BROADWAY REVIEWS

BROADWAY REVIEW: The Heidi Chronicles

The Heidi Chronicles

March 19, 2015: Do the responsibilities that come with age inevitably erode the ideals of youth? Can women achieve the most in their careers while enjoying a fully satisfying family life? Is sadness a natural — as opposed to pathological — response to the realization that life will not bring us everything we had hoped it would? These questions resonate today as strongly, and at times as painfully, as they did when Wendy Wasserstein’s most celebrated play, “The Heidi Chronicles,” stormed Broadway in 1989, going on to win the best play Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize the next year. They are being posed once again, with the same bright humor and reflective intelligence, in the vibrant revival that opened at the Music Box Theater on Thursday night, led by a softly radiant Elisabeth Moss in the title role. Ms. Moss, a superb actor who possesses an unusual ability to project innocence and smarts at the same time, inherits a role played by many since Joan Allen originated it when the play had its premiere at Playwrights Horizons Off Broadway. (I saw Mary McDonnell, one of several who succeeded Ms. Allen during the play’s long Broadway run; Jamie Lee Curtis played the role in a television movie.) Known for her demure but ambitious Peggy in “Mad Men,” Ms. Moss puts her own distinctive stamp on the part. As Heidi Holland grows from a burgeoning feminist in the 1960s to a high-achieving but emotionally fragile art historian in the 1970s and ’80s, Ms. Moss is constantly questioning both her own choices and those of the circle of friends and lovers who surround her.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: On the Twentieth Century

On the Twentieth Century

March 15, 2015: In the theater, there is overacting, which is common and painful to watch. Then there’s over-the-moon acting, which is rare and occupies its own special cloud land in heaven. I am delighted to report that this latter art is being practiced in altitudinous-high style at the American Airlines Theater, where Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher are surfing the stratosphere in “On the Twentieth Century.” Scott Ellis’s ripping, lavishly appointed revival of this 1978 musical about dueling giant egos on a train between Chicago and New York — which opened on Sunday night in a Roundabout Theater Company production — knows that when it comes to being hyperbolic, there’s no people like show people. No, not even excitable reviewers like me on the morning after a show like this one. There are so many reasons to celebrate this “On the Twentieth Century,” which features a score by Cy Coleman, with a book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. For starters, it’s that rare revival of a musical that isn’t trucked out every few years, like a wedding dress routinely repurposed as prom wear. (I love “Gypsy” too, but come on, guys.)

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BROADWAY REVIEW: The Audience

The Audience

March 8, 2015: Her Majesty will see you now. That’s the implicit — and for royalty-worshiping Anglophiles, thrilling — promise of “The Audience,” Peter Morgan’s history-skimming chat show about a monarch and her prime ministers, which opened on Sunday night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater. Yes, that most private of highly public figures, Queen Elizabeth II, is currently receiving visitors on Broadway. What’s more, her celebrated majesty is being embodied by the same majestic celebrity who won an Academy Award for portraying her on screen: Helen Mirren, who picked up a mantelpiece’s worth of prizes for playing Elizabeth in the 2006 film “The Queen” (which had a screenplay by Mr. Morgan). Even if she’s not the real royal deal, this is still about as close as most of us are going to get to a cozy tête-à-tête with the best loved of the regal Windsors. The possibility of privileged access to the glamorously inaccessible is one of the greatest marketing lures there is these days. (Check out any newsstand or bookstore.) And “The Audience,” staged with intimate stateliness by the pedigreed director Stephen Daldry and the designer Bob Crowley, is offering a sort of two-for-one bargain in that regard.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Fish in the Dark

Fish in the Dark

March 5, 2015: The fish itself — the one that figures in ads for the new play “Fish in the Dark” and can be seen on the drop curtain at the Cort Theater — is pretty great, a charming and maddening creature destined to capture your heart. O.K., if you insist: It is pret-ty, pret-ty, pret-ty great. The show for which this fish stands? Not so much. If you don’t recognize what all those “prettys” signify, do not feel obliged to read further. (But if you do, I promise to return to the enchanting fish later.) The use of “pretty” as a repeated modifier, with a protracted first syllable and palate-tapping t’s, is a signature catch phrase of Larry David, the beloved comic television writer and actor. And, yes, Mr. David does make pretty (if not pret-ty, pret-ty) good use of said catchphrase in the second act of “Fish in the Dark,” his Broadway debut as an actor and playwright, which opened on Thursday night. When he pulls out the prettys — as his character describes how it felt to touch a certain part of a certain woman’s anatomy — he lands the biggest laugh of the night. It’s not the sexual content that elicits the roar. It’s the pleasure of hearing words made familiar on a hit television show, Mr. David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” by the man who first spoke them. Those “prettys” are a bone with a bow tossed to an audience of expectant fans, rather in the manner of the Rolling Stones’ singing “Satisfaction” toward the end of a live concert.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: On The Town

