BROADWAY REVIEWS

BROADWAY REVIEW: American Utopia

October 20, 2019: Won’t you be his neighbor? David Byrne doesn’t actually make that request in “American Utopia,” his cloud-sweeping upper of a touring show, which opened on Broadway at the Hudson Theater on Sunday. Yet when the silvery, gray-suited pop star poses another musical question — “Will you breathe with me?” — you may find yourself thinking of the theme song of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” I’m not the first person to note similarities between Fred Rogers — the cardigan-wearing children’s television host (and the subject of a new Tom Hanks movie) — and Byrne, the New Wave musician who writhed into the spotlight performing “Psycho Killer” in the 1970s. But as I watched “American Utopia,” the comparison felt especially apt.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: The Sound Inside

October 17, 2019: The urge to move small shows to Broadway should generally be resisted. Whether musicals or plays, most transfers from 199-seat houses feel dinky in palaces accommodating 900, and the frantic efforts made by creative teams to fill the void too often wind up highlighting it instead. There are, of course, exceptions, including “The Band’s Visit,” which won the Tony Award for best musical last year. That show’s director, David Cromer, a minimalist to begin with, didn’t inflate the material for Broadway; he battened it down, as if for a storm. Urging the audience to come closer instead of forcing the show to grow bigger, he made you enter its world through the smallest possible door. The surprise — and joy — is that the world can seem so vast when approached that way. Or at least it does in Cromer’s flawless production of “The Sound Inside,” a play by Adam Rapp that opened at Studio 54 on Thursday. When I saw its world premiere at the Williamstown Theater Festival in 2018, it was already a gripping small-scale mystery, and a spectacular showcase for its star, Mary-Louise Parker. Now, having been put through Cromer’s less-is-everything makeover, it’s even more resonant on Broadway: a tragedy about fiction, both the kind we read and the kind we live.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: The Lightning Thief

October 16, 2019: Here’s an idea for a Broadway musical: An awkward boy with an absent father and an overwhelmed mother gets involved with friends in a dubious scheme that spins out of control and almost undoes him. Is it “Dear Evan Hansen”? If only. Alas, “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” is a pale patch on the earlier show and a failed attempt to board the teenage fantasy-angst train. (See also: “Be More Chill” and, more successfully, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”) Based on the popular 2005 novel by Rick Riordan, it is both overblown and underproduced, filled with sentiments it can’t support and effects it can’t pull off.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: The Rose Tattoo

October 15, 2019: You thought tropical storms were disruptive? The Italian-Americans living along the Gulf Coast in the Roundabout Theater Company’s untethered revival of Tennessee Williams’s “The Rose Tattoo” are really up against the elements, and so are the actors playing them. But it’s nothing as palpable as a hurricane that keeps knocking them off balance and making them flail like sandpipers in a heavy wind. To understand what’s sweeping through this production, which opened at the American Airlines Theater on Tuesday with a cast led by a valiant Marisa Tomei, listen to the words of Assunta, a wise old Sicilian signora.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Linda Vista

October 10, 2019: The everyday poison known as toxic masculinity becomes dangerously easy to swallow in “Linda Vista,” Tracy Letts’s inspired, ruthless take on the classic midlife-crisis comedy. In the sunny opening scenes of this very funny, equally unsettling Steppenwolf Theater production — which opened on Thursday at the Hayes Theater — you’ll probably feel like cozying up to that sheepish, disheveled big guy who rules the stage with his outspoken wit. Played with immense, shaggy charm — and anger to match — by Ian Barford in a performance that reminds you of how brilliantly bruising Steppenwolf acting can be, this charismatic loser is named Wheeler. Actually, it’s Dick Wheeler, but he prefers to dispense with the first name, perhaps on the theory that it’s better not to provide too many clues to your essential nature.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Slave Play

October 6, 2019: Though it’s mild, paradoxical and perhaps a bit prurient to say so, “Slave Play” is a happy surprise. It’s mild because Jeremy O. Harris’s play, which opened at the Golden Theater on Sunday, is one of the best and most provocative new works to show up on Broadway in years. It’s a paradox because what could be happy in a play about pain? A play so serious, so furious and so deeply engaged in the most intractable conflicts of American life that it became both a cause célèbre and a scandal before it opened?

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Freestyle Love Supreme

October 2, 2019: And just as you were thinking that life has no rhyme nor reason these days, along comes “Freestyle Love Supreme” to pump you full of hope. This exultant master course in the fine art of hip-hop, which opened on Wednesday night at the Booth Theater, suggests that there’s no feeling, thought or experience so anxious or so random that it can’t be translated into infectious, neon-bright rhythms. Confusion, frustration, depression — such emotions are banished by the team assembled on the stage to find the great, sick beat in your past and present woes.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: The Great Society

October 1, 2019: About halfway through “The Great Society,” the overstuffed, underbaked play by Robert Schenkkan that opened on Tuesday at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, something strange happens to Lyndon B. Johnson. He loses his grip. Ah, good, you may think. Finally the master manipulator played by Brian Cox — the Scottish Shakespearean and star of HBO’s “Succession” — will become interesting as a dramatic character. So why doesn’t he?

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BROADWAY REVIEW: The Height of the Storm

September 24, 2019: The rest of the cast, all but one of them imported from last fall’s London production, do perfectly well as spotters for the stars’ maneuvers. And you have to admit that a playwright could do worse than creating a juicy acting exercise for treasurable actors in their 70s (Mr. Pryce) and 80s (Ms. Atkins). Does it matter so much that for all their skill — set off by Mr. Kent’s exquisitely decorous Broadway staging — there’s no there there? It does. Even if you accept that “The Height of the Storm” (as I wrote about “The Father”) is more of a vehicle than a destination, you may eventually grow weary of being taken for a ride.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Derren Brown: Secret

September 15, 2019: Yet every time I visit the dapper Mr. Brown, I leave in a lighter, less-polluted mood — brainwashed in the most positive sense of the term. That’s because this British stage performer (who is also a television star and best-selling author across the Atlantic) doesn’t use his gifts to assert his dominance over those of us who are telepathically challenged. Well, O.K., maybe he does a little bit. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to hold a big stage by himself and leave us all slack-jawed at his ability to do things that he made us swear not to talk about. (His may be a benign presence, but I still wouldn’t want to cross him.) He insists, though, that he is no oracle — and he consults the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines such a being as infallible. His persona is pointedly that of a fallible everyman, who has simply trained himself to observe his fellow humans more carefully than most of us do.

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