The great thing for theater lovers in New York City is that at any given moment there's a dizzying array of musicals, plays and experiemental works to choose from. But the sheer volume of choices can make it hard to choose. Let us give you a hand with that! Here is an alphabetical short list of shows that Time Out New York's critics have seen, reviewed and recommended, plus a few that we feel confident recommending in advance. For a wider view of what's playing, check out our complete list of current Broadway shows and our extensive Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway listings.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best Broadway shows
Critics’ picks for theater in New York
Theater review by Adam Feldman Three separate times in Joshua Harmon’s Admissions, a white person tells another white person to look in the mirror. The goal is to check oneself for signs of privilege, as one might examine one’s skin for potentially cancerous moles. But the trickier question—and the subject of Harmon’s narrowly focused but well-argued issue play—is the right course of treatment if one finds something amiss. Jessica Hecht, using her affectlessness to good effect, plays the head of admissions at a New Hampshire prep school run by her husband, Bill (an aptly confident Andrew Garman). Both have worked successfully to increase diversity within the student body. But the values they espouse are tested when those ethics threaten the college prospects of their own bright and promising son, Charlie (Ben Edelman). Like Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men, which will return on Broadway this summer, Admissions examines the tension between general principles and individual cases, which are messy with complications of merit and family loyalty. The audience responds with tension of its own. When I saw the play, Charlie’s long, frustrated rant about the unfairness of his situation was greeted with a smattering of ambiguous applause: Were people clapping for Edelman’s ardent performance, or the sharpness of the writing? Or were they expressing relief and delight at hearing things they secretly believed but would not say themselves? The nuanced and competing truths in Harmon’
Theater review by Adam Feldman There have recently been a number of onstage opportunities for actors with disabilities, in major plays including The Healing, Cost of Living and the latest Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie. Lindsey Ferrentino’s Amy and the Orphans, inspired by the playwright’s family history, extends that salutary trend to an actor with Down syndrome: the remarkable Jamie Brewer, familiar from her multiple roles on American Horror Story. Debra Monk and Mark Blum play Jacob and Maggie, respectively, squabbling middle-aged siblings whose father recently died; for his funeral, they return to New York City and collect their sister, Amy (Brewer), from the assisted-care facility where she lives. They barely know her, and as the play progresses they start to learn why. Overgrown children, Jacob and Maggie are forced to reckon with the mistakes of their parents, and Ferrentino gives the audience a leg up on that understanding through flashbacks to their mother and father (Diane Davis and Josh McDermitt) at a couples-therapy retreat in the 1960s. These scenes carry the bulk of the play’s dramatic weight; otherwise, Amy and the Orphans is slim. Monk and Blum do fine, funny work, and Vanessa Aspillaga is wonderfully vivid as Amy’s pregnant caregiver, but the main attraction is Brewer’s presence. It’s not just a gimmick; it’s the point of the play, a statement for visibility. The casting is the message, and Brewer makes it effective. Laura Pels Theatre (Off Bro
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
Theater review by Helen Shaw There’s no way to say this gently. The play At Home at the Zoo is a single drama Frankenstein-ed together out of two one-acts: Edward Albee’s 1959 masterpiece, The Zoo Story, is bolted onto its far inferior prequel, Homelife, which premiered in 2004. And while you are still allowed to perform The Zoo Story on its own, the Signature Theater, which puts playwrights at the center of its mission, follows Albee’s wish that the two be played as a single piece. That’s laudable, honorable even, but it makes for an evening that’s fully half bad. Yet there’s good news: Thanks to the diamondlike brilliance of Paul Sparks in Zoo, the show is unmissable. (Out of respect for his costar Robert Sean Leonard, I’m not telling you to just show up at intermission.) Homelife could almost be a spoof on an Albee play. While reading a book, wealthy husband Peter (a beautifully precise Leonard) is interrupted by his dissatisfied wife, Ann (Katie Finneran). She wanted to say something; she can’t remember; oh, right, she has a yawning sense of ennui that’s due to her husband’s lack of “animal” vigor during sex. Finneran ladles charm on the part, but she can’t hide that it’s a paper-thin construction. Albee admitted in interviews that Homelife exists only to fill in “gaps” in Peter’s character in Zoo, and everything about Ann—her flimsiness, her idiot need for “chaos” in a house with two teenage girls, even the white linen dress designer Kaye Voyce puts her in—points to th
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.
