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Off-Broadway

Dear World (New York City Center Encores!)

March 17, 2023

"Dear World," the not terribly successful 1969 Jerry Herman musical based on Jean Giraudoux’s "The Madwoman of Chaillot" (1945), was basically a vehicle for the brilliant Angela Lansbury.  It needs a star to pull off its quirky inconsistency and New York City Center Encores! has a gem, Donna Murphy, who, though under-rehearsed due to a Covid scare and carrying her script, gives a colorful and moving performance as its central character, Countess Aurelia. [more]

I Love My Family, But…

March 10, 2023

The show is billed as a musical, but it is more concert than play, strong in music and weak in the storyline. The songs cover a lot of emotional ground, many with a humorous edge, but the book only provides a slim dramatic structure for the characters' actions. What is missing is more detail about who the characters are and for what reason we should care about the events being depicted. The dialogue is more of an introduction to the songs than a dramatic link to the overall story. [more]

Cornelia Street

February 24, 2023

Although British playwright Simon Stephens has written three musicals with composer/lyricist Mark Eitzel, formerly of the indie rock band American Music Club, Cornelia Street, set on a quiet back street in the West Village, is the first to arrive in New York where it is having its world premiere courtesy of Atlantic Theatre – Stage 2. Led by two-time Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz who is on stage almost throughout the show, "Cornelia Street," an elegy for a bygone age of unique Village restaurants and coffee houses, does not give its cast enough to do. The songs do not forward the plot but tell us what we already know, and the plot such as it is does not get going until the second half. An interesting attempt to create a place and its regular denizens on stage, "Cornelia Street" in this form does not make a satisfying statement. [more]

Who Murdered Love?

February 10, 2023

What is a mystery inside a riddle wrapped in an enigma? A Winston Churchill question from 1939 aptly fits a play with music set in 1924 that toys at being a murder mystery. As a play with music "Who Murdered Love?" doesn't work. As a play without music, it doesn't work as well. It is Dadaism with Surrealist overtones, and Surrealism with Dadaist overtones, if anyone in the audience knows what Dada or Surreal means. [more]

Lady in the Dark

January 31, 2023

Unfortunately, this is musical comedy and does not need operatic voices, Lawrence being famously a singer with a very small range, while Kaye came from cabaret and night club. With all of the leads double cast, Sunday matinee’s singers seemed either miscast or poorly directed by Eric Lamp and Benjamin Spierman. Matthew Imhoff’s sets which are carried on and off by the singers took an inordinately long time and there were moments of dead time during office scenes which also seemed underpopulated. While conductor and artistic director Michael Spierman gave a creditable performance of the complete score, it did not seem to hang together but felt like individual numbers, unlike many other Weill scores which feel integrated and whole. [more]

F*ck7thGrade

January 28, 2023

Singer/songwriter Jill Sobule’s life story is on display in the charming cabaret musical "F*ck7thGrade" – with a difference. Sobule, the original “I Kissed a Girl” composer/lyricist, plays herself in this one-woman musical which features a band of three voicing other roles. The score is made up of her greatest hits plus four new songs. Since so many of her songs are autobiographical, they segue beautifully into the story of an unhappy childhood and later success as a performer and writer. Liza Birkenmeier’s book is based on months of interviews with some of the names changed while others are left intact. [more]

Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust Road

December 10, 2022

The York Theatre Company’s masthead reads “Where Musicals Come to Life…” and that couldn’t be more evident in their new production, "Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust Road." Originally scheduled for a Fall 2015 run at London’s St. James Theatre (cancelled due to a key investor pulling out), then workshopped during a summer student production at Indiana University’s Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance in 2018, the show finally arrives in a beautifully crafted production at York’s Theatre at St Jeans, deserving of an open-ended run or commercial transfer. Conceived by director Susan H. Schulman, choreographer Michael Lichtefeld and musical arranger Lawrence Yurman, and developed with Hoagy Bix Carmichael (Hoagy’s son), "Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust Road" succeeds not by showing the audience another “And Then I Wrote” compendium, but by allowing the endless riches of the Carmichael songwriting catalogue to say it with music. We are treated to five extended “parts” where we meet seven characters, all friends, as they traverse the decades from the 1920’s to the 1950’s, through every high point and every heartache. [more]

