Critics picks for Broadway in New York
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
PTP/NYC returns for its 11th straight New York season with two plays in rep, both of which blend elements of the past and the present. Pity in History, by the scabrous British playwright Howard Barker—a company favorite—offers a modern update on England's 17th-century Civil War, directed by Richard Romagnoli. Tom Stoppard's masterpiece Arcadia, directed by Cheryl Faraone, toggles between stories at the same English country house two centuries apart. Pity in History: Theater review by Helen Shaw Every summer, the company PTP/NYC counterprograms the beach season, bringing us black-as-pitch dramas about society, violence and the thorny moral path. Understandably, its favorite playwright is Howard Barker, whose tragicomedies needle modern hypocrisy. He’s the British equivalent of Bertolt Brecht, but we rarely see any of Barker’s work in the U.S. The simple fact that director Richard Romagnoli is staging Barker’s 1984 teleplay Pity in History (in rep with Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia) is reason enough for a trip to Atlantic Stage 2. Even high expectations, however, won’t prepare you for the show’s lacerating excellence. This is a short, sharp, shockingly funny production that oxygenates the blood.The play begins in a kind of war we know. Soldiers with machine guns, shouting oorah catechism (“Why are we fighting? Because we are right!”), prod at their dying cook (Jonathan Tindle). But we soon realize we aren’t in modern-day Afghanistan but in the 17th century: This is Oliver Cromwell’
Theater review by Adam Feldman Hamlet is, as he himself might say, a piece of work. Brooder and jokester, slacker and control freak, spurned and spurning lover, determined but reluctant would-be murderer: There’s a lot going on in the fractured mind of the Danish prince, and Oscar Isaac elucidates his thinking beautifully in Sam Gold’s intimate and perceptive account of Shakespeare’s deferred-revenge tragedy at the Public, finding new layers in one of the world’s most familiar texts. Staged in modern dress with a cast of nine on a minimal set—its biggest indulgence is a bathroom where Ophelia (Gayle Rankin, finding depth in the character’s passivity) goes to sulk—Gold’s Hamlet forsakes grandeur in favor of small moments of clarity. Its focus is on theatricality, comedy and language; it keeps long speeches about the Trojan War, for example, but cuts the invading army of Fortinbras. There is singing, an onstage cellist and choice overwrought-death-scene clowning from Keegan-Michael Key (who also plays Horatio). Hamlet features some wonderfully vivid performances: from Isaac, who gives Hamlet a sometimes ruthless charm; but also from the superb Peter Friedman (as the doting, officious beta male Polonius, and later as a gravedigger) and Ritchie Coster, whose Claudius—a rough-mannered corporate thug—has moments of real tenderness, especially toward his queen, Gertrude (Charlayne Woodard). The production occasionally gets muddy—literally, thanks to fresh earth and a garden hose
Theater review by Adam Feldman Bessie (Lili Taylor) is a living saint, but probably not for long. She has spent 20 years of her life tending to her stroke-stricken father Marvin—whom we see only through thick glass, as a whimpering blur—and her chronically ill aunt Ruth (an amiably shambling Celia Weston). Now that Bessie herself has leukemia, her survival may depend on less generous family members: her sister, Lee (a flinty Janeane Garofalo), whom she hasn’t seen in years, and Lee’s two sons, the brooding Hank (Jack DiFalco) and the recessive Charlie (Luca Padovan). Although they have troubles of their own—Hank is in a mental hospital after burning down their house—they visit Bessie in Florida for bone marrow tests to see if they can serve as donors. Scott McPherson’s Marvin’s Room may sound, from that description, like a certain kind of TV movie of the week. But this pained yet comforting play cuts its sentiment with laughing-into-the-darkness comedy, just this side of absurdism, that reflects the influence of John Guare and Christopher Durang. And it also suggests a deep understanding of illness and sacrifice, drawn from McPherson’s personal family history and the world he inhabited. “I am 31, and my lover has AIDS,” he wrote in a program note for the play’s 1990 Hartford production. “Our friends have AIDS. And we all take care of each other, the less sick caring for the more sick.” He died in 1992. Anne Kauffman’s luminous revival for the Roundabout tends to McPherson’s
