Critics’ picks for theater in New York
Tom and Betsy Salamon’s unique adventure—part interactive theater, part scavenger hunt, part walking tour—draws participants into an amusing web of puzzles and intrigue. You can choose between the three-hour New York tour, which takes participants through various neighborhoods of lower Manhattan, or the two-hour Village tour, which travels through quirky Greenwich Village on Saturdays. Groups of as many as 11 are booked every half hour.
Theater review by Adam FeldmanBroadway musicals often feature heroines trying to find themselves, but perhaps never as literally as in Anastasia. In 1927 Leningrad, the scrappy, strapping Dmitry (Derek Klena) and the worldly, roguish Vlad (John Bolton) devise a scheme to pass off a street sweeper, Anya (Christy Altomare), as the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicholaevna Romanov, rumored to have survived the massacre of the rest of her royal family in the Russian Revolution 10 years earlier. But as the con men school her, My Fair Lady–like, in the ways of nobility—hoping to deceive Anastasia’s grandmother in Paris, the Dowager Empress (an elegant Mary Beth Peil)—it emerges that Anya may be the real Anastasia after all. Who knows? Not Anya: She has amnesia. What former self might be nested like a doll inside her, waiting to be revealed? And might there be other dolls inside that one?As Anastasia piles discovery upon discovery, the happiest surprise is how consistently good the musical turns out to be. Smartly adapted by Terrence McNally from the 1997 animated film and the 1956 Ingrid Bergman movie—with Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens impressively expanding their score from the former—Anastasia is a sweeping adventure, romance and historical epic whose fine craftsmanship will satisfy musical-theater fans beyond the show’s ideal audience of teenage girls. (When I saw it, a second-act kiss was greeted with deafening shrieks of approval.) Director Darko Tresnjak keeps the story swirling
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.
Updated review by Adam Feldman (2018) Ten months into its Broadway run, David Yazbek and Itamar Moses’s Tony-winning musical remains quietly ravishing: It seems to have almost as much silence as music, and it trusts us to fill in the blanks. Sasson Gabay now stars as Tewfiq, the conductor of an Egyptian band stranded in an Israeli desert town—the role he played in the film from which the show is adapted. His performance is bone-dry and bone-deep, and his scenes with the stunning Katrina Lenk retain the delicate balance she had opposite Tony Shalhoub, with a slight shift in emphasis: Gabay has a more somber and paternal presence, which casts his relationship with wayward trumpet player Haled (Ari'el Stachel) into clearer relief. The richness of the writing, the nuances of David Cromer’s production and the continued excellence of the ensemble cast make each return visit a pleasure. Broadway review by Adam Feldman (2017) In a musical that is full of beautiful moments, perhaps the loveliest is the one shared on a plain park bench by Dina (Katrina Lenk), an Israeli café owner, and Tewfiq (Tony Shalhoub), an Egyptian bandleader stranded for the night in her uneventful desert town in 1996. As members of his ceremonial police orchestra play incidental music behind them, Dina asks Tewfiq how it feels to be a conductor. They each raise their arms, inhabiting an imagined experience together, and the music we have been hearing stops; what they feel is realer, and we are invited to im
[Note: Abby Mueller, the sister of original star Jessie Mueller, takes over as King starting August 7.] 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 them. McGrath’s deft, wry book tracks its hero’s tortured fi
Daniel Alexander Jones (Duat) inhabits his longtime alter ego, Jomama Jones—or does she inhabit him?—in a high-concept musical evening that reflects on a shattered mirror of black history. Jomama is a paradigm of R&B-diva grandeur circa 1982, with impeccable posture and elocution that bespeak an old-school black-star dignity. Although the original "Afromystical" songs don’t always rise to the occasion, it’s a pleasure to bask in Jones’s sequined, oracular presence, especially when Jones allows us to see the pain and labor behind the all-but-impervious diva’s self-fashioning.
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.