On The Town

October 16, 2014: And now, a show about sex that you can take the whole family to: the kids, the grandparents, even your sister the nun. That idea may sound kind of creepy, or (worse) dreary. But I assure you that the jubilant revival of On the Town, which opened Thursday night at the Lyric Theater, is anything but. On the contrary, this merry mating dance of a musical feels as fresh as first sunlight as it considers the urgent quest of three sailors to find girls and get, uh, lucky before their 24-hour shore leave is over. If there’s a leer hovering over On the Town, a seemingly limp 1944 artifact coaxed into pulsing new life by the director John Rando and the choreographer Joshua Bergasse, it’s the leer of an angel. The best-known song from this show — which has music by Leonard Bernstein, with book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green — describes its setting as “a helluva town.” But the town in question — “New York, New York,” if you didn’t know — feels closer to heaven here.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: It’s Only A Play

It's Only A Play

October 9, 2014: Big names drop like hailstones in Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play, the kind that look like diamonds from a distance and then melt away before you know it. As a star-struck young man observes at the beginning of this deliriously dishy revival, which opened Thursday night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater (and is about a tense opening night of a play at the Ethel Barrymore Theater), “This place is crawling with famous people.” He’s referring to a noisy party that’s happening downstairs. But he might as well be talking about the comedy in which he appears, which is directed with gusto by Jack O’Brien. One of the reasons that It’s Only a Play is already a gold-mining hit is its unblushing willingness to play the fame card as an ace that can’t be beaten. As any of the pseudo-cynical, theater-obsessed characters in this work from the 1980s — which has been strategically rewritten by Mr. McNally — might point out, “That’s Broadway today, baby.” The list of celebrities starts with the show’s cast members, whose biographies glitter with Tonys, Emmys, a box-office-bonanza film franchise and an Oscar. They include Broadway’s most popular bromancers, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, along with Stockard Channing, Megan Mullally (of Will and Grace), Rupert Grint (of the Harry Potter movies) and F. Murray Abraham. Then there are the many, many other well-known names that pepper the dialogue to keep it from tasting bland.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

October 5, 2014: Ever had one of those days in the city when you feel like you forgot to put your skin on? Sure you have. It happens when you haven’t slept, or you drank too much the night before, or you’ve been brooding over bad news. All your senses, it seems, have been heightened to a painful acuity; your nerve endings are standing on guard. And every one of the manifold sights and sounds of urban life registers as a personal assault. You’re a walking target in a war zone, and that subway ride that awaits you looms like a descent into hell. Such a state of being is conjured with dazzling effectiveness in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which opened on Sunday night at the Ethel Barrymore Theater. Adapted by Simon Stephens from Mark Haddon’s best-selling 2003 novel about an autistic boy’s coming-of-age, this is one of the most fully immersive works ever to wallop Broadway. So be prepared to have all your emotional and sensory buttons pushed, including a few you may have not known existed. As directed by Marianne Elliott (a Tony winner for the genius tear-jerker War Horse), with a production that retunes the way you see and hear, Curious Incident can be shamelessly manipulative.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Hedwig & the Angry Inch

hedwigdidhe

April 22, 2014: Do not be alarmed by recent reports that Neil Patrick Harris, an irresistibly wholesome television presence, has fallen deeply and helplessly into the gap that separates men from women, East from West, and celebrity from notoriety. There’s no need to fear for his safety, much less his identity. Quite the contrary. Playing an “internationally ignored song stylist” of undefinable gender in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Mr. Harris is in full command of who he is and, most excitingly, what he has become with this performance. That’s a bona fide Broadway star, the kind who can rule an audience with the blink of a sequined eyelid.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Les Miserables

LESMIS1

March 23, 2014: While I was watching the new revival of Les Misérables, it occurred to me that this beloved stage adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel may have helped pave the way for the pop singing contests that have proliferated across the globe in this century. Much like those televised competitions — American Idol and The Voice being the national brand leaders — Les Misérables presents audiences with a stage full of singers who, one by one, have a chance to step into the spotlight (in this case a very smoke-suffused one) and astonish us with the mighty heft and range of their voices.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Aladdin

alddindidhelikeit

March 20, 2014: If a genie had sprung from my teakettle last week and offered to grant me three wishes, I might impulsively have asked to be spared any more children’s musicals. Since a certain blockbuster feline arrived well over a decade ago, Broadway has been lapped by wave after wave of big, often gloppy songfests adapted from animated movies, mostly from the mother ship, Disney. So the prospect of Aladdin, promising another weary night in the presence of a spunky youngster and wisecracking animals, didn’t exactly set my heart racing. But this latest musical adapted from one of Disney’s popular movies, which opened on Thursday night at the New Amsterdam Theater, defied my dour expectations. As directed and choreographed (and choreographed, and choreographed) by Casey Nicholaw, and adapted by the book writer Chad Beguelin, Aladdin has an infectious and only mildly syrupy spirit. Not to mention enough baubles, bangles and beading to keep a whole season of RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants in runway attire.

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