BROADWAY REVIEW: Our Mother’s Brief Affair

Our Mother's Brief Affair

January 20, 2016: Every mother is Greta Garbo to her children, at least upon occasion. The woman you were closest to in the world, the one who weaned and wiped you, could suddenly seem so ravishingly remote it was scary. What was really on her mind those nights she tucked you into bed, deliciously lipsticked and perfumed for an evening out? Such is the enigma who presides over “Our Mother’s Brief Affair,” Richard Greenberg’s untethered play about unmoored lives, which opened on Wednesday night at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, starring a marvelous Linda Lavin. Her name is Anna, and while she has a way of wearing a Burberry trench coat with a certain je ne sais quoi, this Long Island housewife would be few people’s idea of a glamorous sphinx. But to the twins she gave birth to and reared in a state of otherwise-engaged preoccupation, Anna is a tantalizing unknown, especially as she nears death. “Who was she?” asks her son, Seth (an anxiously neutral Greg Keller), as the play begins. Seth works as an obituary writer but can’t begin to sum up this particular life.



Noises Off

January 14, 2016: “Where are we?” asks the dazed-looking woman in a maid’s uniform, her voice throaty with fatigue. Looking around with confused wonder, she seems to have just awakened from a yearlong nap, or gone through a carwash without a car. Here are a few clues, Dear: We are on the stage of a provincial theater somewhere in England. We are in the immediate vicinity of several plates of sardines. Also nearby are several doors, grown rickety from serial slamming. As many theatergoers will by now have guessed, this woozy figure, an actress by the name of Dotty Otley, here played by the glorious Andrea Martin, is smack in the dizzying middle of “Noises Off,” the heady, headlong and (sorry, alliteration haters) altogether hilarious farce by Michael Frayn, which opened on Thursday at the American Airlines Theater, providing generous doses of heat-generating laughter as the winter chill finally sets in.


BROADWAY REVIEW: Fiddler on the Roof

Fiddler on the Roof

December 20, 2015: The sorry state of the world gives us new reason to appreciate the depth of feeling so powerfully, so ingeniously embedded in “Fiddler on the Roof,” the much-loved and much-revived 1964 musical comedy that has returned to Broadway at a time when its story of the gradual disintegration of a family, and a community, strikes home with unusual force. The superb new production, which opened on Sunday at the Broadway Theater, certainly honors the show’s ebullience of spirit, as embodied in the central character of the Jewish milkman Tevye, living in a Russian shtetl in the early 20th century, eternally wagging his tongue, shaking his fist and cracking wise at an indifferent God. But as directed by Bartlett Sher with his customary sensitivity (“The King and I,” “South Pacific”), this multihued staging moves to a heart-stopping conclusion. It’s impossible to watch the people of Tevye’s town, Anatevka, marching toward their unknown destinies in the shadow of a threatened pogrom without thinking of the thousands of families fleeing violence in the Middle East and elsewhere today.



The Color Purple

December 10, 2015: Give thanks this morning, children of Broadway, and throw in a hearty hallelujah. “The Color Purple” has been born again, and its conversion is a glory to behold. The heart-clutching, gospel-flavored musical that opened at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater on Thursday night — in a production led by an incandescent new star named Cynthia Erivo and, in her Broadway debut, an enchanting Jennifer Hudson — share a title, the same characters, the same source of inspiration (Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel) and most of the same songs with “The Color Purple” seen on Broadway a decade ago. But, oh, what a difference there is between them. That earlier “Color Purple,” a box-office hit, was a big, gaudy, lumbering creature that felt oversold and overdressed. The current version is a slim, fleet-footed beauty, simply attired and beguilingly modest. Don’t be deceived, though, by its air of humility. There’s a deep wealth of power within its restraint.



School of Rock

December 6, 2015: Andrew Lloyd Webber has entered his second childhood, and it turns out to be a good career move. For his latest offering, “School of Rock the Musical,” which opened with a deafening electric twang at the Winter Garden Theater on Sunday night, this lordly British composer has been hanging out with fifth graders. Youth, it would seem, is rejuvenating. Adapted from the popular 2003 Richard Linklater movie, “School of Rock” is unlikely to restore Mr. Lloyd Webber to the throne from which he ruled Broadway four decades ago, when he led the conquering forces of the British poperetta with works like “Evita” and the unkillable “Phantom of the Opera.” But this show, starring a bouncing Super Ball of energy named Alex Brightman, is his friskiest in decades. O.K., so frisky is perhaps not a word you want to see anywhere near Mr. Lloyd Webber’s name, especially if you’re among those who were allergic to the felines who purred T. S. Eliot verses to swoony tunes in “Cats,” which occupied the Winter Garden for nearly 18 years. But unlike that megahit, “School of Rock” doesn’t strain to mix whimsy with grandeur.




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.



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.