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BROADWAY REVIEW: Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Long Day's Journey Into Night

April 27, 2016: A violent storm front has moved into the American Airlines Theater, where Jonathan Kent’s static, star-packed revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” opened on Wednesday night, and like so much of our weather these days, it seems to be human-made. It may be the special-effects team that’s generating all that moody fog and wind. But it’s Gabriel Byrne, Jessica Lange, Michael Shannon and John Gallagher Jr. who are providing the thunder and lightning. I mean the histrionic kind, of course, the sort of heavy-weather acting you associate with the distant era in which James Tyrone, the aging, grandstanding matinee idol played (very effectively) by Mr. Byrne, ruled as a king of the stage. Voices are raised, lapels are grabbed, fate is cursed, backs are turned, shoulders are squared, and bodies are sent tumbling to the floor. Yet you can’t avoid the feeling that this tempestuous climate is artificially controlled. All of the leading performers in this production are proven powerhouses. They all have at least moments of the probing intensity that they’ve shown in their previous work. And Mr. Byrne serves one of the most subtle, fine-grained slices of theatrical ham on record.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Tuck Everlasting

Tuck Everlasting

April 26, 2016: Family-friendly musicals on Broadway generally come in just one flavor: flashy. Enter “Tuck Everlasting,” a warm-spirited and piercingly touching musical that has nothing flashy or splashy about it. The nearest this small-scale production comes to the kind of spectacle we associate with kiddie bait is a toad hopping across the stage. Based on the popular children’s book by Natalie Babbitt, the musical, which opened on Tuesday at the Broadhurst Theater, has been deftly adapted by Claudia Shear (“Dirty Blonde”) and Tim Federle and features a winning, varied score by Chris Miller (music) and Nathan Tysen (lyrics). A little surprisingly, the show is directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, who specializes in the kind of musicals “Tuck Everlasting” very much is not: the razzle-dazzly “Aladdin”; the exuberantly vulgar “The Book of Mormon”; and last season’s anything-for-a-laugh Elizabethan spoof, “Something Rotten!” (Remarkably, he now has four musicals running on Broadway.) Mr. Nicholaw does let loose in a couple of rousing numbers led by the show’s mysterious villain, a carnival worker, with high-kicking dancers swirling and strutting across the stage; you can almost feel his delight in getting to flex the muscles he’s most often used. But he also evinces a natural feel for the tender emotional core of the material and even its layers of mildly dark philosophical inquiry. Yes, I did just use the phrase “philosophical inquiry” in reference to a Broadway musical aimed at the family crowd. “Tuck Everlasting” rings a variation on the fountain of youth myth, ultimately asking what life would mean if it never ended, and whether a never-ending life would be worth living.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Fully Committed

Fully Committed

April 25, 2016: As a struggling actor who earns a living taking reservations for one of Manhattan’s high-end food temples — once known as restaurants — Jesse Tyler Ferguson, the sole performer in Becky Mode’s “Fully Committed,” is a comic dynamo with seemingly endless energy. Bounding around the stage of the Lyceum Theater, where the play opened on Tuesday, he jousts with not one or two but three different phones, nearly sweating through his gingham shirt as he gives voice to more than 40 characters, among them the harried but even-tempered central character, Sam; an imperious French maître d’; a patronizing bully of a chef; a chipper assistant to Gwyneth Paltrow; a socialite with a manner even more imposing than her name; and a lively menagerie of other New York types. Mr. Ferguson, who began his career in the theater but sources his Broadway-headliner status from his role on ABC’s “Modern Family,” brings such warmth and variety to his performance that you may not notice that in the more than 15 years since the play opened Off Broadway, it has acquired a slightly sour aftertaste.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Waitress

Waitress

April 24, 2016: “Sugar. Butter. Flour.” The words are crooned like a lullaby intermittently throughout the musical “Waitress,” bringing a warm blanket of comfort to the troubled central character, stuck in an unhappy marriage and essentially working two jobs, baking pies for the diner where she also puts on an apron to wait tables. In Jessie Mueller, who plays Jenna, that hard-working waitress, this agreeable if unexceptional musical, which opened on Sunday at the Brooks Atkinson Theater, has the kind of vital ingredient any show would benefit from. Ms. Mueller, who won a Tony for her performance in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” possesses a rich, soulful and emotionally translucent voice, and an ability to bring heaping cupfuls of subtext to her acting. But as with the unremarkable jukebox musical that brought her Broadway stardom, Ms. Mueller’s talent often outstrips the material she’s given here. So, incidentally, do the gifts of her supporting cast, who provide brightly colored, vibrantly sung performances. Much of the score, by the pop singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, is appealing, drawing on the sounds of country music reflecting the Southern setting, but also containing more traditional Broadway-pop balladry. But the book by Jessie Nelson, based on the movie written and directed by (and co-starring) Adrienne Shelly, tends to flatten most of the characters into comic cartoons. (To be fair, they do not have much more depth in the movie, from which some of the musical’s dialogue is borrowed.)

