BROADWAY REVIEWS

BROADWAY REVIEW: The Prom

November 15, 2018: “The Prom” begins when a theater critic for The New York Times writes a pan so poisonous that the show he’s reviewing dies on the spot. That’s ridiculous. It could never happen. At any rate, it won’t happen now, because “The Prom,” which opened on Thursday at the Longacre Theater, is such a joyful hoot. With its kinetic dancing, broad mugging and belty anthems, it makes you believe in musical comedy again. These days, that takes some doing. How, after all, with so much pain in the air and so many constraints on what’s allowed to be funny, do we find the heart and permission to laugh?

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Mike Birbiglia’s The New One

November 11, 2018: If Mike Birbiglia were a piece of furniture, he would surely be a well-worn, deeply stained, slightly squishy couch, much like the one he describes at the beginning of “The New One,” his winning Broadway debut at the Cort Theater. That may not sound like a flattering comparison. But Mr. Birbiglia has great respect and affection for this kind of sofa, and so should you. As he explains in this one-man show, which opened on Sunday night under the seamless direction of Seth Barrish, a couch is “a deceptively simple piece of technology.” It is, to be precise, “a bed that hugs you.” And in delivering that deceptively simple classification, Mr. Birbiglia’s voice becomes a low, wraparound, pleasure-drenched caress.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: King Kong

November 8, 2018: BEN BRANTLEY Hello, Jesse. Though I’m not in a playful mood this morning — having just seen the spirit-crushing “King Kong” — what if we begin this dialogue with a game? Imagine you are on the street, having just left the theater, and are asked by a television interviewer to describe your response in one word. Well? JESSE GREEN It can’t be printed here, and I’m not even sure it’s one word. (It starts with “ape.”) So I guess I’ll go with “ugh.” BRANTLEY I understand what you’re saying. Since screaming is such a big part of the show, mine would be “aaaaaaaaargh.”

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BROADWAY REVIEW: American Son

November 4, 2018: Some great performances come with elaborate costumes or prosthetic noses attached. Some involve crackerjack timing or floods of tears. But the great performance Kerry Washington is giving in “American Son,” which opened on Sunday at the Booth Theater on Broadway, features no such decoration. The only thing Ms. Washington has to do as Kendra Ellis-Connor is bulldoze her way through 85 minutes of mounting agony as a mother whose son may be in desperate trouble. Let’s add “black” to that sentence, because it changes everything: “as a black mother whose son may be in desperate trouble.” “American Son,” by Christopher Demos-Brown, is part of a wave of new plays that consider the vulnerability of young black men in their dealings with the police. But unlike “Pass Over,” “Until the Flood,” “Kill Move Paradise” and “Scraps,” the style here is neither surreal nor poetic; it’s ticktock realism, deployed in real time. And the focus is not on the young men or the police but on the parents caught in between.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Torch Song

November 1, 2018: In life, drama queens, those extravagantly emotional beings who suck up all the oxygen in a room, are fatiguing souls, to be avoided at all costs when one is tired. But, ah, in fiction — in books and film, and especially on the stage — these same creatures can be an energizing joy, as stimulating as four shots of espresso. That’s why I am advising you to make the acquaintance of a grade-A specimen of this spectacular genus, whose presence is overflowing the Helen Hayes Theater. His undramatic name is Arnold Beckoff, though he also goes by the more promising moniker of Virginia Ham. And, as embodied by Michael Urie in the happy revival of Harvey Fierstein’s “Torch Song,” which opened on Thursday night, Arnold is just the guy and gal to pull you out of your election-season weariness.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: The Waverly Gallery

October 25, 2018: From the moment Gladys Green opens her mouth — which is the moment that the curtain rises on Kenneth Lonergan’s wonderful play “The Waverly Gallery” at the Golden Theater — it’s clear that for this garrulous woman, idle conversation isn’t a time killer. It is a lifeline. An octogenarian New Yorker, former lawyer and perpetual hostess for whom schmoozing and kibitzing have always been as essential as breathing, Gladys operates on the principle that if she can just continue to talk, she can surely power through the thickening fog of her old age. That she has clearly already lost this battle makes her no less valiant. That it’s Elaine May who is giving life to Gladys’s war against time lends an extra power and poignancy to “The Waverly Gallery,” which opened on Thursday night under Lila Neugebauer’s fine-tuned direction. Long fabled as a director, script doctor and dramatist, Ms. May first became famous as a master of improvisational comedy, instantly inventing fully detailed, piquantly neurotic characters who always leaned slightly off-kilter.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: The Ferryman

October 21, 2018: No matter what sort of spread you’ve planned for your Thanksgiving dinner, it won’t be a patch on the glorious feast that has been laid out at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater. That’s where Jez Butterworth’s thrilling new play “The Ferryman” opened on Sunday night, with a generosity of substance and spirit rarely seen on the stage anymore. There is, for the record, a whopping celebratory meal at the center of this endlessly vibrant work, directed with sweeping passion and meticulous care by Sam Mendes. Its main course is a goose, which has figured as a living creature in earlier scenes, and the repast appears to be more than enough to feed the 17 revelers gathered at an overladen table in rural Northern Ireland in 1981.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: The Lifespan of a Fact

October 18, 2018: So was I mistaken — or just selectively truthful — in calling “The Lifespan of a Fact” “terrifically engaging” just 20 paragraphs ago? It might have been more accurate, if less marquee-ready, to have written “terrifically engaging but not as smart as it thinks.” That this doesn’t much matter as the play pingpongs along is the result of a terrific comic staging by Leigh Silverman. With its cast, its dead-on timing, its perfect set by Mimi Lien and sound design by Palmer Hefferan, it would probably nail its laughs even without the dialogue. It’s what you call a good time. Of course, I can’t prove that.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Pretty Woman

August 16, 2018: No one should have had to step into that red dress again. I’m talking about the long, strapless number that Julia Roberts wore in the 1990 film “Pretty Woman,” in a moment of pure, movie-magic apotheosis. Let me refresh your memory of that occasion before I proceed to the less pleasant topic of “Pretty Woman: The Musical,” which opened on Thursday night at the Nederlander Theater without Ms. Roberts in the title role. In the movie, Ms. Roberts’s character, a prostitute named Vivian Ward, is going to her first opera (all too appropriately, “La Traviata”) with her date and client, Edward Lewis, a very rich and emotionally frozen businessman played by Richard Gere. She materializes with coltish grace and freshness in said dress, and the smitten Mr. Gere presents her with a small box, containing an obscenely expensive necklace. He playfully snaps it open and closed, and Ms. Roberts erupts into a spontaneous shout of laughter that totally and improbably dispels the creepy transactional haze of the scene.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Head Over Heels

July 26, 2018: You would think that a sexually polymorphous musical that combines a Renaissance pastoral romance with the songs of the 1980s California rock group the Go-Go’s would at the very least be a hoot, a show that could get sloppy drunk on its own outrageousness. Yet “Head Over Heels,” which opened on Thursday night at the Hudson Theater, feels as timid and awkward as the new kid on the first day of school. Make that the new kid who longs to run with the wild crowd but can’t quite commit to being as bad as coolness demands. Directed by Michael Mayer, who has been more than competent at the helm of Broadway rock musicals like “American Idiot” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” “Head Over Heels” lacks the courage of its contradictions. It mutters deferentially when what you want is a rebel yell.

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