Critics picks for Broadway in New York
Performer-writer-philosopher Geoff Sobelle's wistful, silly ode to stuff, directed by David Neumann, is a magic act in which your soul is the rabbit and the show is the hat. More than two years after its incandescent production at BAM, it returns for an encore at NYTW; it's a piece that you feel you might need to see every year, as a touchstone. Read the full review.
Lucas Hedges, who earned raves for his performance as Casey Affleck's nephew in Manchester by the Sea, makes his New York stage debut in Anna Jordan's dark play, in which an animal-loving neighbor disrupts the squalid existence of teenage boys who have been all but abandoned by their mother. Trip Cullman directs the local premiere. Read the full review.
Though Wallace Shawn may be best known for his adorable persona as a character actor, he is cherished by theater fans as the author of such smart, dark and menacing plays as The Designated Mourner and Aunt Dan and Lemon. In his latest, Matthew Broderick stars as a playwright; the supporting cast includes married couple Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker, Larry Pine, Claudia Shear, John Epperson and Shawn himself, directed by Scott Elliott for his New Group. Read the full review.
As Steven Levenson's Dear Evan Hansen burns up the box office on Broadway, Roundabout mounts his new nonmusical drama, in which a Jewish family argues about its history and its future at the turn of the 21st century. The expert Daniel Sullivan (Good People) directs a promising ensemble cast that comprises Larry Bryggman, Maria Dizzia, Tasha Lawrence, Jeremy Shamos, Seth Steinberg, Kate Walsh and Gary Wilmes. Read the full review.
If you like a wee dram o' whiskey to go with your wintry chills, make a beeline for National Theatre of Scotland's immersive, satirical fairy tale about literary theorists caught up in supernatural mysteries. David Greig's script is in rhyming couplets and five versatile performer-musicians have been inventively staged by Wils Wilson throughout a cozy pub in the McKittrick Hotel. Read the full review.
Master parodist Gerard Alessandrini (Forbidden Broadway) lovingly skewers Broadway's greatest hit. His admiration for Lin-Manuel Miranda is obvious, but he can still poke fun at the Hamilton juggernaut, while taking shots at Cats and The Book of Mormon along the way. His cast is phenomenal; maybe we'll see them in Hamilton someday. Read the full review
The venerable experimentalists of the Wooster Group share a piece based on the 1979 film Town Bloody Hall, which documents a fiery panel discussion on feminism in which Norman Mailer butted heads with Germaine Greer and three other women. Elizabeth LeCompte directs a cast that includes Maura Tierney along with Wooster regulars Kate Valk, Scott Shepherd and Ari Fliakos. Read the full review.
School of Rock: Theater review by David CoteEver see the pitch-perfect 2003 Jack Black comedy School of Rock? Then you know what to expect from the musical version: fake substitute teacher Dewey Finn frenetically inspiring his charges to release their inner Jimi Hendrix; uptight preppy tweens learning classic riffs; and the band’s pivotal, make-or-break gig, with their overbearing parents watching in horror. We expect cute kids in uniform, a spastic Dewey and face-melting riffs—along with heart-tugging family stuff. It worked for the movie, and wow, does it work on Broadway, a double jolt of adrenaline and sugar to inspire the most helicoptered of tots to play hooky and go shred an ax. For those about to love School of Rock: We salute you. What a relief to see that an unlikely creative team—Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, veteran composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Glenn Slater (Leap of Faith)—successfully execute such a smart transfer of film to stage. This is one tight, well-built show: underscoring the emotional arcs (Dewey as both surrogate kid and parent; the students’ yearning to be heard); gently juicing the romantic subplot between Dewey and buttoned-up school principal Rosalie Mullins (sweetly starchy Sierra Boggess); and knowing when to get out of the way and let the kids jam. School of Rock has absorbed the diverse lessons of Rent, Spring Awakening and Matilda and passes them on to a new generation.You’d have to have zero sense of humor about pop to no
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
Cagney: Theater review by Raven Snook [Note: This is a review of the production of Cagney that opened at the York Theatre in 2015. The production moves to an open-ended engagement at the Westside Theatre on March 16, 2016, with the same cast.] Biomusicals are tricky. Boiling all the ups and downs of a celebrity’s life into a couple of tuneful hours is tough, but the biggest challenge is finding a performer who can convincingly channel the star. One glance at Robert Creighton, and you understand why this veteran Broadway character actor spent years bringing regional hit Cagney to the York Theatre Company. A compact, quadruple-threat spitfire (he cowrote the songs), Creighton smartly avoids impersonation and lets some of his own personality shine through in his take on James Cagney, the versatile Golden Age of Hollywood icon who was often pigeonholed as a gangster. Yes, Peter Colley’s book is predictable and takes liberties, and Creighton and McGovern’s old-fashioned numbers aren’t as catchy as the George M. Cohan standards used in the rousing USO medley. But the crackerjack six-person cast nails choreographer Joshua Bergasse’s exhilarating tap routines while committing to the emotional core of the story. That makes Cagney a York doodle dandy.—Raven Snook York Theatre Company (Off Broadway). Book by Peter Colley. Music and lyrics by Robert Creighton and Christopher McGovern. Directed by Bill Castellino. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 25mins. One intermission. Throu
