Critics’ picks for theater in New York
Tom and Betsy Salamon’s unique adventure—part interactive theater, part scavenger hunt, part walking tour—draws participants into an amusing web of puzzles and intrigue. You can choose between the three-hour New York tour, which takes participants through various neighborhoods of lower Manhattan, or the two-hour Village tour, which travels through quirky Greenwich Village on Saturdays. Groups of as many as 11 are booked every half hour.
Theater review by Adam FeldmanBroadway musicals often feature heroines trying to find themselves, but perhaps never as literally as in Anastasia. In 1927 Leningrad, the scrappy, strapping Dmitry (Derek Klena) and the worldly, roguish Vlad (John Bolton) devise a scheme to pass off a street sweeper, Anya (Christy Altomare), as the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicholaevna Romanov, rumored to have survived the massacre of the rest of her royal family in the Russian Revolution 10 years earlier. But as the con men school her, My Fair Lady–like, in the ways of nobility—hoping to deceive Anastasia’s grandmother in Paris, the Dowager Empress (an elegant Mary Beth Peil)—it emerges that Anya may be the real Anastasia after all. Who knows? Not Anya: She has amnesia. What former self might be nested like a doll inside her, waiting to be revealed? And might there be other dolls inside that one?As Anastasia piles discovery upon discovery, the happiest surprise is how consistently good the musical turns out to be. Smartly adapted by Terrence McNally from the 1997 animated film and the 1956 Ingrid Bergman movie—with Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens impressively expanding their score from the former—Anastasia is a sweeping adventure, romance and historical epic whose fine craftsmanship will satisfy musical-theater fans beyond the show’s ideal audience of teenage girls. (When I saw it, a second-act kiss was greeted with deafening shrieks of approval.) Director Darko Tresnjak keeps the story swirling
After many years, the sassy and clever puppet musical doesn’t show its age. Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s deft Sesame Street–esque novelty tunes about porn and racism still earn their laughs. Avenue Q remains a sly and winning piece of metamusical tomfoolery. Running time: 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.
Updated review by Adam Feldman (2018) Ten months into its Broadway run, David Yazbek and Itamar Moses’s Tony-winning musical remains quietly ravishing: It seems to have almost as much silence as music, and it trusts us to fill in the blanks. Sasson Gabay now stars as Tewfiq, the conductor of an Egyptian band stranded in an Israeli desert town—the role he played in the film from which the show is adapted. His performance is bone-dry and bone-deep, and his scenes with the stunning Katrina Lenk retain the delicate balance she had opposite Tony Shalhoub, with a slight shift in emphasis: Gabay has a more somber and paternal presence, which casts his relationship with wayward trumpet player Haled (Ari'el Stachel) into clearer relief. The richness of the writing, the nuances of David Cromer’s production and the continued excellence of the ensemble cast make each return visit a pleasure. Broadway review by Adam Feldman (2017) In a musical that is full of beautiful moments, perhaps the loveliest is the one shared on a plain park bench by Dina (Katrina Lenk), an Israeli café owner, and Tewfiq (Tony Shalhoub), an Egyptian bandleader stranded for the night in her uneventful desert town in 1996. As members of his ceremonial police orchestra play incidental music behind them, Dina asks Tewfiq how it feels to be a conductor. They each raise their arms, inhabiting an imagined experience together, and the music we have been hearing stops; what they feel is realer, and we are invited to im
[Note: Abby Mueller, the sister of original star Jessie Mueller, takes over as King starting August 7.] Beautiful—The Carole King Musical shares several virtues with its titular singer-songwriter, among them humility, earnestness and dedication to craft. If Douglas McGrath’s book never achieves the dramatic grit or comic zip of Jersey Boys, at least director Marc Bruni’s production avoids being a brain-dead, self-satisfied hit parade à la Berry Gordy’s Motown. Still, it does seem that stretches of Broadway’s newest jukebox musical consist of situations such as this: “Carole, you’ve got to write us a hit!” “I’ve written something.” “It’s a hit!” Yes, Beautiful loves its diligent, long-suffering pop genius, and invites you to do the same. It’s quite an easy task when you have the phenomenal Jessie Mueller in the lead. The effortlessly appealing star cut her teeth on Broadway flops (the mis-reconceived On a Clear Day You Can See Forever) and in supporting parts (The Mystery of Edwin Drood). Now she’s ready to carry a show. As Brooklyn-raised King, who started churning out teenybopper tunes at 1650 Broadway in the late ’50s, Mueller exudes warmth and common sense, playing up King’s old-fashioned modesty and insecurity without becoming a doormat or cipher. And when she wraps her rich, burnished voice around those hits—“So Far Away,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “It’s Too Late”—they feel as fresh as the day King penned them. McGrath’s deft, wry book tracks its hero’s tortured fi
