BROADWAY REVIEW: The Illusionists

The Illusionists

November 20, 2015: Magic acts, it seems to me, are best served like a nice dry martini, straight up. That’s not the theory behind “The Illusionists,” directed and choreographed by Neil Dorward. It seems to have been designed along the lines of television contest shows like “The Voice” and “America’s Got Talent,” with all sorts of trumped-up glitz attempting to feed the excitement. We get continuous blasts of thunderous, supposedly suspense-enhancing music played onstage by a band. In addition to the seven magicians themselves, a chorus of assistants slinks around in gothic attire attempting to look sexy, or menacing, or something. There are laser beams, digital video screens and more. All this serves not to enhance the brilliance of the feats being performed but to distract from it. In fact, all the fancy stagecraft surrounding the acts makes the tricks themselves seem less impressive. A giant screen that hangs above the stage, offering us a close-up view of the sleight of hand, tends to grab your attention. Everyone knows that watching a magic act on television instead of live robs it of much of its allure.




November 15, 2015: Though it is based on one of Stephen King’s most terrifying novels, the stage version of “Misery” will not, I promise, leave you cold with terror. The production that opened on Sunday night at the Broadhurst Theater, which stars a vacant Bruce Willis (in his Broadway debut) and a hardworking Laurie Metcalf, sustains a steady, drowsy room temperature throughout. Never mind that we start off in darkest, deepest winter in an isolated gothic farmhouse as thunder cracks and lighting flashes. You’re more likely to experience chills sitting in a tepid bath at home. This lack of shivers may not bother theatergoers who have bought their tickets simply to see an action hero of the screen in the flesh. Portraying Paul Sheldon, a best-selling novelist who finds himself held captive by a deranged fan who wields a mean mallet, Mr. Willis behaves in much the same way as he does as the indestructible Detective McClane while being tortured, shot at and nearly blown to oblivion in the “Die Hard” film series, for which he is best known.


BROADWAY REVIEW: A View From the Bridge

A View From the Bridge

November 12, 2015: This must be what Greek tragedy once felt like, when people went to the theater in search of catharsis. Ivo van Hove’s magnificent reconception of Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge,” which opened on Thursday night at the Lyceum Theater, takes you into extreme emotional territory that you seldom dare visit in daily life. At the end of its uninterrupted two hours, you are wrung out, scooped out and so exhausted that you’re wide awake. You also feel ridiculously blessed to have been a witness to the terrible events you just saw. Mr. van Hove, a Belgian director who has become the contemporary theater’s most celebrated exponent of maximal minimalism, has stripped stark naked Miller’s 1956 drama of a self-imploding Brooklyn longshoreman. And what he and his cast, led by the astonishing Mark Strong, find beneath the play’s period trappings and kitchen-sink naturalism is a pure primal force. In this centennial year of Miller’s birth, his exalted notion that classic tragedy and the common man can indeed coexist has never seemed so organic.




November 8, 2015: “Allegiance,” a new musical about the internment of Japanese-Americans in camps during World War II, could be said to suffer from a problem of divided loyalties, and I’m not referring to its characters. The show wants to illuminate a dark passage in American history with complexity and honesty, but the first requirement of any Broadway musical is to entertain. While well-intentioned and polished, “Allegiance” struggles to balance both ambitions, and doesn’t always find an equilibrium. Following a brief prologue set many years after the central events, the musical, which opened at the Longacre Theater on Sunday and stars George Takei (of “Star Trek” immortality) and Lea Salonga (the Tony-winning star of “Miss Saigon”), begins just as the clouds of war are beginning to gather. The Kimura family, artichoke farmers in California, find their lives upended when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor (we hear in voice-over the famous “date which will live in infamy” speech) and the United States enters the war.



On Your Feet

November 5, 2015: The recipe may be familiar, but the flavor is fresh in “On Your Feet!,” the half-formulaic, half-original and undeniably crowd-pleasing musical about the lives of Emilio and Gloria Estefan that opened on Thursday at the Marquis Theater. To cite the most unusual element: Many a musical could be described as a car crash, but I can’t think of any in which such a calamity figures as a dramatic turning point. Still, it’s no spoiler to say that the show includes the accident that threatened Ms. Estefan’s life and might have ended her career. Fans of hers will recall that 1990 incident, which darkens the second act and brings some gravity to this mostly flashy, salsa-splashed show.



