BROADWAY REVIEWS

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: 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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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: The Father

The Father

April 14, 2016: He is a fortress unto himself, but a fortress under siege. The title character in Florian Zeller’s cold-eyed, harrowing “The Father,” which opened on Thursday night at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, is often found in barricade position. He is an elegant old man, first seen dressed in stony shades of gray, seated obdurately in a gray chair, arms folded defensively. He is holding down the fort of his identity. Everything about his posture says, “Trespass at your own risk.” But because this man — his name is André — is played by Frank Langella, one of the most magnetic theater actors of his generation, there’s no way you’re going to honor his wish for privacy. Before you know it, you’ve walked straight into his head, and what a lonely, frightening, embattled place it is. “The Father,” which has already picked up a war chest of trophies for its French author and its leading men in productions in Paris and London, operates from an exceedingly ingenious premise. It’s one that seems so obvious, when you think about it, that you’re surprised that it hasn’t been done regularly onstage. That’s presenting the world through the perspective of a mind in an advancing state of dementia, making reality as relative and unfixed as it might be in a vintage Theater of the Absurd production. So, as in a play by Eugene Ionesco or the young Edward Albee or Harold Pinter, our hero finds himself in the company of people he is told he knows intimately, but whom he does not recognize. The same is true of the locations he inhabits, which are rarely what he assumes they are. (Or aren’t they?)

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BROADWAY REVIEW: The Crucible

The Crucible

March 31, 2016: The Devil has returned to Broadway, with the power to make the strong tremble. It is time to be afraid, very afraid, of a play that seemed perhaps merely worthy when you studied it in high school English class. The director Ivo van Hove and a dazzling international cast — led by Ben Whishaw, Sophie Okonedo, Saoirse Ronan and Ciaran Hinds — have plumbed the raw terror in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” which opened on Thursday night at the Walter Kerr Theater. And an endlessly revived historical drama from 1953 suddenly feels like the freshest, scariest play in town. That its arrival also feels perfectly timed in this presidential election year, when politicians traffic in fears of outsiders and otherness, is less surprising. Miller’s portrait of murderous mass hysteria during the 17th-century Salem witch trials was written to echo the “Red menace” hearings in Washington in the 1950s. Parallels between Miller’s then and latter-day nows have never been hard to reach for. What makes Mr. van Hove’s interpretation so unsettlingly vivid has little to do with literal-minded topicality.

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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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