One of the more unlikely musicals on Broadway this season, Come from Away is the tense but humane story of an airport in Gander, Newfoundland, where 38 planes and more than 6,000 passengers were forced to land on September 11, 2001. The book, music and lyrics are by the Canadian team Irene Sankoff and David Hein. Read the full review.
In this captivating original musical, Hello, Dolly! scene-stealer Taylor Trensch 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.
After a hit run at the York Theatre last year, Peter Kellogg and David Friedman’s rootin’-tootin’-shootin’-prosecutin’-prostitutin’ Wild West musical returns with a second helping of its tasty corn pudding. Very loosely adapted from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure (and written in rhyming dialogue), the show ropes you in with peppy songs and an engaging cast of six sharpshooters: Peter Saide as a strapping lawman, Conor Ryan as a jailed outlaw, Sarah Parnicky as a nun (with a wimple and a dimple), Nick Wyman as a lecherous German villain, Gary Marachek as a boozy priest and Lauren Molina as an ever-game, highly seasoned saloon gal.—Adam Feldman 2017 theater review by Diane Snyder [Note: This review is for the original New York production of Desperate Measures at the York Theatre Company. The show returns for an encore run at New World Stages starting May 30.] It takes true grit to fashion a musical from Shakespeare and set it in the late-19th-century Old West. Inspired by Measure for Measure, the peppy tuner Desperate Measures follows the plight of soon-to-be-nun Susanna (Emma Degerstedt), who can save her brother (Conor Ryan) from the hangman’s noose only by spending a night with the deplorable governor (a deliciously drooling Nick Wyman). To preserve her chastity, the handsome sheriff (Peter Saide) suggests she get saloon gal Bella (Lauren Molina, hilariously bawdy) to switch places with her. After all, Bella’s the reason Johnny got involved in the deadly gunfight
Theater review by Raven Snook How do you make Fiddler on the Roof even more Jewish? Do it in Yiddish! Fans of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s landmark musical about Tevye the Milkman and his shtetl community in early-20th-century Russia will go meshuga for the U.S. premiere of Shraga Friedman’s translation, which ran briefly in Israel in 1965. It’s a mitzvah that the century-old National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene has resurrected this version, which lets the characters speak (and sing) in the expressive guttural tongue they would have used in real life—the language of the Sholem Aleichem stories that inspired the show. English translations are projected for the benefit of those who don’t know Yiddish, and many of the performers aren’t fluent in the language, either (they have learned their lines phonetically, much as opera singers often do). But director Joel Grey—yes, that Joel Grey—has made sure the performers know what they’re feeling, even if they don’t know what they’re saying, and their emotional journeys are so clear you may find yourself abandoning the oddly placed supertitles to luxuriate in the sound of the language and the klezmer-inflected score, played by a lively 12-piece orchestra. Of course, that means you may miss the ways this Yiddish interpretation differs from the original, as when “If I Were a Rich Man” is reimagined as “If I Were a Rothschild,” a reference to a 1902 tale by Aleichem. Steven Skybell, who appeared in the most recent Broadway revival
Self-described “bubble scientist” Fan Yang's blissfully disarming act (now performed in New York by his son Deni, daughter Melody and wife Ana) consists mainly of generating a dazzling succession of bubbles in mind-blowing configurations, filling them with smoke or linking them into long chains. Lasers and flashing colored lights add to the trippy visuals.—David Cote TIME OUT DISCOUNT TICKET OFFER:THE GAZILLION BUBBLE SHOW It will blow you away!!!Tickets as low as $49 (regular price $79) Promotional description: After twenty years as a Master of Bubbles, Fan Yang brought his unique brand of artistry to the Big Apple in 2007 and has since wowed bubble lovers of all ages. The Gazillion Bubble Show truly is a family affair for Fan: His wife Ana, son Deni, daughter Melody and brother Jano all can be found on stage in New York and around the world performing their bubble magic. Audiences are delighted with an unbubblievable experience and washed with a bubble tide; some even find themselves inside a bubble. Mind-blowing bubble magic, spectacular laser lighting effects and momentary soapy masterpieces will make you smile, laugh and feel like a kid again.THREE WAYS TO BUY TICKETS:1. Online: Click here to buy tickets through Telecharge2. By phone: Call 212-947-8844 and mention code: GBTONYF453. In person: Print this offer and bring it to the New World Stages box officePerformance schedule: Friday at 7pm; Saturday at 11am, 2pm and 4:30pm; Sunday at 12pm and 3pm Running time: 1h
