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 FeldmanBroadway musicals often feature heroines trying to find themselves, but perhaps never as literally as in Anastasia. In 1927 Leningrad, the scrappy, strapping Dmitry (Derek Klena) and the worldly, roguish Vlad (John Bolton) devise a scheme to pass off a street sweeper, Anya (Christy Altomare), as the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicholaevna Romanov, rumored to have survived the massacre of the rest of her royal family in the Russian Revolution 10 years earlier. But as the con men school her, My Fair Lady–like, in the ways of nobility—hoping to deceive Anastasia’s grandmother in Paris, the Dowager Empress (an elegant Mary Beth Peil)—it emerges that Anya may be the real Anastasia after all. Who knows? Not Anya: She has amnesia. What former self might be nested like a doll inside her, waiting to be revealed? And might there be other dolls inside that one?As Anastasia piles discovery upon discovery, the happiest surprise is how consistently good the musical turns out to be. Smartly adapted by Terrence McNally from the 1997 animated film and the 1956 Ingrid Bergman movie—with Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens impressively expanding their score from the former—Anastasia is a sweeping adventure, romance and historical epic whose fine craftsmanship will satisfy musical-theater fans beyond the show’s ideal audience of teenage girls. (When I saw it, a second-act kiss was greeted with deafening shrieks of approval.) Director Darko Tresnjak keeps the story swirling
After many years, the sassy and clever puppet musical doesn’t show its age. Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s deft Sesame Street–esque novelty tunes about porn and racism still earn their laughs. Avenue Q remains a sly and winning piece of metamusical tomfoolery. Running time: 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.
The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance presents its 19th annual celebration of women in dance, comedy, music, poetry and performance, including works by queer and trans women. Among the featured artists are Marga Gomez, Nélida Tirado, Alicia Bauman-Morales and Davalois Fearon Dance.
Updated review by Adam Feldman (2018) Ten months into its Broadway run, David Yazbek and Itamar Moses’s Tony-winning musical remains quietly ravishing: It seems to have almost as much silence as music, and it trusts us to fill in the blanks. Sasson Gabay now stars as Tewfiq, the conductor of an Egyptian band stranded in an Israeli desert town—the role he played in the film from which the show is adapted. His performance is bone-dry and bone-deep, and his scenes with the stunning Katrina Lenk retain the delicate balance she had opposite Tony Shalhoub, with a slight shift in emphasis: Gabay has a more somber and paternal presence, which casts his relationship with wayward trumpet player Haled (Ari'el Stachel) into clearer relief. The richness of the writing, the nuances of David Cromer’s production and the continued excellence of the ensemble cast make each return visit a pleasure. Broadway review by Adam Feldman (2017) In a musical that is full of beautiful moments, perhaps the loveliest is the one shared on a plain park bench by Dina (Katrina Lenk), an Israeli café owner, and Tewfiq (Tony Shalhoub), an Egyptian bandleader stranded for the night in her uneventful desert town in 1996. As members of his ceremonial police orchestra play incidental music behind them, Dina asks Tewfiq how it feels to be a conductor. They each raise their arms, inhabiting an imagined experience together, and the music we have been hearing stops; what they feel is realer, and we are invited to im
[Note: 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.
Theater review by Adam Feldman “I’m a goddam Goddess Warrior!” declares the title character—one of them, anyhow—in the camp-carnival musical The Cher Show, and who would dare to argue? If this cultural icon (and newly anointed Kennedy Center Honoree) has managed to hold our attention for more than five decades, it’s been largely on the basis of her kick-ass poise. “You may not be the prettiest, or the smartest, or the most talented,” says her mother, Georgia (a flinty Emily Skinner), in an early scene. “But you’re special”—so special, in fact, that The Cher Show deploys not one but three performers to embody the diva at different ages. This may seem a strange approach to a star defined by her individuality, but it is true to her more-is-more spirit and, on a practical level, a useful device for navigating the vast swath of time that the musical depicts, from 1952 through the very celebration we are seeing. All Chers, mind you, have not been created equal: In this glitzy account, there is Cher and there are Cher-alikes. The oldest of the trio, identified as Star—and played by the terrific Stephanie J. Block in a full-throated impersonation that avoids the trap of the impersonal—dominates the proceedings; she is flanked by two younger ones, Lady (the capable Teal Wicks) and Babe (Micaela Diamond, a very assured teenager). The three of them alternate duties and occasionally argue with each other in limbo, Three Tall Women—style. Some of the scenes are played straight; others
One of the more unlikely musicals on Broadway this season, Come from Away is the tense but humane story of an airport in Gander, Newfoundland, where 38 planes and more than 6,000 passengers were forced to land on September 11, 2001. The book, music and lyrics are by the Canadian team Irene Sankoff and David Hein. Read the full review.
