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 t
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 is the
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 refer
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 q
[Note: This is a review of the original production at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. The show has now moved to the Barrow Street Theatre. Barrett Foa takes over the role on May 27.] Theater review by Adam Feldman. Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Off Broadway). By Jonathan Tolins. Dir. Stephen Brackett. With Michael Urie. 1hr 30mins. No intermission. Stars are to be wished upon, not touched. This is one of the lessons of Jonathan Tolins’s giddily funny solo play, Buyer & Cellar, which imagines an evolving pas de deux between Barbra Streisand and a gay employee at her California home. As documented in her 2010 book, My Passion for Design, Streisand’s Malibu Barbra dream house includes a basement reproduction of a quaint old mall, where she keeps her collection of decorative Americana. (It includes a doll shop and a clothing boutique stocked with her old costumes, displayed with what the play calls “totalitarian precision.”) In Tolins’s fictional account, a struggling actor named Alex is charged with minding the stores. And when the erstwhile ugly duckling swans downstairs from time to time—to nosh on a frozen yogurt or haggle over the “prices” of items on display—Alex is drawn to her magnetic mix of power, insecurity, entitlement and perpetual dissatisfaction. Happily for us, Alex is played by Michael Urie, a performer of enormous charm and warmth who can also whip out fine dramatic acting when required. Directed by Stephen Brackett, Urie begins with breakneck volubility, hu
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.
Theater review by Raven Snook Blue-collar folk ballads performed live by Steve Earle underscore Coal Country, Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen’s devastating documentary play about the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine explosion that killed 29 workers in rural West Virginia—and ripped an already unstable community apart. On a bare stage, the cast gives voice to seven men and women who lost loved ones in the blast, including two who came close to dying themselves. The play ramps up slowly as they describe their lives before the calamity and share background information about the coal industry; every once in a while, Earle sings a mood-enhancing tune, and he even gets the audience to join in on a union song. Deep divisions of politics, wealth and power underlie the story. But Blank and Jensen, just as they did with former death-row inmates in The Exonerated and Iraqi refugees in Aftermath, compassionately channel true accounts of survival without editorializing, so nothing gets in the way of our empathy. Under Blank’s restrained direction, the performances are gorgeously authentic and underplayed. (Michael Gaston is a standout.) Even though you know what’s coming—the catastrophe was covered extensively in the media—the play’s intensely personal and detailed recollections of the disaster and its aftershocks are deeply affecting. It’s not just that people died that day because of corporate greed. It’s that their way of life is dying, too, and no one is coming to save them. Public Theater
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.
Theater review by Naveen Kumar [Note: This is a review of the 2019 Bedlam production of The Crucible. The production returns for an encore run at the Connelly Theater on March 27, 2020.] There has never been an inopportune moment to stage The Crucible, but with impeachment hearings underway, Arthur Miller’s indictment of miscarried justice seems especially instructive. Bedlam’s characteristically smart, stripped-down production pulses with an electric current and lays bare the play’s bitter truths. It is as gripping and revelatory a Miller production as New York has seen in years, and a bracing reminder of what a real witch hunt looks like. What begins as seemingly absurd paranoia—provincial and insular, funny in the style of Christopher Guest—gradually expands into terrifying life-or-death drama, as in a fun-house nightmare. In 17th-century Salem, rumors of witchcraft spread after a group of girls are caught dancing in the woods at night. John Proctor (Ryan Quinn) sees his life methodically turned inside out when their ringleader, his dismissed servent and onetime dalliance Abigail Williams (a blood-chilling Truett Felt) points her finger at his wife out of jealous vengeance. The quiet restraint of Susannah Millonzi’s breathtaking performance as Elizabeth Proctor cements a shift in tone that endures until the tragedy’s final heartbreak. Bedlam artistic director Eric Tucker, who also plays Reverend Hale, at first frames the story as a kind of wry pageant. The ensemble gather
