BROADWAY REVIEWS

BROADWAY REVIEW: Girl From The North Country

March 5, 2020: A nation is broken. Life savings have vanished overnight. Home as a place you thought you would live forever no longer exists. People don’t so much connect as collide, even members of the same family. And it seems like winter is never going to end. That’s the view from Duluth, Minn., 1934, as conjured in the profoundly beautiful “Girl From the North Country,” a work by the Irish dramatist Conor McPherson built around vintage songs by Bob Dylan. You’re probably thinking that such a harsh vision of an American yesterday looks uncomfortably close to tomorrow. Who would want to stare into such a dark mirror? Yet while this singular production, which opened on Thursday night at the Belasco Theater under McPherson’s luminous direction, evokes the Great Depression with uncompromising bleakness, it is ultimately the opposite of depressing. That’s because McPherson hears America singing in the dark. And those voices light up the night with the radiance of divine grace.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: West Side Story

February 20, 2020: No one should be surprised to hear that Ivo van Hove has blown up “West Side Story.” This industrious, experimental director is celebrated, after all, for taking an artistic detonator to sacred classics — by authors like Shakespeare, Molière, Miller and O’Neill — and letting the pieces fly. But the blowing up I’m talking about in this curiously unaffecting reimagining of a watershed musical, which opened on Thursday night at the Broadway Theater, is the kind associated with photography, the process by which a picture is enlarged to outsize proportions. This means that most of the performers onstage here have video doppelgängers, projected on the wall behind them, who are many, many times their natural size. As such, those fatally rivalrous street gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, have probably never loomed larger. Yet these disembodied Goliaths wind up upstaging their flesh-and-blood selves. As real, human-scale people, those crazy, mixed-up kids from New York’s mean streets have seldom seemed smaller, blurrier or less sure of their purpose — as characters or as performers.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Jagged Little Pill

December 5, 2019: The great news for “Jagged Little Pill,” and for us, is that its creative team, led by the director Diane Paulus, did more than just fiddle with a show that, though blurry, was already entertaining. The overhauled version that opened on Thursday at the Broadhurst Theater is fully in focus: clear in its priorities, rich in character, sincere without syrup, rousing and real. It easily clears the low bar of jukebox success to stand alongside the dark original musicals that have been sustaining the best hopes of Broadway in recent years.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: TINA, The Tina Turner Musical

November 7, 2019: Tina Turner gets the bio-jukebox treatment, with all its lows (emaciated storytelling) and one of its peaks (a star-making performance from Adrienne Warren). It’s a good tale, in theory, cut to the pattern of classic drama. Two elemental forces — hurricane-voiced Anna Mae Bullock and typhoon-tempered Ike Turner — are pitted in a struggle that nearly destroys both. But while Ike, for his sins, winds up a pariah and eventually dies of an overdose, Anna, rechristened Tina by her Svengali-like husband, rises from the depths, to greater glory solo than she ever achieved under his boot. More important, as far as pure entertainment is concerned, this story comes with songs that can thrill an audience when rendered as Turner sang them; at this, the musical “Tina,” directed by Phyllida Lloyd, happily succeeds. In a performance that is part possession, part workout and part wig, Adrienne Warren rocks the rafters and dissolves your doubts about anyone daring to step into the diva’s high heels. But what I’ve just described is a rock concert — which is what “Tina” essentially turns into. It’s a blast if that’s what you came for. If you meant to see a true union of song and story, though, you won’t get it here.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Moulin Rouge! The Musical

July 25, 2019: This one’s for the hedonists. All you party people should know that the Al Hirschfeld Theater has been refurbished as an opulent pleasure palace, wherein decadence comes without hangovers. That’s where the euphoric “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” opened on Thursday night in a shower of fireworks, confetti and glittering fragments of what feels like every pop hit ever written. Inspired by the 2001 Baz Luhrmann film and directed with wicked savvy by Alex Timbers, this “Moulin Rouge” is a cloud-surfing, natural high of a production. It has side effects, for sure, including the vertigo that comes from having your remembrance of songs past tickled silly and the temporary blockage of any allergies to jukebox musicals. But for its plump, sleek two-and-a-half hours of stage time, “Moulin Rouge” — which stars a knockout Karen Olivo, with Aaron Tveit and Danny Burstein doing their best Broadway work to date — has the febrile energy you may associate with the wilder parties of your youth, when gaudy nights seemed to stretch into infinity.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Beetlejuice

April 25, 2019: The dead lead lives of noisy desperation in “Beetlejuice,” the absolutely exhausting new musical that opened on Thursday at the Winter Garden Theater. This frantic adaptation of Tim Burton’s much-loved 1988 film is sure to dishearten those who like to think of the afterlife as one unending, undisturbed sleep. Because as directed by a feverishly inventive Alex Timbers, and starring Alex Brightman as the manic ghoul of the title, this production proposes that not being alive just means that you have to try harder — a whole lot harder — than you ever did before. Otherwise, you’ll wind up invisible, with nary a soul to acknowledge your starry self. And in today’s world of chronic self-advertising, this may be the true fate worse than death.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Hadestown

April 17, 2019: All your favorite Greeks are heading somewhere in “Hadestown,” the sumptuous, hypnotic and somewhat hyperactive musical that opened on Wednesday night after its own twisty 13-year road to Broadway. Eurydice descends to the underworld; Orpheus follows to retrieve her. Persephone spends six months aboveground living the good life of summer and song before returning for six months below with Hades. (He’s her husband.) Hermes, of course, has wings on his feet. And the Fates (at least in this version) are always darting about, minding everyone’s business. But watching “Hadestown” unfold so gorgeously at the Walter Kerr Theater, I found myself thinking of other Greek characters: those lucky few saved from heartbreak by radical metamorphoses.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations

March 21, 2019: While honoring all the expected biomusical clichés, which include rolling out its subjects’ greatest hits in brisk and sometimes too fragmented succession, this production refreshingly emphasizes the improbable triumph of rough, combustible parts assembled into glistening smoothness.

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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: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

April 22, 2018:

Time is a dangerous toy in “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” the enthralling two-part play about the later life of its title wizard. Various characters in this deluxe London import, which opened on Sunday night at the Lyric Theater, find it in their power to journey into the past, which means altering the future, which means serious trouble for everyone.

In that regard, these stumbling adventure-seekers must be regarded as lesser magicians than their creators, who include J.K. Rowling, the writer of the prodigiously popular Harry Potter fantasy novels, and the poetic director John Tiffany (“Black Watch,” “The Glass Menagerie”). This inspired team bends time to its will with an imagination and discipline that leave room for nary a glitch, making five hours of performance pass in a wizardly wink of an eye.

Featuring a script by Jack Thorne — from an original story by Ms. Rowling, Mr. Thorne and Mr. Tiffany — “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” also gives vibrant, decades-traversing life to those wistful “what if” speculations about the past that occupy both grown-ups and children. It’s a process that involves folding stories into stories into stories, collapsing years into minutes and making dreams feel eternal, and more vivid than reality.

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