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The best arts & culture in NYC: Critics' picks

Find the best theater, art, dance, classical, books and museum events in New York City this week.

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Theater
  • Comedy
  • price 3 of 4
  • West Village

Theater review by Adam Feldman  Cole Escola’s Oh, Mary! is not just funny: It is dizzyingly, breathtakingly funny, the kind of funny that ambushes your body into uncontained laughter. Stage comedies have become an endangered species in recent decades, and when they do pop up they tend to be the kind of funny that evokes smirks, chuckles or wry smiles of recognition. Not so here: I can’t remember the last time I saw a play that made me laugh, helplessly and loudly, as much as Oh, Mary! did—and my reaction was shared by the rest of the audience, which burst into applause at the end of every scene. Fasten your seatbelts: This 80-minute show is a fast and wild joy ride. Escola has earned a cult reputation as a sly comedic genius in their dazzling solo performances (Help! I’m Stuck!) and on TV shows like At Home with Amy Sedaris, Difficult People and Search Party. But Oh, Mary!, their first full-length play, may surprise even longtime fans. In this hilariously anachronistic historical burlesque, Escola plays—who else?—Mary Todd Lincoln, in the weeks leading up to her husband’s assassination. Boozy, vicious and miserable, the unstable and outrageously contrary Mary is oblivious to the Civil War and hell-bent on achieving stardom as—what else?—a cabaret singer.  Oh, Mary! | Photograph: Courtesy Emilio Madrid Described by the long-suffering President Lincoln as “my foul and hateful wife,” this virago makes her entrance snarling and hunched with fury, desperate to find a bottle she h

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Theater
  • Musicals
  • price 4 of 4
  • Midtown West

Broadway review by Adam Feldman  Merrily We Roll Along is the femme fatale of Stephen Sondheim musicals, beautiful and troubled; people keep thinking they can fix it, rescue it, save it from itself and make it their own. In the decades since its disastrous 1981 premiere on Broadway, where it lasted just two weeks, the show has been revised and revived many times (including by the York in 1994, Encores! in 2012 and Fiasco in 2019). The challenges of Merrily are built into its core in a way that no production can fully overcome. But director Maria Friedman’s revival does a superb job—the best I’ve ever seen—of overlooking them, the way one might forgive the foibles of an old friend.   As a showbiz-steeped investigation of the disillusionment that may accompany adulthood, Merrily is a companion piece to Sondheim’s Follies, with which it shares a key line: “Never look back,” an imperative this show pointedly ignores. Adapted by George Furth from a play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, the musical is structured in reverse. We first meet Franklin Shepard (Jonathan Groff) in 1976, when he is a former composer now leading a hollow life as a producer of Hollywood schlock; successive scenes move backward through the twisting paths on which he has lost both his ideals and his erstwhile best pals, playwright Charley (Daniel Radcliffe) and writer Mary (Lindsay Mendez). The final scene—chronologically, the first—finds them together on a rooftop in 1957, as yet regardless of their doom,

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theater
  • Circuses & magic
  • price 4 of 4
  • FlatironOpen run

Review by Adam Feldman  The low-key dazzling Speakeasy Magick has been nestled in the atmospheric McKittrick Hotel for more than a year, and now it has moved up to the Lodge: a small wood-framed room at Gallow Green, which functions as a rooftop bar in the summer. The show’s dark and noisy new digs suit it well. Hosted by Todd Robbins (Play Dead), who specializes in mild carnival-sideshow shocks, Speakeasy Magick is a moveable feast of legerdemain; audience members, seated at seven tables, are visited by a series of performers in turn. Robbins describes this as “magic speed dating.” One might also think of it as tricking: an illusion of intimacy, a satisfying climax, and off they go into the night. The evening is punctuated with brief performances on a makeshift stage. When I attended, the hearty Matthew Holtzclaw kicked things off with sleight of hand involving cigarettes and booze; later, the delicate-featured Alex Boyce pulled doves from thin air. But it’s the highly skilled close-up magic that really leaves you gasping with wonder. Holtzclaw’s table act comes to fruition with a highly effective variation on the classic cups-and-balls routine; the elegant, Singapore-born Prakash and the dauntingly tattooed Mark Calabrese—a razor of a card sharp—both find clever ways to integrate cell phones into their acts. Each performer has a tight 10-minute act, and most of them are excellent, but that’s the nice thing about the way the show is structured: If one of them happens to fall

