Critics’ picks for theater in New York
Tom and Betsy Salamon’s unique adventure—part interactive theater, part scavenger hunt, part walking tour—draws participants into an amusing web of puzzles and intrigue. You can choose between the three-hour New York tour, which takes participants through various neighborhoods of lower Manhattan, or the two-hour Village tour, which travels through quirky Greenwich Village. Groups of as many as 11 are booked every half hour.
Theater review by Adam Feldman The Temptations are hard to resist. No matter how much you may chafe at the clunky machinery of Broadway’s latest jukebox biomusical, Ain’t Too Proud, the hits just keep coming, distracting your critical faculties with zaps of R&B greatness. And when the show is at full power—when its lavishly gifted stars are lined up for duty in natty matching suits, moving and singing in synch through songs like “My Girl,” “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”—the gleam of well-polished nostalgia is strong. Is that enough, though? The problem with telling the story of the Temptations is that there isn’t a clear central story to tell. Much of Ain’t Too Proud focuses on the so-called Classic Five period from 1964 through 1968, when the quintet’s main frontman is the bespectacled and charismatic David Ruffin, played by the sensational Ephraim Sykes with a riveting combination of showboating dance moves and rough-edged soul vocals. High tenor Eddie Kendricks (the expressive Jeremy Pope) occasionally takes the lead vocals, backed by baritones Otis Williams (Derrick Baskin) and Paul Williams (James Harkness) and bass Melvin Franklin (the impressively deep-throated Jawan M. Jackson). But since the group’s membership has been in continual flux since its Motown debut in 1961, Ain’t Too Proud entrusts its narration entirely to the last Temp standing: Otis, who has been with the group from the start and performs with it
Theater review by Helen Shaw [Note: The following is a review of the production of Antigone in Ferguson at Harlem Stage in 2018. The production returns for an encore run at Brooklyn's St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church May 8–July 13, 2019. The rotating cast is scheduled to include Amy Ryan, Chris Noth, Paul Giamatti, Jumaane Williams, Kathryn Erbe, Obi Abili, Linda Powell, Josh Hamilton and David Strathairn.] Antigone in Ferguson's title is little misleading. In its first section, Bryan Doerries’s Theater of War production is not actually far different from Sophocles’ original tragedy. Its story of Thebes, torn apart by the conflicting claims of authority and conscience, still has all its ancient Greek trappings, and any association you make with certain events near St. Louis is, it seems, up to you. Doerries has given the cast—a rotating rep of fine film, theater and television actors (such as Frankie Faison, Tate Donovan, Samira Wiley and Paul Giamatti)—a trim hour-long version, and they perform it sitting at music stands, reading from scripts. Behind them a tip-top band and a choir full of gospel powerhouses sings Phil Woodmore’s wonderful settings of Sophocles’ famous choruses. No one tells us that the dead boy Polyneices could also be called Michael Brown; no one hints that Antigone—his sister, who buries his body in defiance of her uncle King Creon—could be a Black Lives Matters protestor. How, you wonder, did they get that title? RECOMMENDED: Antigone in Ferguson
[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
Fans of musical theater will get a kick out of watching improvisers shamelessly employ the genres' tropes to create a hilarious new musical at each performance. Have your smartphone charged and handy to submit suggestions; then kick back and watch these top-notch performers go to work.
