BROADWAY REVIEWS

BROADWAY REVIEW: The Iceman Cometh (2018)

April 26, 2018: If you have a good time at a production of "The Iceman Cometh," does that mean the show hasn't done its job? I was beaming like a tickled 2-year-old during much of George C. Wolfe's revival of Eugene O'Neill's behemoth barroom tragedy, which opened on Thursday night at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater, with Denzel Washington more than earning his salary as its commanding star. A sustained grin may not seem an apt response to a play in which desperate, drunken denial is the given existential condition, and suicide and murder are presented as perfectly reasonable life choices for anyone who sees the world clearly. Besides, to smile through nearly four hours of doomed rotgut-soaked souls mouthing the same hopeless blather over and over again would appear to be courting lockjaw, if not temporary insanity. Surely, the more appropriate response and customary behavior for an "Iceman" audience member would echo that of the play's cynic-in-chief, a disenchanted socialist (played here with ashen anger by David Morse), who says, "I took a seat in the grandstand of philosophical detachment to fall asleep observing the cannibals do their death dance."

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Travesties

April 24, 2018:

Senility is a joy ride in the exultant, London-born revival of Tom Stoppard’s “Travesties,” which opened on Tuesday night at the American Airlines Theater. This account of a clash of three cultural titans — James Joyce, Vladimir Lenin and the Dadaist poet Tristan Tzara — in Zurich during World War I is related decades later by an ancient witness (one Henry Carr, of the British Consulate). His recollection is, to put it kindly, capricious.

Yet the mind of this old man (played with a gourmand’s gusto by Tom Hollander) is filled with such bright bits of history, real and imagined, that whenever he tries to remember, his thoughts erupt like showers of confetti. My advice to anyone attending this show of rollicking intellect and silly stagecraft, which has been deliciously directed by Patrick Marber: Let it rain and soak it in.

By evening’s end, you’ll be surprised by the iridescent clarity that has emerged from Mr. Stoppard’s artfully chaotic assemblage of rampant speculation, literary texts, great-man biography parodies, legal documents, political tracts and rude schoolboy japes. That clarity won’t last, any more than a rainbow does.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Summer: The Donna Summer Musical

April 23, 2018:

The biographical jukebox musical — of which “Jersey Boys” provides a shining example, thanks to all the Brylcreem — is the cockroach of Broadway. It has a small head, a primitive nervous system and will probably outlast the apocalypse.

Even by that standard, “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical,” which opened on Monday at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, is a blight. Despite the exciting vocalism of a cast led by the formidable LaChanze, it reduces the late Queen of Disco and pioneer of electronica to a few factoids and song samples that make her seem profoundly inconsequential. You could learn more (and more authentically) by reading a thoughtful obituary while listening to her hits — “Hot Stuff,” “Last Dance,” “She Works Hard for the Money,” among many others — online.

But then you would not be contributing to the music publishing enterprise that keeps jukebox musicals coming no matter how hard they get stomped on by critics.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

April 22, 2018:

Time is a dangerous toy in “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” the enthralling two-part play about the later life of its title wizard. Various characters in this deluxe London import, which opened on Sunday night at the Lyric Theater, find it in their power to journey into the past, which means altering the future, which means serious trouble for everyone.

In that regard, these stumbling adventure-seekers must be regarded as lesser magicians than their creators, who include J.K. Rowling, the writer of the prodigiously popular Harry Potter fantasy novels, and the poetic director John Tiffany (“Black Watch,” “The Glass Menagerie”). This inspired team bends time to its will with an imagination and discipline that leave room for nary a glitch, making five hours of performance pass in a wizardly wink of an eye.

Featuring a script by Jack Thorne — from an original story by Ms. Rowling, Mr. Thorne and Mr. Tiffany — “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” also gives vibrant, decades-traversing life to those wistful “what if” speculations about the past that occupy both grown-ups and children. It’s a process that involves folding stories into stories into stories, collapsing years into minutes and making dreams feel eternal, and more vivid than reality.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: SpongeBob SquarePants

December 4, 2017:

For what it’s worth — and we’re talking millions of dollars here — you are never going to see as convincing an impersonation of a two-dimensional cartoon by a three-dimensional human as that provided by Ethan Slater at the Palace Theater. Mr. Slater plays the title role in “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical,” the ginormous giggle of a show that opened on Monday night.

This may sound like dubious praise. But think about it. How many of those legions of figures who gambol through stage adaptations of animated movies — teapots, lions, fake Russian princesses, ad infinitum — seem to have been transliterated from the screen without any dilution of their inked-in essence?

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Once On This Island

December 3, 2017:

I wasn’t expecting the goat in diapers.

Nor did I arrive at Circle in the Square the other night anticipating the panorama of village folk barbecuing on the beach, fishing in the lagoon and going about their daily business in a joyful preshow panorama on the theater’s lozenge-shaped stage.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: The Play That Goes Wrong

April 2, 2017: When your world — or, as it often seems these days, the world — is falling apart, there’s perverse comfort in watching things go smash in a safe, contained environment. (And no, the White House doesn’t qualify.) Such is the brutal allure of monster truck jams, videos of toddlers falling off trikes and steel-cage wrestling matches.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Come From Away

March 12, 2017: Try, if you must, to resist the gale of good will that blows out of “Come From Away,” the big bearhug of a musical that opened on Sunday night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater. But even the most stalwart cynics may have trouble staying dry-eyed during this portrait of heroic hospitality under extraordinary pressure.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Dear Evan Hansen

December 4, 2016: As the title character in “Dear Evan Hansen,” a lonely teenager who inadvertently becomes a social media sensation and a symbol of the kindness that is often cruelly absent in high school hallways, the marvelous young actor Ben Platt is giving a performance that’s not likely to be bettered on Broadway this season. What’s more, this gorgeous heartbreaker of a musical, which opened at the Music Box Theater on Sunday, has grown in emotional potency during its journey to the big leagues, after first being produced in Washington and Off Broadway. Rarely – scratch that — never have I heard so many stifled sobs and sniffles in the theater.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: 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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