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
Theater review by Adam Feldman A beautiful bad boy can be hard to resist. In Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s 1945 musical Carousel, set in 19th-century Maine, the moony, quietly nonconformist Julie Jordan (the soulful Jessie Mueller) is drawn, moth to flame, to the well-built, sexually charismatic carnival barker Billy Bigelow (Joshua Henry). She marries the rageful brute, and both pay a price they can’t afford: Julie loses her job at the local mill and her reputation in town; Billy falls from favor with his hawklike employer, Mrs. Mullin (a perfectly seasoned Margaret Colin), and is driven to crime. Their unhappy struggle—they can’t even articulate their love for each other—is set against a seemingly idyllic seaside world of busting-out-all-over Junes and real nice clambakes, and contrasted with the upward mobility of Julie’s best friend, Carrie (the huggable Lindsay Mendez, who beams like nobody’s business). Carousel's sumptuous new Broadway revival plows steadily through the show’s darker currents. Director Jack O’Brien invites us to admire the show as an exemplar of classic American musical theater, lovingly emphasizing its virtues. Prime among them is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s innovative and varied score, repolished by orchestrator Jonathan Tunick and sterlingly sung by the cast; Henry offers a powerful account of Billy’s long and winding first-act finale, “Soliloquy,” and opera star Renée Fleming—though too grand in manner for the role of Julie’s kindly
After more than 15 years at the Waldorf Astoria, Steve Cohen, billed as the Millionaires’ Magician, now conjures his high-class parlor magic in the marble-columned Madison Room at the swank Lotte New York Palace. Audiences must dress to be impressed (cocktail attire is required); tickets start at $100, with an option to pay more for meet-and-greet time and extra tricks with Cohen after the show. But if you've come to see a classic-style magic act, you get what you pay for. Sporting a tuxedo and bright rust hair, the magician delivers routines that he has buffed to a patent-leather gleam: In addition to his signature act—"Think-a-Drink," involving a kettle that pours liquids by request—highlights include a lulu of levitation trick and a card-trick finale that leaves you feeling like, well, a million bucks.
One of the more unlikely musicals on Broadway this season, Come from Away is the tense but humane story of an airport in Gander, Newfoundland, where 38 planes and more than 6,000 passengers were forced to land on September 11, 2001. The book, music and lyrics are by the Canadian team Irene Sankoff and David Hein. Read the full review.
In this captivating original musical, Hello, Dolly! scene-stealer Taylor Trensch now plays the title role of a high school student thrust into social relevance after a classmate's suicide. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's score combines well-crafted lyrics with an exciting pop sound, and Steven Levenson’s book gives all the characters shaded motives. Read the full review.
After a hit run at the York Theatre last year, Peter Kellogg and David Friedman’s rootin’-tootin’-shootin’-prosecutin’-prostitutin’ Wild West musical returns with a second helping of its tasty corn pudding. Very loosely adapted from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure (and written in rhyming dialogue), the show ropes you in with peppy songs and an engaging cast of six sharpshooters: Peter Saide as a strapping lawman, Conor Ryan as a jailed outlaw, Sarah Parnicky as a nun (with a wimple and a dimple), Nick Wyman as a lecherous German villain, Gary Marachek as a boozy priest and Lauren Molina as an ever-game, highly seasoned saloon gal.—Adam Feldman 2017 theater review by Diane Snyder [Note: This review is for the original New York production of Desperate Measures at the York Theatre Company. The show returns for an encore run at New World Stages starting May 30.] It takes true grit to fashion a musical from Shakespeare and set it in the late-19th-century Old West. Inspired by Measure for Measure, the peppy tuner Desperate Measures follows the plight of soon-to-be-nun Susanna (Emma Degerstedt), who can save her brother (Conor Ryan) from the hangman’s noose only by spending a night with the deplorable governor (a deliciously drooling Nick Wyman). To preserve her chastity, the handsome sheriff (Peter Saide) suggests she get saloon gal Bella (Lauren Molina, hilariously bawdy) to switch places with her. After all, Bella’s the reason Johnny got involved in the deadly gunfight
Felder has made a career out of solo tributes to famous composers, including Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt and Leonard Bernstein. His latest is devoted to Great American Songbook legend Irving Berlin, the man behind such standards as "White Christmas," "Always" and "There's No Business Like Show Business." Trevor Hay directs.
