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BROADWAY REVIEW: Choir Boy

January 8, 2019: You haven’t seen a character like Pharus before. Certainly not on Broadway. It’s not just that he’s “an effeminate young man of color,” as Tarell Alvin McCraney thumbnails him in the script for “Choir Boy.” That’s like calling Evan Hansen a teen with a twitch. Which isn’t to say that Pharus, a student at an elite, mostly black all-male prep school, doesn’t have his share of mannerisms. His limbs seem to flutter without regard to propriety or one another; his voice leaps from dudgeon to delight in huge swoops of emotion; his wit lashes out in pyrotechnical displays of snap and swish. He is reflexively provocative. As the star tenor in the school’s choir, he refers to his throat, both piously and not, as “the Lord’s passageway.” So he’s definitely a handful of a gay boy, disconcerting his schoolmates and headmaster even if he’s still a virgin. But by the time Jeremy Pope, making a sensational Broadway debut in the role, gets through with him, that sketch has been filled in, roughed up and turned inside out — and with it a world of tired ideas about what it means for a man to be strong. When “Choir Boy,” which opened on Tuesday at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, sticks to that idea, focusing on Pharus’s discovery, through exuberant music, of the brawn inside his perceived weakness, it is captivating and fresh. The portrait of his adversaries — choral and otherwise — is less so.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: To Kill a Mockingbird

December 13, 2018: As this is a trial, let’s have a verdict: “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which opened at the Shubert Theater on Thursday, is not guilty. Evidence shows that it does not deface the Harper Lee novel on which it is based, as the Lee estate at one point contended. And far from devaluing the property as a moneymaking machine, it has created an honorable stream of income that should pour into the estate’s coffers for years to come. But as any reader of the novel knows, to say something is not guilty is not the same as saying it’s innocent. And this adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” — written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Bartlett Sher and starring Jeff Daniels — is hardly innocent. How could it be? Every ounce of glossy know-how available at the highest echelons of the commercial theater has been applied to ensure its success, both on Lee’s terms and on what it supposes are ours.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Ruben & Clay’s First Annual Christmas Carol Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show

December 11, 2018: When people talk about the miracle of Christmas, they may be referring to the lowering of critical standards the holidays seem to provoke. Maybe that explains certain sweaters, or how I found myself tapping my toes and nodding contentedly during “Ruben & Clay’s First Annual Christmas Carol Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show.” But the production now playing at the Imperial Theater on Broadway actually has assets that would be effective any time of the year, especially if you happen to miss old-fashioned variety shows run by a pair of genial, bantering hosts.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Network

December 6, 2018: For your sins, Bryan Cranston is all but flaying the skin off his body, night after night at the Belasco Theater. It is a demanding undertaking, both painful and rigorously skilled. And if you’re a glutton for great, high-risk acting, you owe Mr. Cranston the courtesy — and yourself the thrill — of watching his self-immolation in “Network,” which opened on Thursday. Mr. Cranston is portraying Howard Beale, a grand old newscaster who becomes a martyr to the inhumanity of television, in this churning, immersive stage adaptation — directed to overwhelm by Ivo van Hove — of the passionately remembered 1976 movie. Howard Beale, you may recall, is the role that won Peter Finch an Oscar.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: The Cher Show

December 3, 2018: There’s a fine line between tacky and spectacular. In creating costumes for Cher over the years — costumes that often tell the story of a shy woman emerging triumphant from a chrysalis — the designer Bob Mackie has kept on the right side of the line by making sure the level of craft supports the extravagance of the gesture.

Sadly that’s not the case with “The Cher Show,” the maddening mishmash of a new musical that opened on Monday at the Neil Simon Theater. Except for the dozens of eye-popping outfits Mr. Mackie gorgeously recreates for the occasion, it’s all gesture, no craft: dramatically threadbare and surprisingly unrevealing.

That’s too bad because, reading between the paillettes, you get the feeling that the 72-year-old singer-actress-survivor is a good egg: self-mocking, plain speaking and a hoot. Whether that’s enough to build a Broadway musical on is another question, one “The Cher Show,” striving to be agreeable, never gets close to answering.

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