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. Groups of as many as 11 are booked every half hour.
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
[Note: Chilina Kennedy, who replaced Jessie Mueller as King in 2015 and has played the role for most of the run, returns to the production starting January 3, 2019.] Beautiful—The Carole King Musical shares several virtues with its titular singer-songwriter, among them humility, earnestness and dedication to craft. If Douglas McGrath’s book never achieves the dramatic grit or comic zip of Jersey Boys, at least director Marc Bruni’s production avoids being a brain-dead, self-satisfied hit parade à la Berry Gordy’s Motown. Still, it does seem that stretches of Broadway’s newest jukebox musical consist of situations such as this: “Carole, you’ve got to write us a hit!” “I’ve written something.” “It’s a hit!” Yes, Beautiful loves its diligent, long-suffering pop genius, and invites you to do the same. It’s quite an easy task when you have the phenomenal Jessie Mueller in the lead. The effortlessly appealing star cut her teeth on Broadway flops (the mis-reconceived On a Clear Day You Can See Forever) and in supporting parts (The Mystery of Edwin Drood). Now she’s ready to carry a show. As Brooklyn-raised King, who started churning out teenybopper tunes at 1650 Broadway in the late ’50s, Mueller exudes warmth and common sense, playing up King’s old-fashioned modesty and insecurity without becoming a doormat or cipher. And when she wraps her rich, burnished voice around those hits—“So Far Away,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “It’s Too Late”—they feel as fresh as the day King penned
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.
Review by Raven Snook Lewis Carroll's trippy Alice in Wonderland books have inspired many a theatrical spectacle, but Company XIV's seductive Queen of Hearts is a singular sexcess: a transporting fusion of haute burlesque, circus, dance and song. Your fall down the glamorous rabbit hole begins upon entering the troupe's louche Bushwick lair, where scantily clad server-performers slink about in flattering red lighting. A cursory knowledge of the source material will help you make sense of the show’s three-act cavalcade of Alice-inspired routines, as our blue-haired heroine (sweet-voiced siren Lexxe) embarks on an NC-17 coming-of-age journey under the guidance of the White Rabbit (Michael Cunio, strutting confidently in heels and screeching like a hair-metal star). As usual, Company XIV’s impressive impresario, Austin McCormick, has assembled an array of alluring and highly skilled artists, who look smashing in Zane Pihlstrom's lace-and-crystal-encrusted costumes. Standouts include contortionist Lilin Lace, who emerges in an S/M-vinyl cocoon and transforms into a beauteous butterfly; mustachioed twins Nicholas and Ross Katen as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, performing a cheeky spin on the Marx Brothers' mirror trick; ballet dancers Jourdan Epstein and Ryan Redmond doing a doozy of a pas de deux as the Cheshire Cats; and acrobat-chanteuse Marcy Richardson as the Mad Hatter, who turns modern-day hits into politically charged popera, often while literally swinging from the chandelie
In this captivating original musical, actual teenager Andrew Barth Feldman now plays the title role of a high school student thrust into social relevance after a classmate's suicide. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's score combines well-crafted lyrics with an exciting pop sound, and Steven Levenson’s book gives all the characters shaded motives. Read the full review.
Broadway review by Adam Feldman The British mentalist Derren Brown is up to his old tricks in Secret, and very fine tricks they are. Not for nothing has Brown become a celebrity in his native England: He is a first-class stage magician, and in his Broadway debut he commands our fascination for nearly two and a half hours. Deploying a mixture of techniques (cold reading, subtle psychological manipulation, even mass mesmerism), he repeatedly gets members of the audience to seem to do his bidding. But although much of his act looks like mind reading, he renounces any claim to psychic ability—cannily disarming us of our skepticism, the better to catch us off guard. With help from directors Andy Nyman and Andrew O’Connor, he misdirects us in plain sight. The secret of Secret’s success lies not in the big-reveal tentpoles of the act (which are highly skillful variations on standard mentalist routines) but in the partly improvised patter that cloaks them in genuine risk and spontaneity. When things don’t go perfectly smoothly—when the good-natured and self-assured Brown bobbles a prediction or two—the hitches only add to the tension and impressiveness of what he is doing, as when a juggler’s dropped ball reminds you how many are still in the air. The show leaves you in a state of joyful bafflement. Can you believe it? You don’t have to, and that’s the fun. It’s a con game, and Brown is a consummate pro. Cort Theatre (Broadway). By Andy Nyman, Derren Brown and Andrew O’Connor. Di
Theater review by Diane Snyder As potent as a shot of whiskey, Conor McPherson’s Dublin Carol forces a man nearly ruined by alcohol to face his ghosts on Christmas Eve. Fiftysomething Irish undertaker John Plunkett (Jeffrey Bean) gets a visit from Mary (Sarah Street)—the adult daughter he hasn’t seen in a decade—because his long-abandoned wife is dying and wants to see him. For many years, John’s method of survival has been to avoid his painful past and the damage he’s caused, but that’s no longer an option. On this day of reckoning, John drinks, makes excuses, revisits his past and wrestles with his guilt. Bean’s exquisite portrayal of this bruised and haunted man delves deeply into his restless psyche. Self-loathing but also self-indulgent, John struggles to hold himself together, and he has an easier time relating to a young colleague (Cillian Hegarty), whose uncle saved him from destitution, than to his own daughter. When Mary expresses his love for him, he replies, “Why do you love me?” First staged Off Broadway in 2003, Dublin Carol maintains its quietly powerful impact. Director Ciarán O’Reilly and his expert cast bring out the sadness, regret and hope that define these characters, as well as the simple eloquence of McPherson’s words. The playwright, whose Bob Dylan musical Girl from the North Country will be on Broadway later this season, isn’t one for earth-shattering revelations. Can John finally take responsibility for his failings and, like Scrooge, emerge a
The Australian neocirque company Circa graces the White Light Festival with a piece that blends acrobatics, circus, physical theater and dance. Yaron Lifschitz directs the production, which is performed to music by the young Swedish electronic experimentalist Klara Lewis as well as to classic works by Franz Schubert and Igor Stravinsky.