Theater review by Raven Snook How do you make Fiddler on the Roof even more Jewish? Do it in Yiddish! Fans of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s landmark musical about Tevye the Milkman and his shtetl community in early-20th-century Russia will go meshuga for the U.S. premiere of Shraga Friedman’s translation, which ran briefly in Israel in 1965. It’s a mitzvah that the century-old National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene has resurrected this version, which lets the characters speak (and sing) in the expressive guttural tongue they would have used in real life—the language of the Sholem Aleichem stories that inspired the show. English translations are projected for the benefit of those who don’t know Yiddish, and many of the performers aren’t fluent in the language, either (they have learned their lines phonetically, much as opera singers often do). But director Joel Grey—yes, that Joel Grey—has made sure the performers know what they’re feeling, even if they don’t know what they’re saying, and their emotional journeys are so clear you may find yourself abandoning the oddly placed supertitles to luxuriate in the sound of the language and the klezmer-inflected score, played by a lively 12-piece orchestra. Of course, that means you may miss the ways this Yiddish interpretation differs from the original, as when “If I Were a Rich Man” is reimagined as “If I Were a Rothschild,” a reference to a 1902 tale by Aleichem. Steven Skybell, who appeared in the most recent Broadway revival
Self-described “bubble scientist” Fan Yang's blissfully disarming act (now performed in New York by his son Deni, daughter Melody and wife Ana) consists mainly of generating a dazzling succession of bubbles in mind-blowing configurations, filling them with smoke or linking them into long chains. Lasers and flashing colored lights add to the trippy visuals.—David Cote TIME OUT DISCOUNT TICKET OFFER:THE GAZILLION BUBBLE SHOW It will blow you away!!!Tickets as low as $49 (regular price $79) Promotional description: After twenty years as a Master of Bubbles, Fan Yang brought his unique brand of artistry to the Big Apple in 2007 and has since wowed bubble lovers of all ages. The Gazillion Bubble Show truly is a family affair for Fan: His wife Ana, son Deni, daughter Melody and brother Jano all can be found on stage in New York and around the world performing their bubble magic. Audiences are delighted with an unbubblievable experience and washed with a bubble tide; some even find themselves inside a bubble. Mind-blowing bubble magic, spectacular laser lighting effects and momentary soapy masterpieces will make you smile, laugh and feel like a kid again.THREE WAYS TO BUY TICKETS:1. Online: Click here to buy tickets through Telecharge2. By phone: Call 212-947-8844 and mention code: GBTONYF453. In person: Print this offer and bring it to the New World Stages box officePerformance schedule: Friday at 7pm; Saturday at 11am, 2pm and 4:30pm; Sunday at 12pm and 3pm Running time: 1h
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 shrouded in
Theater review by Adam Feldman To enjoy Head Over Heels, which offers quite a lot to enjoy, it is probably best to kick up your heels and put your head on hold. That’s not to say that this saucy, boisterous musical doesn’t have a brainy side, starting with its ambitious crossbreeding of four time periods: It grafts a 2010s queer sensibility onto songs from the 1980s—by the all-girl pop-punk quintet the Go-Go’s (plus two hits from lead singer Belinda Carlisle’s solo career)—and fits them into a 16th-century story that is set in ancient Greece. The dialogue, in iambic pentameter liberally sprinkled with thou and thee, contrasts amusingly with the unornamented lyrics of such go-to Go-Go’s bops as “Vacation,” “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat.” But at heart the show is a campy romp. Loosely adapted from Sir Philip Sidney’s Elizabethan prose adventure Arcadia, the musical spins a complicated tale of romance, lust, intrigue and cross-dressing. (Its original book, by Avenue Q’s Jeff Whitty, was extensively rewritten by James Magruder.) Stubborn Basilius (Jeremy Kushnier) and his frustrated queen, Gynecia (a smashing Rachel York), rule a kingdom blessed by “the beat,” a divine gift that keeps their realm in a happy groove. Their beautiful but vain daughter Pamela (the big-bodied and big-voiced Bonnie Milligan, in a triumphant Broadway debut) refuses to marry; her overshadowed sister, Philoclea (the affecting Alexandra Socha), is courted by a passionate shepherd, Musidoru