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: This is a review of the 2018 production of Fairview at Soho Rep. The production returns for an encore run at Theatre for a New Audience in June, 2019, with the entire original cast. In April, the play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.] At several points in the first act of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s metatheatrical semicomedy Fairview, the upper-middle-class black women onstage look straight out into the audience and check their makeup. The fourth wall here is a one-way mirror, like the ones in police stations or psych-test observation rooms: The characters can see themselves, but they can’t see us watching them and sizing up their dynamics. As “Family Affair” plays on the stereo, Beverly (Heather Alicia Simms) nervously prepares a big dinner—it’s her mama’s birthday, and everything must be perfect!—for her jocular husband (Charles Browning), her undermining sister (the impeccable Roslyn Ruff) and her sporty daughter (Mayaa Boateng). It’s all quite familiar until, suddenly, it’s not. A half hour into the play, Drury (We Are Proud to Present…) switches its frame: As the opening scene replays in silence, we hear the voices of four white people who are chattering about it and over it, as though they were watching a reality TV show. What they are gabbing about is race—including which race they would like to be if they weren’t white—and they inevitably deal in stereotypes. (They are also stereotypes themselves: the rich liberal, the overtalki
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 and Fred Applegate.] 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 and expands the play’s focus to w
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 Adam Feldman The latest revival of Terrence McNally’s 1987 mournfully romantic two-hander, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, begins with a full moon: Michael Shannon’s, rising and falling as his nude body pounds away at another body beneath him, soon revealed to be Audra McDonald’s. The pull-out bed in Frankie’s Clinton apartment is shabby, and these two lovers—co-workers at a Greek diner, hooking up for the first time—are not the stuff of Hollywood movies. (As Johnny later describes them, they are “a man and a woman. Not young, not old. No great beauties, either one.”) But Bach is playing on the radio, so maybe there’s hope for them to forge a bond beyond one night. Johnny certainly thinks so; he’s tired of drifting through life alone, and sees a kindred spirit in the defeated, self-conscious Frankie. “We gotta connect,” he tells her. “We just have to. Or we die.” It is curious to see McNally’s play so soon after the Broadway revival of Lanford Wilson’s Burn This: Both are stories about a man who won’t take no for an answer and a woman who might, after considerable hesitation, be cajoled into loving him; both seem, on some level, like responses by gay 1980s playwrights to the question of passion in the age of AIDS. (When Frankie cuts herself, Johnny sucks the blood from her finger.) When Johnny refuses to leave Frankie’s apartment, even after she threatens to call the police, the creepiness factor is hard to avoid, especially since Shannon has use
Self-described “bubble scientist” Fan Yang's blissfully disarming act (now performed in New York by his son Deni, daughter Melody and wife Ana) consists mainly of generating a dazzling succession of bubbles in mind-blowing configurations, filling them with smoke or linking them into long chains. Lasers and flashing colored lights add to the trippy visuals.—David Cote TIME OUT DISCOUNT TICKET OFFER:THE GAZILLION BUBBLE SHOW It will blow you away!!!Tickets as low as $49 (regular price $79) Promotional description: After twenty years as a Master of Bubbles, Fan Yang brought his unique brand of artistry to the Big Apple in 2007 and has since wowed bubble lovers of all ages. The Gazillion Bubble Show truly is a family affair for Fan: His wife Ana, son Deni, daughter Melody and brother Jano all can be found on stage in New York and around the world performing their bubble magic. Audiences are delighted with an unbubblievable experience and washed with a bubble tide; some even find themselves inside a bubble. Mind-blowing bubble magic, spectacular laser lighting effects and momentary soapy masterpieces will make you smile, laugh and feel like a kid again.THREE WAYS TO BUY TICKETS:1. Online: Click here to buy tickets through Telecharge2. By phone: Call 212-947-8844 and mention code: GBTONYF453. In person: Print this offer and bring it to the New World Stages box officePerformance schedule: Friday at 7pm; Saturday at 11am, 2pm and 4:30pm; Sunday at 12pm and 3pm Running time: 1h
