One of the last of its kind, this ten-act extravaganza of human oddities aims to satisfy nostalgic and progressive temperaments alike. Finally returning after a year of closure, the iconic spectacle adds a footnote to the controversial freak-show conversation by celebrating the talents of those “born different.” The lineup includes contortionists, sword swallowers, fire eaters and escape artists.
Things to do in New York this week: Critics' picks
Find this week's best events, activities and things to do in NYC, as chosen by Time Out's critics
Broadway review by Adam Feldman [Note: The title role in Dear Evan Hansen is currently played by Jordan Fisher.] What does it look like when a star is born? In the case of Ben Platt, the astonishing young actor who plays the title role in Dear Evan Hansen, it’s a bit like an actual birth: beautiful but strange and wet, tinged with confusion and danger. Evan is painfully introverted; he has no friends in high school, and even the thought of talking to a girl he likes, Zoe (the poignantly unaffected Laura Dreyfuss), makes his palms perspire. Platt’s performance extends that to his whole body; when he sings, his face often gleams with sweat. Yet the effect is not off-putting; Evan is immensely lovable, even when he makes terrible mistakes. He speaks in rushes of instant regret, as though frantically digging a hole to bury himself in, and his intense awkwardness is filtered through first-rate comic timing, high-wire dramatic acting and a gorgeously expressive tenor voice. Simply put: Platt is giving one of the greatest leading male performances I’ve ever seen in a musical, and the thrillingly modern and moving Dear Evan Hansen is worthy of it. Like its closest musical-theater relative, Next to Normal, the show takes on challenging subjects—death, grief, class, mental illness, social media, social anxiety—with unapologetic trust in the power of contemporary pop music to tell complex stories onstage. As in its Off Broadway run at Second Stage earlier this year, the musical benefi
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. RECOMMENDED: Guide to The Lion King on Broadway 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.
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
Broadway review by Adam Feldman Most good theater lives on, if it’s lucky, only in the memory of those who saw it. Manhattan Theatre Club’s revival of Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, one of the signal plays of the 1990s, represents an exception. With a firm eye on the rearview mirror, this production reunites director Mark Brokaw, who helmed the show’s premiere at the Vineyard in 1997, with its two extraordinary original stars, Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse; also along for the ride is Johanna Day as the principal soloist in the show’s Greek Chorus of three, plus lighting designer Mark McCullough and sound designer David Van Tieghem. After more than a quarter of a century, they all move assuredly in old roles as the play shifts back into gear. That is not to say that How I Learned to Drive is ever quite a comfortable experience. The subject of Vogel’s Pulitzer Prize–winning drama is childhood sexual abuse, and although it treats this question with complexity and tact—there is nothing exploitive about it—it gives you a cumulative sense of the creeps. Because it is a Glass Menagerie–style memory play, the ages of the principal actors don’t really matter. Parker puts her gift for playing smart, broken women to powerful use as our narrator, known as Li’l Bit. With unsentimental candor and a vestigial Maryland accent, Li’l Bit sets the first scene: “It's 1969. And I am very old, very cynical of the world, and I know it all. In short, I am seventeen years old, parking o
Theater review by Adam Feldman Note: Jeremy Jordan currently plays the role of Seymour. Conrad Ricamora takes over on January 11, 2022. Little Shop of Horrors is a weird and adorable show with teeth. Based on Roger Corman’s shlocky 1960 film, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s 1982 musical tells the Faustian story of a dirt-poor schlub named Seymour (Jonathan Groff), a lowly petal pusher at a Skid Row flower shop, who cultivates a relationship with a most unusual plant. What seems at first a blessing—a way for the lonely Seymour to earn money and to get closer to his boss, Mushnik (Tom Alan Robbins), and his used and bruised coworker, Audrey (Tammy Blanchard)—soon turns sinister. The plant, whom he names Audrey II (designed by Nicholas Mahon and voiced by Kingsley Leggs), requires human blood to grow, and Seymour doesn’t have enough of his own to spare. He doesn’t want to feed the beast, but he can’t resist the lure of the green. Arguably the best musical ever adapted from a movie, Little Shop does for B flicks what Sweeney Todd does for Grand Guignol. Librettist Ashman and composer Menken—who, between this show and their Disney animated films, did more than anyone to return musical theater from its mass-culture exile in the late 20th century—brilliantly wrap a sordid tale of capitalist temptation and moral decay in layers of sweetness, humor, wit and camp. Their extraordinary score bursts with colorful rock & roll, doo-wop, girl-group pop and R&B; Ashman’s lyrics blend masterf