In this captivating original musical, 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.
Theater review by Adam Feldman [Note: The production's new cast, starting February 17, includes Brian d'Arcy James, Shuler Hensley, Holley Fain, Emily Bergl, Fred Applegate and, starting April 16, Blair Brown.] Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman is a tremendously noisy play about silence and its price. Rob Howell’s expertly detailed set, festooned with memorabilia and kids’ drawings, depicts a farmhouse in Northern Ireland in 1981. More than 20 actors stream on and off the stage, including many children of various ages, plus a live baby and a goose; there is music, both traditional and contemporary, and a celebratory dance. The whole thrilling production seems alive, as few Broadway shows do, with the clutter and scope of reality. It is harvest day, and for Quinn Carney (Paddy Considine) it starts with a sweet early-morning flirtation with Caitlin (Laura Donnelly). They seem a happy couple, but we soon piece together that she is not Quinn’s wife and the mother of his seven children—that would be the sickly Mary (Genevieve O’Reilly)—but the presumed widow of his long-missing brother, Seamus. As we have learned in the play’s prologue, Seamus’s corpse has just been discovered in a local bog, and the quietly menacing local Irish Republican Army warlord, Muldoon (Stuart Graham), is intent on ensuring that no one talks too much about how the dead man got that way. Although it is more than three hours long, The Ferryman never drags, in part because Butterworth continually shifts
Theater review by Raven Snook Folksbiene's Yiddish-language Fiddler became an unlikely hit last summer—see our original review, below—prompting multiple extensions and now, a move to a larger theater uptown. Those who get shpilkes imagining what that migration might do to Tevye the dairyman and his brethren can breathe easy. They've arrived with their stripped-down aesthetic and emotionally lucid production intact. In fact, it feels even more resonant thanks to beautifully evolved performances, the recasting of a few key roles and, sadly, a heightened sense of vulnerability due to the recent spike in anti-Semitism. (Be prepared to be wanded at the door.) Once again, Steve Skybell's Tevye is rich and real as he avoids the trap of scenery chewing. (Beowulf Boritt's barely-there set of parchment wouldn't make much of a meal, anyway.) Under Joel Grey's actor-friendly direction, Skybell consistently goes for nuanced naturalism instead of laughs or apoplexy, and he has a lived-in chemistry with newcomer Jennifer Babiak as his anxious wife, Golde. The strong-voiced Drew Seigla as Pertshik, the Bolshevik revolutionary who woos Tevye's second oldest daughter, is another welcome addition. The rest of the returning romantic leads are as charming as ever, making sure never to cross into cloying, and Jackie Hoffman's Yente provides plenty of comic relief without succumbing to caricature. Admittedly, this may not be the most spectacularly sung, danced or designed Fiddler ever to hit the
Theater review by Helen Shaw It’s an odd move for someone with Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s star power to show up in a teensy theater downtown, and odder still that she’s not doing it as some under-the-radar operation to try out new material. The solo play Fleabag is Waller-Bridge’s signature work: a much-loved piece that lit the fuse for an explosive career. Yet there it is in a 178-seat, super Fringe-y playhouse on Vandam Street. Then again, Fleabag was born at a Fringe festival: It was a 2013 hit in Edinburgh before Waller-Bridge turned it into a BBC television show. Since then, she has written Killing Eve and played a droid in Star Wars; she got a new HBO series greenlighted while I was writing this review.Watching her in Fleabag makes you realize why the whole world has rolled over in front of her like a dog that wants its belly scratched. Waller-Bridge is a brilliant comic in total technical control, and she shapes her monologue perfectly around her own skills. She subverts and then re-subverts expectations at whiplash speed, detonating small bombs of emotion just when we expect a joke. As an expression of craft, it’s dazzling. Fleabag’s eponymous central character is sex-obsessed, heartbroken and preoccupied with “bad feminism.” When we meet her, she’s sitting on a stool, interviewing for a job—and making a desperate hash of it. Hot from a run from the elevator, she starts to pull off her top, accidentally flashing the interviewer. Before she even tries to explain, Wall
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
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