Theater review by Adam Feldman Here’s my advice: Go to hell. And by hell, of course, I mean Hadestown, Anaïs Mitchell’s fizzy, moody, thrilling new Broadway musical. Ostensibly, at least, the show is a modern retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy goes to the land of the dead in hopes of retrieving girl, boy loses girl again. “It’s an old song,” sings our narrator, the messenger god Hermes (André De Shields, a master of arch razzle-dazzle). “And we’re gonna sing it again.” But it’s the newness of Mitchell’s musical account—and Rachel Chavkin’s gracefully dynamic staging—that bring this old story to quivering life. In a New Orleans–style bar, hardened waif Eurydice (Eva Noblezada) falls for Orpheus (Reeve Carney), a busboy with an otherworldly high-tenor voice who is working, like Roger in Rent, toward writing one perfect song. But dreams don’t pay the bills, so the desperate Eurydice—taunted by the Fates in three-part jazz harmony—opts to sell her soul to the underworld overlord Hades (Patrick Page, intoning jaded come-ons in his unique sub-sepulchral growl, like a malevolent Leonard Cohen). Soon she is forced, by contract, into the ranks of the leather-clad grunts of Hades’s filthy factory city; if not actually dead, she is “dead to the world anyway.” This Hades is a drawling capitalist patriarch who keeps his minions loyal by giving them the minimum they need to survive. (“The enemy is poverty,” he sings to them i
Hamilton: Theater review by David Cote What is left to say? After Founding Father Alexander Hamilton’s prodigious quill scratched out 12 volumes of nation-building fiscal and military policy; after Lin-Manuel Miranda turned that titanic achievement (via Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography) into the greatest American musical in decades; after every critic in town (including me) praised the Public Theater world premiere to high heaven; and after seeing this language-drunk, rhyme-crazy dynamo a second time, I can only marvel: We've used up all the damn words. Wait, here are three stragglers, straight from the heart: I love Hamilton. I love it like I love New York, or Broadway when it gets it right. And this is so right. A sublime conjunction of radio-ready hip-hop (as well as R&B, Britpop and trad showstoppers), under-dramatized American history and Miranda’s uniquely personal focus as a first-generation Puerto Rican and inexhaustible wordsmith, Hamilton hits multilevel culture buttons, hard. No wonder the show was anointed a sensation before even opening. Assuming you don’t know the basics, Hamilton is a (mostly) rapped-through biomusical about an orphan immigrant from the Caribbean who came to New York, served as secretary to General Washington, fought against the redcoats, authored most of the Federalist Papers defending the Constitution, founded the Treasury and the New York Post and even made time for an extramarital affair that he damage-controlled in a scandal-stanching pamp
Theater review by Adam Feldman The world of Harry Potter has arrived on Broadway, Hogwarts and all, and it is a triumph of theatrical magic. Set two decades after the final chapters of J.K. Rowling’s world-shaking kid-lit heptalogy, the two-part epic Harry Potter and the Cursed Child combines grand storytelling with stagecraft on a scale heretofore unimagined. Richly elaborated by director John Tiffany, the show looks like a million bucks (or, in this case, a reported $68 million); the Lyric Theatre has been transfigured from top to bottom to immerse us in the narrative. It works: The experience is transporting. Jack Thorne’s play, based on a story he wrote with Rowling and Tiffany, extends the Potter narrative while remaining true to its core concerns. Love and friendship and kindness are its central values, but they don’t come easily: They are bound up in guilt, loneliness and fear. Harry (Jamie Parker) is weighted with trauma dating back to his childhood, which hinders his ability to communicate with his troubled middle son, Albus (Sam Clemmett); it doesn’t help that Albus’s only friend is the bookish outcast Scorpius Malfoy (the exceptional Anthony Boyle), son of Harry’s erstwhile enemy, Draco (Alex Price). Despite the best intentions of Harry’s solid wife, Ginny (Poppy Miller), and his friends Hermione (Noma Dumezweni) and Ron (Paul Thornley), things turn dark very fast. Set designer Christine Jones and lighting designer Neil Austin keep much of the stage shroude
Escape your humdrum black-and-white life for the many shades of gay at Dixon Place's estimable annual festival of all things same-sex. Offerings in the 2019 edition—many of them free—include Marga Gomez's solo show Spanking Machine (July 11–13) and performances by John Kelly, Venus Platt, David Dean Bottrell, Yoni Weiss, Tom Cole, Johnnie Cruise Mercer and many more.
In the helter-skelter of summer theater festivals, the cool curatorial heads of Ice Factory always provide a welcome breeze. All seven shows in the fest's 26th edition, curated by New Ohio artistic director Robert Lyons, are directed by women, and each production runs for a single week. The first two offerings are Byzantine Choral Project's Outside of Eden (June 26–29) and Limited Liability Theater Company's The Drinking Bird (July 3–6). Future scheduled shows are Radical Evolution's 13 Songs About Trains (July 10–13), Charly Evon Simpson's Sex Play (July 17–20), Rat Queen Theatre Co.'s Judy Doomed Us All (July 24–27), Gethsemane Herron-Coward's Lordes (July 31–Aug 3) and Maya Macdonald's Raw Pasta (Aug 7–10).
