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Musicals

Mean Girls

April 24, 2018

Fey has made two successful changes to theatricalize her original screenplay. The story is now cast as a flashback narrated by best friends Goth Janis (Barrett Wilbert Weed) and Damian (Grey Henson), described as “almost too gay to function,” to the new freshman class as a cautionary tale as to “how far you would go to be popular and hot.” She has also updated the story to include smartphones, selfies, and reference to current events (the Russians and President Trump’s twitter account.) [more]

One Thousand Nights and One Day

April 23, 2018

In performance, "One Thousand Nights and One Day" is a like a play with songs shoehorned in as none of them forward the story but take the emotional temperature of the characters instead. With all of the actors playing at least two parts, modern and ancient, with little costume change, it is often difficult to be certain where we are at any moment. Some play very similar characters, others play against their earlier incarnation. Erin Ortman’s direction is assured with the characterizations but she cannot solve the problems inherent in the writing. [more]

Carousel

April 22, 2018

If it seemed like no staging could ever top London’s National Theatre production (which was directed by Nicholas Hytner and came to Lincoln Center in the mid 1990’s), this newer version epitomizes the notorious relationship between anticipation and realization. Though the advance word during the extensive preview period was rather negative, Jack O’Brien’s "Carousel" proves up there with the best. [more]

ms. estrada

April 18, 2018

The Q Brothers Collective (made up of GQ, JQ, Jackson Doran and Postell Pringle) is best known in New York for their hip hop variations on Shakespeare: "Othello: The Remix" in 2016 and "The Bomb-itty of Errors" in 2000. As the entire show is in rhyme and rhythm, there are very few discrete songs, but the couplets come so fast that it is at times difficult to make out the clever lyrics. The upside of the new show has all the hijinks of a teen musical but with the unsophistication of a college parody (the downside). It is the latest musical version of Aristophanes’ most famous comedy, but unlike the 2011 "Lysistrata Jones," "ms. estrada" has eliminated all of the politics for an exploration into the social aspects instead. [more]

The Lucky Ones

April 13, 2018

After the first song, “We are in the house where I grew up,” says Abigail, with the bacon and eggs and toast and tea in the morning, on the first day of a new school year. Adding to the confusion are Abigail’s many family members, including her sisters--one of whom is named Emily (Ashley Pérez Flanagan), not to be confused with her new friend Emma (Adina Verson)--her parents, her aunt (the stalwart Maryann Plunkett) and her cousins. Another part of the problem is that there are simply too many people to be contained on the small stage of the Connelly Theater, which may be why the majority of them begin the show in the balcony in the rear of the auditorium. (The Lucky Ones has been directed with an overcrowded zeal by Anne Kauffman.) [more]

Wicked Frozen

April 11, 2018

Zoe Farmingdale’s book is a tart and good-natured treatment of the salvation of a high school misfit. The cheery, witty and melodious score has lyrics by Ms. Farmingdale and Toby Singer and music by Mr. Singer. An ode to IKEA is particularly catchy. Mr. Singer’s successfully eclectic music is perfectly realized by his arrangements and sound design. [more]

Frozen

April 10, 2018

Disney Theatrical Productions’ long anticipated stage version of the beloved animated film "Frozen" has arrived on Broadway in a lavish and faithful version of the screenplay by Jennifer Lee who also wrote the book of the new stage show. The Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez score from the movie (including the Academy Award-winning anthem, “Let It Go”) is intact with the addition of 12 new numbers. The hard-working cast is headed by the commanding Caissie Levy as Princess Elsa and charming Patti Murin as her younger sister, Princess Anna. The real question has been how the musical would put the frozen world of the North on stage. Visually the show is attractive rather than breathtaking, with Christopher Oram’s wing and drop sets resembling those for the ballet rather than a musical. They are eye-filling, but not awe-inspiring. His costumes seem to be conventional 19th century Scandinavian garb. Ironically, the show is stolen by Greg Hildreth as Olaf, the snowman, and Andrew Pirozzi as Sven, the reindeer. [more]

Symphonie Fantastique

April 8, 2018

Twist’s “Creator’s Note” in the program alludes to Wassily Kandinsky’s musical metaphorical paintings and Twist’s youthful attraction to the possibility of using abstract puppetry in combination with music.  The five-part Symphonie, subtitled “Episode in the life of an Artist,” called to him for its color and storyline which vaguely guide his creation although only the changing moods, rhythms and colors of the score seem be the inspiration for the series of moving abstract images that were mostly treats for the eyes, if not the mind—seductive, clever, dreamy, sensually involving, but more a vacation for conscious thought than an intellectual challenge. [more]