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theater
  • Musicals
  • price 3 of 4
  • Hell's Kitchen

Theater review by Melissa Rose Bernardo  Jonathan Marc Sherman and Jason Robert Brown’s The Connector is clearly inspired by real events: This new musical, about a hotshot young writer who falsifies sources and plot points in his features and brings shame upon a respected magazine, bears many resemblances to the story of Stephen Glass and The New Republic in the late 1990s. Unlike Glass, however, Sherman, Brown and director Daisy Prince (who also conceived the show) do not pretend to be telling the truth, which frees them to shape their story any way they please. One of the show’s smartest choices is to shift the spotlight from the overconfident, fresh-outta-Princeton fabulist, Ethan; played by Ben Levi Ross—an erstwhile Evan Hansen, appropriately enough—he never explains himself or reveals his motivations. But even if he did, could we even trust him? As his editor-in-chief, Conrad (Scott Bakula, perfectly cast as an old-school, scotch-at-noon guy’s guy), sings in the very first scene: “The facts can always be manipulated.” Narration duties fall to the far more likable copy editor and would-be writer Robin (a fantastic Hannah Cruz), who chronicles Ethan’s rise and fall at a New Yorker–esque magazine called The Connector.  The Connector | Photograph: Joan Marcus Sherman and Brown set the show in the peak magazine years of the last century, when college grads were fighting for internships at places like Time and Newsweek. Beowulf Boritt’s spectacular set—with its piles of manu

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theater
  • Drama
  • price 3 of 4
  • Midtown West

Theater review by Adam Feldman  The characters in Jonah are constantly checking in with each other, whether out of concern or to grant or request consent. “Okay? Are you okay?” says the fumbling, sweetly horny teenager Jonah (Hagan Oliveras) as he shares a kiss with his boarding-school classmate Ana (Gabby Beans). “I’m okay,” she affirms. “Okay,” he replies. Such exchanges recur with pointed regularity throughout the script: The word okay (sometimes shortened to ’kay) is spoken 158 times in Rachel Bonds’s 100-minute play.  But Ana is not okay. Yes, she seems fine—unusually self-possessed, even—in the play’s first scenes, which are devoted to her funny and adorable courtship with Jonah: a hopelessly self-conscious manic pixie dreamboy with curly hair and a smooth, leanly muscled body. She’s the one who takes the sexual initiative in their flirtation, flashing her bra at the end of their first encounter. (“I don’t have to do anything. I do what I want,” she later explains.) When she shares her romantic fantasies with him, she spins them with an animation that prefigures her future as a writer.  Jonah | Photograph: Joan Marcus At around the half-hour mark, though, their connection goes haywire. The action shifts from school to Ana’s home, where she lives under the tyranny of an alcoholic stepfather. This Ana is more passive; she serves as a support system for her abused stepbrother Danny—played touchingly and scarily by Samuel H. Levine, of The Inheritance—with whom she shares

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Theater
  • Musicals
  • price 3 of 4
  • Midtown WestOpen run

Broadway review by Adam Feldman Sixteen is not sweet for the heroine of the bruisingly joyful new musical Kimberly Akimbo. Adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from his own 2001 play, with music by Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, or Change), the show has a central conceit that verges on magical realism: Kimberly Levaco suffers from an unnamed, “incredibly rare” genetic disorder that makes her age at a superfast rate. Played by the 63-year-old Victoria Clark, she is physically and psychically out of place among her high school peers, who have more conventional adolescent problems like unrequited crushes. “Getting older is my affliction,” the usually mild-mannered Kimberly sings in a rare burst of confrontation. “Getting older is your cure.”   Life at home in New Jersey with her boozy, incompetently protective father (Steven Boyer) and her pregnant, hypochondriacal and self-absorbed mother (Alli Mauzey) is even less appealing. But as Kimberly stares into a cruelly foreshortened future—the life expectancy for people with her illness is, yes, 16—two agents of disruption reframe her perspective. The first is her aunt Debra (the unstoppable Bonnie Milligan), a hilarious gale force of chaos who blows into town and quickly recruits her niece into an elaborate check-fraud scheme. The other is Seth (the winsome and natural Justin Cooley), a gentle, tuba-playing classmate with an affinity for anagrams that suggests, to Kimberly, that maybe he could shake her up and rearrange her too. Kimberly Aki