Sarah-Louise Young fangurls hard for Julie Andrews in a cabaret-theater show that surveys the life and career of the English grande dame of musical theater. Music director Michael Roulston (Fascinating Aida) is at the piano for this Brits Off Broadway presentation.
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 Helen Shaw [Note: The production returns for an encore run at Theatre Row in June, 2019, with Kevin Isola assuming the role of Vanya.] Despite the lack of a samovar and wistful-looking birches, Aaron Posner’s engaging Life Sucks.—the period is part of the title—is closely mapped onto Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. In the haze of late summer, Sonia (Kimberly Chatterjee) yearns for the dashing Dr. Aster (Michael Schantz), while her uncle Vanya (Jeff Biehl) lusts after Sonia's stepmother (Nadia Bowers); Sonia’s father (Austin Pendleton) pontificates and fusses and closes his eyes to Ella’s clear attraction to the doctor, and everyone works at cross purposes to their own happiness. Posner may have borrowed Chekhov’s kaleidoscopic love pentangle, but he’s updated events to the present day and salted the evening with postmodern hijinks, which include frequent check-ins with the audience and a theaterwide show-of-hands about regret. It’s a comedy! It makes you cry! Tl;dr: It’s Chekhov. Life Sucks. is the third in a cycle: Posner has also tweaked The Seagull into Stupid Fucking Bird and Three Sisters into No Sisters. The freewheeling theater thinker Jeffrey M. Jones calls this kind of piggybacking adaptation “gauge theater” because it constantly measures and reevaluates the distance between the original and the new version. Often, even elsewhere in Posner’s own Chekhoviana, that mental push-me-pull-you can be a little tiring, but not in Life Sucks. It helps that o
Director-designer Julie Taymor takes a reactionary Disney cartoon about the natural right of kings—in which the circle of life is putted against a queeny villain and his jive-talking ghetto pals—and transforms it into a gorgeous celebration of color and movement. The movie’s Elton John–Tim Rice score is expanded with African rhythm and music, and through elegant puppetry, Taymor populates the stage with an amazing menagerie of beasts; her audacious staging expands a simple cub into the pride of Broadway, not merely a fable of heredity but a celebration of heritage. Minskoff Theatre (Broadway). Music by Elton John. Lyrics by Tim Rice. Book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi. Directed by Julie Taymor. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 40mins. One intermission.
Theater review by Raven SnookKate Hamill’s crowd-pleasing stage version of Little Women at Primary Stages reimagines Louisa May Alcott's beloved 19th-century coming-of-age tale through a modern lens. They may wear modest period costumes (by Valérie Thérèse Bart) and talk about the raging Civil War, but the four March sisters grapple with many of the same issues that young women do today as they try to find their way in life and love within strict constraints of gender and class. As in most screen and stage incarnations of the book, the de facto protagonist is the tomboyish aspiring writer Jo. Kristolyn Lloyd is marvelous in the role, sporting a manly suit and gait as she alternately collaborates and clashes with her siblings and the boy next door, Laurie (Nate Mann). The other sisters are portrayed in broad strokes, at times even crossing into camp, but it mostly works. Hamill's high-strung Meg is a hoot, and Carmen Zilles's vain Amy manages to be more amusing than annoying. Only Paola Sanchez Abreu's too-saintly Beth feels one-dimensional (an issue that stems from the source material). During the play’s first fabulous act, director Sarna Lapine keeps the episodic tale moving swiftly and smoothly as the cast leans into the humor without sacrificing the heart. Act II, by comparison, seems rushed and disjointed—and, perhaps, a little too woke. Hamill takes significant liberties with Alcott’s plot, and her version of Jo, though politically pleasing, is so in touch with her sexua
Theater review by Diane Snyder Few playwrights depict domestic tension with the subtlety and insight of Donald Margulies. In Long Lost, two very different middle-aged brothers reunite for the first time in 10 years, still feeling the aftershocks of a devastating loss. In a quietly explosive 90 minutes, the play explores the difficulty of letting go of the past, and how seemingly small cracks in relationships can lead to foundation-shattering destruction. Shortly before Christmas, recovering addict and ex-convict Billy (Lee Tergesen), in need of a place to stay, drops in on his brother, David (Kelly AuCoin), who left the family farm years earlier and found success as a financial consultant in New York City. When nostalgia isn’t enough to secure an invitation for the holidays, Billy announces that he’s dying of cancer. David’s no-nonsense wife, Molly (Annie Parisse), suspects that he’s lying, and Billy’s behavior—passing out drunk, smoking pot with the couple’s 19-year-old son, Jeremy (Alex Wolff)—doesn’t do much to win her over. But Billy, whom David describes as “a chaos machine,” seems determined to destroy what’s left of his family when he doesn’t get his way. Daniel Sullivan, who also helmed Margulies’s Sight Unseen and Dinner with Friends, has assembled a superb cast. Parisse excels as the tightly wound Molly, Tergesen shifts from charming rascal to cruel ne’er-do-well with ease, and Wolff is endearing as a young man deeply affected by the secrets of his elders. But t