Theater review by Adam Feldman “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places,” promise the lyrics of the 1938 standard from which Seeing You takes its title. It’s a song about holding on to the memory of someone who may never return, and it struck a special chord for listeners during World War II. Immersive-theater impresario Randy Weiner and choreographer Ryan Heffington’s engrossing and evocative dance-theater show honors that sentiment, not merely rehashing traditional WWII iconography but infusing it with a ghostly charge. Like Sleep No More, which Weiner produced, Seeing You has sequences in which audience members choose their own paths and moments of interaction with the 14 performers. In the initial orientation phase, we are free to wander among various intimate scenes of domestic, romantic and professional tension that introduce us to characters we can follow throughout the evening. Later, our attention is guided toward one or two sequences at a time. (Stories that have often been on the margins—racial discrimination, internment, same-sex desire—have pride of place.) Designed by Desi Santiago, the show unfurls in a single, constantly evolving ground-floor space in the Meatpacking District. The skillful, well-drilled performers never stop moving, and Heffington—best known for Sia’s “Chandelier” video—gives them memorable showpieces: a guilt-ridden gay pas de deux for two soldiers (Jesse Kovarsky and Nicholas Ranauro); an unsettling jungle-jazz number for an Af
Theater review by Helen Shaw Horton Foote has a way of tiptoeing up on you. One moment, you’re feeling lulled and lazy by his plays’ drawling Texans, who are being all neighborly and living peaceful midcentury lives. But as the play goes by, you’re suddenly awash in feeling: In his warm Chekhovian evenings, pain always arrives in Eden. In its beautifully performed revival at the Cherry Lane, Foote’s 1954 The Traveling Lady reveals itself as a particularly well-shaped little jewel. The titular Georgette (Jean Lichty) shows up in Clara Breedlove’s backyard, her little girl in tow, looking for her just-released ex-con husband, Henry (PJ Sosko). Harrison, Texas, is the kind of place where everyone tries to give a hand: Big-hearted Slim (Larry Bull), calm Clara (Angelina Fiordellisi), nosy Sitter (Karen Ziemba), rueful Judge Robedaux (George Morfogen) and even poor Henry himself mean Georgette well. But maybe it’s a mistake that people keep talking about “breaking” Henry of his alcoholism, since broken is what he already seems to be. Austin Pendleton has the most delicate directorial hands in the business; the show’s centerpiece is a quiet scene between Bull and Fiordellisi, a hymn to restraint. Luckily, Clara’s garden has room for some naughtier angels as well: the play’s tartest characters, teetotaler Mrs. Tillman (Jill Tanner) and cackling maniac Mrs. Mavis (the masterful Lynn Cohen). The rest of ’em invite you onto the porch, but these two keep the tea from turning too sweet
Theater review by Adam Feldman When was the last time you felt scared at the theater? Not disturbed or perturbed or provoked, but scared? The harrowing climactic torture scene of 1984, adapted from George Orwell’s novel by directors Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan, is intense in a way I’ve never seen on Broadway: It’s gut-churning. Children under 13 have been barred from the production; even adults may shake in their seats, or at least avert their eyes. This gripping show rewards watching, though, and not just in that visit to Room 101 at the grotesquely named Ministry of Love. Orwell’s vision of a surveillance state awash in groupthink and propaganda was published in 1949 and set in 1984, but it remains uncannily suggestive of the present and the future. Winston (the remarkable Tom Sturridge) is a minor functionary in the fake-news department of the government of Oceania, erasing all traces of those who have run afoul of the country’s repressive and possibly apocryphal leader, Big Brother. His qualms—spurred by lust for fellow “thought criminal” Julia (Olivia Wilde, a hard-edged cipher)—lead him to a terrorist movement linked to a high-level official named O’Brien (Reed Birney, masterfully unflappable). When Winston and Julia meet for offstage trysts at an antique shop—supposedly unseen by Big Brother’s ever-watchful eye—we see them on a giant video screen, as though they were being captured by cameras they didn’t know existed. As technology becomes more pervasive and i