Theater review by Adam 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
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
Director-designer Julie Taymor takes a reactionary Disney cartoon about the natural right of kings—in which the circle of life is putted against a queeny villain and his jive-talking ghetto pals—and transforms it into a gorgeous celebration of color and movement. The movie’s Elton John–Tim Rice score is expanded with African rhythm and music, and through elegant puppetry, Taymor populates the stage with an amazing menagerie of beasts; her audacious staging expands a simple cub into the pride of Broadway, not merely a fable of heredity but a celebration of heritage.—Adam Feldman Running time: 2hrs 40mins. One intermission.
Theater review by Adam Feldman Teenage girls rule in the tart but sweet new Broadway musical Mean Girls. But their system of high-school government is far from a democracy: It’s a reign of terror, angst and mall fashions, where popularity is arrogated and then ruthlessly enforced. Having spent her childhood being home-schooled in Kenya, nature and math enthusiast Cady (Erika Henningsen) is initially confused by the rigid caste system of her new school in Chicago. She tries to be nice, but the ruthlessness of American teenage culture brings out Cady’s predatory instincts. She reverts to the mean. A canny crossbreed of Heathers and Hairspray, the musical has been adapted by Tina Fey from her own 2004 cult movie, and updated to reflect the new realities of smartphones and social media. Fey is one of the sharpest comic writers in America, and the show remains, in some sense, her vehicle: an auto de Fey, burning with bookish anger at the limits young women place on each other and themselves. (Her film role as a pushy calculus teacher is amusingly evoked by Kerry Butler, who also plays the other adult women.) But this version of Mean Girls is not just a copy of the original. The most famous lines from the screenplay are here, but Casey Nicholaw’s energetic staging wisely breezes past them; the newer jokes get bigger laughs, while the score—by Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin—successfully builds on Fey’s knowingly corrective tone. (“This is modern feminism talkin’,” sings a high-
Theater review by Raven Snook Mike Birbiglia may not be thankful for his eventful medical history—a bladder tumor as a teen! an injury by a drunk driver! a life-threatening sleepwalking disorder!—but his fans certainly are. He's a master at turning his travails into dark comedies that are as unflinchingly honest as they are entertaining. Although he honed his punch-line skills on the comedy circuit, his solo performances aren't just glorified stand-up. Since making his Off Broadway debut ten years ago with Sleepwalk with Me, which he later transformed into a best-selling book and an indie film, he's proved to be a gifted theatrical raconteur who weighs the impact and delivery of every word to uproarious effect.Thanks to his fervent following and the small size of the Cherry Lane Theatre, Birbiglia was able to sell out his latest show in advance, without even revealing its theme. But I'll clue you in: The New One is about his reluctant (and, of course, medically arduous) journey to fatherhood and how it has changed his life. That may sound about as scintillating as potato salad, but Birbiglia isn't some generic straight white guy whining about domesticity. He is raw, self-deprecating and painfully aware of both his privilege and his failings. When he admits to thoughts about romance and parenting that are verboten but common, you can't judge him without condemning and laughing at yourself. Birbiglia's longtime director, Seth Barrish, pulls off a stupendous sight gag and main
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.