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 more than two decades, this proudly old-school series has offered a different lineup of professional magicians every week: opening acts, a headliner and a host, plus two or three close-up magicians to wow the audience at intermission. Housed since 2011 at the unprepossessing Players Theatre, it is an heir to the vaudeville tradition. Many of the acts incorporate comedic elements, and audience participation is common. (If you have children, bring them; they make especially adorable assistants.) Shows cost just $42.50 in advance and typically last well over two hours, so you get a lot of value and variety for your magic dollar. In contrast to some fancier magic shows, this one feels like comfort food: an all-you-can eat buffet to which you’re encouraged to return until you’re as stuffed as a hat full of rabbits. For a full schedule, visit the MNM website.
Theater review by Adam Feldman [Note: Laura Benanti now plays Eliza Doolittle, and Harry Hadden-Paton and Allan Corduner remain in their original roles. They are joined by Rosemary Harris as Mrs. Higgins, Alexander Gemignani as Alfred Doolittle and Christian Dante White as Freddy.] 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 duches
Theater review by Adam Feldman Dave Malloy never stops surprising you. His songs start in one mode, then veer into another and another; his bridges lead to whole new roads. In his splendidly wrought new musical, Octet—performed nearly completely a capella, with rare exceptions (pitch pipes, a tambourine, a mallet, some chairs)—the auteur of the stylistically panoramic Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 and the eerie Ghost Quartet invites us to an intense meeting in a church basement, convened under enigmatic circumstances by an unseen man named Saul. The eight attendees have gathered to explore their addictions to the internet (“the monster”), and at first, the structure is episodic and confessional: Jessica (Margo Seibert) sings about the trauma of starring in an infamous viral video; Henry (Alex Gibson) chews over his obsession with Candy Crush; group leader Paula (Starr Busby) reflects on the toll that smartphones have taken on her marriage. For a while, it seems like this is what Octet will be: A Chorus Online. But the show gets progressively spikier and weirder. As Karly (Kim Blanck) and Ed (Adam Bashian, his bass voice plumbing the depths of depression) sing about sex, and Toby (Justin Gregory Lopez) about paranoia, the musical’s universe expands beyond the basement, building to a monologue about God, by Marvin (J.D. Mollison), that explodes into full-on magical realism (or at least, per Clarke’s third law, sufficiently advanced technological realism). And jus
Theater review by Adam Feldman After a hit run at St. Ann's Warehouse last year, Daniel Fish’s fascinating and unsettling reimagination of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! has moved to Broadway, with its immediacy, strangeness and eerie sense of danger intact. (See original review below.) The show is now played in deep thrust, with the audience on three sides of the action. Nearly the entire cast of the Off Broadway version returns: Rebecca Naomi Jones and Damon Daunno are the main couple, Laurey and Curly, stained in this version by their unkind treatment of Jud (a rivetingly emotional Patrick Vaill); Ali Stroker and James Davis provide superb (and much-needed) comic relief as the sexed-up Ado Annie and her ardent wooer Will Parker, and Will Brill has assumed the part of the commitment-averse suitor Ali Hakim. Seeing the production a second time allows one to appreciate not only the striking darkness that Fish and company have teased out of the material, but also the light they shine on small details. (Mallory Portnoy and Mitch Tebo are marvelous in small roles.) It's thrilling to see a Broadway classic rise to the challenge of so modern a conception. Oklahoma! it remains, but there's nothing corny about it. RECOMMENDED: A guide to Broadway's shocking revival of Oklahoma! [Note: The following is a review of the 2018 production at St. Ann's Warehouse.] Director Daniel Fish’s bold, spare revival of Oklahoma! gives us the ranch but not the dressing. The musical’s ca
Theater review by 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
Frigid New York hosts this annual showcase of subversive LGBTQ comedy, storytelling, short film and theater, curated by Kevin R. Free. Offerings include an improvised episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a cabaret variety show by Lucas Womack, double bill of solo shows by Jamie Brickhouse and a dramatic reading (hosted by Maggie Lalley) of queer comedians' childhood journals.