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Theater
  • Drama
  • price 4 of 4
  • Midtown WestOpen run

Broadway review by Adam Feldman  Reducio! After 18 months, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has returned to Broadway in a dramatically new form. As though it had cast a Shrinking Charm on itself, the formerly two-part epic is now a single show, albeit a long one: Almost three and a half hours of stage wizardry, set 20 years after the end of J.K. Rowling’s seven-part book series and tied to a complicated time-travel plot about the sons of Harry Potter and his childhood foe Draco Malfoy. (See below for a full review of the 2018 production.) Audiences who were put off by the previous version’s tricky schedule and double price should catch the magic now.  Despite its shrinking, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has kept most of its charm. The spectacular set pieces of John Tiffany’s production remain—the staircase ballet, the underwater swimming scene, the gorgeous flying wraiths—but about a third of the former text has been excised. Some of the changes are surgical trims, and others are more substantial. The older characters take the brunt of the cuts (Harry’s flashback nightmares, for example, are completely gone); there is less texture to the conflicts between the fathers and sons, and the plotting sometimes feels more rushed than before. But the changes have the salutary effect of focusing the story on its most interesting new creations: the resentful Albus Potter (James Romney) and the unpopular Scorpius Malfoy (Brady Dalton Richards), whose bond has been reconceived in a s

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theater
  • Musicals
  • price 3 of 4
  • Midtown WestOpen run

Broadway review by Adam Feldman In the extremely funny 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the British comedy troupe’s lampoon of Arthurian legend, there is only one fully fledged musical number: a cutaway to the roundly ludicrous knights of Camelot, who dance in armored kicklines and describe themselves in such ridiculous rhymes as “We sing from the diaphragm a lot” and “We eat ham and jam and Spam a lot.” The very thought of it prompts the questing King Arthur to question his plans. “On second thought, let's not go to Camelot,” he decides. “It is a silly place.” Cut to the 2005 musical Spamalot, which expands the spirit of that 65-second sequence into a two-act Broadway show. It is a silly piece. Adapted by Eric Idle from the Holy Grail screenplay—with help from composer John Du Prez, and a handful of loaners from other Python sources (notably the Life of Brian song “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life”)—this tongue-in-cheeky pageant still tells the episodic story of King Arthur (James Monroe Iglehart) and his entourage in search of a vaunted relic. But jokes about medieval legend now take a back seat to metatheatrical tomfoolery about musical theater as a genre. Winking at Broadway conventions in a succession of zanily oversold numbers, it is essentially an ongoing parody of itself—so much so that when Gerard Allesandrini spoofed Spamalot for his Forbidden Broadway series, he simply had his actors perform an actual song from the show, “The Song That Goes Like Th

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theater
  • Musicals
  • price 3 of 4
  • Midtown West

Broadway review by Adam Feldman  Days of Wine and Roses, a musical treatment of alcoholism, raises a toast that ends in shattered glass. “Magic time” is what Joe (Brian d’Arcy James) calls drinking, and soon he has Kirsten (Kelli O’Hara) caught up in its spell. He’s a Korean War vet who works in the shadier nooks of public relations in the 1950s, greasing the social wheels for his superiors; she’s his boss’s pretty secretary, fresh from the farm and eager for danger. He teaches her to drink—she’s a quick learner—and at first the bottle’s genie grants their wishes: happiness, love, professional success. But beware the gifts of spirits.  Days of Wine and Roses reunites composer Adam Guettel with playwright Craig Lucas; as in their previous collaboration, 2005’s The Light in the Piazza, the result is ambitious, artful and musically sophisticated. But whereas Piazza delivers a sweeping romantic breadth of Florentine airs, this piece is more intimate and interior in scope, at times claustrophobic. Joe and Kirsten are very nearly the only people in this 105-minute musical who sing at all—their daughter (Tabitha Lawing) has a few lines in the second half—in keeping with the increasingly small world they share. “What about our secret language?” she wails, betrayed, when he decides to go sober. “Who will I talk to?”  Days of Wine and Roses | Photograph: Joan Marcus Guettel’s score has the feel of a chamber opera. For moments of drunken euphoria, it dabbles in cocktail jazz: Passages

