BROADWAY REVIEWS

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: Kiss Me, Kate

March 14, 2019: I raise all this marital prehistory not to excuse the elements of the original “Kiss Me, Kate” that rankle our sensibilities today — its gender stereotypes and wife-slapping argument for womanly submission — but to suggest how the latest Broadway revival, which opened on Thursday in a production starring the sublime Kelli O’Hara, could be so enjoyable anyway.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Be More Chill

March 10, 2019: Adapted by Joe Iconis (songs) and Joe Tracz (book) from Ned Vizzini’s appealing young adult novel, “Be More Chill” has already broken the Lyceum house record for a single week of ticket sales. If it sustains that momentum, it will be partly because this latest entry in the puberty musical sweepstakes has traits that undeniably set it apart from its competition. For one thing, it is — by cold critical standards — the worst of the lot, with a repetitive score, painfully forced rhymes, cartoonish acting and a general approach that mistakes decibel level (literally and metaphorically) for emotional intensity. But this ostensible amateurishness may be exactly what sells “Be More Chill” to its young target audience. Alone among Broadway musicals, “Be More Chill” feels as if it could have been created by the teenagers it portrays, or perhaps by even younger people imagining what high school will be like. Though its production values have been souped up since I saw it in August, the show’s current incarnation — which features the same cast and is again directed by Stephen Brackett — remains a festival of klutziness that you could imagine being put together in the bedrooms and basements of young YouTubers.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: True West

January 24, 2019: Sam Shepard’s wild West just got a lot scarier. I’m talking about that shadowy, shifting desertscape occupied so disharmoniously by the two brothers of Shepard’s 1980 masterwork, “True West,” which has been given a ripping revival by James Macdonald at the American Airlines Theater. As embodied bya brilliant Ethan Hawke, in full-menace mode, and a tightly wired Paul Dano, everyday sibling rivalry has seldom felt this ominous. It’s not that you worry that one’s going to kill the other, in the time-honored tradition of Cain and Abel, although that looms as a possibility. What’s really threatening in this Roundabout Theater Company production, which opened on Thursday night, is its creeping, gut-knotting insistence that family is no fortress against a darkness that erases all sense of a separate self. On the contrary. When it comes to getting lost in the gloaming of existential nothingness, there’s no place like home.

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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: 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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