Theater review by Raven Snook The Great White Way has changed a lot over the past four decades, but Forbidden Broadway is still much the same. That’s both a comfort and a limitation. In Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation, the first new edition since 2014 of his (mostly) affectionate satirical revue, musical parodist Gerard Alessandrini takes fresh aim at Broadway’s newcomers. But like Scott Rudin last season, he ends up with as many misses as hits. If that last reference confounds you, Forbidden Broadway may not be up your Shubert Alley: Much of its humor assumes a more-than-working knowledge of theater culture on Broadway and slightly beyond. Lampoons of Fosse/Verdon and Renée Zellweger in Judy are highlights of the evening, thanks to series vet Jenny Lee Stern, who convincingly conjures those divas along with Julie Andrews (in a clever spoof that transforms Mary Poppins Returns’s “The Place Where Lost Things Go” into a memorial for flop shows). An uproarious Oklahoma! medley pokes fun at woke cowpokes, and a zany bit about The Ferryman finds the comedy in Irish drama. Alessandrini’s mordant wit is less in evidence as he struggles to find what’s funny about some other shows; his takes on Tootsie, The Prom and Harry Potter miss the mark widely. And while Stern and the sparkling Aline Mayagoitia are crack impressionists who can sell the slighter material, the male performers (Immanuel Houston, Chris Collins-Pisano and child actor Joshua Turchin) are stronger as singer
Broadway review by Adam Feldman Freestyle Love Supreme is a dream of a show: the scheme of a team of thespians from Wesleyan who went with their flow, 16 years ago, to improvise a hip-hop musical. Their act is virtuoso. FLS is a phenomenon, uncommon and on-the-fly—a high wire where performers get by without a guide for the words that pour out from their lips and their lungs (as they try not to trip on the tips of their tongues). Their abilities, their skill and ease, are always impressive, but it’s less of a show-off than a love-in with a geek streak. There’s a reason FLS is so buzzy: It’s not just cool, it’s also warm and fuzzy. In the show’s new incarnation, at a venue on Shubert Alley, the emcee of emcees is Anthony “Two-Touch” Veneziale. He genially handles all the crowd participation, gleaning vital information that will fuel improvisation. The roster of performers varies, but a core group carries much of the weight: Utkarsh Ambudkar is a brash and quick star; beatboxer Chris Sullivan fulfills his mission with precision, as does pianist Arthur Lewis, while the group’s newest addition, Aneesa Folds, is a singer and a smarty who brings welcome fresh eggs to what had been a sausage party. Special guests each night keep it light and tight as they join Veneziale at the monster-track rally. When I was there, the spare chair was filled by FLS cofounding father Lin-Manuel Miranda—cuddly-cute as a panda, and just the man to land a toss-off joke and lend his hand to his band o
Self-described “bubble scientist” Fan Yang's blissfully disarming act (now performed in New York by his son Deni, daughter Melody and wife Ana) consists mainly of generating a dazzling succession of bubbles in mind-blowing configurations, filling them with smoke or linking them into long chains. Lasers and flashing colored lights add to the trippy visuals.—David Cote TIME OUT DISCOUNT TICKET OFFER:THE GAZILLION BUBBLE SHOW It will blow you away!!!Tickets as low as $49 (regular price $79) Promotional description: After twenty years as a Master of Bubbles, Fan Yang brought his unique brand of artistry to the Big Apple in 2007 and has since wowed bubble lovers of all ages. The Gazillion Bubble Show truly is a family affair for Fan: His wife Ana, son Deni, daughter Melody and brother Jano all can be found on stage in New York and around the world performing their bubble magic. Audiences are delighted with an unbubblievable experience and washed with a bubble tide; some even find themselves inside a bubble. Mind-blowing bubble magic, spectacular laser lighting effects and momentary soapy masterpieces will make you smile, laugh and feel like a kid again.THREE WAYS TO BUY TICKETS:1. Online: Click here to buy tickets through Telecharge2. By phone: Call 212-947-8844 and mention code: GBTONYF453. In person: Print this offer and bring it to the New World Stages box officePerformance schedule: Friday at 7pm; Saturday at 11am, 2pm and 4:30pm; Sunday at 12pm and 3pm Running time: 1h