Theater review by Helen Shaw Tori Sampson sets her exhilarating fable If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka in what the program calls Affreakah-Amirrrorikah, a magical place that seems to be part Nigerian village, part American bedroom. There’s a god-filled river and access to a supernatural realm, but there’s also a lot of Brandy on the soundtrack. Where are we? When a girl finally looks into a mirror in the final scene, we belatedly recognize that we’ve been beyond the Looking Glass all along: Our white rabbit–ish guide was the human-sized cell phone (Rotimi Agbabiaka in a sparkling suit), and our Alice was innocent Akim (Níkẹ Uche Kadri), whose enemies were queen bees—the mean girls at her West African high school who hate her for her perfection. Beauty isn’t in the eye of the beholder here. It’s an accepted, incontrovertible truth that Akim is without blemish or fault, which is why vengeful Massassi (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy), sweet Adama (Mirirai Sithole) and brilliant Kaya (Phumzile Sitole) are goaded into violence: They can’t bear life in the shade. Gorgeousness hasn’t been a picnic for Akim either, though, since her parents (Maechi Aharanwa and Jason Bowen) keep her close and sheltered, apart and different, alone and longing. Akim’s romance with Kasim (Leland Fowler), also called “the boy who sees,” is supposed to be a comfort, but it’s only another source of pain. He can see the future, but can he get beyond his own dazzlement to see the inner Akim? Sampson’s sc
Theater review by Adam Feldman. The Al Hirschfeld Theatre (Broadway). Book by Harvey Fierstein. Music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. Dir. Jerry Mitchell. With Stark Sands, Billy Porter, Annaleigh Ashford. 2hrs 20mins. One intermission. [Note: The cast of Kinky Boots has changed since this review was first published. Currently, American Idol winner David Cook plays straight man to Wayne Brady's high-heeled Lola.] The kicky crowd-pleaser Kinky Boots is the very model of a modern major musical. Adapted from a 2005 English indie film, Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper’s fizzy pop tuner tells of Charlie (the capable Sands) and his Northampton footwear factory, Price & Son—a family business in danger of closing down. Hope arrives in the unlikely form of Lola (Porter), a self-possessed drag queen with ideas for a niche product line: knee-high, skin-tight, stiletto-heeled sheaths of ostentatious color, strong enough for a man who’s made up like a woman. (Gay style and consumer dollars to the rescue! The shoe must go on!) Directed with verve by Jerry Mitchell, Kinky Boots feels familiar at every step, down to its messages about individuality, community, pride and acceptance; it could have been cobbled together from parts of The Full Monty, Billy Elliot and Fierstein’s La Cage aux Folles, and it culminates in a feel-good finale so similar to Hairspray’s (which Mitchell choreographed) that it might as well be called “You Can’t Stop the Boot.” Yet the musical holds up for the same reason
Theater review by Adam Feldman After all the discussion last season about the sexual politics of My Fair Lady and Carousel, it may seem like a suboptimal time to revive, of all musicals, Kiss Me, Kate: a 1940s lark, inspired by Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, in which the tempestuous leading lady is—at least in the original version—spanked onstage by her ex-husband before returning to him, in the end, to sing a paean to feminine submission. Roundabout Theatre Company’s very diverting production is nothing if not sensitive to the show’s potential dangers. In his Playbill note, artistic director Todd Haimes promises a Kiss Me, Kate that “resurrects all the magic of its 1948 premiere while rising to the responsibility of a 2019 revival.” Gone is the spanking, and changed are some of the lyrics. In the most important instance, the chastened Kate no longer laments, in verse borrowed straight from the Bard, that “women are so simple”; her reproach now applies to “people” as a whole. If only adjusting a show to fit modern sensibilities were quite so simple as that. At the center of Kiss Me, Kate is an enmeshed love-hate relationship between two headstrong actors that mirrors the plot of the version of Shrew they’re performing together. Actor-producer Fred Graham (Will Chase, in fine voice and a dashing period mustache) has pinned his tenuous financial hopes on a touring Shakespearean musical; his costar is his ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi (Kelli O’Hara), who has a reputation for
Theater review by Raven Snook [Note: This is a review of the 2015 production. The show returns to New York City in 2019 for six performances at the Beacon Theater, March 28–31, with Chris McCarrell again playing the title role.]Judging from the enthusiastic reactions from the tweens surrounding me, this musicalization of Rick Riordan's best-selling YA mash-up of Greek myths and modern-day adolescence is worthy of the gods. But with its campy humor, clever no-tech effects, and agreeable pop-rock tunes, it offers pleasures for mere mortal grown-ups, too.Unlike the rotten movie adaptation, the show hews closely to its source both in spirit and story. Troubled teen Percy Jackson (Les Misérables's Chris McCarrell) discovers he's a demigod and, with a few of his new half-blood pals, embarks on a quest to prevent an all-out war among their powerful parents while also rescuing his mom from Hades. It's an episodic adventure with lots of legendary baddies along the way (the Furies, Medusa, the aforementioned god of the underworld). But underneath its fantasy trappings is a relatable coming-of-age tale about growing up and finding your place in the world—mythical or otherwise.As such, the musical (which debuted in 2014 in a one-hour incarnation with Theatreworks USA) is best enjoyed by families with school-age kids, especially those who devoured the book like my 11-year-old. The seven cast members, though too mature to totally convince as angsty adolescents, are charismatic and energet
