psyche. Self-loathing but also self-indulgent, John struggles to hold himself together, and he has an easier time relating to a young colleague (Cillian Hegarty), whose uncle saved him from destitution, than to his own daughter. When Mary expresses his love for him, he replies, “Why do you love me?” First staged Off Broadway in 2003, Dublin Carol maintains its quietly powerful impact. Director Ciarán O’Reilly and his expert cast bring out the sadness, regret and hope that define these characters, as well as the simple eloquence of McPherson’s words. The playwright, whose Bob Dylan musical Girl from the North Country will be on Broadway later this season, isn’t one for earth-shattering revelations. Can John finally take responsibility for his failings and, like Scrooge, emerge a
Broadway review by Adam Feldman Freestyle Love Supreme is a dream of a show: the scheme of a team of thespians from Wesleyan who went with their flow, 16 years ago, to improvise a hip-hop musical. Their act is virtuoso. FLS is a phenomenon, uncommon and on-the-fly—a high wire where performers get by without a guide for the words that pour out from their lips and their lungs (as they try not to trip on the tips of their tongues). Their abilities, their skill and ease, are always impressive, but it’s less of a show-off than a love-in with a geek streak. There’s a reason FLS is so buzzy: It’s not just cool, it’s also warm and fuzzy. In the show’s new incarnation, at a venue on Shubert Alley, the emcee of emcees is Anthony “Two-Touch” Veneziale. He genially handles all the crowd participation, gleaning vital information that will fuel improvisation. The roster of performers varies, but a core group carries much of the weight: Utkarsh Ambudkar is a brash and quick star; beatboxer Chris Sullivan fulfills his mission with precision, as does pianist Arthur Lewis, while the group’s newest addition, Aneesa Folds, is a singer and a smarty who brings welcome fresh eggs to what had been a sausage party. Special guests each night keep it light and tight as they join Veneziale at the monster-track rally. When I was there, the spare chair was filled by FLS cofounding father Lin-Manuel Miranda—cuddly-cute as a panda, and just the man to land a toss-off joke and lend his hand to his band o
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 Raven Snook Georgia Mertching Is Dead, Catya McMullen's raucous celebration of chosen family, feels so much like an indie film, it's no surprise that it's already been optioned. Three boisterous BFFs—unemployed optimist Whitney (the endearing Layla Khoshnoudi), nympho novelist Emma (a raw Claire Siebers) and gleefully foul-mouthed Gretchen (scene stealer Diana Oh), who looks about 12 months pregnant—discover that their mentor in sobriety has committed suicide. To pay their respects, they embark on a road trip from New York City to small-town North Carolina, bonding, bickering and growing along the way. The play may not break much narrative ground, but it breaks your heart with a piercing exploration of the ways in which loss, trauma and love—romantic, platonic, familial—shape our lives. It's also morbidly hilarious, as these just-past-30 ladies talk candidly about addiction, fisting, hemorrhoids, childbirth and all their dead peers. Skillfully staged by Giovanna Sardelli on Alexis Distler's mutable set, the show careers through a lot of emotional territory, and sometimes bumps into cliché. (Gretchen's swollen belly is akin to Chekhov's gun.) And the two male characters—Emma's broster ex (Quincy Dunn-Baker) and Gretchen's well-meaning husband (JD Taylor)—are mainly there to advance the women's stories. But that's part of what makes Georgia Mertching Is Dead so intoxicating. No man will ever satisfy these friends the way they do each other. They are the lo
Broadway review by Adam Feldman In All the Way, which ran on Broadway in 2014, Robert Schenkkan offered a largely sympathetic portrait of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s first year in office: his accession to the presidency after the assassination of John F. Kennedy and his canny machinations to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That play depicted the compromises that undergirded Johnson’s success; its informative sequel, The Great Society, shows the following four years, in which the compromises rise and overwhelm him. This is a very different Johnson indeed. Whereas Bryan Cranston brought a dogged vitality and wily command to the role, the version played by Brian Cox (Succession), though still spouting folksy Texas wisdoms and able to manipulate his foes, seems older, wearier and less secure in his power. This is appropriate to Johnson’s story during this period of upheaval: The great strong-armer and glad-hander is losing his grip. But in the absence of Cranston’s central charisma, the play—already spread thin by the longer time frame—seems even more like an illustrated lecture. As history classes go, this is a classy one. Director Bill Rauch has assembled a large and capable cast of pros for the supporting roles, which are sketched in quick strokes: Bryce Pinkham’s callow Bobby Kennedy, Gordon Clapp’s looming J. Edgar Hoover, Frank Wood’s droll Everett Dirksen, Matthew Rauch’s rueful Robert McNamara, Marc Kudisch’s galumphing Richard Daley, David Garrison’s juicily mean Georg
