BROADWAY REVIEWS

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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BROADWAY REVIEW: Fun Home

Fun Home

April 19, 2015: “Fun Home” knows where you live. Granted, it’s unlikely that many details of your childhood exactly resemble those of the narrator of this extraordinary musical, which pumps oxygenating fresh air into the cultural recycling center that is Broadway. Yet this impeccably shaded portrait of a girl and her father, which opened on Sunday night at the Circle in the Square Theater, occupies the place where we all grew up, and will never be able to leave. That’s the shifting landscape where our parents, whether living or dead, will always reign as the most familiar and elusive people we will ever encounter. Adapted from Alison Bechdel’s fine graphic novel of a memoir, with an incisive book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and heart-gripping music by Jeanine Tesori, “Fun Home” might be described as a universal detective story. Set in three ages of one woman’s life (embodied by three perfectly matched, first-rate actresses), it tries to solve the sort of classic mystery that keeps grown-ups in analysis for decades: Who are these strange people who made me? The focus of that question here is an especially knotty case. Meet Bruce (Michael Cerveris), who teaches high school English, restores old houses and runs a funeral home in a small Pennsylvania town. As the husband of Helen (Judy Kuhn) and a father of three, Bruce is as divided personally as he is professionally, a fastidious upholder of the perfect-family facade who picks up young men (all played by Joel Perez) on the down low.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: The King and I

The King and I

April 16, 2015: A big, scrupulously detailed 19th-century ship glides toward the audience in the opening moments of Bartlett Sher’s resplendent production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I,” which opened on Thursday night at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. It’s an impressive sight, worthy of every “oooh” it elicits. But its presence wouldn’t count for nearly as much if it weren’t carrying such precious cargo. That’s the determined, hopeful, anxious woman in a hoop skirt who runs onto the deck, toward the ship’s prow, and into our field of vision as if in cinematic close-up. Her name is Anna Leonowens, and she is played, you lucky theatergoers, by Kelli O’Hara. One look at her face, agleam with intelligence and apprehension, and you suspect you’re in the hands of a guide you can trust. Then she starts to sing. And even if the familiar song she delivers (“I Whistle a Happy Tune”) usually makes you cringe, your confidence in her — and the Lincoln Center Theater production in which she appears — starts to soar. It will stay contentedly aloft for the next 2 hours and 50 minutes. As you probably already know, Mrs. Leonowens’s task in this 1951 musical is to educate a passel of royal Siamese pupils in the ways of the West. The job of Ms. O’Hara — and that of Mr. Sher and Ken Watanabe, the commanding Japanese film star who portrays the King of Siam — is to educate 21st-century audiences in the enduring and affecting power of a colonialist-minded musical that, by rights, should probably embarrass us in the age of political correctness.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Finding Neverland

Finding Neverland

April 15, 2015: The first entrance applause occurs before even the overture begins. Riotous clapping is occasioned when a bright point of light travels over the ceiling and the curtain of the Lunt-Fontanne Theater in New York, where the push-button, button-pushing musical “Finding Neverland” opened on Wednesday night. This little light, you see, is pretty much guaranteed to elicit a Pavlovian response from anyone familiar with the story of “Peter Pan” in its various incarnations, which surely includes everyone who shelled out the big bucks for this show. Said light equals Tinker Bell, the temperamental fairy who requires your applause to stay alive. Clap if you believe in brand names. Directed by Diane Paulus — with the guidance of Harvey Weinstein, its chief producer — “Finding Neverland” is filled with such triggers. The most brazen, perhaps, comes when an English actor in a pub asks an American, “Do they say ‘cheers’ where you come from, mate?” The simple query sets the audience aroar. That’s because the man playing the American happens to be Kelsey Grammer, who was a regular on the long-running sitcom “Cheers.” Neither Mr. Grammer nor the show’s leading man, Matthew Morrison (of the television series “Glee”), appear wholly invested in their performances. But that’s O.K. Their mere presences do most of the work for them. As with many a Broadway musical these days, “Finding Neverland” — which features a book by James Graham and sticky soft-pop power ballads by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy — is based on a popular film. That would be the 2004 biopic about the playwright J. M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, which starred Johnny Depp and for which Mr. Weinstein was an executive producer.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: An American in Paris

An American in Paris

April 12, 2015: The city of light is ablaze with movement in the rhapsodic new stage adaptation of “An American in Paris” that opened at the Palace Theater on Sunday, directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, a gifted luminary of the ballet world. This gorgeously danced — and just plain gorgeous — production pays loving tribute to the 1951 movie, to the marriage of music and movement, and to cherished notions about romance that have been a defining element of the American musical theater practically since its inception. Just about everything in this happily dance-drunk show moves with a spring in its step, as if the newly liberated Paris after World War II were an enchanted place in which the laws of gravity no longer applied. Even the elegant buildings on the grand boulevards appear to take flight. Musicals based on classic movies, or not-so-classic movies, have become a familiar staple on Broadway. Just last week, “Gigi,” another show based on an Oscar-winning MGM movie set in Paris — also featuring a screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner — opened a few blocks away. Dance, on the other hand, has become the wallflower at the Broadway prom in recent decades, which makes Mr. Wheeldon’s triumph all the sweeter. Still, unlike the shows directed and choreographed by Twyla Tharp — “Movin’ Out” being the most successful — “An American in Paris” is very much a traditional Broadway musical, with a book by the playwright Craig Lucas that amplifies the movie’s thin story line, mostly to witty and vivifying effect. And while its two radiant leading performers, Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope, are ballet dancers by profession, they also sing (quite well) and deliver dialogue (more than quite well).

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