One of Canada's leading troupes, Toronto's Soulpepper Theatre Company, invades the Signature Center for the month of July with a sampler pack of some of its best-loved productions, presented in rep. The centerpieces are Ins Choi's Kim's Convenience, about a corner store run by a Korean-Canadian family, and two original adaptations: Vern Thiessen's award-winning version of Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage and Mike Ross and Albert Schultz's musical version of Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology. (See reviews below.) The residency also includes shorter runs of other shows, as well as a nightly cabaret. Visit the Soulpepper website for a full schedule of events. Spoon RiverReview by Helen Shaw If you already know Edgar Lee Masters’s 1915 Spoon River Anthology, you may think of that long poetic cycle in a certain voice. It’s probably a quiet and wistful one, since the poems are written as autobiographical epitaphs: last cries from the dead of an Illinois town. And certainly your thoughts turn somber as you walk into Soulpepper’s version, part of the Canadian company’s monthlong residency at the Signature Center. Audience members enter the theater along a funeral-home corridor, past dark-suited men murmuring condolences. We pick our way through a tiny hilltop churchyard, then sit facing a stage, whose most prominent feature is an open grave.So we’re unprepared for the sheer noise of Spoon River. The dead appear behind a scrim, step past the veil—and for the rest of th
Theater review by Adam FeldmanThe resonant original musical Bandstand dances a delicate line between nostalgia and disillusion. What it seems to promise, and often delivers, is Broadway escapism: a tale of soldiers returning from World War II into a lively world of big-band music, boogie-woogie dancing and a booming American economy. Donny (the very engaging Corey Cott) assembles a music combo composed entirely of fellow veterans, hoping to win a competition in New York and earn a shot at Hollywood. Sounds like a happy old movie, right? But these soldiers, we soon learn, have trouble getting into the swing of things. Try though they may—through work, repression, copious drinking—they can’t shake off the horror of war. Director-choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton) doesn’t stint on period vitality; the terrific group dance numbers, including an Act I showstopper called “You Deserve It,” burst with snazzy individuality. But Bandstand’s heart is in its shadows—the entertainers often share the stage with ghosts of lost comrades—and in the persistence of its efforts to shed light on them. That happens, most of all, through music. The actors in Donny’s motley band—Brandon J. Ellis, Alex Bender, Geoff Packard, Joe Carroll and James Nathan Hopkins—play their instruments live (and extremely well), fronted ably by Laura Osnes as singer-lyricist Julia, the widow of Donny’s closest buddy in the Pacific. (Beth Leavel adds welcome comic support as her mother.) As the stakes rise, B
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 GAZILLLION BUBBLE SHOW It will blow you away!!!Tickets as low as $45 (Reg. $75) Promotional description: The Gazillion Bubble Show will amaze your whole family with mind-blowing bubble magic. Step into an interactive bubble world and be dazzled by spellbinding lasers, spectacular lighting effects and jaw-dropping masterpieces of bubble artistry. It will make you smile, laugh, and feel like a kid all over again! The Gazillion Bubble Show is an unbubblievable extravaganza for everyone, unlike anything you have ever seen before. Adults and children of all ages are sure to be enchanted. You will have to experience it to believe it! THREE WAYS TO BUY TICKETS:1. Online: Click here to buy tickets through Telecharge2. By phone: Call 212-947-8844 and mention code: GBTONYF453. In person: Print this offer and bring it to the New World Stages box officePerformance schedule: Friday at 7pm; Saturday at 11am, 2pm and 4:30pm; Sunday at 12pm and 3pm Running time: 1hr 20mins. No intermission. Offer valid for all performances through 02/25/18. Blackout dates may apply. All prices include a
[Note: The review below is for a 2014 version of The Imbible. A revised version now plays at New World Stages. A different, brunch-theater edition, titled The Imbible: 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 TIME OUT DISCOUNT TICKET OFFER:THE IMBIBLE: A SPIRITED HISTORY OF DRINKINGThe smash-hit musical comedy…with three complimentary cocktails!Tickets as low as $39 and include three complimentary drinks Promotion
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
Tooting Arts Club’s immersive, eight-actor petit guignol version of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s killer-cannibal musical cuts a fine figure with a mostly new cast. As before, some of the razor-sharp score benefits from this intimate staging on a set that replicates a London pie shop—you can hear all the lyrics, for example, when Johanna (the amusing Alex Finke) sings "Green Finch and Linnet Bird"—while some numbers are necessarily truncated, such as the Act II opener, "God, That's Good!" In the title role, Norm Lewis is glum in repose but comes scarily alive when prowling through the audience, and Carolee Carmello is a vicious, hilarious marvel as his amoral and clingy accomplice, Mrs. Lovett. Even if you've seen Sweeney many times already, Carmello makes it worth revisiting: She's giving a meaty, deliciously human star performance. Read the full original review.
