BROADWAY REVIEWS

BROADWAY REVIEW: Blackbird

Blackbird

March 10, 2016: They make an alarming entrance, these two, setting off instant worry and wonder. They walk as if welded together, though whether in support, restraint or combat is unclear. Her eyes are wild and her bare legs wobbly, and he leads their stuttering steps with an angry, obdurate chin. If you saw them in real life, you’d consider calling the police. As it is, your first impressions of Ray and Una — so intensely embodied by Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams in the Broadway production of David Harrower’s “Blackbird” — would seem to guarantee a satisfyingly fraught night at the theater. What follows is definitely fraught, with the sort of acting that triggers seismometers. The satisfaction factor is somewhat lower. “Blackbird,” which took the Olivier Award in London for best play in 2007, is an immensely powerful work that only occasionally maximizes its potential in the fitful production that opened on Thursday night at the Belasco Theater. When I saw it nine years ago at the Manhattan Theater Club, it left me shaking.

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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: Eclipsed

Eclipsed

March 6, 2016: The women depicted in Danai Gurira’s soul-searing “Eclipsed,” which opened on Broadway at the Golden Theater on Sunday, have lost just about everything. Their dignity, their freedom, their families, their hope. Perhaps most disturbingly, they have lost their own names, or rather tried to forget them. Caught up in the brutal violence of Liberian civil war, held captive as “wives,” really sexual slaves, of a rebel commanding officer, they prefer to refer to one another anonymously — as Number One or Number Three — as if their lives before the horror descended upon them never happened. It’s more painful to remember than to forget. For all its harrowing power, “Eclipsed,” headlined by the Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, one of the most radiant young actors to be seen on Broadway in recent seasons, shines with a compassion that makes us see beyond the suffering to the indomitable humanity of its characters.

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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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