Theater review by Adam Feldman Earlier this season, in The Thin Space, Lucas Hnath looked at channeling the dead. His latest play, the uncanny and deeply unsettling Dana H., channels the living. Its subject is harrowingly personal. In 1997, when Hnath was in college, his mother, Dana Higgenbotham, was beaten and held captive for five months by a violent criminal and Aryan Brotherhood gang member named Jim. (They had met when, working as a chaplain, she had counseled him after a suicide attempt.) In 2015, Steve Cosson, of the docutheater troupe the Civilians, interviewed her about this ordeal. Their conversations form the basis of Dana H., but instead of editing them into a conventional script, Hnath has kept them in audio form. In the title role, Deirdre O’Connell does not speak a word; for 75 minutes, calmly facing us in an armchair, she lip-syncs to Dana’s actual voice. O’Connell is simply astonishing. Long-form lip-sync is not new—one thinks of Bradford Louryk’s Christine Jorgensen Reveals, Lypsinka’s The Passion of the Crawford, much of the Wooster Group’s oeuvre—but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done quite so unshowily. This is a performance of virtuoso naturalism; the technique is so perfect that it disappears. At many points in the show, I would have believed O’Connell was talking into a body mic, even though Mikhail Fiksel’s sound design makes it clear that we’re listening to an edited recording. (The actor and magician Steve Cuiffo is credited as her lip-sync cons
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 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 stuff
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: 1hr. N
Broadway review by Adam Feldman The wind is everywhere in Conor McPherson’s Girl from the North Country. You can’t see it, but you can hear it, insistently, in the lyrics of the 20 songs by Bob Dylan that McPherson has woven into his adumbral evocation of America in the Great Depression. It’s the heavy wind of the title song, the howling wind of “Hurricane,” the wicked wind of “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power),” the wind of change in “Make You Feel My Love,” the idiot wind in “Idiot Wind.” What the show doesn’t give us is “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and the omission seems deliberate. McPherson gracefully avoids the trap of a greatest-hits survey; only three songs in the score are from Dylan’s cultural heyday in the 1960s, and even the most famous ones have been rearranged, truncated, combined into medleys. The show makes Dylan’s songs as unfamiliar as it can; it freezes them in timelessness. Girl from the North Country takes place in 1934 at a boarding house in Dylan’s hometown of Duluth, Minnesota. Its exhausted proprietor, Nick (Jay O. Sanders), is on the verge of bankruptcy; his wife, Elizabeth (the superb Mare Winningham), has lost her mind, and absorbs her surroundings with the air of a fascinated, headstrong child. They have two children: Gene (Colton Ryan), a truculent would-be writer, and Marianne (Kimber Elayne Sprawl), who is pregnant. Guests include a sinister Bible salesman (Matt McGrath), a young black boxer on the run (Austin Scott), a widow (Jeannette Bayardelle) and
Theater review by Adam Feldman Here’s my advice: Go to hell. And by hell, of course, I mean Hadestown, Anaïs Mitchell’s fizzy, moody, thrilling new Broadway musical. Ostensibly, at least, the show is a modern retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy goes to the land of the dead in hopes of retrieving girl, boy loses girl again. “It’s an old song,” sings our narrator, the messenger god Hermes (André De Shields, a master of arch razzle-dazzle). “And we’re gonna sing it again.” But it’s the newness of Mitchell’s musical account—and Rachel Chavkin’s gracefully dynamic staging—that bring this old story to quivering life. In a New Orleans–style bar, hardened waif Eurydice (Eva Noblezada) falls for Orpheus (Reeve Carney), a busboy with an otherworldly high-tenor voice who is working, like Roger in Rent, toward writing one perfect song. But dreams don’t pay the bills, so the desperate Eurydice—taunted by the Fates in three-part jazz harmony—opts to sell her soul to the underworld overlord Hades (Patrick Page, intoning jaded come-ons in his unique sub-sepulchral growl, like a malevolent Leonard Cohen). Soon she is forced, by contract, into the ranks of the leather-clad grunts of Hades’s filthy factory city; if not actually dead, she is “dead to the world anyway.” This Hades is a drawling capitalist patriarch who keeps his minions loyal by giving them the minimum they need to survive. (“The enemy is poverty,” he sings to them in
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 pamphle
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 shrouded in
[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 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, “Ha
Theater review by Helen Shaw For seven months in 2015 and 2016, the British duo Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson ran a theater in Calais, France, in the makeshift settlement that many called the Jungle. Thousands of refugees waited there to cross the Channel into England, and volunteers like the Joes had shown up to help. They called their performance structure—a pack-and-play geodesic dome—the Good Chance Theatre, because immigrants thought, each night, that they had a “good chance” to get to Dover. The camp was bulldozed in 2016, along with all its chances, but people are still there, sleeping under tarps and bridges. Murphy and Robertson’s The Jungle is based on their time in Calais. If you’re looking for effortless exposition or delicate characterization, this nearly three-hour immersive play won’t afford it. It’s not artful as a piece of drama; rather, it’s a deliberate cacophony of voices. Co-directors Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin insist on roars of disapproval and protest at every turn: A chorus of shouts goes up after almost every declarative statement, and every entrance is taken running. The play wants you to feel, for a moment, what it’s like to live each moment at a crisis point. The Joes write from what they know, so white British volunteers—particularly the idealistic Beth (Rachel Redford) and the overwhelmed Sam (Alex Lawther)—stand at the center of the work, with Sudanese, Afghan and Iraqi immigrants explaining their stories to them. Here are the seemingly i
