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Musicals

Bat Out of Hell-The Musical

August 9, 2019

The score is derived from the catalog of songwriter Jim Steinman’s "Bat Out of Hell" album trilogy whose songs were immortalized by Meat Loaf. Mr. Steinman’s  accomplishments as a composer and lyricist are monumental. As a librettist he is dreadful. His negligible scenario borrows heavily from "Peter Pan" (a doomed character is actually named Tink), the hoary stilted dialogue is reminiscent of Flash Gordon cliffhangers and it’s all often ill-matched with his iconic songs. Much of it is supposed to be funny.  It all makes "Bat Out of Hell-The Musical" a numbing dysfunctional slog. Very often, on-stage actions are projected on to a very large screen opposite them with characters followed around by videographers dressed in black. We get to watch schlock twice simultaneously. [more]

Broadway Bounty Hunter

August 7, 2019

Composer-lyricist Joe Inconis’ follow up to his teen favorite, "Be More Chill," is not only a showcase for musical comedy actress Annie Golden but a tribute to the Blaxploitation and Martial Arts movies of the 1970’s and 1980’s. While "Broadway Bounty Hunter" is very entertaining, it might have been a better show if had not been so anxious to not be a parody or a satire. Written by Iconis and longtime collaborators Lance Rubin and Jason Sweettooth Williams, energetic cast, fully attuned with their concept has been directed and choreographed with fierce energy by Jennifer Werner who has previous created the dances for five of Iconis’ last six shows. [more]

Moulin Rouge! The Musical

August 3, 2019

As the romantic, tubercular and charismatic Satine, the magnetic Ms. Olivo delivers a ferocious, sensual and grandiose performance that’s one of the most memorable recently seen on Broadway. Her sensational characterization is more Eartha Kitt than Nicole Kidman and all her own. Clad in slinky costumes, the voluptuous Olivo perpetually dazzles. Her titanic singing and dancing is matched by her intense acting which grounds the busy production with riveting focus. Her “Diamonds are Forever” is spellbinding and there’s saucy humor when it’s followed by “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” “Material Girl” and “Single Ladies.” [more]

Two’s a Crowd

August 2, 2019

Co-written by and starring Rita Rudner (who is not only a playwright and performer but also an author, film writer, producer and director, with many TV appearances to her credit), "Two’s a Crowd" suggests that it’s creator has run out of original ideas and is recycling old ones--not only others, but her own. It really lands with a thud, which also may have a lot to do with trying to present it as a musical. [more]

Rock of Ages

July 31, 2019

"Pour Some Sugar on Me" by Def Leppard in a smashing live rendition accompanies a lusty production number at a seedy Los Angeles strip club with scantily clad pole dancers and creepy patrons. It’s a splashy set piece in this uproarious Off-Broadway revival commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Broadway hit "Rock of Ages. " It’s also notable because previously Def Leppard wouldn’t allow their songs to be included in this 1980’s hit singles jukebox musical. “Rock of Ages” in a recorded version is heard after the show ends and the audience leaves. [more]

I Spy A Spy

July 21, 2019

Cluttered, lively and quaint, the zany musical comedy "I Spy A Spy" is reminiscent of the sort of lightweight material directorial legend George Abbott would have had a go at in the late 1960’s. This show recalls the Abbott efforts "How Now, Dow Jones" and "The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N" that William Goldman analyzed in his classic 1969 behind the scenes account "The Season." Abbott did his best with those disappointments just as the creative team for I Spy A Spy does. [more]

Dog Man: The Musical

July 9, 2019

Kids may love this show—and the Dog Man books themselves—largely because the outlandish situations are similar to scenarios in their own hyper-imaginative make-believe play. Except that, at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, young audiences see a fully realized version of such fantasies, with vibrant production values plus some catchy tunes. Tim Mackabee’s cartoonish unit set—Harold and George’s treehouse—is quiet at first but is soon swarming with marauding buildings, a wacky robot and other assorted craziness. Heidi Leigh Hanson’s costumes are bright and cleverly imagined. David Lander’s lighting design helps us imagine lightning storms, bomb explosions and what amounts to a municipal volcano. Director/choreographer Jen Wineman keeps everything moving along at a quick clip. [more]

Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise

July 3, 2019

Sometimes you don’t need a long, complex story — or even an engaging one — to hook an audience. At the showing of "Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise" at The Shed that I attended, audiences clapped and hooted for heroes and villains alike, despite being given no logical reason to do so. The heroes and villains possessed no distinguishing character traits, other than differing accents, and they voiced no discernible reasons to be fighting. The fighting was just that awesome.The visual bombast and fight choreography of "Dragon Spring," a world premiere Shed commission, are thrilling enough to recommend the show as an expensive diversion, at the very least. There are moments when the show’s production elements come together so spectacularly that they almost lift the rest of the show with them. Almost. [more]

