BROADWAY REVIEWS

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: 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: 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: 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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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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BROADWAY REVIEW: Come From Away

March 12, 2017: Try, if you must, to resist the gale of good will that blows out of “Come From Away,” the big bearhug of a musical that opened on Sunday night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater. But even the most stalwart cynics may have trouble staying dry-eyed during this portrait of heroic hospitality under extraordinary pressure.

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BROADWAY REVIEW: Dear Evan Hansen

December 4, 2016: As the title character in “Dear Evan Hansen,” a lonely teenager who inadvertently becomes a social media sensation and a symbol of the kindness that is often cruelly absent in high school hallways, the marvelous young actor Ben Platt is giving a performance that’s not likely to be bettered on Broadway this season. What’s more, this gorgeous heartbreaker of a musical, which opened at the Music Box Theater on Sunday, has grown in emotional potency during its journey to the big leagues, after first being produced in Washington and Off Broadway. Rarely – scratch that — never have I heard so many stifled sobs and sniffles in the theater.

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