BROADWAY REVIEWS

BROADWAY REVIEW: The Encounter

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September 29, 2016: See that scruffy-looking guy up there on the stage, the one messing around with the microphones and the plastic water bottles? It turns out that he’s a world-class head shrinker — and head enlarger, too, an all-purpose mind-bender. He is going to retune, rearrange and reproportion your senses, while taking you places you never expected to visit.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Cats

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July 31, 2016: If I soon end up in a psychiatric ward, could someone please send the bill to Andrew Lloyd Webber? It has been some four days since I saw the revival of Mr. Lloyd Webber’s nigh-legendary musical “Cats,” which opened on Sunday at the Neil Simon Theater. And it’s been four days of persistent earworms. The show’s electric opening song has been hounding me — no feline metaphor applying — when I wake in the morning, when I sit down at my computer, when I pick up a volume of Trollope, when I go to bed. Because jellicles can and jellicles do Jellicles do and jellicles can Jellicles can and jellicles do Jellicles do and jellicles can

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Paramour

Paramour

May 25, 2016: Pity the poor chanteuse. Flame-haired, beautiful and buxom, clad in a spangly dress and draped seductively against a piano, she’s singing her heart out, pouring her soul into a song about … er, something. Love? Loss? Her favorite nail salon? Hard to remember, because while she was doing all that heartfelt warbling, the patrons in the speakeasy where she was performing were bouncing around the room like tennis balls, or rolling around on skates, or contorting themselves into peculiar poses on their tables. A few particularly enterprising folks were even swinging from the light fixtures. It was difficult to focus on the song when the room resembled a pinball machine heading toward tilt. Welcome to “Paramour,” or as I like to call it, “A.D.H.D.! The Musical.”

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Waitress

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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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: 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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