Master parodist Gerard Alessandrini (Forbidden Broadway) lovingly skewers Broadway's greatest hit. His admiration for Lin-Manuel Miranda is obvious, but he can still poke fun at the Hamilton juggernaut, while taking shots at Cats and The Book of Mormon along the way. His cast is phenomenal; maybe we'll see them in Hamilton someday. Read the full review
School of Rock: Theater review by David CoteEver see the pitch-perfect 2003 Jack Black comedy School of Rock? Then you know what to expect from the musical version: fake substitute teacher Dewey Finn frenetically inspiring his charges to release their inner Jimi Hendrix; uptight preppy tweens learning classic riffs; and the band’s pivotal, make-or-break gig, with their overbearing parents watching in horror. We expect cute kids in uniform, a spastic Dewey and face-melting riffs—along with heart-tugging family stuff. It worked for the movie, and wow, does it work on Broadway, a double jolt of adrenaline and sugar to inspire the most helicoptered of tots to play hooky and go shred an ax. For those about to love School of Rock: We salute you. What a relief to see that an unlikely creative team—Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, veteran composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Glenn Slater (Leap of Faith)—successfully execute such a smart transfer of film to stage. This is one tight, well-built show: underscoring the emotional arcs (Dewey as both surrogate kid and parent; the students’ yearning to be heard); gently juicing the romantic subplot between Dewey and buttoned-up school principal Rosalie Mullins (sweetly starchy Sierra Boggess); and knowing when to get out of the way and let the kids jam. School of Rock has absorbed the diverse lessons of Rent, Spring Awakening and Matilda and passes them on to a new generation.You’d have to have zero sense of humor about pop to no
Hamilton: Theater review by David Cote What is left to say? After Founding Father Alexander Hamilton’s prodigious quill scratched out 12 volumes of nation-building fiscal and military policy; after Lin-Manuel Miranda turned that titanic achievement (via Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography) into the greatest American musical in decades; after every critic in town (including me) praised the Public Theater world premiere to high heaven; and after seeing this language-drunk, rhyme-crazy dynamo a second time, I can only marvel: We've used up all the damn words. Wait, here are three stragglers, straight from the heart: I love Hamilton. I love it like I love New York, or Broadway when it gets it right. And this is so right. A sublime conjunction of radio-ready hip-hop (as well as R&B, Britpop and trad showstoppers), under-dramatized American history and Miranda’s uniquely personal focus as a first-generation Puerto Rican and inexhaustible wordsmith, Hamilton hits multilevel culture buttons, hard. No wonder the show was anointed a sensation before even opening. Assuming you don’t know the basics, Hamilton is a (mostly) rapped-through biomusical about an orphan immigrant from the Caribbean who came to New York, served as secretary to General Washington, fought against the redcoats, authored most of the Federalist Papers defending the Constitution, founded the Treasury and the New York Post and even made time for an extramarital affair that he damage-controlled in a scandal-stanching pamp
Beautiful—The Carole King Musical shares several virtues with its titular singer-songwriter, among them humility, earnestness and dedication to craft. If Douglas McGrath’s book never achieves the dramatic grit or comic zip of Jersey Boys, at least director Marc Bruni’s production avoids being a brain-dead, self-satisfied hit parade à la Berry Gordy’s Motown. Still, it does seem that stretches of Broadway’s newest jukebox musical consist of situations such as this: “Carole, you’ve got to write us a hit!” “I’ve written something.” “It’s a hit!” Yes, Beautiful loves its diligent, long-suffering pop genius, and invites