Theater review by Adam Feldman 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 imagine it with them. To entrust such a moment to silence is an unusual choice for a musical. But The Band’s Visit, which seems even richer on Broadway than in its award-winning 2016 run at the Atlantic, is unconventionally wise. It is rare to encounter a show that has such a graceful sense of time. Itamar Moses’s book, adapted from a 2007 Israeli film, embraces the unspoken; the characters use English as a second language, which gives the dialogue a tentative, searching quality that draws us closer. And David Yazbek’s Middle Eastern–accented score, orchestrated by Jamshied Sharifi, includes not only wryly witty character songs but also joyous instrumentals for oud, cello, violin, clarinet and darbouka. Lenk, who mixes languidly feline sensuality with knowing self-deprecation, is mesmerizing; her scenes with the courtly, soulful Shalhoub capture the awkward pleasure of lonely people reaching
Beautiful—The Carole King Musical shares several virtues with its titular singer-songwriter, among them humility, earnestness and dedication to craft. If Douglas McGrath’s book never achieves the dramatic grit or comic zip of Jersey Boys, at least director Marc Bruni’s production avoids being a brain-dead, self-satisfied hit parade à la Berry Gordy’s Motown. Still, it does seem that stretches of Broadway’s newest jukebox musical consist of situations such as this: “Carole, you’ve got to write us a hit!” “I’ve written something.” “It’s a hit!” Yes, Beautiful loves its diligent, long-suffering pop genius, and invites you to do the same. It’s quite an easy task when you have the phenomenal Jessie Mueller in the lead. The effortlessly appealing star cut her teeth on Broadway flops (the mis-reconceived On a Clear Day You Can See Forever) and in supporting parts (The Mystery of Edwin Drood). Now she’s ready to carry a show. As Brooklyn-raised King, who started churning out teenybopper tunes at 1650 Broadway in the late ’50s, Mueller exudes warmth and common sense, playing up King’s old-fashioned modesty and insecurity without becoming a doormat or cipher. And when she wraps her rich, burnished voice around those hits—“So Far Away,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “It’s Too Late”—they feel as fresh as the day King penned them. McGrath’s deft, wry book tracks its hero’s tortured first marriage to lyricist-partner Gerry Goffin (Jake Epstein) and their friendly rivalry with anothe
Daniel Alexander Jones (Duat) inhabits his longtime alter ego, Jomama Jones—or does she inhabit him?—in a high-concept musical evening that reflects on a shattered mirror of black history. Jomama is a paradigm of R&B-diva grandeur circa 1982, with impeccable posture and elocution that bespeak an old-school black-star dignity. Although the original "Afromystical" songs don’t always rise to the occasion, it’s a pleasure to bask in Jones’s sequined, oracular presence, especially when Jones allows us to see the pain and labor behind the all-but-impervious diva’s self-fashioning.
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
The hilarious Jeff Hiller currently stars in Drew Droege's lovingly brutal portrait of an outrageous and increasingly intoxicated gay man—a spiny puffer, inflated with prickly defenses—at a sanitized same-sex wedding. Michael Urie (Ugly Betty) directs the NYC production, which is now on its second encore run. If you are now or have ever been a gay man, see this show. Read the full original review.
One of the more unlikely musicals on Broadway this season, Come from Away is the tense but humane story of an airport in Gander, Newfoundland, where 38 planes and more than 6,000 passengers were forced to land on September 11, 2001. The book, music and lyrics are by the Canadian team Irene Sankoff and David Hein. Read the full review.
