BROADWAY REVIEWS

BROADWAY REVIEW: An Act of God (2016)

An Act of God

June 6, 2016: I know it’s traditionally said that the Jews are God’s chosen people. But evidence to the contrary is currently on view on Broadway, where “An Act of God” opened (or rather reopened) on Monday at the Booth Theater. God’s chosen people actually appear to be — gay sitcom stars! Call it the big reveal left out of the Book of Revelation.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Paramour

Paramour

May 25, 2016: Pity the poor chanteuse. Flame-haired, beautiful and buxom, clad in a spangly dress and draped seductively against a piano, she’s singing her heart out, pouring her soul into a song about … er, something. Love? Loss? Her favorite nail salon? Hard to remember, because while she was doing all that heartfelt warbling, the patrons in the speakeasy where she was performing were bouncing around the room like tennis balls, or rolling around on skates, or contorting themselves into peculiar poses on their tables. A few particularly enterprising folks were even swinging from the light fixtures. It was difficult to focus on the song when the room resembled a pinball machine heading toward tilt. Welcome to “Paramour,” or as I like to call it, “A.D.H.D.! The Musical.”

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Shuffle Along

Shuffle Along

April 28, 2016: So just what is it, this tart and sweet, bubbly and flat, intoxicating and sobering concoction being dispensed from the stage of the Music Box Theater? “Shuffle Along,” which opened with a whoop and a sigh on Thursday night, has been suffering from an identity crisis in the weeks leading up to the announcement of the Tony Award nominations. It shares its name and most of its song list with a landmark musical from 1921, which means this production should qualify as a revival, right? (That’s what its producers, for strategic purposes involving a juggernaut called “Hamilton,” have argued.) But wait a minute. The latest version of this show, which features immortal songs by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, has a subtitle, dangling like an heirloom earring: “Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed.” So is this “Shuffle Along” old or new? The answer is emphatically … both, though not in the ways you might expect. That old-as-the-Rialto story line is — bear with me — what’s new in this “Shuffle Along,” the part written by Mr. Wolfe, and it’s what feels stalest. The book of the original “Shuffle Along,” by F. E. Miller and Aubrey Lyles, involved a mayoral campaign in a small town. The Broadway of the 1920s had no doubt seen similarly plotted shows. What made this one unusual was that its cast and, more startlingly, entire creative team were black. What made it a bona fide hit, running close to 500 performances, was the jaw-dropping virtuosity of its singing and dancing. Which is also what makes the reincarnated “Shuffle Along” one of the season’s essential tickets. As staged by Mr. Wolfe and Mr. Glover — and interpreted by stars who include Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter and the incomparable Audra McDonald — routines first performed nearly a century ago come across as defiantly fresh.

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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: 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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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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BROADWAY REVIEW: Bright Star

Bright Star

March 24, 2016: Bluegrass on Broadway? Yes sirree. The warming sounds of banjos, fiddles and even an accordion are filling the Cort Theater, where the musical “Bright Star” opened on Thursday, bringing a fresh breeze from the South to the spring theater season. Perhaps more surprising is the source of the songs that give a heady lift to this nostalgia-tinged show, a romantic tale set in North Carolina in the 1920s and the 1940s. The authors are Steve Martin, better known as a comic, actor and occasional novelist, and Edie Brickell, who rose to pop-chart fame some time ago. (They collaborated on the music and the story, with Mr. Martin providing the book and Ms. Brickell the lyrics.) It’s not just the unusual flavor of its music that makes “Bright Star” something of an outlier on Broadway. The musical is gentle-spirited, not gaudy, and moves with an easygoing grace where others prance and strut. And it tells a sentiment-spritzed story — of lives torn apart and made whole again — that you might be more likely to encounter in black and white, flickering from your flat-screen on Turner Classic Movies.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: The Humans

The Humans

February 18, 2016: “Doing life twice sounds like the only thing worse than doing it once,” says the beleaguered paterfamilias of “The Humans,” Stephen Karam’s piercingly funny, bruisingly sad comedy-drama about an American family teetering on the edge of the abyss. The title may sound generic, but there’s nothing blurry about Mr. Karam’s scorching drama, which opened on Broadway on Thursday at the Helen Hayes Theater. Drawn in subtle but indelible strokes, Mr. Karam’s play might almost qualify as deep-delving reportage, so clearly does it illuminate the current, tremor-ridden landscape of contemporary America. The finest new play of the Broadway season so far — by a long shot — Mr. Karam’s drama has been beautifully transferred from Off Broadway, where it was presented by the Roundabout Theater Company last fall, with the production’s prized virtues intact: a peerless cast, whose members all inhabit their characters as if they’ve been living in their itchy skins forever; direction from Joe Mantello that stealthily navigates the play’s delicate shifts, from witty domestic comedy to painful conflict, and from there to something resembling a goose-pimply chiller; and a set, designed by David Zinn, that perfectly captures the unsettled atmosphere the writing so deftly establishes.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Fiddler on the Roof

Fiddler on the Roof

December 20, 2015: The sorry state of the world gives us new reason to appreciate the depth of feeling so powerfully, so ingeniously embedded in “Fiddler on the Roof,” the much-loved and much-revived 1964 musical comedy that has returned to Broadway at a time when its story of the gradual disintegration of a family, and a community, strikes home with unusual force. The superb new production, which opened on Sunday at the Broadway Theater, certainly honors the show’s ebullience of spirit, as embodied in the central character of the Jewish milkman Tevye, living in a Russian shtetl in the early 20th century, eternally wagging his tongue, shaking his fist and cracking wise at an indifferent God. But as directed by Bartlett Sher with his customary sensitivity (“The King and I,” “South Pacific”), this multihued staging moves to a heart-stopping conclusion. It’s impossible to watch the people of Tevye’s town, Anatevka, marching toward their unknown destinies in the shadow of a threatened pogrom without thinking of the thousands of families fleeing violence in the Middle East and elsewhere today.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: The Color Purple

The Color Purple

December 10, 2015: Give thanks this morning, children of Broadway, and throw in a hearty hallelujah. “The Color Purple” has been born again, and its conversion is a glory to behold. The heart-clutching, gospel-flavored musical that opened at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater on Thursday night — in a production led by an incandescent new star named Cynthia Erivo and, in her Broadway debut, an enchanting Jennifer Hudson — share a title, the same characters, the same source of inspiration (Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel) and most of the same songs with “The Color Purple” seen on Broadway a decade ago. But, oh, what a difference there is between them. That earlier “Color Purple,” a box-office hit, was a big, gaudy, lumbering creature that felt oversold and overdressed. The current version is a slim, fleet-footed beauty, simply attired and beguilingly modest. Don’t be deceived, though, by its air of humility. There’s a deep wealth of power within its restraint.

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