BROADWAY REVIEWS

BROADWAY REVIEW: Wolf Hall Parts One & Two

Wolf Hall Parts One & Two

April 9, 2015: And now let’s settle in for a really, really good gossip. The subject? The British royal family and its so-called friends. You wouldn’t believe the scandal they’re stirring up these days, with their love affairs and divorces and back-stabbing rivalries. It’s chilling (and thrilling, too — admit it) to listen to these people talk about one another, especially to the all-hearing, frozen-faced spin master at their center. Their conversation gives new resonance to that credo of cattiness, “If you can’t say anything good about someone, come sit next to me.” No, not the Windsors. They’re small-timers when it comes to digging — and flinging — the dirt. For the tastiest dish in town, you need to visit the Tudors of “Wolf Hall,” the riveting two-part theater drama that has taken up residence at the Winter Garden Theater, where it opened on Thursday night. This “Wolf Hall” is not to be confused with the BBC Two television series of the same title, currently being broadcast on PBS, nor with the Man Booker Prize-winning, best-selling novel by Hilary Mantel, on which both the series and the plays are based (along with its sequel “Bring Up the Bodies”). Those are moody, leisurely works, steeped in darkness and, in the case of the novels, swirling introspection.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Gigi

Gigi

April 8, 2015: A shower of soap bubbles descends upon the audience at the finale of the pretty and pleasant revival of the musical “Gigi” that opened at the Neil Simon Theater on Wednesday. The gentle downpour is meant to evoke the fizz in a glass of Champagne, the delights of which have been celebrated in one of the bounciest songs from the score by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. But it inadvertently brought to mind how thoroughly the musical, about a young woman being groomed for a life as a courtesan in turn-of-the-20th-century Paris, has been scrubbed of anything even remotely naughty or distasteful. In this squeaky clean version of the material, Gigi’s potential future as a demimondaine — that’s French for high-end prostitute — is alluded to in such delicately vague terms that no parent chaperoning a tween fan of the show’s star, Vanessa Hudgens, of “High School Musical” renown, will have much explaining to do after the curtain has fallen. You probably remember the most uncomfortable passage in the froufrou-bedecked 1958 film, which won a hefty nine Oscars including best picture (and which was also more treacly than the Colette story on which it was based). Recall Maurice Chevalier, playing the narrator, the suave silver fox Honoré Lachaille, singing “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” as he strolls through the Bois de Boulogne, eyeing young girls romping in the park.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Hand to God

Hand to God

April 7, 2015: Stand down, Inspector Javert, vengeful foe of bread-snatchers. A more formidable villain now stalks the Broadway boards, one who makes you seem about as frightening as a French pastry. His name, Tyrone, is not the scariest handle, but he’s as ruthless as any dedicated evildoer, with a spectacularly foul mouth and a thirst for young flesh. Oh, and he’s also made of a gray sock, some felt and a fringe of fake fur. The terrible Tyrone is, in short, a hand puppet. If you imagine that to be merely a punch line, forget it. The fearsome critter, who takes possession of a troubled teenager’s left arm in Robert Askins’s darkly delightful play “Hand to God,” really inspires goose bumps as he unleashes a reign of terror on that teenager, Jason, and everyone in his orbit. But unlike the grim Javert, he’s also flat-out hilarious, spewing forth acid commentary that will turn those goose bumps into guffaws. “Hand to God” popped open on Tuesday at the Booth Theater like a cackling jack-in-the-box, scaring away (really) a couple of audience members at the performance I caught, but bringing peals of joy to most everyone else. In a Broadway season dominated by the usual fodder — musicals new and old, and a healthy serving of Important British Dramas — Mr. Askins’s black comedy about the divided human soul, previously seen in two separate Off Broadway runs, stands out as a misfit both merry and scary, and very welcome.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Skylight

Skylight

April 2, 2015: They are hardly a well-matched pair, this couple that has been given such transfixing life in two of the most expert stage performances you’re likely to see for many seasons. As embodied by Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy in the heart-piercing revival of David Hare’s “Skylight,” Kyra Hollis and Tom Sergeant have none of the things in common that usually make for a fine romance. In age, attitude and even metabolism, they’re separated by a forbidding gulf. And don’t get them started on politics, or economics, or even cooking. Yet as you watch Ms. Mulligan and Mr. Nighy move magnetically toward and away from each other in Stephen Daldry’s exquisitely balanced London-born production, which opened on Thursday night at the Golden Theater, you can’t help thinking that on some profound level these two were made to be together. And therein lies the tragedy. Tear-stained stories of impossible love have been a staple of theater for centuries. And Mr. Hare’s 1995 drama, his tightest and quite possibly his best, delivers big on the rueful pleasures of that genre.

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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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