Goldstein

April 6, 2018

Michael Roberts’ music is a tuneful assortment of melodies some of which have an appropriate ethnic flavor. Mr. Roberts’ lyrics range from inspired to rudimentary with the overall score being quite charming. The caustic “Visiting Your Mother” stands out as a Leonard Bernstein/Betty Comden & Adolph Green-style showstopper as sensationally performed by the appealingly forceful Sarah Beth Pfeifer as Eleanor. [more]

Escape to Margaritaville

March 29, 2018

The ups and downs of the road to true romance provide the show with its ties to the Buffett songs.  Tully opens the show with “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Boat,” to show his romantic nature and “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” to reveal his easygoing philosophy of life.  Similarly, Rachel offers her story in “It’s My Job,” and romance blossoms when she sings “Three Chords” (the new Jimmy Buffet song) with Tully as he teaches her to play the guitar. Tammy begins to fall for Brick with their sardonic “We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About” and cements their love with “Come Monday.” Of course, there is the title song “Margaritaville,” Buffett’s biggest hit.  The songs are written in various styles ranging from pop to calypso to reggae and are meant to incite the audience to sing along which they are sometimes actually prompted to do. [more]

Rocktopia

March 28, 2018

Eleanor Roosevelt gets the biggest round of applause during the projected cultural icons slideshow as Queen’s “We Are The Champions” is histrionically performed in "Rocktopia." It’s a hokey musical extravaganza that mashes together classical, rock and opera. Singalongs, coerced clapping, dancing in the seats and standing ovations abound. The cheerfully innocuous entertainment level is comparable to that of a bland PBS pledge break concert. [more]

Grand Hotel, The Musical

March 25, 2018

“We'll Take a Glass Together” is an exhilarating production number. Brandon Uranowitz’s animated youthfulness is up to the task of equaling the impact of Michael Jeter’s legendary turn in the original production as the dying bookkeeper enjoying a carefree spree.  Mr. Uranowitz’s limber movements are thrilling as he euphorically undulates up and down flanked by a large gold dance barre carried by the terrific ensemble. [more]

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story

March 22, 2018

Any further comparisons with the Broadway musical "Come From Away" end with the Nova Scotia setting as Chaim and Chaya quickly settle in Montreal where the 19-year-old Chaim marries the 24-year-old Chaya, who lost her husband on the trek from Romania to Russia to escape the pogroms. (Her husband died of typhus, which becomes a recurring theme in the story that unfolds.) To be sure, their tales are “dark” ones, as put together in the play by an apparent descendent Hannah Moscovitch of the real Chaim and Chaya. [more]

Calamity Jane

March 18, 2018

It would be a pleasure to say that Musicals Tonight! is going out on a high but that would not be accurate. While the book by Ronald Hanmer and Phil Park based on the play by Charles K. Freeman is very old-fashioned and the original score by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster is quite derivative, the real problem is with the production staged by Devin Vogel making his Off Broadway directing debut. While the Wild West material suggests color and ambiance, this "Calamity Jane" is devoid of those things. [more]

Speed Queen

March 9, 2018

Hilariously impersonating Marlene Dietrich while playing an accordion, singing and trotting about, is one of the grand highlights of performer Phoebe Legere’s "Speed Queen."  Spanning from W.W. I to the present, it’s a madcap lesbian historical and musical fantasia about Joe Carstairs, for which Legere has written the book and original score.  [more]

Jerry Springer – The Opera

March 9, 2018

"Jerry Springer - The Opera" is not for opera purists nor is for people who are easily offended by four letter words and other bad language of which there is a multitude. However, its irreverence skewers social, religious and political hypocrisy. The New Group’s production directed by John Rando is one of the most exciting musical theater experiences to be currently obtained in New York. It actually seems more relevant in Trump America where this sort of thing is cable-fodder every night of the week. If you are a dedicated theatergoer, miss this show if you dare. [more]

Locked Up Bitches

March 6, 2018

All the good jokes get lost in the onslaught of cast members vying for their moments and looking for the audience’s approval, which admittedly was offered freely.   "Bitches" becomes chaotic, crude and in your face, not to mention clichéd, the clichés hiding behind dirty jokes and blatant shtick.  Raine clearly can’t rein in the cast’s enthusiasm even though they are portraying animals with animal passions. [more]