you to do the same. It’s quite an easy task when you have the phenomenal Jessie Mueller in the lead. The effortlessly appealing star cut her teeth on Broadway flops (the mis-reconceived On a Clear Day You Can See Forever) and in supporting parts (The Mystery of Edwin Drood). Now she’s ready to carry a show. As Brooklyn-raised King, who started churning out teenybopper tunes at 1650 Broadway in the late ’50s, Mueller exudes warmth and common sense, playing up King’s old-fashioned modesty and insecurity without becoming a doormat or cipher. And when she wraps her rich, burnished voice around those hits—“So Far Away,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “It’s Too Late”—they feel as fresh as the day King penned them. McGrath’s deft, wry book tracks its hero’s tortured first marriage to lyricist-partner Gerry Goffin (Jake Epstein) and their friendly rivalry with anothe
Theater review by Adam Feldman. The Al Hirschfeld Theatre (Broadway). Book by Harvey Fierstein. Music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. Dir. Jerry Mitchell. With Stark Sands, Billy Porter, Annaleigh Ashford. 2hrs 20mins. One intermission. [Note: The cast of Kinky Boots has changed since this review was first published. Panic at the Disco frontman Brendan Urie makes his Broadway debut, playing the musical's straight man, from May 26 through August 6, 2017.] 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.” Ye
[Note: Since this review was written, Then She Fell has moved and reopened; it now plays on three floors of a church building in Williamsburg.] At first blush, Then She Fell seems to be a small-scale cribbing of Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More. Yes, you wander solo through intricately dressed rooms in a creepy building; yes, that man in a cravat is crawling up the wall in front of you. But you begin to realize that Third Rail Projects’ interactive riff on Lewis Carroll’s Alice books is using a similar language to give you a different experience: When you peer into the looking glass, it stares right back at you. Performed in the former Greenpoint Hospital, the show only permits 15 audience members a pop—making for a distinctly intimate experience. You’re given a shot of mulled wine and a set of keys before nurses, Carroll characters and even the psychotropic author himself usher you through a combination Wonderland–psych ward. As in Sleep No More, no two individuals will have the same evening. You may find yourself taking dictation for the Hatter (the mesmerizing Elizabeth Carena), painting cream-colored roses red with the White Rabbit (Tom Pearson) or sitting down to the infamous tea party with the whole gang. The experiences that director-designer-mastermind Zach Morris and his company offer are stunningly personal. You don’t have a mask to hide behind here—when you peep in on the Red Queen (Rebekah Morin) having a private breakdown, she catches you watching through the two-wa
Director-designer Julie Taymor takes a reactionary Disney cartoon about the natural right of kings—in which the circle of life is putted against a queeny villain and his jive-talking ghetto pals—and transforms it into a gorgeous celebration of color and movement. The movie’s Elton John–Tim Rice score is expanded with African rhythm and music, and through elegant puppetry, Taymor populates the stage with an amazing menagerie of beasts; her audacious staging expands a simple cub into the pride of Broadway, not merely a fable of heredity but a celebration of heritage.—Adam Feldman Running time: 2hrs 40mins. One intermission.
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
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
This musical prequel to The Wizard of Oz addresses surprisingly complex themes, such as standards of beauty, morality and, believe it or not, fighting fascism. Thanks to Winnie Holzman’s witty book and Stephen Schwartz’s pop-inflected score, Wicked soars. Currently, the cast features Rachel Tucker as Elphaba and Carrie St. Louis as Galinda.