Theater review by Raven Snook History is a work in progress, and so is Folk Wandering, a breathtakingly ambitious musical that reframes our country’s past through present eyes. The brainchild of director Andrew Neisler (Clown Bar) and playwright Jaclyn Backhaus (whose Men on Boats put a sly feminist spin on the 1869 Powell expedition down the Colorado River), Pipeline Theatre Company's show is simultaneously intimate and epic as its multicultural cast conjures three tales from our collective American memory: a Lower East Side teen working in a shirtwaist factory in 1911; a desperate mother and daughter traversing the Dust Bowl in 1933; and a small-town greaser in 1955 who is mistaken for James Dean. Even if you guess where these narratives will go, you won’t anticipate the emotional epiphanies they evoke as they spin facts into melodic fiction. The numbers—collectively crafted by Backhaus and nine other songwriters, and played by a spirited onstage band with assistance from the actors—are enthralling throughout and make up for flaws in the storytelling: a slow start, some forced humor, a meandering focus. Although the show occasionally slips into pretension, it gets at something deep about the way the past can hold us back (as physicalized by Carolyn Mraz’s glorious tchotchke-strewn set) or push us forward. Future generations may look at us; let’s improve their view. A.R.T./New York Theaters (Off Broadway). Book and lyrics by Jaclyn Backhaus. Music and additional lyrics by
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 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 Raven SnookDepending on your perspective, illusionist Derek DelGaudio's solo outing is either a transcendent meditation on the malleability of identity, or a bunch of pretentious hooey. Objectively speaking, it's both—which beautifully illustrates this two-time Academy of Magical Arts Award winner's point. People (and things) are seen differently in our own mind and the eyes of other beholders. True, some folks walked out on this deliberately slow-paced show, though many more of us stayed, entranced. If you come expecting a succession of quick, flashy routines and exuberant showmanship, In & Of Itself will confound. But give yourself over to its subtler brand of magic and you should emerge pondering deeper questions beyond, "How the hell did he do that?!"But you will ask that, too. DelGaudio masterfully performs six illusions, including the sleight of hand he's known for and previously displayed in the two-hander Nothing to Hide, which played Off-Broadway in 2013 after a successful run at Los Angeles's Geffen Playhouse. In & Of Itself enjoyed the same trajectory, but it's a wildly different undertaking, more performance art than magic show, thanks in part to his eclectic collaborators: Muppet master director Frank Oz, producer Glenn Kaino, and Devo front man composer Mark Mothersbaugh.After entering, audience members choose from a wall of cards marked with various identities, from the literal (paralegal, engineer, parent) to the lyrical (dreamer, life of th
Theater review by Helen Shaw The title of Aleshea Harris’s excellent revenge fantasy Is God Is sounds like a line from the Louis Jordan song “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby.” There’s syncopated swing in both the play and the song—and accusation, too, all pivoting around the terrifying changeableness of women. Harris’s eerie text adopts other musical references; the script’s cover page says the play “takes its cues from the ancient, the modern, the tragic, the Spaghetti Western, hip-hop and Afropunk.” Cardi B plays after the final blackout, but the underlying structure is that of some old ballad: Two women wreak continual vengeance in stanza after stanza. Anaia (Alfie Fuller) is savagely burned, with scars covering her face; her twin sister, Racine (Dame-Jasmine Hughes), has suffered too. (Racine’s “the rough one who still got some pretty to her,” because her scars only crawl down one arm.) The twins escaped the fire they think killed their mother 18 years ago, when they were three, but today She (Jessica Frances Dukes) has finally summoned them to hear the truth. Lying in a hospital bed, turned into “an alligator” by her own burns, their mother tells about the day their father set her on fire—and she gives them a task. They must kill him—more, they must kill everyone around him. The women leave for the West (a television displays chapter titles in the Gunsmoke font), where they draw closer and closer to their prey: their father’s new “bougie” wife, Angie (Nehassaiu deG
Theater review by Adam Feldman “This is my Jerry Springer moment,” sings Baby Jane (the touching Jill Paice), a grown woman dressed as a little girl with a bubble wand. “So dip me in chocolate / And throw me to the lesbians.” Baby Jane is one of several wacky guests on Springer’s infamous talk show in the first part of Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee’s outrageous and exuberant high-low extravaganza Jerry Springer—The Opera, which finally gets a proper moment of its own at the New Group, 15 years after its London debut. Played by a mellow Terrence Mann, Springer himself doesn’t sing much, though he now has an Act Two opener; the musical gives most of its voice to outsiders, in styles ranging from highfalutin baroque compositions—at one point, the f-word is melismatically stretched to sit on some 200 notes—to disco and Busby Berkeley glamour. After splashing in fabulous mud, Jerry Springer—The Opera goes to Hell in its second half—literally—as Satan himself (a slick and active Will Swenson) forces Springer to stage an episode with figures from the Bible. Two trashy guests from the first act (Nathaniel Hackmann and the vocally exceptional Tiffany Mann) become a bickering Adam and Eve; a diaper-wearing guest (Justin Keyes) is transfigured into a loincloth-clad Jesus, with a nagging mother Mary (Jennifer Allen); and a philanderer (the impressive tenor Luke Grooms) returns as God. Under John Rando’s direction, the energy never flags, and the intimate thrust-stage setup sucks you