Thanks to the ascent of women such as Ingrid Michaelson, Sara Bareilles and Christina Perri, the female quirk-pop field is a lot more crowded now than it was when Regina Spektor broke through with “Fidelity,” her oft-licensed semihit, in 2006. Yet she remains a special and idiosyncratic talent. In this five-night Broadway concert engagement, she draws on songs from throughout her career to date.
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
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
Theater review by Raven Snook An exploration of the ripple effects of rape culture, Something Clean deals with the aftermath of a sex crime, but we never meet the perpetrator or the survivor. Selina Fillinger's shattering one-act unfolds in a series of swift two-person scenes. The luminous Kathryn Erbe plays Charlotte, the upper-class suburban mom of a Brock Turner–like college athlete whose paltry six-month sentence for sexual assault sparks national outrage. On her tortuous journey of self-discovery, Charlotte bonds with Joey (the excellent Christopher Livingston)—the young, black gay man who runs the sexual-assault prevention center where she becomes a volunteer—and retreats from her husband, Doug (Daniel Jenkins), a workaholic who refuses to face their new reality. Working in an unnervingly intimate space, director Margot Bordelon elicits spot-on performances from all three members of the cast. The writing sometimes slides into didacticism, as when Joey schools Charlotte on white privilege and on terms such as genderqueer and cis. But for the most part, Fillinger’s meticulously constructed drama smartly focuses on the personal, not the political: The heart of the piece is the burgeoning friendship between the fastidious Charlotte and the fabulous Joey, through which she starts to find a purpose outside her family. Because of her son's actions, Charlotte's perspective on her whole life shifts. Watching her parse her past while trying to plan a productive future can be di
[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 Helen Shaw By the end of the radiant, furious, exhausting metamusical A Strange Loop, the show has worn itself completely out. The performers totter as they take their bows; there’s no leftover curtain-call razzmatazz. Its blazing star, Larry Owens, is barely offstage the entire time—when he is, it’s for a quick change—and you can hear the weariness in his voice as he gives his last ounce of energy to his final song. Michael R. Jackson’s roller-coaster “Big Black and Queer-Ass American Broadway” creation asks impossible things of its writer (a shattering level of self-examination and rude candor), its lead actor (Owens flays himself alive) and, not least, from its audience. It doesn’t end, exactly, so much as it pushes to its outer limit of endurance. Even the music dwindles into a repeated phrase of four notes: Jackson, a lyrical and musical talent with deep wells of invention, has dropped the bucket down as many times as it will go. Owens plays Usher, a gay black Disney usher writing a musical called A Strange Loop about a gay black Disney usher named Usher. The other characters onstage are his six Thoughts—à la Inside Out or Herman's Head—which manifest as everything from Self-Loathing (James Jackson Jr.) and Sexual Ambivalence (the crystal-voiced L Morgan Lee) to Corporate Niggatry (Jason Veasey), who tries to get Usher interested in something “unapologetically black,” like Wakanda. (Usher, wearing a #bellhooks T-shirt, demurs.) It’s never clear when