The Secret Life of Bees

June 27, 2019

Nottage’s book is faithful to the novel while at the same time reducing some of the melodrama and streamlining the story to reduce the number of characters to a cast of 13. Sheik’s score may be his most lush and melodic and the use of guitar and cello gives the music an appropriate folk feeling. The songs are a mix of gospel, R&B and pop which gives each of the main characters a song that explains their deepest thoughts. The rousing gospel numbers, “River of Melting Sun,” “Tek a Hol a My Soul” “Hold This House Together, “Our Lady of Chains,” make use of a great many beautiful voices in unison. [more]

Camp Morning Wood: A Very Naked Musical

June 19, 2019

Living up to its title, a racially and physically diverse game company of ten male performers really are nude throughout "Camp Morning Wood: A Very Naked Musical." It succeeds as a joyous flesh parade but disappoints as an actual theater piece. What might have been an engaging encounter group-style exploration depicting facets of the gay male experience is instead labored with a flatly comical cornball plot that’s dragged out to two hours with an intermission. [more]

A Strange Loop

June 19, 2019

Twenty-five-year-old African-American Michigan native and New York University graduate Usher is an usher at a Disney Broadway musical who is writing an autobiographical musical about his troubled life. His religious Christian parents are scornful of his sexuality and dubious of his career goals as he doesn’t emulate the commercial simplisticness of Tyler Perry who gets skewered in a production number. This exploration is light on plot and so we get a series a of overheated vignettes often laden with wan shock value. The often didactic dialogue relies on scatology peppered with the N-word. Dark comedy crossed with poignancy abounds. [more]

Midnight Street

June 10, 2019

Cohen is clearly an intelligent, well-read man, familiar with the twists and turns of different periods and styles.  "Midnight Street" is chock full of ideas, poetic meanderings and some worthwhile melodies but just doesn’t add up.  His direction can’t overcome the pretentious language and heavy-handed symbolism.  Only a Lotte Lenya or, perhaps, a Patti LuPone might have given Mr. Cohen’s songs the right gravity, not to mention finding sense where none exists. [more]

Octet

May 29, 2019

Malloy, who wrote the book, music and lyrics, has taken a novel approach, staging Octet as if it were a 12-step program in which all the members of the group express their inner thoughts through a cappella singing all the while following the precepts of an AA or OA meeting.  Annie Tippe has taken this sophisticated mass of brilliance and shaped it around the sensational talents of a small cast which performs miracles of acting and singing. [more]

Enter Laughing the Musical

May 27, 2019

As David, Chris Dwan does not make one forget the inimitable Grisetti who spun every moment into a comic turn. However, Dwan is charming as the undaunted hero who must deal with problems behind his ken but always comes up with a possible solution even if it doesn’t work out. David Schramm’s alcoholic and hammy Harrison Marlowe is not quite as clipped as that of the late George S. Irving whose signature role this became but his sarcasm and slow burns are still entertaining. Though Farah Alvin’s Angela Marlowe is not as affected as her predecessor as the predatory performer, she still is delicious as an actress who falls in love with all of her co-stars. [more]

Beetlejuice

May 22, 2019

Not all cult movies need to be made into musicals, particularly those that are dependent on special effects which the cinema does better than the stage. This is demonstrated by the new Broadway musical based on "Beetlejuice," the Tim Burton horror-comedy-fantasy. This theme park-type show is visually a spectacle with a set that does all sort of tricks and changes, but as the adage goes, you can’t go home singing the scenery. And the score by Australian composer/performer Eddie Perfect (whose only other American score has been "King Kong the Musical") is eminently forgettable. In the title role, Alex Brightman, who was charismatic in a similar role in "The School of Rock," is so over-the top that he becomes tiresome very quickly. To paraphrase Mae West, too much of a good thing is not wonderful. [more]

High Button Shoes

May 20, 2019

But, fear not!  The Encores! creative team—director John Rando, music director, Rob Berman and choreographer Sarah O’Gleby—found a terrific cast led by Michael Urie in the Phil Silvers’ role of Harrison Floy and Betsy Wolfe as (Mama) Sarah Longstreet, Nanette Fabray’s role (which featured the earworm ditty “Papa, Won’t You Dance With Me?”). [more]

Tootsie

May 7, 2019

Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels still has most of his/her friends and professional acquaintances from the movie version with some new twists:  Jeff Slater, his playwright roommate (a wonderfully sardonic Andy Grotelueschen) having difficulty setting words to paper; former girlfriend, hyper-paranoid unemployed actress Sandy Lester (Sarah Stiles, doing mega-ditzy with all pistons firing); leading lady Julie Nichols (Lilli Cooper, lovely, good voice, but not as romantically vivid as she should be); clueless show director Ron Carlisle who’s not quite as sexist as in the film; and, finally, lascivious actor Max Van Horn (John Behlmann, who nearly steals the show with his brilliantly acrobatic machinations), now a dull-witted, malaprop-spouter who falls hard for the older Dorothy. [more]