Theater review by Raven Snook Georgia Mertching Is Dead, Catya McMullen's raucous celebration of chosen family, feels so much like an indie film, it's no surprise that it's already been optioned. Three boisterous BFFs—unemployed optimist Whitney (the endearing Layla Khoshnoudi), nympho novelist Emma (a raw Claire Siebers) and gleefully foul-mouthed Gretchen (scene stealer Diana Oh), who looks about 12 months pregnant—discover that their mentor in sobriety has committed suicide. To pay their respects, they embark on a road trip from New York City to small-town North Carolina, bonding, bickering and growing along the way. The play may not break much narrative ground, but it breaks your heart with a piercing exploration of the ways in which loss, trauma and love—romantic, platonic, familial—shape our lives. It's also morbidly hilarious, as these just-past-30 ladies talk candidly about addiction, fisting, hemorrhoids, childbirth and all their dead peers. Skillfully staged by Giovanna Sardelli on Alexis Distler's mutable set, the show careers through a lot of emotional territory, and sometimes bumps into cliché. (Gretchen's swollen belly is akin to Chekhov's gun.) And the two male characters—Emma's broster ex (Quincy Dunn-Baker) and Gretchen's well-meaning husband (JD Taylor)—are mainly there to advance the women's stories. But that's part of what makes Georgia Mertching Is Dead so intoxicating. No man will ever satisfy these friends the way they do each other. They are the lo
Theater review by Adam Feldman Here’s my advice: Go to hell. And by hell, of course, I mean Hadestown, Anaïs Mitchell’s fizzy, moody, thrilling new Broadway musical. Ostensibly, at least, the show is a modern retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy goes to the land of the dead in hopes of retrieving girl, boy loses girl again. “It’s an old song,” sings our narrator, the messenger god Hermes (André De Shields, a master of arch razzle-dazzle). “And we’re gonna sing it again.” But it’s the newness of Mitchell’s musical account—and Rachel Chavkin’s gracefully dynamic staging—that bring this old story to quivering life. In a New Orleans–style bar, hardened waif Eurydice (Eva Noblezada) falls for Orpheus (Reeve Carney), a busboy with an otherworldly high-tenor voice who is working, like Roger in Rent, toward writing one perfect song. But dreams don’t pay the bills, so the desperate Eurydice—taunted by the Fates in three-part jazz harmony—opts to sell her soul to the underworld overlord Hades (Patrick Page, intoning jaded come-ons in his unique sub-sepulchral growl, like a malevolent Leonard Cohen). Soon she is forced, by contract, into the ranks of the leather-clad grunts of Hades’s filthy factory city; if not actually dead, she is “dead to the world anyway.” This Hades is a drawling capitalist patriarch who keeps his minions loyal by giving them the minimum they need to survive. (“The enemy is poverty,” he sings to them i
Hamilton: Theater review by David Cote What is left to say? After Founding Father Alexander Hamilton’s prodigious quill scratched out 12 volumes of nation-building fiscal and military policy; after Lin-Manuel Miranda turned that titanic achievement (via Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography) into the greatest American musical in decades; after every critic in town (including me) praised the Public Theater world premiere to high heaven; and after seeing this language-drunk, rhyme-crazy dynamo a second time, I can only marvel: We've used up all the damn words. Wait, here are three stragglers, straight from the heart: I love Hamilton. I love it like I love New York, or Broadway when it gets it right. And this is so right. A sublime conjunction of radio-ready hip-hop (as well as R&B, Britpop and trad showstoppers), under-dramatized American history and Miranda’s uniquely personal focus as a first-generation Puerto Rican and inexhaustible wordsmith, Hamilton hits multilevel culture buttons, hard. No wonder the show was anointed a sensation before even opening. Assuming you don’t know the basics, Hamilton is a (mostly) rapped-through biomusical about an orphan immigrant from the Caribbean who came to New York, served as secretary to General Washington, fought against the redcoats, authored most of the Federalist Papers defending the Constitution, founded the Treasury and the New York Post and even made time for an extramarital affair that he damage-controlled in a scandal-stanching pamp