Twice 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 21 years, this proudly old-school series has offered a different lineup of professional magicians every week: opening acts, a headliner and a host, plus two or three close-up magicians to wow the audience at intermission. Housed for the past seven years at the unprepossessing Players Theatre, it is an heir to the vaudeville tradition. Many of the acts incorporate comedic elements, and audience participation is common. (If you have young children, bring them; they make especially adorable assistants.) Shows cost just $37.50 in advance and typically last well over two hours, so you get a lot of value and variety for your magic dollar. In contrast to some fancier magic shows, this one feels like comfort food: an all-you-can eat buffet to which you’re encouraged to return until you’re as stuffed as a hat full of rabbits. For a full schedule, visit the MNM website.
Theater review by Adam Feldman [Note: Laura Benanti now plays the role of Eliza Doolittle. Danny Burstein plays her father through April 28. The role of Mrs. Higgins is now played by Rosemary Harris.] We’ve grown accustomed to the grace of Bartlett Sher’s revivals of American stage classics, but that doesn’t mean we should take them for granted. Working in blessed harmony with his trusty creative team—including set designer Michael Yeargan and costumer Catherine Zuber—Sher is not an iconoclast or radical re-sculptor; instead, he acts as a restorer, leaving the shows on their pedestals but stripping off years of obscuration to reveal layers the works have possessed all along. So it is with the splendid new Lincoln Center Theater revival of My Fair Lady. Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s sparkling 1956 musical doesn’t need much retooling. Its delightful songs—including “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?,” “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “The Rain in Spain”—spring like fresh water from the show’s source, George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 parable Pygmalion. In Edwardian London, a haughty and misogynist professor of phonetics, Henry Higgins (Harry Hadden-Paton), makes a bet with his friend Pickering (Allan Corduner) that he can take lowborn flower girl Eliza Doolittle (Lauren Ambrose) and give her the manners and elocution of a poised aristocrat. Or as he says, with nasty Shavian snap: “I’ll make a duchess of this draggle-tailed guttersnipe!” In the original Broadway production of My
Theater review by Helen Shaw In his 2016 hit White Rabbit, Red Rabbit and now in the poignant little Nassim, the Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour uses a theatrically indirect process: He writes shows that can be delivered, impromptu, by a nightly guest actor, who arrives at the announced curtain time, opens an envelope and performs whatever is inside. For the audience, some of the thrill lies in seeing a star get tossed into the deep end, and in watching a normally polished actor being “real” and bashful and unrehearsed. But Soleimanpour himself is not self-effacing. This time, he has not only named his play after himself but has also given himself a costarring role. A guest actor—on the afternoon I saw it, it was Michael Shannon—shows up and begins following his directions, but soon evinces an overwhelming (scripted) need to meet the playwright, who emerges to tumultuous applause. Thus Soleimanpour creates a breathless anticipation for his own arrival. Multiple Oscar nominee Michael Shannon as hype man? Must be nice. What follows is a gentle conversation between an actor reading cue cards and a playwright who never speaks. Soleimanpour’s method is savvy; the native Farsi speaker can tour his work all over the world, putting his translated words into the mouths of local heroes. It’s also, his script tells us, terribly sad. He regrets never being able to perform in his own home country, so he—through his guest actor—teaches us how to drink tea the Iranian way (with a
After a hit run at St. Ann's Warehouse last year, Daniel Fish’s bold, dark, spare revival of Oklahoma! now moves to Broadway. The musical’s cast of 12 performs in modern clothing, mostly without microphones, with the audience seated on either side of the minimal stage. Fish’s vision treats Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1943 musical with deep respect, shining a hard light on its underlying issues of justice, violence and the autonomy of women. It ventures into rough territory and leaves the show in a brand-new state. Read the 2018 review here. RECOMMENDED: Meet the cast of Broadway's shocking revival of Oklahoma!