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.
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.)
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
Theater review by Adam Feldman The very notion of live theater contains an intimation of its future: dead theater. Now the play is before us, moving and breathing along with its audience; then it is done, and banished to the shadow realm of memory. This is true not just of a single performance but also of the run of a production—even The Phantom of the Opera will one day throw in the mask—and, writ larger, of entire theater worlds. Sometimes such worlds age and fade with time; sometimes, as with Yiddish theater, they are violently erased. Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman’s gorgeous Indecent is written on the palimpsest of that erasure. The play tracks the history of Sholem Asch’s drama God of Vengeance, the story of a Jewish flesh peddler whose daughter has a lesbian love affair with one of his prostitutes, from its first stirrings in Warsaw through its controversial 1923 stint on Broadway and beyond. (Partly at the urging of Jewish leaders, who worried that the show would fan anti-Semitism, the New York cast was prosecuted for obscenity.) History, for 100 minutes, returns to life. I was deeply moved by the play when it was at the Vineyard Theatre last year. On Broadway, with the same wonderful ensemble cast, it fills a much larger space without losing its essential intimacy. The script is Vogel’s, the staging Taichman’s, but the two are so lovingly intertwined as to be almost inseparable. The seven actors—Katrina Lenk, Mimi Lieber, Max Gordon Moore, Tom Nelis, Steven Ratt
Theater review by Adam FeldmanThe secret of Dolly Levi’s success is revealed at the top of Hello, Dolly!’s unstoppable title song. The number is usually recalled as a paean to the star, sung by the adoring waiters of the ritzy Harmonia Gardens Restaurant as she descends a staircase in triumph and a bright red dress. But it begins, tellingly, with Dolly singing to them: “Hello, Harry / Well, hello, Louie…” It’s been years since her last visit, but she remembers them all and greets them by name. No wonder they love her. She makes them feel loved.In the musical’s blissful Broadway revival, the same thing happens between Bette Midler and the audience. Midler fans out her performer’s wares with expert self-assurance—she delivers her jokes at a steady vaudevillian clip, like Mae West in a hurry—but she also seems like she couldn’t live without us. And the part of Dolly, a matchmaker in late-19th-century New York, is exquisitely suited to Midler’s enormous warmth, savvy and drive. (She cuts her schmaltz with zest.) It’s hard to imagine a better match of actor and role: It is, in a word, perfection.Adapted by Michael Stewart from a Thornton Wilder comedy, Hello, Dolly! may be a vehicle for its star, but this revival treats it like a vintage Rolls-Royce. From the rousing overture on, everything about the production, directed with joyful aplomb by Jerry Zaks, gleams with old-fashioned charm. David Hyde Pierce brings droll dignity and adorable flashes of cartoon clowning to his performa
Dave Malloy's dazzlingly eclectic rock-pop musical, adapted from a portion of Tolstoy's War and Peace, conveys its story of high-society Muscovites in stirring and surprising ways. Directed by Rachel Chavkin, this Broadway transfer of the 2012 Off Broadway hit stars global-sensation singer Josh Groban and newcomer Denée Benton. Through August 13, Hamilton's Okieriete Onaodowan plays Pierre and singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson plays the role of Natasha's friend Sonya; Broadway titan Mandy Patinkin then spells in as Pierre through September 3. Read the full review.
One of the more unlikely musicals on Broadway this season, Come from Away is the tense but humane story of an airport in Gander, Newfoundland, where 38 planes and more than 6,000 passengers were forced to land on September 11, 2001. The book, music and lyrics are by the Canadian team Irene Sankoff and David Hein. Read the full review.