[Note: This review is from The Mushroom Cure's 2014 stint at the New York International Fringe Festival. The show has now returned for an Off Broadway run.] What do you do when you have a severe case of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and antidepressants and psychotherapy aren't working? According to a scientific study uncovered by writer-performer Adam Strauss, hallucinogenic mushrooms may be the answer: His true-life tour de force The Mushroom Cure is a funny, frenzied trip (often of the psychedelic kind) through his OCD and the methods he uses to try to cure himself. Strauss kicks off his tale by reading from the transcript of the 911 call he made after overdosing on mushrooms he had ordered over the Internet, and a comedic yarn ensues, but his illness is not just a laughing matter. His constant, manic attempts to achieve perfection—the perfect girlfriend, the perfect shirt for his stand-up show, the better side of the street to walk on—can be maddening and even heart-wrenching. An experienced stand-up comic, Strauss has an engaging, ironic delivery that keeps you riveted throughout the show’s nearly two-hour running time; and director Jonathan Libman stays basic, keeping Strauss at a small desk for the duration of the show and guiding the performance with a subtle hand. The Mushroom Cure might benefit from a stronger structure and a 20-minute trim—but hey, no one’s perfect.
Theater review by Adam Feldman We’ve grown accustomed to the grace of Bartlett Sher’s revivals of American stage classics, but that doesn’t mean we should take them for granted. Working in blessed harmony with his trusty creative team—including set designer Michael Yeargan and costumer Catherine Zuber—Sher is not an iconoclast or radical re-sculptor; instead, he acts as a restorer, leaving the shows on their pedestals but stripping off years of obscuration to reveal layers the works have possessed all along. So it is with the splendid new Lincoln Center Theater revival of My Fair Lady. Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s sparkling 1956 musical doesn’t need much retooling. Its delightful songs—including “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?,” “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “The Rain in Spain”—spring like fresh water from the show’s source, George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 parable Pygmalion. In Edwardian London, a haughty and misogynist professor of phonetics, Henry Higgins (Harry Hadden-Paton), makes a bet with his friend Pickering (Allan Corduner) that he can take lowborn flower girl Eliza Doolittle (Lauren Ambrose) and give her the manners and elocution of a poised aristocrat. Or as he says, with nasty Shavian snap: “I’ll make a duchess of this draggle-tailed guttersnipe!” In the original Broadway production of My Fair Lady, Henry was played by an imperious headliner, Rex Harrison, and Eliza by the then-unknown Julie Andrews. In this one, the star-power dynamics have shifted. The lu
Theater review by Adam Feldman After seeing the imaginative and dynamic Once on This Island, you may feel that once is not enough. Michael Arden’s immersive revival of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s 1990 musical is staged in the round and constantly on the move, drumming its story forward to a steady throb of pop-Caribbean beats. Framed as a folktale shared among impoverished islanders—Dane Laffrey’s sandy set suggests the aftermath of a natural disaster—the plot follows naive orphan Ti Moune (Hailey Kilgore, in a winsome Broadway debut), who falls for a boy above her station: the rich and light-skinned Daniel (Isaac Powell). Overseeing their quasi-romance, which defies the strict class and color divides of their French Antilles isle, is a quartet of sometimes capricious gods, played by Lea Salonga, Quentin Earl Darrington, the striking Merle Dandridge and the remarkable Alex Newell (in an astonishing drag diva turn). One of Ahrens and Flaherty’s earliest collaborations, Once on This Island is patchy in parts. Its best-known songs, “Waiting for Life” and “Mama Will Provide,” bring down the house, but there are also languors (such as the drippy “The Human Heart”). And the central story of female sacrifice and degradation, which borrows liberally from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” is treated as more inspirational than it actually is. But it is hard to imagine a better account of the show than the one that Arden and his team—including choreographer Camill
Theater review by Diane Snyder For seven Harry Potter novels, the mediocrities of the Hogwarts house Hufflepuff lived in the shadow of their overachieving schoolmates. Matt Cox’s Puffs, or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic gives them their due. In this funny and affectionate homage to J.K. Rowling’s world of wiz kids, Harry, Hermione and Ron take a back seat to average American wizard Wayne (Zac Moon), goth gal Megan (Julie Ann Earls) and math genius Oliver (Langston Belton), who is stuck at a school that doesn’t even teach his subject. They may not be at the top of the class, and they’re not wild about Harry, but they persevere through adversity and find power in friendship. A press release asks that the word parody be avoided in describing Puffs, but much of the show’s comedy is clearly aimed at Potterphiles. The 11 cast members play an assortment of characters, from a mumbling potions master to a squeaky house elf, and some of the jokes will be lost on those with no knowledge of the films or books. But even Potter virgins will enjoy the show’s witty wordplay and well-executed physical comedy. At times, the pacing is so frenetic that jokes can’t find a place to land, but there’s heart as well as humor here. In the past two years, Cox and director Kristin McCarthy Parker have shepherded their silly, subversive show from the People’s Improv Theater to Off Broadway’s New World Stages. Like its main characters, Puffs illustrates the heigh
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
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
Thompson's recurring portrayal of queeny barfly Buddy Cole, proudly flaming in a smoking jacket, was the highlight of his stint on the cult 1990s comedy series The Kids in the Hall. In this show, the witty gay comic actor performs new monologues that catch us up on what Cole has been up to in the past quarter-century or so.