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Theater
  • Musicals
  • price 4 of 4
  • Midtown WestOpen run

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 q

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theater
  • Circuses & magic
  • price 4 of 4
  • Midtown EastOpen run

Steve Cohen, billed as the Millionaires’ Magician, conjures 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 $125, 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.

Hamilton
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Theater
  • Musicals
  • price 4 of 4
  • Midtown WestOpen run

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 pamphle

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theater
  • Musicals
  • price 3 of 4
  • Midtown WestOpen run

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 in

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theater
  • Musicals
  • price 4 of 4
  • Hell's KitchenOpen run

Theater review by Adam Feldman Red alert! Red alert! If you’re the kind of person who frets that jukebox musicals are taking over Broadway, prepare to tilt at the windmill that is the gorgeous, gaudy, spectacularly overstuffed Moulin Rouge! The Musical. Directed with opulent showmanship by Alex Timbers, this adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 movie may be costume jewelry, but its shine is dazzling.  The place is the legendary Paris nightclub of the title, and the year is ostensibly 1899. Yet the songs—like Catherine Zuber’s eye-popping costumes—span some 150 years of styles. Moulin Rouge! begins with a generous slathering of “Lady Marmalade,” belted to the skies by four women in sexy black lingerie, long velvet gloves and feathered headdresses. Soon they yield the stage to the beautiful courtesan Satine (a sublimely troubled Karen Olivo), who makes her grand entrance descending from the ceiling on a swing, singing “Diamonds Are Forever.” She is the Moulin Rouge’s principal songbird, and Derek McLane’s sumptuous gold-and-red set looms around her like a gilded cage. After falling in with a bohemian crowd, Christian (the boyish Aaron Tveit), a budding songwriter from small-town Ohio, wanders into the Moulin Rouge like Orpheus in the demimonde, his cheeks as rosy with innocence as the showgirls’ are blushed with maquillage. As cruel fate would have it, he instantly falls in love with Satine, and she with him—but she has been promised, alas, to the wicked Duke of Monroth (Tam Mutu)

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theater
  • Musicals
  • price 3 of 4
  • Midtown WestOpen run

Broadway review by Adam Feldman  [Note: Aaron Tveit and Sutton Foster take over the lead roles starting February 9, 2024.] Ladies and gentlemen, dinner is served. Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s 1979 Sweeney Todd may well be the greatest of all Broadway musicals: an epic combination of disparate ingredients—horror and humor, cynicism and sentiment, melodrama and sophisticated wit—with a central core of grounded, meaty humanity. But while the show’s quality is baked into the writing, portion sizes in recent years have varied. Sweeney Todd’s scope makes it expensive to stage; its 1989 and 2005 Broadway revivals (and the immersive 2017 Off Broadway incarnation) presented the show with greatly reduced casts and orchestrations. Not so for the thrilling version now playing at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, directed by Hamilton’s Thomas Kail: This production features a 26-piece orchestra and a cast of 25 led by Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford. It’s a feast for the ears.  Groban plays the title role: a Victorian barber, né Benjamin Barker, who returns to London after serving 15 years of hard labor for a crime he didn’t commit, hoping to reunite with his beloved wife, Lucy, and their young daughter, Johanna. But as he learns from his practical neighbor Mrs. Lovett (Ashford)—who operates the squalid meat-pie shop below his old tonsorial parlor—Lucy poisoned herself after being assaulted by the same lecherous judge (Jamie Jackson) who sent him away, who is now the guardian of the teen

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