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. Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears plays Charlie through April 1, 2018; Wayne Brady takes over as Lola on March 5.] 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
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 In his sensationally prickly and entertaining new play, The Low Road, Bruce Norris follows the money as it takes him down twisting and treacherous paths. The playwright’s subject is capitalism, and he starts at the source. At a humble inn and brothel in 18th-century New England, a boy named Jim—who was abandoned there as a baby, with a note identifying his father as one G. Washington—chances upon a draft of Adam Smith’s foundational treatise The Wealth of Nations. Later, inspired with quasi-religious ardor by Smith’s notion of an “invisible hand” that alchemizes greed into social utility, the teenage Jim (Chris Perfetti) embarks on a series of misadventures, combining rapacious self-interest with callow overconfidence. In the course of this wide-paneled epic—marvelously assembled by director Michael Greif, on a splendid set by David Korins—Norris aims liberating arrows of skepticism at a diverse range of targets. Colonial America, colonies of bees, slavery, charity, piety, hypocrisy, highway robbery, financial chicanery, income inequality: These are just a few of the concerns in which The Low Road invests its satire. Adam Smith himself (Daniel Davis) serves as our narrator, yanking us out of the Yankee picaresque with knowing asides; the play’s gleefully theatrical devices also include a radical time shift and a hilarious anti–deus ex machina. The Low Road enjoys being a play, and its dramatic weaponry is wielded with skill by a first-rate c
[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; actor Michael Tyler takes over from Adam Strauss on March 30, 2018.] 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.—Robin Rothstein
Theater review by Raven Snook Shows about immigrants are hardly new ground in theater, but they’re seldom as bewitching as the Canadian import Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story. This quirky one-act musical—more like a concert with accompanying dialogue—uses playwright Hannah Moscovitch’s Jewish-Romanian great-grandparents’ refugee romance in early-20th-century Montreal as the framework for a series of rollicking neo-klezmer songs written by director Christian Barry and performer Ben Caplan, who serves as narrator and, occasionally, God. With his purple Willy Wonka suit, unkempt cantor’s beard and Tom Waits–style growl, Caplan is a bit like gefilte fish: an acquired taste. But there’s something shrewd about his carnival-barker delivery. From the moment he emerges from the claustrophobic shipping-container set at the top of the show, he sells this old family folktale as our collective history, though the politically charged and profanity-laden lyrics remind us that not every refugee story ends happily, especially these days. As they negotiate their new relationship in a new homeland, lovestruck Chaim (Chris Weatherstone, who wails on woodwinds) and young widow Chaya (Mary Fay Coady, a mean fiddler) alternate between humor and heartbreak. Troubles in the Old Country almost broke them and discrimination tests them on this side of the Atlantic. How will they make it through? You’ll find yourself wondering how anyone did. 59E59 Theaters (Off Broadway). Music and lyrics by Ben
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
The Israeli Artists Project presents their exciting new gambit, a play performed entirely in Hebrew or English, on alternating nights (you can check their calendar for details). With music by beloved Israeli ballad-maker David Broza, Yair Packer's play uses the Jewish Israeli-Arab conflict as a backdrop to challenge his characters' morals.
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,
Mabou Mines presents work by four artists in the inaugural year of its Suite/Space initiative: Davalois Fearon's Time to Talk, a dance piece about systemic racism; Tariq Al-Sabir's Unwanted, a song cycle about black millennials on social media; excerpts from Tamar-kal's Demon Fruit Blues, a music-theater work about the historical perception of women's bodies; and Sanaz Ghajar and Built for Collapse's Red Wednesday, a histrical allegory inspired by the 1979 hostage crisis in Iran.
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.
[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
You may know David Carl from his portrayal of Gary Busey in his standout one-man comedy show, David Carl’s Celebrity One-Man Hamlet. Now Carl plays an actor named Carl David (try to keep up), who evokes the wrath of the President by depicting Donald Trump in a solo version of King Lear, Shakespeare's portrait of a senescent ruler whose vanity tears his country apart. Count on an uncanny performance from this virtuoso.
Waitress: Theater review by David Cote [Note: Sara Bareilles takes over as Jenna from January 16 through March 11.]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 Used to Be Mine”), which
The media-savvy English-German collective Gob Squad has delighted New York audiences with its metatheatrical highjinks for years, including with 2015's one-two punch of Western Society and Before Your Very Eyes. Its latest venture, a satirical look at war that invites spectators to participate in a faux literary salon, plays for only three performances.
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.