To untimely rip and paraphrase a line from Macbeth: Our eyes are made the fools of the other senses, or else worth all the rest. A multitude of searing sights crowd the spectator's gaze at the bedazzling and uncanny theater installation Sleep No More. Your sense of space and depth---already compromised by the half mask that audience members must don---is further blurred as you wend through more than 90 discrete spaces, ranging from a cloistral chapel to a vast ballroom floor. Directors Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle, of the U.K. troupe Punchdrunk, have orchestrated a true astonishment, turning six warehouse floors and approximately 100,000 square feet into a purgatorial maze that blends images from the Scottish play with ones derived from Hitchcock movies—all liberally doused in a distinctly Stanley Kubrick eau de dislocated menace. An experiential, Choose Your Own Adventure project such as this depends on the pluck and instincts of the spectator. You can follow the mute dancers from one floor to the next, or wander aimlessly through empty spaces. I chose the latter, discovering a room lined with empty hospital beds; a leafless wood in which a nurse inside a thatched cottage nervously checks her pocket watch; an office full of apothecary vials and powders; and the ballroom, forested with pine trees screwed to rolling platforms (that would be Birnam Wood). A Shakespearean can walk about checking off visual allusions to the classic tragedy; the less lettered can just revel in
[Note: The review below is for a 2014 version of this show, which was then titled The Imbible. A revised version now plays at New World Stages. A different, brunch-theater edition, titled Day Drinking, plays on weekend matinees.] Remember Bill Nye the Science Guy? Great! Now imagine him as a bartender who is deeply interested in the history of ethanol alcohol, really likes wigs and costumes, and just joined a coed barbershop quartet. That description of Anthony Caporale’s The Imbible: A Spirited History of Drinking may sound far-out, but the show is both educational and entertaining. (It's also a fine showcase for a cappella classics arranged by Josh Ehrlich and performed by a gifted ensemble that includes the show's director, soprano Nicole DiMattei.) Mixing whimsy and information, Caporale makes the story of our relationship with alcohol remarkably compelling. And the show's lessons—on subjects like the drinks served at Prohibition-era speakeasies, the origin of the gin and tonic, and the difference between a cocktail and a mixed drink—can be washed down with complimentary, thematically appropriate beverages. As Caporale says, “Trust me, I get funnier with every sip.” That makes the show a must-see for anyone who enjoys free booze, which is probably nearly everyone.—Amelia Bienstock
Theater review by Adam Feldman Are you ready? The splashy new Broadway musical SpongeBob SquarePants, whose arrival was greeted in some circles with sneers of anticipatory derision, turns out to be a joy. Like its irrepressible yellow hero, played by the peppy and limber-limbed Ethan Slater, the show is unabashedly committed to imagination and dorky enthusiasm. As SpongeBob and his squirrel friend, Sandy (Lilli Cooper), labor to save their undersea town—the cheekily named Bikini Bottom—from a local volcano, the wonders of Tina Landau’s production pour from the stage in a ravishing stream of color and invention that sucks you into its merry, silly currents. Adapted by Kyle Jarrow from Nickelodeon’s popular cartoon, the show takes time to find its sea legs. The introductory sequences seem squarely aimed at kids, and there are early weak spots in the eclectic score, which comprises original songs by pop stars including the Flaming Lips, Panic! at the Disco, T.I., Lady Antebellum and John Legend (plus a David Bowie tune from the 1990s). But music supervisor Tom Kitt manages to bring them all into the same world, sometimes with magical results. In a gospel number by Yolanda Adams, “Super Sea Star Savior,” SpongeBob’s indolent starfish pal, Patrick (Danny Skinner), is hilariously worshipped by a cult of sardines. And Gavin Lee, as SpongeBob’s dour neighbor Squidward, gets the takeaway musical number of 2017. In the fantasy Broadway showstopper “I’m Not a Loser”—choreographed by C