Theater review by Adam Feldman The world of Harry Potter has arrived on Broadway, Hogwarts and all, and it is a triumph of theatrical magic. Set two decades after the final chapters of J.K. Rowling’s world-shaking kid-lit heptalogy, the two-part epic Harry Potter and the Cursed Child combines grand storytelling with stagecraft on a scale heretofore unimagined. Richly elaborated by director John Tiffany, the show looks like a million bucks (or, in this case, a reported $68 million); the Lyric Theatre has been transfigured from top to bottom to immerse us in the narrative. It works: The experience is transporting. Jack Thorne’s play, based on a story he wrote with Rowling and Tiffany, extends the Potter narrative while remaining true to its core concerns. Love and friendship and kindness are its central values, but they don’t come easily: They are bound up in guilt, loneliness and fear. Harry (Jamie Parker) is weighted with trauma dating back to his childhood, which hinders his ability to communicate with his troubled middle son, Albus (Sam Clemmett); it doesn’t help that Albus’s only friend is the bookish outcast Scorpius Malfoy (the exceptional Anthony Boyle), son of Harry’s erstwhile enemy, Draco (Alex Price). Despite the best intentions of Harry’s solid wife, Ginny (Poppy Miller), and his friends Hermione (Noma Dumezweni) and Ron (Paul Thornley), things turn dark very fast. Set designer Christine Jones and lighting designer Neil Austin keep much of the stage shroude
Broadway review by Adam Feldman Even before the evidence piles up—before parts of scenes repeat themselves, and names and places start worming their way into stories where they don’t belong—audiences at The Height of the Storm may feel an eerie sense of déjà vu. Three years ago at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club presented Florian Zeller’s The Father: a play about a man named André who has daughters named Anne and Élise, and who is losing his mind to dementia. The Height of the Storm gives us a different André (Jonathan Pryce), also with daughters named Anne (Amanda Drew) and Élise (Lisa O’Hare). This André is a literary lion instead of an engineer, however, and he has a wife: Her name is Madeleine (Eileen Atkins), in a polite nod to Proust, and she might be dead—or perhaps she is not, or maybe André is the dead one. (As he says: “You think people are dead, but it’s not always the case.”) For at least half an hour, Zeller keeps us guessing; as in The Father, confusion is both his subject and his prime dramatic strategy. “Imagine a dream you never wake up from,” muses André. “It’d be a real nightmare!” The play is skillfully woven with dream logic. Details bleed from one narrative into another; two non-family figures, identified as the Woman (Lucy Cohu) and the Man (James Hillier), have unstable identities. It’s a deliberately frustrating experience, like a jigsaw puzzle in which the pieces fit together but yield no coherent picture. Translated from
Theater review by Helen Shaw The stage is so dark at the beginning of Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning, it’s hard to see anything at all. There appears to be a sweep of predawn charcoal sky and a backyard firepit, but we can’t be sure. We’ve certainly missed the man sitting silently with his back to us—until he reaches for his rifle. It only takes the barest lick of light to make the barrel glint. The man fires, then walks into the brush. He heaves the body of a deer onto the cement slab beneath his back door; he prepares to gut it. For the rest of this intermissionless show—more than two hours of torrential speech among friends and ex-friends—we know there’s blood on the threshold. It’s a powerful invocation: an old image of sacrifice and stain, and a reminder that soil remembers. And that’s just what the play manages to say before the dialogue starts. It’s hard to talk about Arbery’s play, in a way, because there’s so much talking in it. (He describes it as a fugue.) It’s a structure of interweaving voices that never devolves into noise, and the voices aren’t ones we hear often Off Broadway. They are deeply religious, profoundly Catholic, proudly conservative, sometimes messianic. We’re in deepest Wyoming, where Gina (Michele Pawk) has just been named president of Transfiguration College, a Catholic university that teaches its students theology, submission, rhetoric and survival skills. Four old friends have reunited in the same backyard we saw in the prolog
[Note: The review below is for a 2014 version of this show, which was then titled The Imbible. A revised version now plays at New World Stages. A different, brunch-theater edition, titled Day Drinking, plays on weekend matinees.] Remember Bill Nye the Science Guy? Great! Now imagine him as a bartender who is deeply interested in the history of ethanol alcohol, really likes wigs and costumes, and just joined a coed barbershop quartet. That description of Anthony Caporale’s The Imbible: A Spirited History of Drinking may sound far-out, but the show is both educational and entertaining. (It's also a fine showcase for a cappella classics arranged by Josh Ehrlich and performed by a gifted ensemble that includes the show's director, soprano Nicole DiMattei.) Mixing whimsy and information, Caporale makes the story of our relationship with alcohol remarkably compelling. And the show's lessons—on subjects like the drinks served at Prohibition-era speakeasies, the origin of the gin and tonic, and the difference between a cocktail and a mixed drink—can be washed down with complimentary, thematically appropriate beverages. As Caporale says, “Trust me, I get funnier with every sip.” That makes the show a must-see for anyone who enjoys free booze, which is probably nearly everyone.—Amelia Bienstock