Theater review by Adam Feldman 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 (Stephen Bogardus), 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 Sprawl), who is pregnant. Guests include a sinister Bible salesman (David Pittu), a young black boxer on the run (Sydney James Harcourt), a widow (Jeannette Bayardelle) a
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 [NOTE: A new block of tickets for performances through June 9, 2019, goes on sale at 11am on September 27. Join the Virtual Waiting Room between 10:30am and 11am for a crack at the best seats.] 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
Theater review by Adam Feldman To enjoy Head Over Heels, which offers quite a lot to enjoy, it is probably best to kick up your heels and put your head on hold. That’s not to say that this saucy, boisterous musical doesn’t have a brainy side, starting with its ambitious crossbreeding of four time periods: It grafts a 2010s queer sensibility onto songs from the 1980s—by the all-girl pop-punk quintet the Go-Go’s (plus two hits from lead singer Belinda Carlisle’s solo career)—and fits them into a 16th-century story that is set in ancient Greece. The dialogue, in iambic pentameter liberally sprinkled with thou and thee, contrasts amusingly with the unornamented lyrics of such go-to Go-Go’s bops as “Vacation,” “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat.” But at heart the show is a campy romp. Loosely adapted from Sir Philip Sidney’s Elizabethan prose adventure Arcadia, the musical spins a complicated tale of romance, lust, intrigue and cross-dressing. (Its original book, by Avenue Q’s Jeff Whitty, was extensively rewritten by James Magruder.) Stubborn Basilius (Jeremy Kushnier) and his frustrated queen, Gynecia (a smashing Rachel York), rule a kingdom blessed by “the beat,” a divine gift that keeps their realm in a happy groove. Their beautiful but vain daughter Pamela (the big-bodied and big-voiced Bonnie Milligan, in a triumphant Broadway debut) refuses to marry; her overshadowed sister, Philoclea (the affecting Alexandra Socha), is courted by a passionate shepherd, Musidoru
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. Currently, American Idol winner David Cook plays straight man to Wayne Brady's high-heeled 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
Theater review by Adam Feldman The Lifespan of a Fact is billed as “a new play based on a true-ish story,” and there’s a lot of history built into that qualification. In 2003, creative nonfiction writer John D’Agata wrote a quasijournalistic essay about the suicide of a teenage boy in Las Vegas. After Harper’s Magazine passed on it, the piece wound up at The Believer, where in 2005 a fastidious fact-checker named Jim Fingal took objection to numerous literary liberties that D’Agata had taken in the story. The resulting tug-of-war dragged on for years (D’Agata’s piece was finally published in 2010), and the two men reproduced their voluminous correspondence in a 2012 book. Now that book has been adapted, by a team of three writers, into a quick and entertaining play that makes a good case for the value of truth—even as, in telling its own story, it takes generous advantage of dramatic license. Moved to the present, with a highly compressed timeline and an important composite character—a magazine editor played by Cherry Jones with her characteristic focus and measure—The Lifespan of a Fact takes pains to present both sides of its central conflict. For D’Agata (Bobby Cannavale), accuracy can be sacrificed in the interest of “the central truth of the piece” (and in the service of literary effects like sentence rhythm). For the hypermeticulous Fingal (Daniel Radcliffe), a veritable facts machine, any deviation from the strict truth is a violation of journalistic integrity and, b
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.