Folk Wandering

March 6, 2018

They’re friends in the present. Someone picks up yellowed newspaper articles from the past.  Then we’re in New York City’s Lower East Side in 1911. We meet the spunky 13-year-old Roselia.  She is the daughter of immigrants and her goal is to become a muckraking journalist.  An exposé of the local butcher was one of her scoops that have been published.  Her older sister is to marry a genial young man.  Her parents are very affectionate but due to their hardscrabble circumstances it’s decided that after her impending 14th birthday, Roselia will leave school to join her mother and sister in working in a garment factory to bring in more money to the family. This heartbreaking thread is the most substantive, affective and dramatic of the three tales.  The girlish and luminous Lena Hudson makes a great impact as Roselia. Kate Loprest’s practical but maternal characterization of the mother is perfect.  “The House on Ludlow Street” is a haunting song that is woven through the narrative. [more]

Black Light

March 2, 2018

Thus begins the unique show, "Black Light," which is a concert cum confessional. In her sequenced gowns--and there are five costume changes during the 90-minute performance--and with her red lipstick and frizzy, frazzled, dark hair, Jones sometimes provides a strong, alto voice for her intermittent songs, ranging from ballads (“Crossroads”) to hard rock (“Life is motion”). [more]

Subways Are for Sleeping

March 1, 2018

"Subways Are for Sleeping" is a valentine to New York and projection designer Lacey Erb has created atmospheric slides and streaming video of such iconic locations as Grand Central Station, Park Avenue, Rockefeller Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Unfortunately, the original problem with the material has not been solved: Tom and Angie are just not very interesting. They have little or no back story and no outstanding characteristics. As was famously true in the original production, the show is stolen by the secondary leads. With their continually inventive schemes to get through each day, slacker Charlie who lives off his former friends and would-be nightclub performer Martha with her Southern accent are a total delight. Unfortunately, they are off stage most of the time. The rest of the many characters are simply walk-ons. [more]

The Boys from Syracuse

February 18, 2018

The cast seems to have been mostly chosen for their comic skills rather than their singing skills. Nevertheless, Josh Waldren and Matthew Fairless as the visiting travelers turn “Dear Old Syracuse” into a delightful soft shoe number complete with straw hats and canes, and Walden has a lovely duet with Darrell Morris, Jr. as Luciana to “This Can’t Be Love (Because I Feel So Well).” Shapiro's Luce  and Ian Fairlee as Dromio of Ephesus have a big success with the witty, “He and She,” a comic specialty number. However, much of the show has been eroticized and there is a “wink wink” feeling to the overall approach. [more]

Bar Mitzvah Boy

February 15, 2018

"Bar Mitzvah Boy" may not be a top-drawer Jule Styne musical, but Jack Rosenthal’s original story and David Thompson’s new book are excellently observed to have the ring of truth. The family chaos in planning the affair and problems precipitated by the young son’s behavior are sharply and shrewdly detailed enough to be absorbing in a way that all can relate to. Annette Jolles’ production for The York Theatre Company gets a great deal out of the material even in a version without the trappings of a full production. It is also a pleasant surprise to see an unfamiliar musical by major talents which fills in a gap in their careers. [more]

Hey, Look Me Over! New York City Center Encores! at 25

February 10, 2018

Writer-performer Bob Martin recycles his sweater-clad disaffected “Man in the Chair” character from his 2006 Broadway musical "The Drowsy Chaperone." The conceit is that he’s a disgruntled Encores! subscriber who has been chosen to pick his selections for inclusion. Mr. Martin addresses the audience to offer commentary, often tells inside jokes and interacts with the cast.  Depending on one’s sensibilities, this is either an inspired or an insufferable device. However, it doesn’t mar the actual production. [more]

Mr. Chekhov and Mr. Porter

February 2, 2018

The first act is a faithful and skillful hour-long condensation of "The Seagull." The second act is a clever hour-long vaudeville-style amalgam of "The Cherry Orchard," "Uncle Vanya" and "The Three Sisters" in the detailed manner of one of Mel Brooks’ cinematic parodies. [more]

Hallelujah, Baby!

