This splendid exhibition at the Met covers a part of history that isn’t well known in the United States: the period, spanning more than a millennium, in which a succession of kingdoms and empires enriched by gold and trade routes—Ghana (circa 300–1200 C.E.), Mali (1230–1600), Songhai (1464–1591), Bamana (1712–1861) and the Umarian state (1850–90)—rose and fell along a swath of West Africa called the Sahel, or “coast,” by Arabic caravan drivers, an apt description for a region hugging the southern rim of the Sahara like the shore of a vast ocean of sand. These peoples produced magnificent expressions of art and architecture, including regal equestrian sculptures and soaring mosques made from mud; they also developed a rich oral tradition of epic poetry, not unlike the tales of Homer. The Met divides the exhibit into two sections, one arranged chronologically and the other organized thematically. The show allows that, as the centers of regional power shifted over the centuries, the variations in the archaeological, narrative and artistic record left behind make it difficult to create a “unified understanding” of the events that shaped the Sahel. Thankfully, the dynamism of its cultural achievements is plain on its face. A notable characteristic of the sculptures is that many of them pack a lot of monumental punch into a compact form, such as the fertility figurine from Senegal that greets you at the door. Though the show begins properly in the 4th century, the Venus of Thiaroye
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 t
YouTube stars and MTV Video Music Award–nominated performer-choreographers Keone and Mari Madrid, who have created dances for Justin Bieber and So You Think You Can Dance, play the lead roles in this immersive dance musical created with Hideaway Circus's Josh Aviner and Lyndsay Magid Aviner. The story, told through West Coast urban dance, is loosely inspired by Romeo and Juliet; the design involves a large amount of yarn. [Note: Performances of Beyond Babel have been suspended through April 5.]
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
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 Naveen Kumar [Note: This is a review of the 2019 Bedlam production of The Crucible. The production returns for an encore run at the Connelly Theater on March 27, 2020.] There has never been an inopportune moment to stage The Crucible, but with impeachment hearings underway, Arthur Miller’s indictment of miscarried justice seems especially instructive. Bedlam’s characteristically smart, stripped-down production pulses with an electric current and lays bare the play’s bitter truths. It is as gripping and revelatory a Miller production as New York has seen in years, and a bracing reminder of what a real witch hunt looks like. What begins as seemingly absurd paranoia—provincial and insular, funny in the style of Christopher Guest—gradually expands into terrifying life-or-death drama, as in a fun-house nightmare. In 17th-century Salem, rumors of witchcraft spread after a group of girls are caught dancing in the woods at night. John Proctor (Ryan Quinn) sees his life methodically turned inside out when their ringleader, his dismissed servent and onetime dalliance Abigail Williams (a blood-chilling Truett Felt) points her finger at his wife out of jealous vengeance. The quiet restraint of Susannah Millonzi’s breathtaking performance as Elizabeth Proctor cements a shift in tone that endures until the tragedy’s final heartbreak. Bedlam artistic director Eric Tucker, who also plays Reverend Hale, at first frames the story as a kind of wry pageant. The ensemble gather
Theater review by Adam Feldman Earlier this season, in The Thin Space, Lucas Hnath looked at channeling the dead. His latest play, the uncanny and deeply unsettling Dana H., channels the living. Its subject is harrowingly personal. In 1997, when Hnath was in college, his mother, Dana Higgenbotham, was beaten and held captive for five months by a violent criminal and Aryan Brotherhood gang member named Jim. (They had met when, working as a chaplain, she had counseled him after a suicide attempt.) In 2015, Steve Cosson, of the docutheater troupe the Civilians, interviewed her about this ordeal. Their conversations form the basis of Dana H., but instead of editing them into a conventional script, Hnath has kept them in audio form. In the title role, Deirdre O’Connell does not speak a word; for 75 minutes, calmly facing us in an armchair, she lip-syncs to Dana’s actual voice. O’Connell is simply astonishing. Long-form lip-sync is not new—one thinks of Bradford Louryk’s Christine Jorgensen Reveals, Lypsinka’s The Passion of the Crawford, much of the Wooster Group’s oeuvre—but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done quite so unshowily. This is a performance of virtuoso naturalism; the technique is so perfect that it disappears. At many points in the show, I would have believed O’Connell was talking into a body mic, even though Mikhail Fiksel’s sound design makes it clear that we’re listening to an edited recording. (The actor and magician Steve Cuiffo is credited as her lip-sync cons
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. (Jordan Fisher takes over the role on January 28.) 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.
Broadway review by Adam Feldman The wind is everywhere in Conor McPherson’s Girl from the North Country. You can’t see it, but you can hear it, insistently, in the lyrics of the 20 songs by Bob Dylan that McPherson has woven into his adumbral evocation of America in the Great Depression. It’s the heavy wind of the title song, the howling wind of “Hurricane,” the wicked wind of “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power),” the wind of change in “Make You Feel My Love,” the idiot wind in “Idiot Wind.” What the show doesn’t give us is “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and the omission seems deliberate. McPherson gracefully avoids the trap of a greatest-hits survey; only three songs in the score are from Dylan’s cultural heyday in the 1960s, and even the most famous ones have been rearranged, truncated, combined into medleys. The show makes Dylan’s songs as unfamiliar as it can; it freezes them in timelessness. Girl from the North Country takes place in 1934 at a boarding house in Dylan’s hometown of Duluth, Minnesota. Its exhausted proprietor, Nick (Jay O. Sanders), is on the verge of bankruptcy; his wife, Elizabeth (the superb Mare Winningham), has lost her mind, and absorbs her surroundings with the air of a fascinated, headstrong child. They have two children: Gene (Colton Ryan), a truculent would-be writer, and Marianne (Kimber Elayne Sprawl), who is pregnant. Guests include a sinister Bible salesman (Matt McGrath), a young black boxer on the run (Austin Scott), a widow (Jeannette Bayardelle) and
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