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

April 22, 2016: The body is barely there, more phantasm than person, and at first you might mistake it for a shadow. When the astonishing Irish actress Aoife Duffin makes her entrance in “A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing,” drifting through a corridor of gray light, her features are indistinguishable. And though she soon starts to speak, the words that she says also seem curiously inchoate. “For you,” she says, falteringly, in a voice pitched between a quack and a chirp. “You’ll soon. You’ll give her name. In the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say.” Come again? Who’s “you,” anyway? Keep listening, and keep looking. Little by little, the speaker and her speech assume concrete and coherent form. Suddenly, you’re thinking in the language of someone else’s mind, that of a rebellious Irish girl scrambling for a sense of her drifting self. And by the end of a timeless 80 minutes, you’ll have grasped the dimensions of an entire individual life, in all its confused clarity. This uncanny act of materialization, which runs through April 30 at the Jerome Robbins Theater of the Baryshnikov Arts Center, is the more remarkable in that it is also an improbable act of translation, from what would seem to be uncompromisingly literary material. Adapted for the stage by Annie Ryan (also its director), “A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing” is based on the much-laureled first novel of Eimear McBride, a book that was rejected repeatedly by publishers and consigned to a desk drawer for a decade before seeing the light of print.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Empathy School & Love Story

Empathy School & Love Story

April 22, 2016: Because theater is an inherently social form, most plays are date shows — capital-E events that you want to attend with someone else, so you can rehash the pleasures and problems of them afterward. But there are also those rarer plays to which you to want to go solo, works that make you savor the pleasures of being solitary. Take “Empathy School & Love Story,” the writer and director Aaron Landsman’s engaging diptych on varieties of loneliness, which runs through April 30 at the Abrons Arts Center. Made up of two monologues (but of course), it’s an ideal single-ticket show, perfect for pondering on a quiet walk home by yourself, especially on a spring night in Manhattan that draws out those ephemeral human butterflies called New Yorkers. Yes, you’ve been part of an audience for a while, all of you looking at the same people in the same place. But even though the evening’s first offering has us briefly joining hands with the nearest strangers (it only hurts a minute), the production is dedicated to the perspectives of outsiders who never completely connect with anyone else.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: American Psycho

American Psycho

April 21, 2016: Though it is spattered with stage blood from beginning to end and features the sort of carnage associated with Eli Roth movies, “American Psycho” turns out to be one of those musicals that send your thoughts awandering, even as you watch them. So while this show’s title character (played by Benjamin Walker in an admirably disciplined performance) takes a gleaming ax or chain saw to his co-stars, you may find yourself fixating on the following questions: Collectively, how many hours of gym time per week does the incredibly buff cast embody? More than that of the acrobats of Cirque du Soleil, whose “Paramour” opens on Broadway next month? Did those auditioning for “American Psycho” have to submit ab shots instead of head shots? And before they set foot onstage each night, are they required to pass a body mass index test? If such queries do indeed fill your head during the long and decoratively gory duration of “American Psycho,” which opened on Thursday night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater, then it could be argued that the show’s creators have done their job. This is even more true if envy gnaws at your bowels at the sight of all those hardbodies (to use one of the script’s favorite words) prancing and posing before you.

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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW: Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.

Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.

April 19, 2016: Don’t make the mistake of saying that the women in “Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.” — Alice Birch’s implosive play about the conundrums of being female in the 21st century — are beautiful when they’re angry. Their real-life equivalents would probably (and justifiably) sock you in the jaw, or else combust spontaneously from being subjected to yet another patronizing, cast-iron cliché. Yet the ferocious energy that courses through this short, sharp shock of a production might be characterized as, well, kind of beautiful. Is it O.K. for me to put it that way? I mean, I’m not referring to the physical attributes of any of the four performers (three women, and one very odd-man-out man) who appear in the show that opened on Tuesday night at Soho Rep. Ouch! I just bit my tongue. Ms. Birch’s play, which became a hit for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2014, has a way of making you question everything you say when it comes to discussing women and their relationships with men, one another and a world in a state of unending upheaval. Such linguistic confusion plagues the frantic souls portrayed in this production, which is directed at the pace of a speeding cannon ball by Lileana Blain-Cruz. Even the play’s title, with its use of periods instead of commas, suggests the difficulty of getting words out and how inadequate they seem when you do.

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