BROADWAY REVIEWS

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: 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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BROADWAY REVIEW: The Prom

November 15, 2018: “The Prom” begins when a theater critic for The New York Times writes a pan so poisonous that the show he’s reviewing dies on the spot. That’s ridiculous. It could never happen. At any rate, it won’t happen now, because “The Prom,” which opened on Thursday at the Longacre Theater, is such a joyful hoot. With its kinetic dancing, broad mugging and belty anthems, it makes you believe in musical comedy again. These days, that takes some doing. How, after all, with so much pain in the air and so many constraints on what’s allowed to be funny, do we find the heart and permission to laugh?

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BROADWAY REVIEW: King Kong

November 8, 2018: BEN BRANTLEY Hello, Jesse. Though I’m not in a playful mood this morning — having just seen the spirit-crushing “King Kong” — what if we begin this dialogue with a game? Imagine you are on the street, having just left the theater, and are asked by a television interviewer to describe your response in one word. Well? JESSE GREEN It can’t be printed here, and I’m not even sure it’s one word. (It starts with “ape.”) So I guess I’ll go with “ugh.” BRANTLEY I understand what you’re saying. Since screaming is such a big part of the show, mine would be “aaaaaaaaargh.”

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BROADWAY REVIEW: American Son

November 4, 2018: Some great performances come with elaborate costumes or prosthetic noses attached. Some involve crackerjack timing or floods of tears. But the great performance Kerry Washington is giving in “American Son,” which opened on Sunday at the Booth Theater on Broadway, features no such decoration. The only thing Ms. Washington has to do as Kendra Ellis-Connor is bulldoze her way through 85 minutes of mounting agony as a mother whose son may be in desperate trouble. Let’s add “black” to that sentence, because it changes everything: “as a black mother whose son may be in desperate trouble.” “American Son,” by Christopher Demos-Brown, is part of a wave of new plays that consider the vulnerability of young black men in their dealings with the police. But unlike “Pass Over,” “Until the Flood,” “Kill Move Paradise” and “Scraps,” the style here is neither surreal nor poetic; it’s ticktock realism, deployed in real time. And the focus is not on the young men or the police but on the parents caught in between.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: The Waverly Gallery

October 25, 2018: From the moment Gladys Green opens her mouth — which is the moment that the curtain rises on Kenneth Lonergan’s wonderful play “The Waverly Gallery” at the Golden Theater — it’s clear that for this garrulous woman, idle conversation isn’t a time killer. It is a lifeline. An octogenarian New Yorker, former lawyer and perpetual hostess for whom schmoozing and kibitzing have always been as essential as breathing, Gladys operates on the principle that if she can just continue to talk, she can surely power through the thickening fog of her old age. That she has clearly already lost this battle makes her no less valiant. That it’s Elaine May who is giving life to Gladys’s war against time lends an extra power and poignancy to “The Waverly Gallery,” which opened on Thursday night under Lila Neugebauer’s fine-tuned direction. Long fabled as a director, script doctor and dramatist, Ms. May first became famous as a master of improvisational comedy, instantly inventing fully detailed, piquantly neurotic characters who always leaned slightly off-kilter.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: The Ferryman

October 21, 2018: No matter what sort of spread you’ve planned for your Thanksgiving dinner, it won’t be a patch on the glorious feast that has been laid out at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater. That’s where Jez Butterworth’s thrilling new play “The Ferryman” opened on Sunday night, with a generosity of substance and spirit rarely seen on the stage anymore. There is, for the record, a whopping celebratory meal at the center of this endlessly vibrant work, directed with sweeping passion and meticulous care by Sam Mendes. Its main course is a goose, which has figured as a living creature in earlier scenes, and the repast appears to be more than enough to feed the 17 revelers gathered at an overladen table in rural Northern Ireland in 1981.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Pretty Woman

August 16, 2018: No one should have had to step into that red dress again. I’m talking about the long, strapless number that Julia Roberts wore in the 1990 film “Pretty Woman,” in a moment of pure, movie-magic apotheosis. Let me refresh your memory of that occasion before I proceed to the less pleasant topic of “Pretty Woman: The Musical,” which opened on Thursday night at the Nederlander Theater without Ms. Roberts in the title role. In the movie, Ms. Roberts’s character, a prostitute named Vivian Ward, is going to her first opera (all too appropriately, “La Traviata”) with her date and client, Edward Lewis, a very rich and emotionally frozen businessman played by Richard Gere. She materializes with coltish grace and freshness in said dress, and the smitten Mr. Gere presents her with a small box, containing an obscenely expensive necklace. He playfully snaps it open and closed, and Ms. Roberts erupts into a spontaneous shout of laughter that totally and improbably dispels the creepy transactional haze of the scene.

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