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
Broadway review by Adam Feldman Even before the evidence piles up—before parts of scenes repeat themselves, and names and places start worming their way into stories where they don’t belong—audiences at The Height of the Storm may feel an eerie sense of déjà vu. Three years ago at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club presented Florian Zeller’s The Father: a play about a man named André who has daughters named Anne and Élise, and who is losing his mind to dementia. The Height of the Storm gives us a different André (Jonathan Pryce), also with daughters named Anne (Amanda Drew) and Élise (Lisa O’Hare). This André is a literary lion instead of an engineer, however, and he has a wife: Her name is Madeleine (Eileen Atkins), in a polite nod to Proust, and she might be dead—or perhaps she is not, or maybe André is the dead one. (As he says: “You think people are dead, but it’s not always the case.”) For at least half an hour, Zeller keeps us guessing; as in The Father, confusion is both his subject and his prime dramatic strategy. “Imagine a dream you never wake up from,” muses André. “It’d be a real nightmare!” The play is skillfully woven with dream logic. Details bleed from one narrative into another; two non-family figures, identified as the Woman (Lucy Cohu) and the Man (James Hillier), have unstable identities. It’s a deliberately frustrating experience, like a jigsaw puzzle in which the pieces fit together but yield no coherent picture. Translated from
Theater review by Helen Shaw The stage is so dark at the beginning of Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning, it’s hard to see anything at all. There appears to be a sweep of predawn charcoal sky and a backyard firepit, but we can’t be sure. We’ve certainly missed the man sitting silently with his back to us—until he reaches for his rifle. It only takes the barest lick of light to make the barrel glint. The man fires, then walks into the brush. He heaves the body of a deer onto the cement slab beneath his back door; he prepares to gut it. For the rest of this intermissionless show—more than two hours of torrential speech among friends and ex-friends—we know there’s blood on the threshold. It’s a powerful invocation: an old image of sacrifice and stain, and a reminder that soil remembers. And that’s just what the play manages to say before the dialogue starts. It’s hard to talk about Arbery’s play, in a way, because there’s so much talking in it. (He describes it as a fugue.) It’s a structure of interweaving voices that never devolves into noise, and the voices aren’t ones we hear often Off Broadway. They are deeply religious, profoundly Catholic, proudly conservative, sometimes messianic. We’re in deepest Wyoming, where Gina (Michele Pawk) has just been named president of Transfiguration College, a Catholic university that teaches its students theology, submission, rhetoric and survival skills. Four old friends have reunited in the same backyard we saw in the prolog
[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 Wheeler (Ian Barford) is the kind of man who has declared a funeral for his future, and drags the rest of the world in his wake. He’s not just antiheroic, he’s anti-everything: a newly divorced 50-year-old blowhard who wears his snobbism proudly—“I do not like so many things and so many of them are things that a lot of people like”—in the knowledge that he has been among its victims. (A once-promising photographer, he has second-guessed himself into life as a vintage-camera repairman in San Diego.) Between his superiority and self-disgust, he doesn’t even realize how deeply he is falling into midlife-crisis cliché. In his loose but astute Linda Vista, Tracy Letts rips the blinders away. Directed by Dexter Bullard for Steppenwolf, and imported to Broadway by Second Stage, Linda Vista is a shaggy-dog cautionary tale. As Wheeler navigates his relationships—with, among others, a wounded life coach (Cora Vander Broek) who has a master's degree in "happiness," a Vietnamese-American rockabilly fille fatale (Chantal Thuy) and his loathsome, lecherous boss (Troy West)—the play shuffles through several modes: sitcom, dramatic portrait, near-verité. (There are two realistic and revealing sex scenes, and a long section in a karaoke bar.) Although it sags a bit in places, it coheres in the end, and Barford and Letts give Wheeler precisely the right amount of rot. The play sees right through this guy, and the view behind him isn’t pretty. Hayes Theater
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.