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 Raven Snook [Note: This review is for The New One's Off Broadway run, which ended in August. The show moves to Broadway for nine weeks starting October 25.]Mike Birbiglia may not be thankful for his eventful medical history—a bladder tumor as a teen! an injury by a drunk driver! a life-threatening sleepwalking disorder!—but his fans certainly are. He's a master at turning his travails into dark comedies that are as unflinchingly honest as they are entertaining. Although he honed his punch-line skills on the comedy circuit, his solo performances aren't just glorified stand-up. Since making his Off Broadway debut ten years ago with Sleepwalk with Me, which he later transformed into a best-selling book and an indie film, he's proved to be a gifted theatrical raconteur who weighs the impact and delivery of every word to uproarious effect.Thanks to his fervent following and the small size of the Cherry Lane Theatre, Birbiglia was able to sell out his latest show in advance, without even revealing its theme. But I'll clue you in: The New One is about his reluctant (and, of course, medically arduous) journey to fatherhood and how it has changed his life. That may sound about as scintillating as potato salad, but Birbiglia isn't some generic straight white guy whining about domesticity. He is raw, self-deprecating and painfully aware of both his privilege and his failings. When he admits to thoughts about romance and parenting that are verboten but common, you can
For 21 years, this proudly old-school series has offered a different lineup of professional magicians every week: opening acts, a headliner and a host, plus two or three close-up magicians to wow the audience at intermission. Housed for the past seven years at the unprepossessing Players Theatre, it is an heir to the vaudeville tradition. Many of the acts incorporate comedic elements, and audience participation is common. (If you have young children, bring them; they make especially adorable assistants.) Shows cost just $37.50 in advance and typically last well over two hours, so you get a lot of value and variety for your magic dollar. In contrast to some fancier magic shows, this one feels like comfort food: an all-you-can eat buffet to which you’re encouraged to return until you’re as stuffed as a hat full of rabbits. For a full schedule, visit the MNM website.
Theater review by Adam Feldman We’ve grown accustomed to the grace of Bartlett Sher’s revivals of American stage classics, but that doesn’t mean we should take them for granted. Working in blessed harmony with his trusty creative team—including set designer Michael Yeargan and costumer Catherine Zuber—Sher is not an iconoclast or radical re-sculptor; instead, he acts as a restorer, leaving the shows on their pedestals but stripping off years of obscuration to reveal layers the works have possessed all along. So it is with the splendid new Lincoln Center Theater revival of My Fair Lady. Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s sparkling 1956 musical doesn’t need much retooling. Its delightful songs—including “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?,” “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “The Rain in Spain”—spring like fresh water from the show’s source, George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 parable Pygmalion. In Edwardian London, a haughty and misogynist professor of phonetics, Henry Higgins (Harry Hadden-Paton), makes a bet with his friend Pickering (Allan Corduner) that he can take lowborn flower girl Eliza Doolittle (Lauren Ambrose) and give her the manners and elocution of a poised aristocrat. Or as he says, with nasty Shavian snap: “I’ll make a duchess of this draggle-tailed guttersnipe!” In the original Broadway production of My Fair Lady, Henry was played by an imperious headliner, Rex Harrison, and Eliza by the then-unknown Julie Andrews. In this one, the star-power dynamics have shifted. The lu