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 [Note: The role of Seymour is currently played by Gideon Glick. Jeremy Jordan steps into the part for two months on March 17.] 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’
Theater review by Helen Shaw [Note: This is a review of the 2019 production of Lunch Box in Clubbed Thumb's Summerworks Festival. The show now returns for a full production, courtesy of the Play Company, with original cast members Ugo Chukwu, Keilly McQuail, Julia Sirna-Frest and Paco Tolson joined by Tina Chilip, David Greenspan, Mel Krodman and Olivia Phillip.] Hey, here’s a dare! Try seeing Lunch Bunch, Sarah Einspanier’s excellent workplace comedy, when you’re hungry. Its characters are overtaxed public defenders (the script suggests they might be in the Bronx), and their lone joy is a co-op lunch agreement shared by five proud members. In rattling, lickety-split dialogue, the lawyers tell us about the sustainable homemade delicacies—like sesame-encrusted kale chips and jackfruit barbecue—that they bring in to share with fellow Bunchers. (My notes here read: “Buy jackfruit.”) Membership in the Lunch Bunch is jealously guarded, so when rookie cook Nicole (Julia Sirna-Frest) subs in for a vacationing Tal (Eliza Bent), we have the whisper of plot. But there’s little room for a story, because Einspanier has crammed every second with marvelous character studies and syncopated conversations that reveal the topsy-turvy stakes of a life lived in service. Everybody in the office is tightly wound: Jacob (Ugo Chukwu) is one bad salad away from a breakdown, and Tuttle (comic superwoman Keilly McQuail) keeps wondering if her misery means she’s making a difference. Behind its giddy sur
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-hee
Theater review by Adam Feldman Red alert! Red alert! If you’re the kind of person who frets that jukebox musicals are taking over Broadway, prepare to tilt at the windmill that is the gorgeous, gaudy, spectacularly overstuffed Moulin Rouge! The Musical. Directed with opulent showmanship by Alex Timbers, this adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 movie may be costume jewelry, but its shine is dazzling. The place is the legendary Paris nightclub of the title, and the year is ostensibly 1899. Yet the songs—like Catherine Zuber’s eye-popping costumes—span some 150 years of styles. Moulin Rouge! begins with a generous slathering of “Lady Marmalade,” belted to the skies by four women in sexy black lingerie, long velvet gloves and feathered headdresses. Soon they yield the stage to the beautiful courtesan Satine (a sublimely troubled Karen Olivo), who makes her grand entrance descending from the ceiling on a swing, singing “Diamonds Are Forever.” She is the Moulin Rouge’s principal songbird, and Derek McLane’s sumptuous gold-and-red set looms around her like a gilded cage. After falling in with a bohemian crowd, Christian (the boyish Aaron Tveit), a budding songwriter from small-town Ohio, wanders into the Moulin Rouge like Orpheus in the demimonde, his cheeks as rosy with innocence as the showgirls’ are blushed with maquillage. As cruel fate would have it, he instantly falls in love with Satine, and she with him—but she has been promised, alas, to the wicked Duke of Monroth (Tam Mutu)
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 goo
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 m
Theater review by Naveen Kumar The title of 72 Miles to Go… measures the distance between a mother who’s been deported to Mexico and the family forging ahead without her on this side of the border. Set in Tucson, Arizona, between 2008 and 2016, Hilary Bettis’s topical new play dramatizes a heartbreaking predicament more often reduced to headlines and politicized in Washington debates. A frequent writer for television, Bettis uses sitcom conventions to humanize the plight of undocumented immigrants and their loved ones, couching an urgent and eye-opening endeavor in a form optimized for familiarity. The action begins with a Unitarian pastor (Triney Sandoval) delivering a final sermon to the congregation he has served for 30 years. He cracks a couple of dad jokes before ripping up his prepared remarks to speak from the heart. He talks about seeing his wife for the first time and about sitting down to dinner with his kids; why don’t we realize, he asks, “how profound and beautiful and sacred these everyday moments are until they’re gone?” The play rewinds to the summer of 2008—time stamps are projected before each scene—to show us just such a moment between a father and his kids: a first day of school. The youngest (Tyler Alvarez) is an incoming freshman; his older sister (Jacqueline Guillén) is a senior. Their adult, undocumented half-brother (Bobby Moreno) lives with them too; their mom (Maria Elena Ramirez) scolds them, via speakerphone, to eat and dress properly. Time fast
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 t
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 Morr
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 face