Broadway review by Adam Feldman Wheeler (Ian Barford) is the kind of man who has declared a funeral for his future, and drags the rest of the world in his wake. He’s not just antiheroic, he’s anti-everything: a newly divorced 50-year-old blowhard who wears his snobbism proudly—“I do not like so many things and so many of them are things that a lot of people like”—in the knowledge that he has been among its victims. (A once-promising photographer, he has second-guessed himself into life as a vintage-camera repairman in San Diego.) Between his superiority and self-disgust, he doesn’t even realize how deeply he is falling into midlife-crisis cliché. In his loose but astute Linda Vista, Tracy Letts rips the blinders away. Directed by Dexter Bullard for Steppenwolf, and imported to Broadway by Second Stage, Linda Vista is a shaggy-dog cautionary tale. As Wheeler navigates his relationships—with, among others, a wounded life coach (Cora Vander Broek) who has a master's degree in "happiness," a Vietnamese-American rockabilly fille fatale (Chantal Thuy) and his loathsome, lecherous boss (Troy West)—the play shuffles through several modes: sitcom, dramatic portrait, near-vérité. (There are two realistic and revealing sex scenes, and a long section in a karaoke bar.) Although it sags a bit in places, it coheres in the end, and Barford and Letts give Wheeler precisely the right amount of rot. The play sees right through this guy, and the view behind him isn’t pretty. Hayes Theater
Director-designer Julie Taymor takes a reactionary Disney cartoon about the natural right of kings—in which the circle of life is putted against a queeny villain and his jive-talking ghetto pals—and transforms it into a gorgeous celebration of color and movement. The movie’s Elton John–Tim Rice score is expanded with African rhythm and music, and through elegant puppetry, Taymor populates the stage with an amazing menagerie of beasts; her audacious staging expands a simple cub into the pride of Broadway, not merely a fable of heredity but a celebration of heritage. Minskoff Theatre (Broadway). Music by Elton John. Lyrics by Tim Rice. Book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi. Directed by Julie Taymor. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 40mins. One intermission.
Theater review by Adam Feldman Little Shop of Horrors is a weird and adorable show with teeth. Based on Roger Corman’s shlocky 1960 film, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s 1982 musical tells the Faustian story of a dirt-poor schlub named Seymour (Jonathan Groff), a lowly petal pusher at a Skid Row flower shop, who cultivates a relationship with a most unusual plant. What seems at first a blessing—a way for the lonely Seymour to earn money and to get closer to his boss, Mushnik (Tom Alan Robbins), and his used and bruised coworker, Audrey (Tammy Blanchard)—soon turns sinister. The plant, whom he names Audrey II (designed by Nicholas Mahon and voiced by Kingsley Leggs), requires human blood to grow, and Seymour doesn’t have enough of his own to spare. He doesn’t want to feed the beast, but he can’t resist the lure of the green. Arguably the best musical ever adapted from a movie, Little Shop does for B flicks what Sweeney Todd does for Grand Guignol. Librettist Ashman and composer Menken—who, between this show and their Disney animated films, did more than anyone to return musical theater from its mass-culture exile in the late 20th century—brilliantly wrap a sordid tale of capitalist temptation and moral decay in layers of sweetness, humor, wit and camp. Their extraordinary score bursts with colorful rock & roll, doo-wop, girl-group pop and R&B; Ashman’s lyrics blend masterful character comedy with carefully seeded double meanings. And Michael Mayer’s deeply satisfying reviva
Thrice a week, after closing time, 20 people crowd into the city’s oldest magic shop, Tannen’s, for a cozy evening of prestidigitation by the young and engaging Noah Levine. The shelves are crammed with quirky devices; there's a file cabinet behind the counter, a mock elephant in the corner and bins of individual trick instructions in plastic covers, like comic books or sheet music. The charm of Levine's show is in how well it fits the environment of this magic-geek chamber of secrets. As he maneuvers cards, eggs, cups and balls with aplomb, he talks shop, larding his patter with tributes to routines like the Stencel Aces and the Vernon Boat Trick—heirlooms of his trade that he gently polishes and displays for our amazement.
