BROADWAY REVIEWS

BROADWAY REVIEW: You Can’t Take It With You

You Can't Take It With You

September 28, 2014: The only downside to the unconditional upper called You Can’t Take It With You, which wafted open last night at the Longacre Theater, is that it may strain previously underused muscles around your mouth. That can happen when you spend two-and-a-half hours grinning like an idiot. A lot of shows can make you laugh. What’s rare is a play that makes you beam from curtain to curtain. Such is the effect of Scott Ellis’s felicitous revival of Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s 1936 comedy about one improbably happy family during the Great Depression, which stars a haloed James Earl Jones as the wise old leader of the clan. This is, frankly, surprising news to me. Though it won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, the very mention of You Can’t Take It With You is known to elicit shivers of revulsion among people who saw or appeared in high school productions.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Love Letters

Love Letters

September 18, 2014: The dying art of putting pen to paper to exchange news is being celebrated on Broadway this fall. Love Letters, A. R. Gurney’s durable epistolary play, in which two actors sit on comfortable chairs onstage and read from the lifelong correspondence between a man and a woman from the East Coast upper crust, has made it to the big time, commercially speaking. A rotating cast of stars, beginning with Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow, will be taking the stage of the Brooks Atkinson Theater, where the production opened Thursday night under the expert direction of Gregory Mosher, to remind us that before emails and texts, before emoticons and emojis and Facebook and Instagram, people communicated their fondest hopes, their casual observations and their lame jokes on paper, with pen or pencil or perhaps a typewriter, and then stuffed the results into quaint things called mailboxes.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: This Is Our Youth

This Is Our Youth

September 11, 2014: Just watch these bodies in motion: loping, flying, dancing, vamping and writhing at an altitude known only to the permanently high and perpetually crashing. The acrobatics being performed in Anna D. Shapiro’s sensational, kinetically charged revival of Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth, which opened on Thursday night in a marijuana haze at the Cort Theater, aren’t anything like those you’d find at the Cirque du Soleil. But they’re every bit as compelling, and probably (painfully) a whole lot closer to your own experience. As brought to thin-skinned, full-blooded life by Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin and Tavi Gevinson, the three privileged and desperate young characters in Mr. Lonergan’s 1996 play exist in a state of unending free fall. And a studio apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan — designed by Todd Rosenthal with an awareness of the big city beyond — starts to seem as vast and scary as outer space. You may remember that this is what it feels like to be on the cusp of adulthood with a whole wide world waiting to eat you up. Though first performed nearly two decades ago, and set in the early 1980s, This Is Our Youth hasn’t dated in the usual way of portraits of bright and sullen young things banging their heads against the walls of a society that doesn’t understand them. That’s because for all its period-specific references, Mr. Lonergan never relies merely on surface details to define his characters’ uncomfortable place in time.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Cabaret

cabaret

April 24, 2014: Hot diggity dachshund, it’s old home week on the campus at Weimar Berlin, otherwise known as the Kit Kat Klub. And if we take off our glasses and squint, we can pretend that life is just as divinely, dangerously decadent as it was when we were all 16 years younger. Why, here’s that adorably creepy M.C., a little softer around the jaw, maybe (aren’t we all?), but still such a cutup. Look at him pretending to have sex with the school slut. (Or one of them; there were so many.) And isn’t that Sally Bowles over there in the pink boa? Looking good, Sal; love the platinum bob. But why so uptight? Don’t forget what you always said: “Life is ... .” Uh, what was it you said again? A little more than 16 years after it first opened, and only a decade after it closed, it feels as if the popular Roundabout Theater Company production of Cabaret never left Studio 54, where it reopened on Thursday night.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Hedwig & the Angry Inch

hedwigdidhe

April 22, 2014: Do not be alarmed by recent reports that Neil Patrick Harris, an irresistibly wholesome television presence, has fallen deeply and helplessly into the gap that separates men from women, East from West, and celebrity from notoriety. There’s no need to fear for his safety, much less his identity. Quite the contrary. Playing an “internationally ignored song stylist” of undefinable gender in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Mr. Harris is in full command of who he is and, most excitingly, what he has become with this performance. That’s a bona fide Broadway star, the kind who can rule an audience with the blink of a sequined eyelid.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill

LadyDaySM1

April 13, 2014: When Billie Holiday sang, history attests, her audiences tended to clam up. Even in the bustling nightclubs where she mostly performed, Holiday often insisted on total quiet before she would open her mouth. The quiet usually held, as one of the great singers of the last century turned jazz songs and standards into searching, and searing, portraits of life and love gone wrong that cast a shimmering spell. When Audra McDonald takes to the stage and pours her heart into her voice in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, a similar sustained hush settles over the Circle in the Square, where the show opened on Broadway on Sunday night for a limited run. With her plush, classically trained soprano scaled down to jazz-soloist size, Ms. McDonald sings selections from Holiday’s repertoire with sensitive musicianship and rich seams of feeling that command rapt admiration.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: If/Then

IfThen._89x118

March 30, 2014: New York City has never looked cleaner than it does in If/Then, the gleaming drawing board of a musical that opened on Sunday night at the Richard Rodgers Theater, starring the shiny-voiced Idina Menzel. Actually, to find any urban environment that is this spick and span, you’d need to look back to the 1970s, when Mary Tyler Moore conquered Minneapolis on television. The nearest contemporary equivalents are those commercials in which peppy young things go dancing in the streets to trumpet the virtues of cars and colas. But even they — and If/Then does bear a passing resemblance to such ads — lack the antiseptic sheen of this production, written by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, with direction by Michael Greif, the team that gave us the four-handkerchief triumph Next to Normal several years ago. Every surface here appears to have been so thoroughly polished that you could not just eat off the sidewalks but see your own reflection in them, if you so chose.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Les Miserables

LESMIS1

March 23, 2014: While I was watching the new revival of Les Misérables, it occurred to me that this beloved stage adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel may have helped pave the way for the pop singing contests that have proliferated across the globe in this century. Much like those televised competitions — American Idol and The Voice being the national brand leaders — Les Misérables presents audiences with a stage full of singers who, one by one, have a chance to step into the spotlight (in this case a very smoke-suffused one) and astonish us with the mighty heft and range of their voices.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Aladdin

alddindidhelikeit

March 20, 2014: If a genie had sprung from my teakettle last week and offered to grant me three wishes, I might impulsively have asked to be spared any more children’s musicals. Since a certain blockbuster feline arrived well over a decade ago, Broadway has been lapped by wave after wave of big, often gloppy songfests adapted from animated movies, mostly from the mother ship, Disney. So the prospect of Aladdin, promising another weary night in the presence of a spunky youngster and wisecracking animals, didn’t exactly set my heart racing. But this latest musical adapted from one of Disney’s popular movies, which opened on Thursday night at the New Amsterdam Theater, defied my dour expectations. As directed and choreographed (and choreographed, and choreographed) by Casey Nicholaw, and adapted by the book writer Chad Beguelin, Aladdin has an infectious and only mildly syrupy spirit. Not to mention enough baubles, bangles and beading to keep a whole season of RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants in runway attire.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

beautifulldidhelikeit

January 12, 2014: For purposes of transparency in advertising, “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” should probably be titled “Brooklyn Girl.” This renaming would allow theatergoers to know exactly what to expect of the friendly, formulaic bio-musical that opened on Sunday night at the Stephen Sondheim Theater, starring an immensely likable Jessie Mueller.

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