Theater review by Adam Feldman At the opening-night party for an ill-starred Broadway musical, the show’s leading players, Dee Dee Allen (Beth Leavel) and Barry Glickman (Brooks Ashmanskas), are smarting dumbly from a brutal review. She is a grandiose diva prone to sequins and grand gestes, he is a prancing pony “as gay as a bucket of wigs,” and neither of them can understand why they didn’t go over like gangbusters in Eleanor!, a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt. “It’s not the show,” explains their publicist (Josh Lamon). “It’s you two. You’re not likable.” Stung, they resolve to burnish their images through high-profile, low-risk activism. Thus begins The Prom, a sweet-hearted original musical that, despite a few missteps, leaves you grinning by the last dance. Joined by a puffed-up actor-waiter (Christopher Sieber) and a leggy career chorus girl (Angie Schworer, who looks like someone stretched Jane Krakowski on a rack), Dee Dee and Barry decamp—albeit very campily—to rural Indiana. Their goal: to help a local teenager, Emma (Caitlin Kinnunen, a natural actor and wonderful singer), who has been barred from bringing her girlfriend to a high-school dance. Eager for attention, the carpetbagging celebrity protesters come on too strong (“How do you silence a woman who’s known for her belt?” demands the imperious Dee Dee), to the distress of the school’s kindly principal (Michael Potts) and its homophobic PTA leader (Courtenay Collins, drawing blood from a stony role). Backs a
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
Theater review by Helen Shaw Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas has woven a delicate spider’s web in Recent Alien Abductions. His heartbroken thriller feels both gossamer frail and weirdly strong; even in a sometimes saggy production, it manages to snare your imagination. In its outline, it tracks a familiar tragic path: A man’s childhood trauma is slowly uncovered, clue by clue. But in its details and structure, the play operates as a postmodern hall of mirrors, full of hints that its fiction may be a real cry for help. An artist in the play, we are told, has delivered a monologue in an experimental New York theater as a kind of elliptical suicide note. But wait: Aren’t we watching a monologue in an experimental New York theater? What is actually happening here? Should we be concerned? The Play Company production at Walkerspace serves the play—Cortiñas himself directed it—but as a writer, he hasn’t made the road easy. The first third of his 90-minute show is a retelling of an episode of The X-Files, embroidered with paranoid conspiracy theories and murmured in hushed, intimate, sometimes soporific tones. As he talks to us, Álvaro (Rafael Sardina) is lit only by a flickering television set; he stands inches from the front row. Somehow he manages to tie Fox Mulder’s televised adventures to the Puerto Rican independence movement, suggest paranormal sympathies between the fictional characters and his childhood, and point to an unrevealed but still open wound. The second act takes place
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 Helen Shaw For about 75 delightfully repulsive minutes, you’ll regret your childhood. Depending on how close the actors get to your row, you may regret the entire concept of children. The latest show in New York Theater Workhop's NextDoor series, Skinnamarink burlesques the first-grade experience, unseals old pleasures you might have forgotten (which may involve peeling scabs) and offers a damning critique of the way we teach the young. I don’t want to oversell its qualities: It’s a daffy show. But the downtown ensemble Little Lord tends to make the kind of seeming silliness that worms into your brain and comes out to play long after recess is over. The theater has been dressed as a schoolroom. Set designer Marika Kent has found the exact rusty-red curtain from your elementary school, and the floor is covered in the lines you remember from handwriting workbooks. High up on each wall are the two suns of every classroom: the clock face and the intercom, both in pale golden spotlights. The actors of the Little Lord ensemble, directed by Michael Levinton, strap themselves into just-too-small green sweater vests and pinafores, and tilt their faces up expectantly. As the P.A. system (Kate Weber) directs them thither and yon, they eagerly take part in dictated exercises and “snacktivities,” learning to obey. Levinton and his wild-eyed group use McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers—a standard in American schools since the 1830s—as their source material, but we’re never