Theater review by Adam Feldman Teenage girls rule in the tart but sweet new Broadway musical Mean Girls. But their system of high-school government is far from a democracy: It’s a reign of terror, angst and mall fashions, where popularity is arrogated and then ruthlessly enforced. Having spent her childhood being home-schooled in Kenya, nature and math enthusiast Cady (Erika Henningsen) is initially confused by the rigid caste system of her new school in Chicago. She tries to be nice, but the ruthlessness of American teenage culture brings out Cady’s predatory instincts. She reverts to the mean. A canny crossbreed of Heathers and Hairspray, the musical has been adapted by Tina Fey from her own 2004 cult movie, and updated to reflect the new realities of smartphones and social media. Fey is one of the sharpest comic writers in America, and the show remains, in some sense, her vehicle: an auto de Fey, burning with bookish anger at the limits young women place on each other and themselves. (Her film role as a pushy calculus teacher is amusingly evoked by Kerry Butler, who also plays the other adult women.) But this version of Mean Girls is not just a copy of the original. The most famous lines from the screenplay are here, but Casey Nicholaw’s energetic staging wisely breezes past them; the newer jokes get bigger laughs, while the score—by Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin—successfully builds on Fey’s knowingly corrective tone. (“This is modern feminism talkin’,” sings a high-
For more than two decades, 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 since 2011 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 children, bring them; they make especially adorable assistants.) Shows cost just $42.50 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 Red alert! Red alert! If you’re the kind of person who frets that jukebox musicals are taking over Broadway, prepare to tilt at the windmill that is the gorgeous, gaudy, spectacularly overstuffed Moulin Rouge! The Musical. Directed with opulent showmanship by Alex Timbers, this adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 movie may be costume jewelry, but its shine is dazzling. The place is the legendary Paris nightclub of the title, and the year is ostensibly 1899. Yet the songs—like Catherine Zuber’s eye-popping costumes—span some 150 years of styles. Moulin Rouge! begins with a generous slathering of “Lady Marmalade,” belted to the skies by four women in sexy black lingerie, long velvet gloves and feathered headdresses. Soon they yield the stage to the beautiful courtesan Satine (a sublimely troubled Karen Olivo), who makes her grand entrance descending from the ceiling on a swing, singing “Diamonds Are Forever.” She is the Moulin Rouge’s principal songbird, and Derek McLane’s sumptuous gold-and-red set looms around her like a gilded cage. After falling in with a bohemian crowd, Christian (the boyish Aaron Tveit), a budding songwriter from small-town Ohio, wanders into the Moulin Rouge like Orpheus in the demimonde, his cheeks as rosy with innocence as the showgirls’ are blushed with maquillage. As cruel fate would have it, he instantly falls in love with Satine, and she with him—but she has been promised, alas, to the wicked Duke of Monroth (Tam Mu
Theater review by Adam Feldman After a hit run at St. Ann's Warehouse last year, Daniel Fish’s fascinating and unsettling reimagination of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! has moved to Broadway, with its immediacy, strangeness and eerie sense of danger intact. (See original review below.) The show is now played in deep thrust, with the audience on three sides of the action. Nearly the entire cast of the Off Broadway version returns: Rebecca Naomi Jones and Damon Daunno are the main couple, Laurey and Curly, stained in this version by their unkind treatment of Jud (a rivetingly emotional Patrick Vaill); Ali Stroker and James Davis provide superb (and much-needed) comic relief as the sexed-up Ado Annie and her ardent wooer Will Parker, and Will Brill has assumed the part of the commitment-averse suitor Ali Hakim. Seeing the production a second time allows one to appreciate not only the striking darkness that Fish and company have teased out of the material, but also the light they shine on small details. (Mallory Portnoy and Mitch Tebo are marvelous in small roles.) It's thrilling to see a Broadway classic rise to the challenge of so modern a conception. Oklahoma! it remains, but there's nothing corny about it. RECOMMENDED: A guide to Broadway's shocking revival of Oklahoma! [Note: The following is a review of the 2018 production at St. Ann's Warehouse.] Director Daniel Fish’s bold, spare revival of Oklahoma! gives us the ranch but not the dressing. The musical’s ca
Theater review by Raven Snook It’s fall 2008, and the world is on the cusp of change. So are Miami private-school students Pipe (Carmen Berkeley), Kit (Rebecca Jimenez), Squeeze (Malika Samuel) and Zoom (Alyssa May Gold). Unnervingly worldly yet hilariously naïve, these members of the Dead Leaders Club snort cocaine, argue about politics and worship Pablo Escobar the way their less eccentric peers might revere Justin Timberlake. As holiday lights twinkle around a grinning poster of the deceased drug czar, they pull out a Ouija board to try to conjure their hero, and debate who will kill the stray cat they have kidnapped as a sacrifice. Headstrong Kit, the gang’s brand-new addition from New Jersey, gleefully obliges. Alexis Scheer’s savage one-act Our Dear Dead Drug Lord, coproduced by WP Theater and Second Stage, is part of a wave of plays by young women that portray female adolescence as an almost feral state (see also Horse Girls, Dance Nation, Usual Girls). Its central characters don’t see Escobar as a villain because they covet his abandon and his power—qualities they haven’t been encouraged to cultivate in a world that demands that they be good and obedient girls, even in the face of trauma. Under Whitney White’s energetic direction, Samuel and the adorkable Gold mostly serve as comic relief to Berkeley and Jimenez’s ferocious alpha females. Their excellent acting sells some of Scheer’s wonkier bits—especially the talk about 9/11 and Obama’s election, which don’t c
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
Thompson's recurring portrayal of queeny barfly Buddy Cole, proudly flaming in a smoking jacket, was the highlight of his stint on the cult 1990s comedy series The Kids in the Hall. In this show, the witty gay comic actor performs new monologues that catch us up on what Cole has been up to in the past quarter-century or so.