January 31, 2018

While the new cut-down version (performed concert style with book in hand) with nine actors instead of the original 36, now covers 100 years, rather than the sixty in the original show, it still remains a shorthand version of the history of the movement as well as the trials and tribulations of African American performers in show business. Originally written with Lena Horne in mind, when she turned it down the starring role of Georgina Franklin went to newcomer Leslie Uggams and was subsequently revised to accommodate her softer, girl-next-door persona. Although her perky, animated performance won her the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, Laurents was never happy with the compromises made to the show. The more tightly written show which now focuses on four main characters still doesn’t solve all the problems inherent in the material, as directed by Gerry McIntyre it does make for fast-paced musical entertainment with a great many unfamiliar songs. [more]

The Pill

January 29, 2018

This comedy/drama/fitful musical also suffers from major tonal challenges, as it strains to push all of our emotional buttons. It’s a shame, because the cast gives it their all. Particularly good is Zoe Wilson, as Leni, a severely depressed teenager whose body dysmorphia has led to self-cutting and bouts of suicidal ideation. Wilson is just the right mix of pained and angry. Whenever she speaks, or sings, The Pill feels centered and we’re ready to delve deeper into Leni’s personal struggles. [more]

Josephine: A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play

January 23, 2018

The main event, however, is the performance of Harris who doesn’t just imitate Baker but uses her own gifts to illuminate the multitalented cult figure.  It’s as if Baker has brought out the best in Harris and she returns the favor with her vivid singing, unabashed dancing and direct connection with the audience. The songs include well-known ditties like “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Blue Skies,” a particularly moving “And Then I’ll Be Happy,” “Minnie, the Moocher,” the Civil Rights anthem “Strange Fruit,” “The Times They Are A-changing,” and a heartbreaking “La Vie en Rose.” [more]

America’s Favorite Newscaster

January 15, 2018

Another irony is that while Fury is kind of a bore, another character is not. Yeah, you guessed it. Him. When the president (David O. Friedman) appears in Fury’s bedroom like the Ghost of Christmas Present, Attea’s writing finally comes to life. His take on you-know-who isn’t unique, but the situation is wonderfully silly, and Friedman’s impression is a funny profile in petulance. [more]

The Band’s Visit

January 13, 2018

Yazbek’s songs—ranging from the darkly comic “Welcome to Nowhere” (sung by the town folk) to Dina’s romantically tinged “Omar Sharif” and ending with the upbeat, danceable “Concert” played as a finale by the Band—rise magically from the dialogue, just as Patrick McCollum’s choreography emerges naturally from walking, singing and thinking. [more]

Cruel Intentions: The Musical

December 28, 2017

As "Rock of Ages" did for the 1980’s, "Cruel Intentions: The Musical" does for the 1990’s. This is a carefree entertainment accompanied by the revelry incited by a two-item minimum in a nightclub. For many audience members, the Proustian pleasure of experiencing songs that they fondly recall shoehorned into the plot from a minor movie they might remember will suffice.  It’s decidedly not an event for musical theater connoisseurs. [more]

A Charlie Brown Christmas

December 25, 2017

Vince Guaraldi’s monumental jazz themes are beautifully rendered by musical director Jenny Shiroma on piano, Laura Hamel on percussion and Billie Sholen on bass. This talented trio also performs marvelous renditions of a number of classic holiday numbers including “The Christmas Song,” Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from The Nutcracker, and “Silent Night.” Most crucially they do great justice to Mr. Guaraldi’s wistful “Christmas Time Is Here.” [more]

Bulldozer: The Ballad of Robert Moses

December 20, 2017

Moses’ famously crowded and contentious career is glossed over except for his final battle with Jacobs over the Lower Manhattan Expressway. "Bulldozer" doesn’t even give a good summary of his long and length exploits. Although the program lists the time scheme, there is nothing in the show to let us know how much time passes between any of the scenes. The dialogue does a lot of name dropping (Al Smith, Jimmy Walker, Fiorello LaGuardia, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Walter O’Malley) without making any of these people real. Hardly any of the songs forward the plot but instead tell us what we already found out in the preceding dialogue scene. The song lyrics have endlessly repeated refrains and choruses which is typical of rock and pop songs but death in a theatrical presentation in which we expect more information and cleverer wording. [more]

Irving Berlin: In Person

December 20, 2017

Deffaa’s great achievement is joining the narrative portions with just the right song.  An anecdote about encountering Florenz Ziegfeld having an office dalliance with a chorus girl is followed by “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody.” “I Love a Piano” is preceded by Berlin’s extolling of his beloved piano nicknamed “Buick. ” [more]
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