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.
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 Raven Snook Unfulfillment lurks behind the picturesque facade of a small Northeast town in The New Englanders, Jeff Augustin’s heartfelt meditation on the crises that can hit at any stage of life. College-bound Lauryn Hill acolyte Eisa (a fiery Kara Young) believes she’s destined for glory; certainly she won’t end up like her middle-aged dads, world-weary Aaron (Teagle F. Bougere) and workaholic Samuel (Patrick Breen), who abandoned their city dreams to raise her in a seemingly idyllic environment. But when her unhappy English teacher, Ms. Charpie (Crystal Finn), asks her to create a vision board, the assignment sets off a chain reaction that prompts everyone in Eisa’s orbit to reconsider paths not taken and adjust their trajectories in often self-destructive ways. The Haitian-American Augustin cleverly puts a mixed-race family at the center of the story, illustrating that although chasing dreams can be more complicated for people of color (particularly poor ones), ennui is ubiquitous. While it is only 100 minutes long, however, The New Englanders feels unfocused and overstretched. Despite solid performances from veteran actors (under the workmanlike direction of Saheem Ali), the grown-ups—especially Samuel and Raul (a wasted Javier Muñoz), Aaron’s long-lost first love—seem more like plot points than people. Eisa’s escalating conflict with Ms. Charpie also strains credulity. But the scenes between Eisa and Atlas (a hilarious Adam Langdon), her smitten clas
Theater review by Adam Feldman After a hit run at St. Ann's Warehouse last year, Daniel Fish’s fascinating and unsettling reimagination of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! has moved to Broadway, with its immediacy, strangeness and eerie sense of danger intact. (See original review below.) The show is now played in deep thrust, with the audience on three sides of the action. Nearly the entire cast of the Off Broadway version returns: Rebecca Naomi Jones and Damon Daunno are the main couple, Laurey and Curly, stained in this version by their unkind treatment of Jud (a rivetingly emotional Patrick Vaill); Ali Stroker and James Davis provide superb (and much-needed) comic relief as the sexed-up Ado Annie and her ardent wooer Will Parker, and Will Brill has assumed the part of the commitment-averse suitor Ali Hakim. Seeing the production a second time allows one to appreciate not only the striking darkness that Fish and company have teased out of the material, but also the light they shine on small details. (Mallory Portnoy and Mitch Tebo are marvelous in small roles.) It's thrilling to see a Broadway classic rise to the challenge of so modern a conception. Oklahoma! it remains, but there's nothing corny about it. RECOMMENDED: A guide to Broadway's shocking revival of Oklahoma! [Note: The following is a review of the 2018 production at St. Ann's Warehouse.] Director Daniel Fish’s bold, spare revival of Oklahoma! gives us the ranch but not the dressing. The musical’s ca
Theater review by Raven Snook It’s fall 2008, and the world is on the cusp of change. So are Miami private-school students Pipe (Carmen Berkeley), Kit (Rebecca Jimenez), Squeeze (Malika Samuel) and Zoom (Alyssa May Gold). Unnervingly worldly yet hilariously naïve, these members of the Dead Leaders Club snort cocaine, argue about politics and worship Pablo Escobar the way their less eccentric peers might revere Justin Timberlake. As holiday lights twinkle around a grinning poster of the deceased drug czar, they pull out a Ouija board to try to conjure their hero, and debate who will kill the stray cat they have kidnapped as a sacrifice. Headstrong Kit, the gang’s brand-new addition from New Jersey, gleefully obliges. Alexis Scheer’s savage one-act Our Dear Dead Drug Lord, coproduced by WP Theater and Second Stage, is part of a wave of plays by young women that portray female adolescence as an almost feral state (see also Horse Girls, Dance Nation, Usual Girls). Its central characters don’t see Escobar as a villain because they covet his abandon and his power—qualities they haven’t been encouraged to cultivate in a world that demands that they be good and obedient girls, even in the face of trauma. Under Whitney White’s energetic direction, Samuel and the adorkable Gold mostly serve as comic relief to Berkeley and Jimenez’s ferocious alpha females. Their excellent acting sells some of Scheer’s wonkier bits—especially the talk about 9/11 and Obama’s election, which don’t c