Theater review by Adam Feldman The defense never rests in Aaron Sorkin’s cagey adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. That the play exists at all is an act of boldness: Turning Harper Lee’s 1960 novel into a play in 2018 is no easy task. The hero of the story, as every schoolchild knows, is Atticus Finch (Jeff Daniels), a lawyer in rural Alabama in the early 1930s, who bravely defends a disabled black man, Tom Robinson (Gbenga Akinnagbe), against a false accusation of rape. Slow to anger and reluctant to judge—“You never really understand a person,” he says, “until you climb into his skin and walk around in it”—Atticus is a paragon of that most fabled of American values: decency. But while To Kill a Mockingbird has a special place in the literature of American civil rights, the book is also now a minefield. As seen through the eyes of his preteen tomboy daughter, Scout (Celia Keenan-Bolger), Atticus is very much a white-daddy savior, albeit one who can’t perform miracles, in a narrative that has little room for the perspectives of black people beyond the respect and gratitude they show him. At its center is a story about a young woman—Tom’s accuser, Mayella (Erin Wilhelmi)—whose allegations of sexual assault must not be believed. Even more problematic, to some modern ears, is the scope of Atticus’s magnanimity. It is not just the black skins that he urges his children to walk around in; it is also the skins of the white farmers who try to lynch Tom Robinson before his trial. A
Theater review by Raven Snook How do you solve a problem like Molly Brown? Meredith Willson’s 1960 follow-up to his hit The Music Man was a successful Broadway musical and the inspiration for a splashy 1964 movie with Debbie Reynolds. But this tale of real-life socialite, social activist and Titanic survivor Margaret Brown has never been revived in New York City (not even by Encores!) because of Richard Morris’s book, which flattened the title character into a plucky but lovesick woman-child. Enter Dick Scanlan with a lifeboat. Having already salvaged another Morris property, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Scanlan has now spent years rewriting The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Only three lines of Morris’s dialogue remain; characters have been invented or cut, lyrics have been changed, and songs from elsewhere in Willson’s catalog have been added. The result is a thoroughly modern Molly: a feminist-forward revisal that, though not always a pleasure cruise, is a welcome improvement on the original. The narrative still hangs on the volatile love story between Molly (a smashing Beth Malone) and her husband, JJ (stalwart baritone David Aron Damane), who strikes it rich in mining in late-19th-century Colorado. But Scanlan gives the couple a more colorful courtship and community; he also nods to many of Molly’s impressive accomplishments, which include running for political office before women had the right to vote. Directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall for the Transport Group, this
Broadway review by Adam Feldman There’s a rumble at the start of the new revival of West Side Story—not a fight, but a vibration: the low, faint, ominous sound of something coming. As in the musical’s most recent Broadway production in 2009, actors playing gang members file onstage and stare out at the audience, daring us to ignore them. This time, however, the menace is magnified; they are dressed in modern street clothes, and close-ups of their hard faces and neck tattoos (“JET FOR LIFE”) tower behind them on a 30-feet-tall LED screen at the back of the otherwise empty stage. Like much of Ivo van Hove’s bold, often thrilling production, this opening sequence is big and small at once. Throughout the show, live scenes coexist or alternate with filmed ones, including many that occur offstage entirely; detail is blown up into spectacle, and spectacle is subsumed into detail. Van Hove’s West Side Story functions very differently from any we have seen before. If the result is sometimes murky, it is also frequently revelatory—a major accomplishment in a show whose status as a classic threatens to freeze it in time and relevance. Indeed, this revival of West Side Story tacitly assumes you know the story already—much as Arthur Laurents, who wrote it in 1957, probably assumed his audience was familiar with its source material, Romeo and Juliet. Tony (Isaac Powell) is an emeritus member of the Jets, a New York gang led by his best friend, Riff (Dharon E. Jones). Though of different na
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.
Theater review by Raven Snook Appropriately billed as "a ghost play in a pub," Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s horror novel The Woman in Black pairs shots with hair-raising shocks. Presented as a play within a play, it begins with a haunted old man named Arthur Kipps (David Acton) imploring an actor (Ben Porter) to help him tell his terrifying real-life tale as an act of purgation. So Porter becomes a young Kipps and reenacts a gothic story of woe, set in a secluded house by the sea in early-20th-century England. Even if you’re unfamiliar with any other version of The Woman in Black—it has also inspired a TV movie, a radio play and a film starring Daniel Radcliffe—you won't need extrasensory powers to predict where it’s going next. It’s about the mood, not the mystery. Mallaratt’s play was initially mounted in a small-town pub before transferring to London, where it’s been running since 1989. This production in the McKittrick Hotel’s Club Car space, helmed by original director Robin Herford and performed by alums of the West End version, returns the play to its low-tech roots. There are moments of spellbinding stage magic, conjured by Porter and Acton’s dedicated performances, Sebastian Frost’s chilling sound design and Anshuman Bhatia’s clever lighting. But unlike other theatrical ghost stories, such as those of Conor McPherson, The Woman in Black doesn’t cut deep. It winds you up—albeit much too slowly—until you're primed to scream-laugh your head off at a