King Charles III

November 1, 2015: To sign, or not to sign. That is the question that hangs so urgently over the wavering title character of “King Charles III,” Mike Bartlett’s flat-out brilliant portrait of a monarchy in crisis, which blazed open on Sunday night at the Music Box Theater. Any echoes you may infer regarding a certain Danish prince are entirely appropriate to this dazzlingly presumptuous drama, set in and around Buckingham Palace in a highly foreseeable future. True, as a product of the 20th century, the newly anointed King Charles — whom you probably know better as the current Prince of Wales — would seem to have more in common with T S. Eliot’s muddling J. Alfred Prufrock, who sadly recognized he was not “Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be.” Yet as portrayed by Tim Pigott-Smith, in a fully fleshed performance that finds heroic dimensions in one man’s misguided bid for greatness, this unsteady monarch acquires a pathos that might indeed be called Shakespearean. Yes, it’s only a pen he holds, not a sword, as he stares at the unsigned documents before him. But in that pen lies the power to divide a nation and to erase a king’s identity.



Thérèse Raquin

October 29, 2015: From the moment we first set eyes on the title character of “Thérèse Raquin,” the bleak literary melodrama that opened on Thursday night at Studio 54, we know without a doubt that she is doomed, doomed, doomed. Portrayed with a dedicated and joyless intensity by the film star Keira Knightley in her Broadway debut, she makes her entrance in the play’s opening seconds in stern, silhouetted profile, carrying a bowl of water and a heap of bad karma. Her gait is laboriously slow and measured, as if she were leading a funeral procession for all her hopes and dreams. And though you may assume, dear innocent theatergoer, that things can only lighten up for this poor blighted creature, she will continue to march in lock step with an unforgiving destiny for the succeeding two and a half hours. Happiness is never in the cards in this tale of murder and adultery. And that’s as true for audiences at this Roundabout Theater Company production, directed by Evan Cabnet, as it is for our gal Thérèse.




October 27, 2015: A new revival of “Sylvia,” A. R. Gurney’s dark drama about a psychopath with tendencies toward bestiality, opened at the Cort Theater on Broadway Tuesday night, with Matthew Broderick playing the nut job, Greg, and Annaleigh Ashford as the title character, a pert little mutt who becomes the object of his obsessive devotion. Wait, what’s that? You heard it was a comedy? Technically, I suppose it is, as the jolly laughter of those around me attested. Maybe, as a cat person — moreover, one who finds having to watch people pick up dog feces on a daily basis one of the more distasteful (albeit necessary) aspects of city living — I am a touch biased. But in my defense, I will cite the views of Greg’s wife, Kate, played by Julie White, who begins to fear for his sanity when he comes home from Central Park one day with a stray and as the days go by proceeds to shower more affection on the dog than he does on Kate. She implores him to see a therapist, and eventually he accedes to her request. Once in the office he proceeds to rhapsodize about Sylvia’s “great little butt.”



Dames at Sea

October 22, 2015: What’s that old expression? Oh, yes, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. That phrase floated through my head more than once during the Broadway revival of “Dames at Sea,” which opened at the Helen Hayes Theater on Thursday. This pert spoof of 1930s movie musicals was a surprise smash when it opened almost a half-century ago, in 1966, at the tiny Off Off Broadway powerhouse Caffe Cino. Nearly 50 years on, however, with Broadway having thoroughly strip-mined the songs and styles of the shows that made up the so-called Golden Age of the musical, the little show that could, and did, seems to give off a faint whiff of mothballs. But it still provides lively diversions for those in search of yesteryear’s delights, particularly the skillful pastiche songs by Jim Wise (music) and George Haimsohn and Robin Miller (lyrics). Variously wistful and perky, they include “It’s You,” “Broadway Baby,” “Choo-Choo Honeymoon” and “There’s Something About You.” And there’s a whole lot of hearty hoofing, although the exuberant choreography by Randy Skinner, who also directs, had so many dance breaks that I eventually found myself pining for a break from all the breaks.



The Gin Game

October 14, 2015: Weller Martin and Fonsia Dorsey, residents of a modest retirement home and the sole characters in D. L. Coburn’s 1976 play, “The Gin Game,” have withdrawn from the world, willingly or not, and await the inevitable end with minimal protest. By contrast, James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson, who are playing these roles in the excellent Broadway revival of Mr. Coburn’s flinty comedy, still seem to be in their glowing prime, actors with long and distinguished careers behind them who nevertheless keep seeking further heights to scale. Scale them they do: Mr. Jones, 84, has appeared on Broadway a remarkable six times in the past decade. Ms. Tyson, 90, won a well-deserved Tony Award just two years ago for her luminous performance in “The Trip to Bountiful.” Although it won a Pulitzer Prize during a fairly lean period for American playwriting, Mr. Coburn’s play cannot exactly be called an Everest of contemporary drama. Still, it proves a sturdy, humming vehicle, its gentle comedy undergirded by dark emotional coloring. Onstage for virtually all of its two-hour running time, Mr. Jones and Ms. Tyson draw out all its nuances, as Weller and Fonsia bicker and make nice over a card table. These two superlative performers establish beyond doubt, if we needed any reminding, that great talent is ageless and ever-rewarding.