Theater review by Adam Feldman Director Daniel Fish’s bold, spare revival of Oklahoma! gives us the ranch but not the dressing. The musical’s cast of 12 performs in modern clothing, mostly without microphones, with the audience seated on either side of the minimal stage. The house lights are often left up, letting us take in the homespun Western feel of Laura Jellinek’s set: wooden risers, colorful banners, racks of guns on one wall. But sometimes the room goes pitch-black, as when Laurie (a wary, ungirlish Rebecca Naomi Jones) is alone with her would-be suitor, Jud (the lanky Patrick Vaill, tense with incel self-pity), or when Jud’s rival, Curly (Damon Daunno), visits him in his creepy smokehouse. There are pockets of dark menace in the show’s wide-open spaces. The music, smartly orchestrated by Daniel Kluger for a seven-piece band, is not the central focus here, and aside from a riveting solo by Gabrielle Hamilton (in place of the traditional dream ballet), there is not much dance. Some comedy remains—the charming Ali Stoker plays the sexually freewheeling Ado Annie, James Davis and Michael Nathanson are her two beaux, and Mary Testa is the testy Aunt Eller—but even that has an edge of danger. While it looks and sounds very different from your grandfather’s Oklahoma!, however, the production doesn’t fight with the text. Fish’s vision treats Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1943 musical with deep respect, shining a hard light on its underlying issues of justice, violence and the
Theater review by Adam Feldman After seeing the imaginative and dynamic Once on This Island, you may feel that once is not enough. Michael Arden’s immersive revival of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s 1990 musical is staged in the round and constantly on the move, drumming its story forward to a steady throb of pop-Caribbean beats. Framed as a folktale shared among impoverished islanders—Dane Laffrey’s sandy set suggests the aftermath of a natural disaster—the plot follows naive orphan Ti Moune (Hailey Kilgore, in a winsome Broadway debut), who falls for a boy above her station: the rich and light-skinned Daniel (Isaac Powell). Overseeing their quasi-romance, which defies the strict class and color divides of their French Antilles isle, is a quartet of sometimes capricious gods, played by Lea Salonga, Quentin Earl Darrington, the striking Merle Dandridge and the remarkable Alex Newell (in an astonishing drag diva turn). One of Ahrens and Flaherty’s earliest collaborations, Once on This Island is patchy in parts. Its best-known songs, “Waiting for Life” and “Mama Will Provide,” bring down the house, but there are also languors (such as the drippy “The Human Heart”). And the central story of female sacrifice and degradation, which borrows liberally from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” is treated as more inspirational than it actually is. But it is hard to imagine a better account of the show than the one that Arden and his team—including choreographer Camill
Theater review by Diane Snyder For seven Harry Potter novels, the mediocrities of the Hogwarts house Hufflepuff lived in the shadow of their overachieving schoolmates. Matt Cox’s Puffs, or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic gives them their due. In this funny and affectionate homage to J.K. Rowling’s world of wiz kids, Harry, Hermione and Ron take a back seat to average American wizard Wayne (Zac Moon), goth gal Megan (Julie Ann Earls) and math genius Oliver (Langston Belton), who is stuck at a school that doesn’t even teach his subject. They may not be at the top of the class, and they’re not wild about Harry, but they persevere through adversity and find power in friendship. A press release asks that the word parody be avoided in describing Puffs, but much of the show’s comedy is clearly aimed at Potterphiles. The 11 cast members play an assortment of characters, from a mumbling potions master to a squeaky house elf, and some of the jokes will be lost on those with no knowledge of the films or books. But even Potter virgins will enjoy the show’s witty wordplay and well-executed physical comedy. At times, the pacing is so frenetic that jokes can’t find a place to land, but there’s heart as well as humor here. In the past two years, Cox and director Kristin McCarthy Parker have shepherded their silly, subversive show from the People’s Improv Theater to Off Broadway’s New World Stages. Like its main characters, Puffs illustrates the heigh
Horror-drunk storytelling virtuoso Clay McLeod Chapman gave us a good scare last year when he announced that his brilliant and hyperliterary thriller series, the Pumpkin Pie Show, would be ending after 20 years. Happily, he's had a change of heart—and of format. Instead of just having a solo performer, his shows now have a solo audience member: Each 20-minute tale is delivered face-to-face to a single person at a time. For obvious reasons, tickets are extremely scarce, so grab one now if you can.