Hadestown

April 29, 2019

The dazzling Broadway production of Anais Mitchell’s musical "Hadestown" proves director/developer Rachel Chavkin to be a creative genius. If you had not known it after she fitted her theater-in-the round production of "Natasha and Pierre and the Comet of 1812" into a Broadway theater, it is even more obvious now. This time she has turned her 2016 New York Theatre Workshop staging in the round into a production suitable for Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre with its proscenium stage without losing the sense that the musical takes place in many different places. Along with gripping choreography and movement from David Neumann and an onstage jazz band of six, the show simply takes your breath away, telling the joint stories of Orpheus and Eurydice, and Hades and Persephone. [more]

The Appointment

April 22, 2019

chorus line of singing and dancing fetuses follows the eerily comical beginning of "The Appointment" where we first meet them posed as if they’re in wombs and babbling in baby talk. When one of them is going to be aborted a hook as from a talent show appears, encircles their necks and pulls them offstage. It’s made quite clear that this mesmerizing offbeat musical will be thoughtfully exploring the issue of abortion. There’s lightheartedness with serious overtones. The overall quality is that of a television variety special of the 1970’s with comedy sketches, musical numbers and dashes of drama. [more]

Be More Chill on Broadway

April 19, 2019

"Be More Chill," the dazzling and inventive musical based on the cult Young Adult novel by Ned Vizzini, has made a successful transfer to Broadway Lyceum Theater with the same cast and an expanded production team after a tryout production at Two Rivers Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey in 2014, and a YouTube soundtrack that has had over 150,000,000 hits which led to an Off Broadway production at the Pershing Square Signature Theatre Center during the summer of 2018. If memory serves after ten months, in some ways the show is strong and in other ways weaker. Bobby Frederick Tilley II’s costumes are more colorful, while Charlie Rosen’s orchestrations seem to be less so. On the plus side the performances of Will Roland as Jeremy, Jason Tam as the Squip, Tiffany Mann as Jenna and Lauren Marcus as Brooke have deepened. The show seems less comfortable at the Lyceum Theatre than it was at the Irene Diamond Stage but a good many more fans can now get to see the show at each performance. [more]

Oklahoma!

April 17, 2019

Like John Doyle’s reconceived musical revivals ("Allegro," "Passion," "Pacific Overtures," "Carmen Jones," "The Cradle Will Rock"), Fish’s production is minimalist but with a difference. While Doyle strips away the trappings both of sets and costumes and offers nothing in their place, Fish has turned his "Oklahoma!" into environmental and communal theater. When the audience enters the Circle in the Square, they are confronted with set designer Laura Jellinek’s giant dance hall with long tables around the perimeter with red crock pots on the center of each. The plywood walls of the theater are covered with rifles, the kind used by real cowboys on the range. The bluegrass band is located in a pit off center, at one end of the circular stage. Some lucky audience members sit at the first row of tables with a ringside view. Scott Zielinski’s lighting is kept on for most of the show so not only does every member of the audience see every other one but it is as though we are part of the show, not just audience members. This communal feeling is continued during the intermission when the audience is invited onto the stage to taste corn bread (that we watched Aunt Eller and Laurey preparing in the opening scene) and chili. [more]

Sincerely, Oscar

April 11, 2019

The show also uses the 3D holographic technology called IceMagic which attempts to bring us the late Oscar Hammerstein II as a hologram enacted and spoken by actor Bob Meenan. Aside from an incorrect accent for Hammerstein, a native Manhattanite, the new technology does not seem to allow much latitude. He is either seen sitting at a desk, standing before it, or seated in a rocking chair. Although the text that he is saying claims to be drawn from “personal correspondence, unpublished lyrics, interviews and rare memoirs,” it has been taken from his most banal remarks usually around the word “Dream” which is spelled for us on a screen before him. One learns nothing about the man or his work from the texts chosen by Ms. Taylor. [more]

The Cradle Will Rock

April 6, 2019

Many of Blitzstein’s melodic tunes are plunked out on the piano by several of the players at various points. But the fault is not only due to Doyle’s direction: what’s missing from Blitzstein’s "The Cradle Will Rock" is the heart and or soul that every musical requires. It’s a wannabe musical or opera that, ironically, lacks substance, given its heavy-hitting intentions. [more]