Aerialists and other circus performers ply their skills in intimate quarters at this monthly event in a speakeasy-style loft, hosted by drag queen Laurel Fixation and featuring a different lineup of artists each time. Camp and burlesque ingredients add to the downtown flavor.
Broadway review by Adam Feldman Jeremy O. Harris’s lacerating play, a sold-out succès de scandale Off Broadway last season, has now moved north to Broadway, and it feels wonderfully incongruous on the mostly staid Great White Way. Brash, smart and gleefully confrontational, this is the kind of show that starts arguments. It begins on a perverse antebellum plantation, but as it moves forward, in three very different acts that successively reframe what we have seen before them, it keeps you off balance; even afterward, you may feel staggered. As I wrote of its incarnation at New York Theatre Workshop, “Slave Play is funny, perceptive, probing and, at times, disturbingly sexy. It snaps like a whip, and its aim is often outward.” Whatever you think it is, it's almost certainly not what you think. (Click here to read the entire Off Broadway review.) Director Robert O’Hara has reassembled the play’s original cast, with one exception: Joaquina Kalukango now plays the pivotal role of Kaneisha. The Broadway production is, perforce, a bit broader than the one at NYTW—especially in the bravura comedic performances of Annie McNamara, whose molestation of a four-poster bed is horny physical comedy for the ages, and James Cusati-Moyer, whose character throws a spectacular diva tantrum when asked to confront his own whiteness. For most of the night, in the four interracial relationships that Harris depicts, the nonblack characters dominate: They really, really want to make sure they’re b
To untimely rip and paraphrase a line from Macbeth: Our eyes are made the fools of the other senses, or else worth all the rest. A multitude of searing sights crowd the spectator's gaze at the bedazzling and uncanny theater installation Sleep No More. Your sense of space and depth---already compromised by the half mask that audience members must don---is further blurred as you wend through more than 90 discrete spaces, ranging from a cloistral chapel to a vast ballroom floor. Directors Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle, of the U.K. troupe Punchdrunk, have orchestrated a true astonishment, turning six warehouse floors and approximately 100,000 square feet into a purgatorial maze that blends images from the Scottish play with ones derived from Hitchcock movies—all liberally doused in a distinctly Stanley Kubrick eau de dislocated menace. An experiential, Choose Your Own Adventure project such as this depends on the pluck and instincts of the spectator. You can follow the mute dancers from one floor to the next, or wander aimlessly through empty spaces. I chose the latter, discovering a room lined with empty hospital beds; a leafless wood in which a nurse inside a thatched cottage nervously checks her pocket watch; an office full of apothecary vials and powders; and the ballroom, forested with pine trees screwed to rolling platforms (that would be Birnam Wood). A Shakespearean can walk about checking off visual allusions to the classic tragedy; the less lettered can just revel in
Broadway review by Adam Feldman “It feels as if I’m made of yarn,” says Bella (Mary-Louise Parker) in Adam Rapp’s unabashedly literary The Sound Inside, and in a way, she is. A professor of creative writing at Yale—and the author of two short-story collections “and an underappreciated novel”—she narrates herself directly to the audience, spinning herself into a story, pausing sometimes to jot down one of her own turns of phrase on a notepad. And as she speaks, in director David Cromer’s ravishingly spare production, the world she describes is summoned to spectral life; when she mentions a snowy winter in New Haven, a denuded tree slowly fades into view on the black wall behind her. Unmarried and friendless, she lives for books, and probably not for very much longer: She has recently been diagnosed with stomach cancer (”somewhat advanced,” she brags wryly), which killed her mother at roughly her age. Into this bleak picture intrudes, uninvited, a seemingly insufferable child: Christopher (Will Hochman, appropriately unsettling), a violently opinionated freshman who barges into her office, having refused to schedule an appointment with her on principle. (He rails, in audible all-caps, against “the encephalitic procedural gargoyles from the dean’s office.”) Unexpectedly, she finds him fascinating; both of them are weirdos. They discuss Dostoevsky, suicide and the novel he has been working on, which concerns a strange encounter between strangers on train, one of whom is a you
Director-choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan, formerly of Fabulous Beast, puts a fantastical modern Irish spin on the classic ballet in this dance-theater piece, whose cast includes the very fine actor Mikel Murfi. Here, the swans are girls who have been sexually abused by a priest, the lake is black plastic, and the prince is a depressive loner. The trio Slow Moving Clouds provides the music.
