BROADWAY REVIEW: Honeymoon in Vegas

Honeymoon In Vegas

January 15, 2015: Wake up and smell the mai tais, New York. Las Vegas has come calling on you. And it’s on such good behavior, you’d be a churl not to embrace it as if it were a long-lost sibling. As embodied by the bright and bouncy new musical Honeymoon in Vegas, which opened on Thursday night at the Nederlander Theater, the world capital of gambling and neon is everything you want it to be. That means a little hip, a little square, a little dangerous, a little kitschy and a whole lotta delicioussh fun. (Oh dear, am I slurring? Sorry.) But here’s the bonus, in which East (Coast) meets West: This production is also a real-live, old-fashioned, deeply satisfying Broadway musical in a way few new shows are anymore. Adapted by Andrew Bergman from his 1992 movie, with a swinging score by Jason Robert Brown and a smooth-as-Ultrasuede star turn by Tony Danza, this show offers the perfect sunny holiday for frozen Eastern city dwellers. Honeymoon in Vegas, which also felicitously stars Rob McClure and Brynn O’Malley as wide-eyed Brooklynites in Sin City and is directed with exactly the right synthetic-satin touch by Gary Griffin, was first staged more than a year ago at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, N.J. It generated great buzz and reviews to match.


BROADWAY REVIEW: Constellations


January 13, 2015: Who knew that higher physics could be so sexy, so accessible — and so emotionally devastating? Constellations, Nick Payne’s gorgeous two-character drama, starring a perfectly matched Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson, may be the most sophisticated date play Broadway has seen. This 70-minute fugue-like production, which opened on Tuesday night at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, takes that most elemental of dramatic setups — boy meets girl — and then spins it into a seeming infinitude of might-have-been alternatives. This is achieved through the application of the principles of string theory, relativity and quantum mechanics, although don’t ask me to explain precisely how. In college, I barely squeaked through Physics for Poets. But I had no difficulty following the convolutions of the relationship between Roland (Mr. Gyllenhaal), a beekeeper, and Marianne (Ms. Wilson), a Cambridge University academic specializing in “theoretical early universe cosmology.” Did I just hear you gulp? Or perhaps sigh at the prospect of another sentimental portrait of a British brainiac, what with those Oscar-bait movies starring Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch as geniuses under siege? You are probably more apt to discover your own self in the characters of Constellations, which was first staged in London in 2012 and arrives here in a Manhattan Theater Club production. I would even venture that it’s impossible not to identify with Roland and Marianne if you’ve ever been in love. No, make that if you’ve ever relived your life in your mind, considering the factors that made things happen as they did.



The Elephant Man

December 7, 2014: O.K. already, can we just go ahead and pull back that curtain? A current of electric impatience runs through the audience during the opening scenes of the sturdy revival of Bernard Pomerance’s The Elephant Man, which opened on Sunday night at the Booth Theater. That’s because the only glimpse we’ve been allowed so far of the title character — and more important, of the man playing him — has been as a shadow behind a thin but view-obstructing curtain. There has been much discussion of the astonishing reality attached to this silhouette. A carnival barker type assures us that this exotic creature — who “exposes himself to crowds who gape and yawp” — looks like nobody else on the planet. Technically, the carny is describing the grotesquely deformed John Merrick, who makes his living as a sideshow attraction in Victorian England. But for much of the audience, the reference might as well be to the guy People magazine once crowned “the Sexiest Man Alive,” the movie star Bradley Cooper. Not to worry, dear theatergoers and film fans. Soon enough, Mr. Cooper is on full-frontal, clinical display, wearing nothing but a pair of period-appropriate underpants and a face as neutral as a death mask. Feast your eyes upon this image while you can, and perhaps be so good as to feel a little guilty for doing so.


BROADWAY REVIEW: A Delicate Balance

A Delicate Balance

November 20, 2014: Hope arrives in the form of dread toward the end of the first act of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance, which opened on Thursday night in a revival at the Golden Theater. Up to that point in this production, directed by Pam MacKinnon, it’s been hard to detect much feeling of any kind within the carefully color-coordinated, dust-free, energy-free environs that have been installed onstage. To be sure, the three talented and celebrated people we have been watching up there thus far — Glenn Close, John Lithgow and Lindsay Duncan — have been delivering their characters’ zingers and stingers with crispness, clarity and, when one feels an important theme coming on, heavy italics. Yet they have the distant, flattened dimensions of specimens under glass. You feel that if you left them for a while, when you returned, they’d still be more or less frozen as they were before. But then — oh, sweet deliverance — here come good old, miserable, intrusive Harry and Edna to shake things up. They’re the best friends of Tobias and Agnes (Mr. Lithgow and Ms. Close), the owners of the tasteful mausoleum for the living (i.e., lovely suburban home) that is the setting for Mr. Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama of 1966.



The River

November 16, 2014: Hugh Jackman isn’t giving anything away these days. And reticence, it turns out, becomes him. Who knew? In Jez Butterworth’s The River, the poetic tease of a drama that opened Sunday night at the Circle in the Square Theater, Mr. Jackman conveys an impression of mightily self-contained silence, even when he’s talking like Wordsworth on a bender. And in banking his fires so compellingly, he ascends with assurance to a new level as a stage actor. I make no comparable claims for Mr. Butterworth’s short and elliptical play, previously staged in London at the Royal Court Theater and his first since the mighty “Jerusalem” K.O.’d New York in 2011. That heaving portrait of a belief-starved Britain was an audacious symphony of words, ideas and characters you hated to love. The River is conducted in a more minor key, and is also a more minor effort. Like “Jerusalem,” this cryptic tale of a man and a woman (or women — maybe) magnifies the seemingly ordinary to mythic proportions, while honorably refusing to stoop to easy explanations. The director Ian Rickson, who brought such clarity and vitality to “Jerusalem,” lends the same care and polish to the far more shadowy River. This artfully staged production, set in a rural fishing cabin that is one man’s insular kingdom, is guaranteed to hold your attention. But you’re likely to leave it feeling hungry, and not just because it aims to mystify. Be grateful, then, that any pangs of emptiness are counterbalanced by the intriguing heft of Mr. Jackman’s strangely radiant opacity.