Smart Blonde

March 31, 2019

Using the premise of a 1964 recording session that stimulates her many memories, good and bad, the play serves as a moving tribute to Holliday even though it doesn’t shy away from the darker side of her life.  In truth, it is the contrast between her brilliant professional career and her personal unhappiness that makes Holliday and this play so moving. [more]

Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations

March 30, 2019

"Ain't Too Proud to Beg," “Get Ready,” “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “Since I Lost My Baby,” “You're My Everything” and of course “Papa Was a Rollin' Stone” are among the show’s more than 30 numbers. Besides those by The Temptations, there’s a choice selection of songs by their contemporaries such as The Supremes. All of them are rousingly performed by the orchestra and the company under the direction of conductor Kenny Seymour. [more]

Kiss Me, Kate

March 29, 2019

While many of the greats have tackled Kate over the years ever since it premiered in 1948, O’Hara brings a subdued charm to the usually more boisterous part of Lilli, even if she is positively beaming when she first arrives on stage. The first was Patricia Morison, and the most recent on Broadway--before O’Hara--was the late Marin Mazzie, who received a Tony Award for the 1999 revival, as did the revival itself. And then there was Kathryn Grayson in the 1953 film version. [more]

I Married an Angel

March 28, 2019

A lot has been made of the parallels between the original 1938 production of "I Married an Angel" for which George Balanchine choreographed the dances for his soon-to-be wife, the glamorous Norwegian ballerina Vera Zorina and the New York City Center Encores! production for which its choreographer/director Joshua Bergasse staged the dances for his wife, the New York City Ballet star Sara Mearns. This is great publicity and drew the public, including myself, to this staging of one of Rodgers and Hart’s more charming musicals known mostly through a Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy film.  The original choreography is evidenced only via some silent film snippets taken of the original production. [more]

Superhero

March 19, 2019

Although there is a great deal of talent behind the new musical Superhero at Second Stage Theater, it unfortunately makes little impact. It doesn’t help that the thin book by Tony Award winning playwright John Logan ("Red") is a little too much like the smash hit "Dear Evan Hansen" which goes much deeper with similar material. Pulitzer Prize winning composer Tom Kitt ("Next to Normal") has written his own lyrics for the first time and they mainly tell us what we know in pedestrian rhymes and phrases. Don’t blame the hard-working cast led by Tony Award nominees Kate Baldwin and Bryce Pinkham. You want to like "Superhero "with its heart in the right place but it is missing the wow factor and never takes us by surprise. [more]

Chick Flick the Musical

March 12, 2019

Suzy Conn’s zesty score is a fusion of her peppy music and well-crafted lyrics. “Quandary” is rhymed with “laundry” and among the 14 bright songs there’s a comical ode to Meryl Streep. Ms. Conn’s upbeat book is an orderly framework charting the everyday predicaments of her plucky stock characters. “I think that the Botox went to your brain!” “What’s next? An evening of Chardonnay and shingles?” are representative of the dialogue’s good-natured wit. The scenario manages to just about sustain its 80 minute length. Conn strives for and achieves a feel-good tone for this escapist escapade. [more]

Alice By Heart

March 4, 2019

Molly Gordon and Colton Ryan in a scene from MCC Theater’s new musical “Alice By Heart” [more]

Merrily We Roll Along

February 27, 2019

Usually considered one of Sondheim’s lesser musicals, albeit with one of his best scores--and needless to say, that’s saying a lot--this production provides a heft and a story that are sorely lacking in previous versions. There is no denying or gainsaying its power to impress, as each and every song comes through with its capacity to build characters and tell stories. If the stories are less than satisfying in earlier productions, that’s due more to bookwriter George Furth (adapting the original play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart) than to Sondheim or to his other collaborators, each of who has provided an impeccable contribution to the current enterprise. [more]

Lolita, My Love

February 26, 2019

The York Theatre Company is to be applauded for taking the risk of staging this famously controversial musical in its New York premiere. It is also fulfilling its mission to bring to the stage musicals of quality that might not be done elsewhere. As Alan Jay Lerner is one of the legendary giants of the musical theater, it is a pleasure to be able to see this lost musical in a workable version. However, despite the excellent staging by director Emily Maltby, "Lolita, My Love," the casting still seems problematic and the musical is ultimately disappointing. And while music director Deniz Cordell has performed yeoman's work reconstructing the score and playing it entirely solo at the piano, John Barry’s music is not aided by being heard in this cut-down orchestration. [more]

Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish

February 23, 2019

The property is now more than a half-century old. But this production makes it seem as though the 1964 iteration were merely an English-language version of a classic from even longer ago. There’s a greater feeling of immediacy than perhaps ever before. Hearing the characters speak and sing in the tongue that their real-life 1905 contemporaries would have used is deeply moving. What a shame that so many speakers of Yiddish from decades past never got the chance to experience the musical in this guise. [more]
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