At first blush, Then She Fell seems to be a small-scale cribbing of Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More. Yes, you wander solo through intricately dressed rooms in a creepy building; yes, that man in a cravat is crawling up the wall in front of you. But you begin to realize that Third Rail Projects’ interactive riff on Lewis Carroll’s Alice books is using a similar language to give you a different experience: When you peer into the looking glass, it stares right back at you. Performed in the former Greenpoint Hospital, the show only permits 15 audience members a pop—making for a distinctly intimate experience. You’re given a shot of mulled wine and a set of keys before nurses, Carroll characters and even the psychotropic author himself usher you through a combination Wonderland–psych ward. As in Sleep No More, no two individuals will have the same evening. You may find yourself taking dictation for the Hatter (the mesmerizing Elizabeth Carena), painting cream-colored roses red with the White Rabbit (Tom Pearson) or sitting down to the infamous tea party with the whole gang. The experiences that director-designer-mastermind Zach Morris and his company offer are stunningly personal. You don’t have a mask to hide behind here—when you peep in on the Red Queen (Rebekah Morin) having a private breakdown, she catches you watching through the two-way mirror. And then—well, I don’t want to give away the game. And it is a game; as you’re pulled from place to place, you begin to realize that M
Theater review by Adam Feldman The defense never rests in Aaron Sorkin’s cagey adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. That the play exists at all is an act of boldness: Turning Harper Lee’s 1960 novel into a play in 2018 is no easy task. The hero of the story, as every schoolchild knows, is Atticus Finch (Jeff Daniels), a lawyer in rural Alabama in the early 1930s, who bravely defends a disabled black man, Tom Robinson (Gbenga Akinnagbe), against a false accusation of rape. Slow to anger and reluctant to judge—“You never really understand a person,” he says, “until you climb into his skin and walk around in it”—Atticus is a paragon of that most fabled of American values: decency. But while To Kill a Mockingbird has a special place in the literature of American civil rights, the book is also now a minefield. As seen through the eyes of his preteen tomboy daughter, Scout (Celia Keenan-Bolger), Atticus is very much a white-daddy savior, albeit one who can’t perform miracles, in a narrative that has little room for the perspectives of black people beyond the respect and gratitude they show him. At its center is a story about a young woman—Tom’s accuser, Mayella (Erin Wilhelmi)—whose allegations of sexual assault must not be believed. Even more problematic, to some modern ears, is the scope of Atticus’s magnanimity. It is not just the black skins that he urges his children to walk around in; it is also the skins of the white farmers who try to lynch Tom Robinson before his trial.
Theater review by Adam Feldman The most glorious words in the English language, the director of the show-within-a-show in 42nd Street once declared, are musical comedy. But few musicals on Broadway these days live up to the second part of that term: They evoke fond chuckles of appreciation, but they don’t suck the laughs from your belly. Enter Tootsie, all dolled up in a red sequined gown, to drag out the real comic goods. Let other shows mope or brood or inspire, as some of them do very well. This one is out to give you a good time, and that’s just what it does. Tootsie rocks. Tootsie rolls. Tootsie pops. Santino Fontana, in the performance of his career to date, stars as Michael Dorsey, a talented but difficult actor whose professional clock is ticking. Broke, unemployable and newly 40 years old, he feels increasingly desperate: “Caught in the gap between ‘What the hell just happened’ and ‘What the hell is gonna happen next.’” Through a neurotic ex-girlfriend, Sandy (the magically amusing Sarah Stiles, in Bernadette Peters curls), he learns of an open role in an ill-conceived musical sequel to Romeo and Juliet called Juliet’s Curse. Disguised in glasses, a blue dress, a teased-out wig and a clipped Southern accent, he reinvents himself as an actress named Dorothy Michaels, auditions for the show—and lands the part. Robert Horn’s crackerjack script, the funniest book of a Broadway musical since The Book of Mormon, evinces uncommon finesse in its approach to updating the
Waitress: Theater review by David Cote [Note: American Idol winner and recording artist Jordin Sparks plays the lead role of Jenna through November 24, opposite Mark Evans as the doctor.]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 Me”) and an