[Note: The review below is for the version of The Imbible at the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival. A revised version now plays at New World Stages.] Remember Bill Nye the Science Guy? Great! Now imagine him as a bartender who is deeply interested in the history of ethanol alcohol, really likes wigs and costumes, and just joined a coed barbershop quartet. That description of Anthony Caporale’s The Imbible: A Spirited History of Drinking may sound far-out, but the show is both educational and entertaining. (It's also a fine showcase for a cappella classics arranged by Josh Ehrlich and performed by a gifted ensemble that includes the show's director, soprano Nicole DiMattei.) Mixing whimsy and information, Caporale makes the story of our relationship with alcohol remarkably compelling. And the show's lessons—on subjects like the drinks served at Prohibition-era speakeasies, the origin of the gin and tonic, and the difference between a cocktail and a mixed drink—can be washed down with complimentary, thematically appropriate beverages. As Caporale says, “Trust me, I get funnier with every sip.” That makes the show a must-see for anyone who enjoys free booze, which is probably nearly everyone.
Beautiful—The Carole King Musical shares several virtues with its titular singer-songwriter, among them humility, earnestness and dedication to craft. If Douglas McGrath’s book never achieves the dramatic grit or comic zip of Jersey Boys, at least director Marc Bruni’s production avoids being a brain-dead, self-satisfied hit parade à la Berry Gordy’s Motown. Still, it does seem that stretches of Broadway’s newest jukebox musical consist of situations such as this: “Carole, you’ve got to write us a hit!” “I’ve written something.” “It’s a hit!” Yes, Beautiful loves its diligent, long-suffering pop genius, and invites you to do the same. It’s quite an easy task when you have the phenomenal Jessie Mueller in the lead. The effortlessly appealing star cut her teeth on Broadway flops (the mis-reconceived On a Clear Day You Can See Forever) and in supporting parts (The Mystery of Edwin Drood). Now she’s ready to carry a show. As Brooklyn-raised King, who started churning out teenybopper tunes at 1650 Broadway in the late ’50s, Mueller exudes warmth and common sense, playing up King’s old-fashioned modesty and insecurity without becoming a doormat or cipher. And when she wraps her rich, burnished voice around those hits—“So Far Away,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “It’s Too Late”—they feel as fresh as the day King penned them. McGrath’s deft, wry book tracks its hero’s tortured first marriage to lyricist-partner Gerry Goffin (Jake Epstein) and their friendly rivalry with anothe
Theater review by Adam Feldman. The Al Hirschfeld Theatre (Broadway). Book by Harvey Fierstein. Music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. Dir. Jerry Mitchell. With Stark Sands, Billy Porter, Annaleigh Ashford. 2hrs 20mins. One intermission. [Note: The cast of Kinky Boots has changed since this review was first published. Todrick Hall is now playing the role of Lola.] The kicky crowd-pleaser Kinky Boots is the very model of a modern major musical. Adapted from a 2005 English indie film, Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper’s fizzy pop tuner tells of Charlie (the capable Sands) and his Northampton footwear factory, Price & Son—a family business in danger of closing down. Hope arrives in the unlikely form of Lola (Porter), a self-possessed drag queen with ideas for a niche product line: knee-high, skin-tight, stiletto-heeled sheaths of ostentatious color, strong enough for a man who’s made up like a woman. (Gay style and consumer dollars to the rescue! The shoe must go on!) Directed with verve by Jerry Mitchell, Kinky Boots feels familiar at every step, down to its messages about individuality, community, pride and acceptance; it could have been cobbled together from parts of The Full Monty, Billy Elliot and Fierstein’s La Cage aux Folles, and it culminates in a feel-good finale so similar to Hairspray’s (which Mitchell choreographed) that it might as well be called “You Can’t Stop the Boot.” Yet the musical holds up for the same reason Price & Son’s products do: solid craftsmanship and
[Note: Since this review was written, Then She Fell has moved and reopened; it now plays on three floors of a church building in Williamsburg.] 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-wa
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.—Adam Feldman Running time: 2hrs 40mins. One intermission.