Clubbed Thumb mounts its 24th annual new-works festival, one of the best ways to see which local playwrights have their fingers on the pulse. The first show is Sarah Einspanier's portrait of harried public defenders, Lunch Bunch (May 17–28), directed by Tara Ahmadinejad. Next up is Zhu Yi's You Never Touched the Dirt (June 3–13), a depiction of economic transformation and its costs, directed by downtown mainstay Ken Rus Schmoll. The final show is Daniel Glenn's look at life on the Plymouth Plantation, King Philip's Head Is Still on That Pike Just Down the Road (June 19–29), directed by Caitlin Ryan O'Connell. Lunch Bunch: Review by Helen Shaw Hey, here’s a dare! Try seeing Lunch Bunch, Sarah Einspanier’s excellent workplace comedy, when you’re hungry. Its characters are overtaxed public defenders (the script suggests they might be in the Bronx), and their lone joy is a co-op lunch agreement shared by five proud members. In rattling, lickety-split dialogue, the lawyers tell us about the sustainable homemade delicacies—like sesame-encrusted kale chips and jackfruit barbecue—that they bring in to share with fellow Bunchers. (My notes here read: “Buy jackfruit.”) Membership in the Lunch Bunch is jealously guarded, so when rookie cook Nicole (Julia Sirna-Frest) subs in for a vacationing Tal (Eliza Bent), we have the whisper of plot. But there’s little room for a story, because Einspanier has crammed every second with marvelous character studies and syncopated conversations th
At first blush, Then She Fell seems to be a small-scale cribbing of Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More. Yes, you wander solo through intricately dressed rooms in a creepy building; yes, that man in a cravat is crawling up the wall in front of you. But you begin to realize that Third Rail Projects’ interactive riff on Lewis Carroll’s Alice books is using a similar language to give you a different experience: When you peer into the looking glass, it stares right back at you. Performed in the former Greenpoint Hospital, the show only permits 15 audience members a pop—making for a distinctly intimate experience. You’re given a shot of mulled wine and a set of keys before nurses, Carroll characters and even the psychotropic author himself usher you through a combination Wonderland–psych ward. As in Sleep No More, no two individuals will have the same evening. You may find yourself taking dictation for the Hatter (the mesmerizing Elizabeth Carena), painting cream-colored roses red with the White Rabbit (Tom Pearson) or sitting down to the infamous tea party with the whole gang. The experiences that director-designer-mastermind Zach Morris and his company offer are stunningly personal. You don’t have a mask to hide behind here—when you peep in on the Red Queen (Rebekah Morin) having a private breakdown, she catches you watching through the two-way mirror. And then—well, I don’t want to give away the game. And it is a game; as you’re pulled from place to place, you begin to realize that M
Theater review by Adam Feldman The defense never rests in Aaron Sorkin’s cagey adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. That the play exists at all is an act of boldness: Turning Harper Lee’s 1960 novel into a play in 2018 is no easy task. The hero of the story, as every schoolchild knows, is Atticus Finch (Jeff Daniels), a lawyer in rural Alabama in the early 1930s, who bravely defends a disabled black man, Tom Robinson (Gbenga Akinnagbe), against a false accusation of rape. Slow to anger and reluctant to judge—“You never really understand a person,” he says, “until you climb into his skin and walk around in it”—Atticus is a paragon of that most fabled of American values: decency. But while To Kill a Mockingbird has a special place in the literature of American civil rights, the book is also now a minefield. As seen through the eyes of his preteen tomboy daughter, Scout (Celia Keenan-Bolger), Atticus is very much a white-daddy savior, albeit one who can’t perform miracles, in a narrative that has little room for the perspectives of black people beyond the respect and gratitude they show him. At its center is a story about a young woman—Tom’s accuser, Mayella (Erin Wilhelmi)—whose allegations of sexual assault must not be believed. Even more problematic, to some modern ears, is the scope of Atticus’s magnanimity. It is not just the black skins that he urges his children to walk around in; it is also the skins of the white farmers who try to lynch Tom Robinson before his trial.