Theater review by Raven Snook What form will the resistance take 250 years from now? According to Andrew R. Butler's slyly provocative new musical, it will sound a lot like the past. The struggle against oppression may change, but the songs remain the same. For Rags Parkland Sings the Songs of the Future, director Jordan Fein and set designer Laura Jellinek have reconfigured Ars Nova into an immersive, three-quarter-round cabaret for the title troubadour's comeback concert on Earth after a decade of hard labor in a prison colony on Mars. With a shaggy mane of red hair, a nasal twang and a haunted look in his eyes, Rags recounts his life of art, activism and incarceration, eulogizing the synthetic friends he lost along the way—until, suddenly, they're resurrected onstage from his memory, joyfully singing and playing alongside him. Sci-fi folk may sound like an oxymoron, but it's actually a decades-old underground genre called filk. Butler is a master at fusing futuristic concepts like the civil rights of cyborgs with anthems that spark righteous anger and empathy, and he knows his stuff: Folkies will appreciate the Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan influences, while nerds will note the hat tips to Blade Runner (or more precisely, the Philip K. Dick book on which the films are based). Butler has been developing this show for eight years, and that dedication has paid off with a glorious, deeply felt score that moves beyond folk to include R&B and classic rock. His talented costars
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
After a sold-out run last year, Jocylen Bioh's play returns for an encore engagement, with most of its original cast. Joanna A. Jones, Latoya Edwards and Zenzi Williams are the new girls. 2017 theater review by Helen Shaw As a performer, Jocelyn Bioh has perfect and relentless comic timing: While you're struggling to your feet after one joke, she'll cut another actor some side-eye and down you go again, laughing helplessly. Bioh's also a playwright, and her first New York production, School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play, has that same nearly assaultive hilarity. You can hear echoes of Bioh's rhythms—the little tsk-ing noises she made in An Octoroon, her bossy-boots quality from In the Blood—in the dialogue she writes. School Girls is therefore a kind of Bioh bonanza; after several seasons of settling for just one of her, there are suddenly eight. It's a crucial week at Aburi Girls Boarding School. A recruiter for the Miss Ghana 1986 competition is coming to choose that year's lucky contestant, and the school's queen bee, Paulina (MaameYaa Boafo), intimidates friend Ama (Nike Kadri) and the rest of her clique into supporting her; even the headmistress (Myra Lucretia Taylor) assumes that Paulina's the natural choice. Tweedledee and Tweedledum cousins Gifty (Paige Gilbert) and Mercy (Mirirai Sithole) assure Paulina that she looks “fine-fine all the time," and back her blithe nastiness to their friend Nana (Abena Mensah-Bonsu). But the arrival of a sunny American stud
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
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
[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
Theater review by Adam Feldman “I'm no hero, that’s understood,” sings Bruce Springsteen in “Thunder Road,” self-effacingly but also with the knowledge that a cardinal rule of heroism is denying it. He's got the dirty hood, sure, but it’s a hoodwink of a kind, and in the extraordinary concert show Springsteen on Broadway he is candid about that: Rock stardom, he says, is partly “a magic trick.” He's the young man without a driver’s license writing songs about the road; the artist costumed in the “factory clothes” of his emotionally withholding father; the working man who is also always the Boss. For more than four decades, Springsteen has maintained a sturdy performance of authenticity. He writes unforgettable character songs and sings them, essentially, as an actor; between them, he recites eloquently plain-spoken monologues—full of lists that touch on joy and sex and pain—that he writes for the character of Bruce. So Springsteen on Broadway is less of a contradiction in terms than it may seem. Dressed in simple black with no band (though his wife, Patti Scialfa, joins him for two duets), he performs what amounts to a two-hour solo musical about himself, a rock-star cabaret act. The hits are here, including “Born to Run” and “Dancing in the Dark,” but stripped down and edged with wistfulness; “Born in the U.S.A.” is pared into a skeletal, nearly a cappella blues. It’s an intimate show and a generous one, not just to past friends and collaborators but also to the audience,
[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