October 23, 2014: “Bon appétit!” The festive phrase announcing the start of a meal sounds more like a bell signaling another round in a prizefight when it is chirped by Gretchen Mol, playing a hostess whose dinner party has become a verbal jousting tournament in Ayad Akhtar’s terrific, turbulent drama Disgraced. By this point in the play, which opened at the Lyceum Theater on Thursday night, the nerves of everyone settling down to eat have been scraped raw. It’s hard to concentrate on your fennel and anchovy salad when the conversation over cocktails has descended into a fierce debate about the rise of Islamic terrorism and the basic tenets or the meaning of the Quran. Mr. Akhtar’s play, which was first seen in New York in 2012 and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, has come roaring back to life on Broadway in a first-rate production directed by Kimberly Senior that features an almost entirely new cast. In the years since it was first produced here, the play’s exploration of the conflicts between modern culture and Islamic faith, as embodied by the complicated man at its center — a Pakistani-born, thoroughly assimilated New Yorker — have become ever more pertinent. The rise of the so-called Islamic State, and the news that radicalized Muslims from Europe and the United States have joined the conflict raging in Syria and Iraq, brings an even keener edge to Mr. Akhtar’s engrossing drama. At first blush, Amir (Hari Dhillon) seems to be in admirable possession of an American-dream life. He’s a lawyer specializing in mergers and acquisitions, which explains the immaculate apartment with a terrace to make any New Yorker salivate. His wife, Emily (Ms. Mol), is a painter on track to be included in a new show at the Whitney. Emily has begun a portrait of Amir inspired by a Velazquez painting of his Moorish assistant. An incident with a waiter at a restaurant the night before brought Amir’s ethnic heritage to the fore, and Emily has become intrigued by the gap “between what he was assuming about you, and what you really are”: words that will prove eerily prophetic as the drama unfolds.



On The Town

October 16, 2014: And now, a show about sex that you can take the whole family to: the kids, the grandparents, even your sister the nun. That idea may sound kind of creepy, or (worse) dreary. But I assure you that the jubilant revival of On the Town, which opened Thursday night at the Lyric Theater, is anything but. On the contrary, this merry mating dance of a musical feels as fresh as first sunlight as it considers the urgent quest of three sailors to find girls and get, uh, lucky before their 24-hour shore leave is over. If there’s a leer hovering over On the Town, a seemingly limp 1944 artifact coaxed into pulsing new life by the director John Rando and the choreographer Joshua Bergasse, it’s the leer of an angel. The best-known song from this show — which has music by Leonard Bernstein, with book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green — describes its setting as “a helluva town.” But the town in question — “New York, New York,” if you didn’t know — feels closer to heaven here.



It's Only A Play

October 9, 2014: Big names drop like hailstones in Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play, the kind that look like diamonds from a distance and then melt away before you know it. As a star-struck young man observes at the beginning of this deliriously dishy revival, which opened Thursday night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater (and is about a tense opening night of a play at the Ethel Barrymore Theater), “This place is crawling with famous people.” He’s referring to a noisy party that’s happening downstairs. But he might as well be talking about the comedy in which he appears, which is directed with gusto by Jack O’Brien. One of the reasons that It’s Only a Play is already a gold-mining hit is its unblushing willingness to play the fame card as an ace that can’t be beaten. As any of the pseudo-cynical, theater-obsessed characters in this work from the 1980s — which has been strategically rewritten by Mr. McNally — might point out, “That’s Broadway today, baby.” The list of celebrities starts with the show’s cast members, whose biographies glitter with Tonys, Emmys, a box-office-bonanza film franchise and an Oscar. They include Broadway’s most popular bromancers, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, along with Stockard Channing, Megan Mullally (of Will and Grace), Rupert Grint (of the Harry Potter movies) and F. Murray Abraham. Then there are the many, many other well-known names that pepper the dialogue to keep it from tasting bland.


BROADWAY REVIEW: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

October 5, 2014: Ever had one of those days in the city when you feel like you forgot to put your skin on? Sure you have. It happens when you haven’t slept, or you drank too much the night before, or you’ve been brooding over bad news. All your senses, it seems, have been heightened to a painful acuity; your nerve endings are standing on guard. And every one of the manifold sights and sounds of urban life registers as a personal assault. You’re a walking target in a war zone, and that subway ride that awaits you looms like a descent into hell. Such a state of being is conjured with dazzling effectiveness in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which opened on Sunday night at the Ethel Barrymore Theater. Adapted by Simon Stephens from Mark Haddon’s best-selling 2003 novel about an autistic boy’s coming-of-age, this is one of the most fully immersive works ever to wallop Broadway. So be prepared to have all your emotional and sensory buttons pushed, including a few you may have not known existed. As directed by Marianne Elliott (a Tony winner for the genius tear-jerker War Horse), with a production that retunes the way you see and hear, Curious Incident can be shamelessly manipulative.


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.