Theater review by Adam FeldmanWith Lucas Hnath’s lucid and absorbing A Doll’s House, Part 2, the Broadway season goes out with a bang. It is not the same kind of bang, mind you, that ended Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 social drama, A Doll’s House, in which bourgeois Norwegian wife Nora Helmer walked out on her doting husband and young children with a decisive (and divisive) slam of the door. In Hnath’s taut sequel, set 15 years later, the runaway bride—played by the great Laurie Metcalf, with magnificent grit and frustration—returns to confront the people she left behind: her husband, Torvald (a sympathetic Chris Cooper); her now-grown daughter, Emmy (Condola Rashad, poised and glinting); and the family servant, Anne Marie (the uncommonly sensible Jayne Houdyshell).If Ibsen’s play is about suffocation, Hnath’s is about airing things out. Modern in its language, mordant in its humor and suspenseful in its plotting—Nora, now a scandalous writer, needs Torvald’s help to avoid being blackmailed by a judge—the play judiciously balances conflicting ideas about freedom, love and responsibility. And Sam Gold’s exemplary direction keeps you hanging on each turn of argument and twist of knife. Everything about the production works. It’s a slam dunk. John Golden Theatre (Broadway). By Lucas Hnath. Directed by Sam Gold. With Laurie Metcalf, Chris Cooper, Jayne Houdyshell, Condola Rashad. Running time: 1hr 25mins. No intermission. Through July 23. Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam Kee
Theater review by James Gavin From the Great Depression to the Cold War, Woody Guthrie roamed the country with his guitar, writing and singing songs that empowered blue-collar workers, rallied for unionization, scorned capitalist greed and glorified the heartland. “This Land Is Your Land” and other Guthrie tunes inspired Bob Dylan and galvanized the burgeoning folk movement. His story is an American epic, and a cast of four gives it a stirring reenactment in Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie. Like the songs themselves, everything about the show has the ring of truth. The performers look and sound as though they’ve stepped off a farm in Guthrie’s native Oklahoma, and their singing evokes the Weavers, the 1950s quartet (featuring Pete Seeger) whose rough-hewn fireside harmonies helped make the Guthrie canon famous. Playing guitar, fiddle, banjo, dulcimer, harmonica and other instruments, the performers plumb the inner depths of a man whose Okie roots—scarred by poverty, mental illness and domestic tragedies—filled him with empathy for the downtrodden. As Woody, David M. Lutken (who devised the show with director Nick Corley and others) captures Guthrie’s droll humbleness and purity of heart. Earth mother Helen Jean Russell sings with a lullaby sweetness. Megan Loomis is touchingly guileless and plaintive; Andy Teirstein dispenses the show’s gruffer, pluckier wisdoms. Together the cast gives voice to Guthrie’s disdain for the abuse of power at the expense of the com
Theater review by Raven SnookDepending on your perspective, illusionist Derek DelGaudio's solo outing is either a transcendent meditation on the malleability of identity, or a bunch of pretentious hooey. Objectively speaking, it's both—which beautifully illustrates this two-time Academy of Magical Arts Award winner's point. People (and things) are seen differently in our own mind and the eyes of other beholders. True, some folks walked out on this deliberately slow-paced show, though many more of us stayed, entranced. If you come expecting a succession of quick, flashy routines and exuberant showmanship, In & Of Itself will confound. But give yourself over to its subtler brand of magic and you should emerge pondering deeper questions beyond, "How the hell did he do that?!"But you will ask that, too. DelGaudio masterfully performs six illusions, including the sleight of hand he's known for and previously displayed in the two-hander Nothing to Hide, which played Off-Broadway in 2013 after a successful run at Los Angeles's Geffen Playhouse. In & Of Itself enjoyed the same trajectory, but it's a wildly different undertaking, more performance art than magic show, thanks in part to his eclectic collaborators: Muppet master director Frank Oz, producer Glenn Kaino, and Devo front man composer Mark Mothersbaugh.After entering, audience members choose from a wall of cards marked with various identities, from the literal (paralegal, engineer, parent) to the lyrical (dreamer, life of th