Theater review by Adam Feldman “I'm no hero, that’s understood,” sings Bruce Springsteen in “Thunder Road,” self-effacingly but also with the knowledge that a cardinal rule of heroism is denying it. He's got the dirty hood, sure, but it’s a hoodwink of a kind, and in the extraordinary concert show Springsteen on Broadway he is candid about that: Rock stardom, he says, is partly “a magic trick.” He's the young man without a driver’s license writing songs about the road; the artist costumed in the “factory clothes” of his emotionally withholding father; the working man who is also always the Boss. For more than four decades, Springsteen has maintained a sturdy performance of authenticity. He writes unforgettable character songs and sings them, essentially, as an actor; between them, he recites eloquently plain-spoken monologues—full of lists that touch on joy and sex and pain—that he writes for the character of Bruce. So Springsteen on Broadway is less of a contradiction in terms than it may seem. Dressed in simple black with no band (though his wife, Patti Scialfa, joins him for two duets), he performs what amounts to a two-hour solo musical about himself, a rock-star cabaret act. The hits are here, including “Born to Run” and “Dancing in the Dark,” but stripped down and edged with wistfulness; “Born in the U.S.A.” is pared into a skeletal, nearly a cappella blues. It’s an intimate show and a generous one, not just to past friends and collaborators but also to the audience,
Theater review by Adam Feldman The title characters of Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men may or may not be guilty, but they’ve definitely been framed. It is Christmas, and Ed (Stephen Payne), a widower and retired engineer, is hosting a reunion of his three fortysomething sons: Drew (Armie Hammer), an acclaimed novelist; Jake (Josh Charles), a divorced banker; and Matt (Paul Schneider), the eldest, a—well, no one seems sure. The play’s three scenes unfold in Ed’s family room, a comfort zone of board games, DVDs and stockings hung by the fireplace. This set, however, is contained within a large wooden frame with a plaque in front of it that says STRAIGHT WHITE MEN—the name of the play or, perhaps, of their exhibition at a museum of cultural history. And outside this frame is another device: a pair of fancifully costumed figures called the Persons in Charge (played by trans performers Kate Bornstein and Ty Defoe), who talk to the audience at the start of the show and supervise the set changes. This contextualization gives a touch of edge to a play that is otherwise quite square. Lee made her name with experimental provocations such as Lear and The Shipment, but here she offers a conventional issue play on themes of power and identity. Matt has moved back in with his father and is working as an office temp, which the other men consider a crisis—a betrayal of his own potential. All of them are well-meaning and intensely aware of their own privilege, but Matt’s stasis poses a
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!" Thom Sesma and Sally Ann Triplett currently play the leading roles. Read the full original review.
Master puppeteer Basil Twist revisits his 1998 hit show, an astonishing visual feat of form and rhythm performed in a 1,000-gallon tank of water. Twist's abstract underwater fantasia features diaphanous fabric, plastic figures, fringed and frilly shapes, and what appears to be a bedsheet. For the 20th-anniversary revival, the Hector Berlioz score is played live on piano by Christopher O'Riley. Twist himself performs in the show on Saturday nights through the end of the run.
[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
Waitress: Theater review by David Cote [Note: American Idol and Smash star Katharine McPhee takes over the leading role on April 10, 2018.]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 (“She U
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.