Theater review by Helen Shaw Ah, the sounds of America’s game! The crack of the bat, the slap of the glove, the shouts of terrified Negro League players who must run for a bus as the last strike is called. This, at least, was baseball as the trailblazing Toni Stone (April Matthis) knew it in the ’40s and ’50s, when she became the first woman to play professional ball. Lydia R. Diamond’s elegantly balanced bioplay uses Stone’s unlikely story to keep many moods in the air simultaneously, trafficking in the sweetness of ballpark nostalgia even as it demolishes it. For instance, Stone’s delightfully deadpan literalism makes her a straight woman to much of the ribald mischief on her team. Even when she recalls an early coach who turned out to have been in the Ku Klux Klan, Matthis’s expression stays mild, her shoulders shrug and her cool eyes do not heat. Her white mentor lynched men; she is unsurprised. It's America’s game. “Never could tell a story from beginning to end all nice and neat,” Stone tells us, as her mind ricochets from lyrical insights about baseball to vignettes about her beloved team, the Indianapolis Clowns, and memories of a mother who couldn’t understand her tomboy daughter. Diamond knows we don’t really need the minutiae, so she gives us a vivid and quick-moving impressionist portrait instead (inspired by Martha Ackmann’s 2010 biography), touching lightly even when emotions are at their most intense. Pam MacKinnon’s Roundabout Theatre Company production
Theater review by Adam Feldman The most glorious words in the English language, the director of the show-within-a-show in 42nd Street once declared, are musical comedy. But few musicals on Broadway these days live up to the second part of that term: They evoke fond chuckles of appreciation, but they don’t suck the laughs from your belly. Enter Tootsie, all dolled up in a red sequined gown, to drag out the real comic goods. Let other shows mope or brood or inspire, as some of them do very well. This one is out to give you a good time, and that’s just what it does. Tootsie rocks. Tootsie rolls. Tootsie pops. Santino Fontana, in the performance of his career to date, stars as Michael Dorsey, a talented but difficult actor whose professional clock is ticking. Broke, unemployable and newly 40 years old, he feels increasingly desperate: “Caught in the gap between ‘What the hell just happened’ and ‘What the hell is gonna happen next.’” Through a neurotic ex-girlfriend, Sandy (the magically amusing Sarah Stiles, in Bernadette Peters curls), he learns of an open role in an ill-conceived musical sequel to Romeo and Juliet called Juliet’s Curse. Disguised in glasses, a blue dress, a teased-out wig and a clipped Southern accent, he reinvents himself as an actress named Dorothy Michaels, auditions for the show—and lands the part. Robert Horn’s crackerjack script, the funniest book of a Broadway musical since The Book of Mormon, evinces uncommon finesse in its approach to updating the
Waitress: Theater review by David Cote [Note: Shoshana Bean plays the lead role of Jenna through July 7, opposite Jeremy Jordan through June 2.]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 (“
Broadway review by Helen Shaw There’s a sense of rightness—a final puzzle piece fitting into place, a key clicking into a lock—about Heidi Schreck’s quasi-solo play What the Constitution Means to Me moving to Broadway. It has always been about rhetoric and amplifying women’s voices; it’s the rare indie theater piece that doesn’t require intimacy. Does theater matter? Is it necessary? Sometimes our razzle-dazzled hearts aren’t sure. But here is something that every citizen must see: It’s theater in the old sense, the Greek sense, a place where civic society can come together and do its thinking and fixing and planning. Schreck starts her address to us at lightning speed in a scene-setting introduction, telling us that, when she was 15, she participated in American Legion oratory contests, eventually dominating the vet-sponsored speech-giving circuit enough to pay for college. With the aid of an American Legion moderator (drolly played by Mike Iveson, in oversize 1980s pants), Schreck re-creates her “terrifyingly turned-on” younger self, whose enthusiasms included Patrick Swayze, witchcraft and civic responsibility. “The Constitution…is a living, warm-blooded, steamy document!” she cries, and for the first time in your life you imagine the Constitution with its shirt off. The performance is itself an exercise in critical thinking. Schreck almost immediately goes “over time” to talk about how the Constitution has both liberated and imprisoned women’s bodies. She burrows into
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.