BROADWAY REVIEWS

BROADWAY REVIEW: She Loves Me

She Loves Me

March 17, 2016: Sometimes vanilla ice cream can taste like sweet deliverance. Such is the discovery made by one Amalia Balash in the 1963 musical “She Loves Me” — which has been rapturously revived in a new production by the Roundabout Theater Company — when she receives a gift of this frozen confection from an unlikely suitor. As Amalia trills her delight in a song that flies toward heaven on ascending high notes, audiences for Scott Ellis’s production, which opened on Thursday night at Studio 54, are likely to know exactly how she feels. That’s partly because “Vanilla Ice Cream” (for that is the number’s title, of course) is performed by Laura Benanti, an actress whose joyful soprano is a conduit for instant empathy. But it’s also because, from the moment the show begins, with a salutation to the working day by the employees of a perfume shop in 1930s Budapest, “She Loves Me” is a sustained reminder of the pleasures of exalted ordinariness. Written by Joe Masteroff (book), Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics), this tasty tale of love lost and found at the workplace is the great vanilla ice cream musical.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Disaster!

Disaster!

March 8, 2016: Alert the authorities! There’s a wayward nun on the loose in New York City, committing grand larceny eight times a week. I joke, of course — though that story would be a fun diversion from the onslaught of election coverage, no? The crimes are fictional, and are taking place at the Nederlander Theater on Broadway, where Jennifer Simard, playing a singing sister with an unquenchable yen for slot machines, is pilfering every scene she adorns in the delirious goof of a musical, “Disaster!” Perhaps petty larceny is a more appropriate charge, since this self-consciously silly spoof of the cheesy 1970s films that subjected assorted B-list stars to assorted calamities will never rank among the great musicals of our era — or even the great jukebox musicals of our era, a rather small demographic. But for anyone with a moist, albeit mortifying, affection for the oeuvre of that great auteur Irwin Allen (guilty), and the K-Tel era of pop music (guilty), “Disaster!” will provide a rush of giddy nostalgia that’s just as pleasurable, at times, as the more substantial rewards of the musical theater’s higher-reaching shows.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: The Humans

The Humans

February 18, 2016: “Doing life twice sounds like the only thing worse than doing it once,” says the beleaguered paterfamilias of “The Humans,” Stephen Karam’s piercingly funny, bruisingly sad comedy-drama about an American family teetering on the edge of the abyss. The title may sound generic, but there’s nothing blurry about Mr. Karam’s scorching drama, which opened on Broadway on Thursday at the Helen Hayes Theater. Drawn in subtle but indelible strokes, Mr. Karam’s play might almost qualify as deep-delving reportage, so clearly does it illuminate the current, tremor-ridden landscape of contemporary America. The finest new play of the Broadway season so far — by a long shot — Mr. Karam’s drama has been beautifully transferred from Off Broadway, where it was presented by the Roundabout Theater Company last fall, with the production’s prized virtues intact: a peerless cast, whose members all inhabit their characters as if they’ve been living in their itchy skins forever; direction from Joe Mantello that stealthily navigates the play’s delicate shifts, from witty domestic comedy to painful conflict, and from there to something resembling a goose-pimply chiller; and a set, designed by David Zinn, that perfectly captures the unsettled atmosphere the writing so deftly establishes.

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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.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: The Color Purple

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.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: School of Rock

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.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: On Your Feet!

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.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Dames at Sea

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.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Hamilton

Hamilton

August 6, 2015: Yes, it really is that good. At this point, it would be almost a relief to report that “Hamilton” — the musical that opened at the Richard Rodgers Theater on Thursday night — has shrunk beneath the bloat of its hype. Since it was first staged at the Public Theater this year, this brave new show about America’s founding fathers has been given the kind of worshipful press usually reserved for the appearances of once-in-a-lifetime comets or the births of little royal celebrities. During the past several months, while it was being pumped up and trimmed down for its move from the East Village to Broadway, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s rap-driven portrait of the rise and fall of Alexander Hamilton (this country’s first secretary of the Treasury) has been the stuff of encomiums in both fashion magazines and op-ed columns. A friend of mine recently said that there were three subjects she never wanted to see in a newspaper again: Caitlyn Jenner, the Harper Lee novel “Go Set a Watchman” and “Hamilton.”

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Something Rotten!

Something Rotten!

April 22, 2015: Unchecked enthusiasm is not always an asset in musical comedy, despite the genre’s reputation for wholesale peppiness. “Something Rotten!,” the rambunctious new show that opened on Wednesday night at the St. James Theater, dances dangerously on the line between tireless and tedious, and winds up collapsing into the second camp. If that sounds exhausting, the large cast onstage betrays no signs of flagging. Clad in what are surely very heavy Elizabethan costumes, and performing what is essentially the same determined showstopper again and again, the ensemble members in this Broadway-does-the-Renaissance frolic remain as wired as Adderall-popping sophomores during exam week. “Sophomoric” is the right adjective for “Something Rotten!,” and presumably its creators wouldn’t have it any other way. Conceived by the Kirkpatrick brothers, Wayne and Karey, who wrote the score, with a book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, this production wallows in the puerile puns, giggly double-entendres, lip-smacking bad taste and goofy pastiche numbers often found in college revues. All those traits, I should add, have also been in evidence in two of the most successful Broadway musicals of recent years: “The Book of Mormon” and Mel Brooks’s “The Producers.” Yet how restrained and elegant those shows seem next to “Something Rotten!,” directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, who provided the same services for “Mormon.” I never thought I’d be saying this, but Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the “South Park” collaborators who came up with “Mormon”) and Mr. Brooks turn out to be masters of the art of knowing when to stop.

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