Theater review by Helen Shaw We never learn the name of the '60s Texas town in William Jackson Harper’s terrific drama Travisville, yet it’s clear that Harper knows the place well. The title refers to a proposed urban development that will destroy a black neighborhood, and Harper depicts the disrupted planning presentation, the deacons’ breakfast meetings and the clashes over protests as though he’d been to each of them, eavesdropping from the next rooms. Harper was one of New York’s best stage performers before he became a TV star on The Good Place, but Travisville is his first work as playwright. It’s no surprise that a fine actor would write fine dialogue, or that he has a precise touch for characterization. What’s most exciting is how well he orchestrates the pressures of event and argument: His whole created world breathes. That world is about to catch on fire. The Civil Rights Act has just been passed, and the age of racist terror should be in the past. But the whites want Travisville, and they don’t want black residents to tell them no. (As someone says: "“Never play with a cracker’s money.”) The mayor (Denny Dale Bess) wants to the town to stay calm, and he’s accustomed to leaning on a local association of black pastors in such moments. But the accommodationist Elder Hearst (a stupendous Brian D. Coats) is dying, and his successor, Minister Fletcher (Bjorn DuPaty), has questions about why concerns about “lawlessness” seem to apply only to black people. A few brave
Theater review by Helen Shaw What happens in Chekhov’s masterpiece Uncle Vanya isn’t as important as what doesn’t happen. The dominant mood is frustration: sometimes the small comic sort, sometimes the tragic kind that builds up in a wasted life. On their shabby country estate, Vanya (Jay O. Sanders) and his niece, Sonya (Yvonne Woods), yearn for passion. Their respective beloveds—Sonya’s glamorous stepmother, Elena (Celeste Arias), and the environmentalist doctor Astrov (Jesse Pennington)—would rather have each other, but even their love story is all fizzle and little fire. Only one man can have what he wants: Sonya’s pompous father, Serebryakov (Jon DeVries), who is Elena’s husband and Vanya’s former brother-in-law. He is the kind of everyday monster who whines about misfortune while simultaneously getting the best of everything. You know the type. Director Richard Nelson, who co-translated the play with Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, stages Vanya as though it’s another in his Apple Family series: an overhead field of microphones that allow actors to murmur their lines, food served and eaten onstage, a homespun set of simple wooden tables and earthenware jugs. Chekhov’s own beliefs about acting emphasized underplaying, simplicity and truth, so Nelson’s intimate aesthetic would seem to accord with his wishes—though Chekhov might have also wanted all his actual characters to make it onstage. To cut the show to its brisk 105-minute running time, this version has
Waitress: Theater review by David Cote [Note: Nicolette Robinson plays the lead role of Jenna through November 18. Today Show weatherman Al Roker joins the cast from October 5 through November 18.]One’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 M
Theater review by Helen Shaw September 27 was a strange day to see What the Constitution Means to Me. Heidi Schreck’s excellent close-to-solo show hasn’t changed much since its short run in Clubbed Thumb’s 2017 Summerworks festival: It is still delightful, still passionate, still data- and detail-rich. Schreck tells us her (true) story of earning college money by winning oratorical contests, which had her traveling around the country delivering a short speech on the Constitution and competing in rapid-fire challenges about its amendments. Standing in Rachel Hauck’s poetic reimagining of an American Legion Hall (Mike Iveson plays a Legionnaire, complete with a little soft hat), Schreck tries to recall what she might have said at 16, when her patriotism was heavily flavored with horniness and a love of witches. Her reconstruction goes “over time” when Schreck relates how the government has and hasn’t protected women, citing statistics and cases as well as her own family’s hellish experiences. The show offers a compelling mix of earnest sweetness and thundering mountaintop fury. As the show began on the 27th, though, the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings were still ringing in the audience’s ears, and Schreck—a fizzy presence—cried through nearly the entire performance. So did I. Yet there is more in Schreck’s piece than a pure appeal to emotion; there’s a deep and rational argument about the purpose of rhetoric, the value of giving a girl a podium. At the end of each of S
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.