Waitress: Theater review by David CoteOne’s sorely tempted to praise the delightful new musical Waitress using lots of bakery metaphors. After all, its hero is a pastry genius with relationship woes named Jenna (Jessie Mueller). She’s a perky Southern gal who can confect a mouthwatering Mermaid Marshmallow Pie but can’t measure the right ingredients for happiness. So, unable to resist, here I go: Fresh and delicious, Waitress has an excellent ratio of sweet to tart; supporting characters who provide crustiness (Dakin Matthews’s grumbly store owner) and flakiness (Christopher Fitzgerald’s loony admirer of another waitress); and cooked-to-perfection staging by Diane Paulus. The whole dish is—please forgive me—love at first bite.Based on the 2007 indie film by the late writer-director Adrienne Shelly, Waitress has been whipped (I’ll stop now) into an expertly constructed and emotionally satisfying tale of self-liberation in the face of limited options. Jessie Nelson’s broadly comic yet brooding book meshes wonderfully with a frisky, bright score by pop star Sara Bareilles, a seasoned songwriter who lets the Beatles and other Britpop influences shine through. Bareilles’s custom-built earworms address workplace pluck (“Opening Up”), first-date jitters (“When He Sees Me”), quirky, obsessive love (“Never Ever Getting Rid of Me”) and an eleventh-hour ballad of loss and regret (“She Used to Be Mine”), which will rip your heart out.That’s a nasty sounding operation, but you couldn’t fi
Theater review by Adam Feldman A play that depicts a politician as a greedy, vindictive, incompetent boob desperate to ingratiate himself to the leader of Russia? Admittedly, The Government Inspector may no longer sound like comedy. But humor is doled out generously in Red Bull Theater’s diverting production of Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 satire, zippily adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher. The ebullient Michael Urie plays Hlestakov, a foppish layabout and gambler who is mistaken for a powerful agent of the Tsar by the population of a provincial Russian burg. Showered with rubles by local rubes—led by a doltish mayor (Michael McGrath, in full Nathan Lane–style huff)—Hlestakov hardly understands his luck, but happily takes the gullible hicks for all they’re worth and more. Alexis Distler’s bi-level set, broad on the top tier and split in two at the bottom, evokes a cartoon in the Sunday funny papers, and Jesse Berger’s talented cast of 14 commits hard to fill out its panels. (Standouts include the ripe Mary Testa as the mayor’s rapacious wife, Stephen DeRosa as a conniving hospital director and Arnie Burton as a gossipy postmaster.) Although the play’s lampoon of corruption is wide-ranging, it is tempered by the jovial spirit of farce, which feels like a mercy. There’s a lot to be said for shouting, but sometimes you just need to laugh. Duke on 42nd Street (Off Broadway). By Nikolai Gogol. Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher. Directed by Jesse Berger. With Michael Urie, Michael McGrath, Mary Testa,
Theater review by Adam Feldman The title of Dominique Morisseau’s new drama evokes the so-called school-to-prison pipeline, which Anna Deavere Smith explored last year in her solo documentary Notes from the Field. But the term itself does not appear elsewhere in the script. As Morisseau lays the issues out, in a play that sometimes suggests a dramatized essay, the challenges facing young African-American men—and posed by them—are less a single pipe than a whole semi-hidden network of frustration, resentment and bias. Attempts to stop the flow, no matter how well intentioned, might only reroute it through different channels to the same destination. Karen Pittman plays Nya, a stressed-out English teacher at an urban public school. Even with security guards on the premises, including a flirty one played by Jaime Lincoln Smith, violence is not uncommon there; a teaching colleague (Tasha Lawrence, tough as a nail gun) has recently been attacked. Hoping to remove her teenage son, Omari (Namir Smallwood), from this environment, Nya has sent him to an expensive private boarding school, with financial assistance from her ex-husband (Morocco Omari). But he’s in danger of expulsion after assaulting a teacher who, he believes, singled him out unfairly in a discussion of Richard Wright’s Native Son, a novel about a black man who descends into violence. Only 85 minutes long, Pipeline sometimes feels thin on elaboration, and not all of its scenes are effective; those involving Omari’s re