More than three decades into its Broadway run, Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera continues to draw tourists to its candlelit lair. The plot, borrowed from a 1910 potboiler by Gaston Leroux, tells of Christine Daaé, a naïve young soprano whose secretive voice teacher turns out to be a deformed musical genius who lives beneath the Paris Opera House. (Although the Phantom is serial killer, extortionist, kidnapper and probable rapist, Christine and audiences are mysteriously drawn to him. Who doesn’t love a bad boy?) While the epic synth-rock chords of the title song may ground Phantom in the 1980s, the show’s Puccini-inflected airs are far grander than most of what one hears elsewhere on Broadway. And although there may not be much depth to the musical’s story (by Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe) or lyrics (mostly by Charles Hart), the production—directed by Hal Prince—has been carefully maintained and refurbished over the years, and remains a marvel of sumptuous surfaces. Majestic Theatre (Broadway). Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics by Charles Hart. Book by Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Directed by Harold Prince. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.
Theater review by Adam Feldman [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
Broadway review by Adam Feldman Jeremy O. Harris’s lacerating play, a sold-out succès de scandale Off Broadway last season, has now moved north to Broadway, and it feels wonderfully incongruous on the mostly staid Great White Way. Brash, smart and gleefully confrontational, this is the kind of show that starts arguments. It begins on a perverse antebellum plantation, but as it moves forward, in three very different acts that successively reframe what we have seen before them, it keeps you off balance; even afterward, you may feel staggered. As I wrote of its incarnation at New York Theatre Workshop, “Slave Play is funny, perceptive, probing and, at times, disturbingly sexy. It snaps like a whip, and its aim is often outward.” Whatever you think it is, it's almost certainly not what you think. (Click here to read the entire Off Broadway review.) Director Robert O’Hara has reassembled the play’s original cast, with one exception: Joaquina Kalukango now plays the pivotal role of Kaneisha. The Broadway production is, perforce, a bit broader than the one at NYTW—especially in the bravura comedic performances of Annie McNamara, whose molestation of a four-poster bed is horny physical comedy for the ages, and James Cusati-Moyer, whose character throws a spectacular diva tantrum when asked to confront his own whiteness. For most of the night, in the four interracial relationships that Harris depicts, the nonblack characters dominate: They really, really want to make sure they’re b
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
Theater review by Naveen Kumar World-building is tough stuff. Just ask the family stranded at sea in Barbara Hammond’s Terra Firma, set in the not-so-distant future. Imagining themselves an island nation and setting up a mom-and-pop shop is their best and only bet: Mom (Andrus Nichols) serves as the country’s haughty, delusional queen, Dad (Gerardo Rodriguez) runs operations, and their prodigal son (Daniel Molina) is the sole heir. His inheritance is a rusty deck, held aloft by two pillars that reach the ocean floor. (The impressively compact scenic design is by Andrew Boyce.) They have but one citizen (John Keating), who at the outset is helping Dad secure a fisherman (Tom O’Keefe) as hostage. How did they wind up here? Where is here? What happened to the rest of the world, and what are those explosions? Here’s what we know: There’s been a war, plant life is scarce and there may be no women left out there at all. But don’t worry! This is a comedy. The inaugural production of the COOP, of which Nichols is the artistic director, Terra Firma achieves only some of the many things it wants to. Although the hostage speaks in what sounds like a German accent, and a diplomat (T. Ryder Smith) in an Italian one, the play seems curiously uninterested in the role of race and racial difference in the drawing of borders, drafting of constitutions and taking of prisoners. Given the COOP’s stated mission to produce radically inclusive work (and a preshow acknowledgement of elders indige
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 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.