To untimely rip and paraphrase a line from Macbeth: Our eyes are made the fools of the other senses, or else worth all the rest. A multitude of searing sights crowd the spectator's gaze at the bedazzling and uncanny theater installation Sleep No More. Your sense of space and depth---already compromised by the half mask that audience members must don---is further blurred as you wend through more than 90 discrete spaces, ranging from a cloistral chapel to a vast ballroom floor. Directors Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle, of the U.K. troupe Punchdrunk, have orchestrated a true astonishment, turning six warehouse floors and approximately 100,000 square feet into a purgatorial maze that blends images from the Scottish play with ones derived from Hitchcock movies—all liberally doused in a distinctly Stanley Kubrick eau de dislocated menace. An experiential, Choose Your Own Adventure project such as this depends on the pluck and instincts of the spectator. You can follow the mute dancers from one floor to the next, or wander aimlessly through empty spaces. I chose the latter, discovering a room lined with empty hospital beds; a leafless wood in which a nurse inside a thatched cottage nervously checks her pocket watch; an office full of apothecary vials and powders; and the ballroom, forested with pine trees screwed to rolling platforms (that would be Birnam Wood). A Shakespearean can walk about checking off visual allusions to the classic tragedy; the less lettered can just revel in
[Note: The review below is for a 2014 version of this show, which was then titled The Imbible. A revised version now plays at New World Stages. A different, brunch-theater edition, titled Day Drinking, plays on weekend matinees.] Remember Bill Nye the Science Guy? Great! Now imagine him as a bartender who is deeply interested in the history of ethanol alcohol, really likes wigs and costumes, and just joined a coed barbershop quartet. That description of Anthony Caporale’s The Imbible: A Spirited History of Drinking may sound far-out, but the show is both educational and entertaining. (It's also a fine showcase for a cappella classics arranged by Josh Ehrlich and performed by a gifted ensemble that includes the show's director, soprano Nicole DiMattei.) Mixing whimsy and information, Caporale makes the story of our relationship with alcohol remarkably compelling. And the show's lessons—on subjects like the drinks served at Prohibition-era speakeasies, the origin of the gin and tonic, and the difference between a cocktail and a mixed drink—can be washed down with complimentary, thematically appropriate beverages. As Caporale says, “Trust me, I get funnier with every sip.” That makes the show a must-see for anyone who enjoys free booze, which is probably nearly everyone.—Amelia Bienstock
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.
Waitress: Theater review by David Cote [Sara Bareilles returns to the lead role of Jenna from January 7 through February 3, opposite Gavin Creel.]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 eleventh-hour ballad of loss and regret
Theater review by Helen Shaw [Note: This review of What the Constitution Means to Me at New York Theatre Workshop was published on September 30, 2018. The production transfers to Broadway in 2019; previews begin March 14, and opening night is March 31.] September 27 was a strange day to see What the Constitution Means to Me. Heidi Schreck’s excellent close-to-solo show hasn’t changed much since its short run in Clubbed Thumb’s 2017 Summerworks festival: It is still delightful, still passionate, still data- and detail-rich. Schreck tells us her (true) story of earning college money by winning oratorical contests, which had her traveling around the country delivering a short speech on the Constitution and competing in rapid-fire challenges about its amendments. Standing in Rachel Hauck’s poetic reimagining of an American Legion Hall (Mike Iveson plays a Legionnaire, complete with a little soft hat), Schreck tries to recall what she might have said at 16, when her patriotism was heavily flavored with horniness and a love of witches. Her reconstruction goes “over time” when Schreck relates how the government has and hasn’t protected women, citing statistics and cases as well as her own family’s hellish experiences. The show offers a compelling mix of earnest sweetness and thundering mountaintop fury. As the show began on the 27th, though, the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings were still ringing in the audience’s ears, and Schreck—a fizzy presence—cried through nearly the
This musical prequel to The Wizard of Oz addresses surprisingly complex themes, such as standards of beauty, morality and, believe it or not, fighting fascism. Thanks to Winnie Holzman’s witty book and Stephen Schwartz’s pop-inflected score, Wicked soars. The current cast includes Jackie Burns as Elphaba and Amanda Jane Cooper as Glinda.