Broadway review by Adam Feldman Billy Crystal talks loudly and carries a big shtick in Mr. Saturday Night, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. In this musical adaptation of his 1992 film, Crystal stars as a dried-up nightclub comic named Buddy Young Jr.—an ironic name, since he’s far from young, and he’s never been anybody's buddy. He’s a tough cut of brisket, and decades after a career-ending tirade on live TV in the 1950s, he’s been reduced to grouchy gigs on the Jewish retirement-home circuit. (“Don’t get me started!” is his starting line.) But when his face mistakenly pops up in an awards-show In Memoriam sequence, Young gets a chance to revive his career from the dead. Can he seize it? Or will he be his own schlemiel yet again? Thirty years ago, Crystal wore aging makeup to play this role on film. He doesn’t need it anymore, but he never really did: He has Buddy in his bones. Crystal has been playing this alter kocker alter ego since at least Saturday Night Live in 1985, and Buddy's type of Catskills-and-Friars-Club cut-up is embedded in his comic style: He has deep affection and respect for the generation of comedians that Buddy represents, and he keeps their spirit alive in his timing, his rhythms, his soulful aggression. (“Happy anniversary. Forty-five years!” Buddy tells his wife. “Eleven of the best years of my life.”) In Mr. Saturday Night he honors their history with a sweet, slight, nostalgic musical comedy. Mr. Saturday Night | Photograph: Courtesy Matthew M
Broadway review by Adam Feldman Who doesn’t enjoy a royal wedding? The zingy Broadway musical Six celebrates, in boisterous fashion, the union of English dynastic history and modern pop music. On a mock concert stage, backed by an all-female band, the six wives of the 16th-century monarch Henry VIII air their grievances in song, and most of them have plenty to complain about: two were beheaded, two were divorced, one died soon after childbirth. In this self-described “histo-remix,” members of the long-suffering sextet spin their pain into bops; the queens sing their heads off and the audience loses its mind. That may be for the best, because Six is not a show that bears too much thinking about. Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss wrote it when they were still students at Cambridge University, and it has the feel of a very entertaining senior showcase. Its 80 minutes are stuffed with clever turns of rhyme and catchy pastiche melodies that let mega-voiced singers toss off impressive “riffs to ruffle your ruffs.” The show's own riffs on history are educational, too, like a cheeky new British edition of Schoolhouse Rock. If all these hors d’oeuvres don’t quite add up to a meal, they are undeniably tasty. Aside from the opening number and finale and one detour into Sprockets–style German club dancing, Six is devoted to giving each of the queens—let’s call them the Slice Girls—one moment apiece in the spotlight, decked out in glittering jewel-encrusted outfits by Gabriella Slade that are Tu
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 Lindsay Pearce as Elphaba and Ginna Claire Mason as Glinda.
Broadway review by Adam Feldman The would-be predators of the urban jungle in David Mamet’s 1975 American Buffalo are far from apex-level. Donny (Laurence Fishburne) runs a cluttered junk shop, with an eye out for possible scams on the side; young Bobby (Darren Criss), a dim bulb verging on burnout, acts as his gofer; and Teach (a terrific Sam Rockwell) is the kind of wanna-be hustler who fakes it till he takes it on the chin. (When he loses at poker, he assumes that everyone else must have cheated.) In Mamet’s engaging look at the bluffs and insecurities of American masculinity, these three men are meant to be collaborating on a coin heist, but none of them knows what he’s doing, much less what anyone else is doing. That leaves a lot of vacuum to be filled with bluster, paranoia, phony acumen and the playwright’s trademark rat-a-tat rhythms. Directed by Neil Pepe with the expert eye for appraisal that the characters lack, this production is vastly superior to American Buffalo’s last Broadway incarnation, which ran briefly back in 2008. The play itself, which marked Mamet’s breakthrough, is as thin as a dime, but it’s got great atmospherics. Scott Pask’s set and Dede Ayite’s costumes plunge us into the shabby world of the action; seated around the thrust stage at Circle in the Square, the audience can almost smell the mix of dirt and desperation. Although not much happens in the play, which is less a thriller than a loiterer, it somehow seems fast-paced, thanks in large part