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
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 many years, the sassy and clever puppet musical doesn’t show its age. Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s deft Sesame Street–esque novelty tunes about porn and racism still earn their laughs. Avenue Q remains a sly and winning piece of metamusical tomfoolery. Running time: 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.
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. Currently, the cast features Rachel Tucker as Elphaba and Carrie St. Louis as Galinda.
Self-described “bubble scientist” Fan Yang's blissfully disarming act (now performed by his son, Deni) consists mainly of generating a dazzling succession of bubbles in mind-blowing configurations, filling them with smoke or linking them into long chains. Lasers and flashing colored lights add to the trippy visuals.—David Cote Running time: 1hr 20mins. No intermission.
All but one of August Wilson's Century Cycle history plays have been on Broadway—until now. Manhattan Theatre Club presents a revival of Wilson's 1970s-set drama about drivers of unlicensed cabs in Pittsburgh. The cast includes John Douglas Thompson, Michael Potts and André Holland. Ruben Santiago-Hudson directs. Read the full review.
Dave Malloy's dazzlingly eclectic rock-pop musical, adapted from a portion of Tolstoy's War and Peace, conveys its story of high-society Muscovites in stirring and surprising ways. Directed by Rachel Chavkin, this Broadway transfer of the 2012 Off Broadway hit stars global-sensation singer Josh Groban and newcomer Denée Benton. Read the full review.
Jake Gyllenhaal, who revealed surprising musical-theater chops in Little Shop of Horrors in 2015, stars opposite Broadway It girl Annaleigh Ashford (Kinky Boots) in a revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Pulitzer Prize–winning 1984 musical. It's a gorgeous portrait (in two halves) of artistic ambition and compromise. Read the full review.
Dear Evan Hansen: Theater review by Adam Feldman “I wish that everything was different,” writes Evan Hansen (Ben Platt). “I wish that I was a part of…something. I wish that anything I said…mattered, to anyone.” It’s a letter to himself, because he has no one else to write to; cripplingly shy, he is all but invisible at high school. But his wish comes true via a tragic twist: A troubled, rageful misfit named Connor (Mike Faist)—the brother of Evan’s crush, Zoe (Laura Dreyfuss, delicately sad)—kills himself after stealing the letter; his grieving parents (Jennifer Laura Thompson and John Dossett) mistake it for a letter that Connor had written to Evan. He doesn’t correct them, and things snowball from there: A speech that Evan gives about his supposed secret friendship with the dead boy goes viral online, and he is suddenly in the middle of a national movement of sympathy. He becomes popular—or at least important—over Connor’s dead body. This may sound like a young-adult novel, but the captivating original musical Dear Evan Hansen treats its story with decidedly adult sensitivity and intelligence. The score, by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, combines insightful, well-crafted lyrics with an exciting contemporary-pop sound, and Steven Levenson’s book gives all the characters shaded motives, including Evan’s fellow students (Will Roland and Kristolyn Lloyd) and his overworked, guilt-ridden single mother (the superb Rachel Bay Jones). A close cousin to Next to Normal—which Michae
Waitress: Theater review by David CoteOne’s sorely tempted to praise the delightful new musical Waitress using lots of bakery metaphors. After all, its hero is a pastry genius with relationship woes named Jenna (Jessie Mueller). She’s a perky Southern gal who can confect a mouthwatering Mermaid Marshmallow Pie but can’t measure the right ingredients for happiness. So, unable to resist, here I go: Fresh and delicious, Waitress has an excellent ratio of sweet to tart; supporting characters who provide crustiness (Dakin Matthews’s grumbly store owner) and flakiness (Christopher Fitzgerald’s loony admirer of another waitress); and cooked-to-perfection staging by Diane Paulus. The whole dish is—please forgive me—love at first bite.Based on the 2007 indie film by the late writer-director Adrienne Shelly, Waitress has been whipped (I’ll stop now) into an expertly constructed and emotionally satisfying tale of self-liberation in the face of limited options. Jessie Nelson’s broadly comic yet brooding book meshes wonderfully with a frisky, bright score by pop star Sara Bareilles, a seasoned songwriter who lets the Beatles and other Britpop influences shine through. Bareilles’s custom-built earworms address workplace pluck (“Opening Up”), first-date jitters (“When He Sees Me”), quirky, obsessive love (“Never Ever Getting Rid of Me”) and an eleventh-hour ballad of loss and regret (“She Used to Be Mine”), which will rip your heart out.That’s a nasty sounding operation, but you couldn’t fi