Parade

November 7, 2022

World events have inadvertently raised the significance of the New York City Center’s Annual Gala presentation of the brilliant new staging of the Jason Robert Brown/Alfred Uhry musical Parade which debuted over two decades ago.  Anti-Semitism and xenophobia have risen to epidemic levels.  This moving dramatization of actual events drives home the inevitable results of such unreasonable hatred. "Parade" is the gripping story of Leo Frank (Ben Platt), a Brooklyn Jew, who moved to Atlanta, Georgia for a better job.  He married a Southern Jew, Lucille (Micaela Diamond), whose southern version of Judaism confuses him. Frank was the manager of a pencil factory and was accused of raping and murdering a 14-year-old white employee, Mary Phegan (Erin Rose Doyle), on Confederate Day, 1915. This almost operatic musical drama impeccably depicts how Phegan’s death led to a flowering of the anti-Semitism (twisted to the prosecution's benefit, horribly during Frank’s trial) and the KKK. [more]

HOUND DOG

October 30, 2022

Director Machel Ross does little to guide this play to any semblance of cohesion.  Scenes 1 and 13, between Hound Dog and Ayse, her childhood best friend, begin with the exact same lines and stage blocking up to a point…so, did one scene happen and the other one not happen? Which is the real scene?  Scene 6, between Hound Dog and Yusuf, the neighborhood trash collector and best friend to Hound Dog’s father Baba, happened three days after their meeting in Scene 4, or is it, as Hound Dog perceives, only yesterday? [more]

Weightless

October 4, 2022

"Weightless" is an engaging little indie rock musical, little in the sense that it has only three characters plus a narrator and runs only 75 minutes of playing time. The show features the Bay Area rock band The Kilbanes (married songwriting and performing duo bassist Kate Kilbane and keyboard player Dan Moses) who also wrote the show, and the cast that also filmed the show in 2021 during the pandemic. Like "Hadestown," "Weightless" is based on a story in Greek mythology and includes the gods on Mount Olympus; in this case the source material is from Ovid’s "Metamorphoses," a work written in Latin. "Weightless" is performed as if it were a concept album staged as a concert with the characters all played by the six member band who sit or stand on the stage placed on various platforms. Peiyi Wong’s set design does not allow for much stage movement and Tamilla Woodard’s direction does not give the actors much to do in the way of stage business. However, the storytelling is clear and the characters well defined. [more]

Cheek to Cheek: Irving Berlin in Hollywood

September 27, 2022

As conceived, directed and choreographed by Randy Skinner, who was also part of the creative team that brought the stage version of the 1954 classic Irving Berlin’s "White Christmas" to Broadway, "Cheek to Cheek" is a welcome addition to The York Theatre’s homages to Broadway and film composers. They strike gold again with this charming revue that focuses on the lesser known classic songs from the decades of Berlin moving seamlessly from movie lot to movie lot. The very talented Jeremy Benton and Kaitlyn Davidson, returning from the original run of this show, are joined by the radiant Darien Crago, Danny Gardner, Darrell T. Joe and Melinda Porto. The entire cast is made up of consummate singer-dancers, each featured in dance numbers and/or their own solo songs. [more]

My Onliness

September 10, 2022

"My Onliness," Robert Lyons’ latest stage work, is a musical homage to Polish avant-garde playwright Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz (active 1918-1934) but who resurfaced during the 1960’s when his works began to be published and translated. Directed by Daniel Irizarry who also plays the leading role as the Mad King, "My Onliness" with lyrics by Lyons and original music by Kamala Sankaram, resembles the anarchic East Village plays and happenings of the 1960’s. It is part of a through line from Alfred Jarry’s "Ubu Roi" (1896) to Eugene Ionesco’s "Exit the King" (1962). A political fable for adults, "My Onliness" is performed as a cabaret and circus entertainment with exaggerated costumes, outrageous stage business, and audience participation. While the often obscure text is for the adventurous, it does touch on many hot current issues. [more]

Los Otros

September 5, 2022

A fresh antidote to the usual brassy, loud rock musicals of today, "Los Otros" slows down the tempo and the sound level with a story of the experiences of two people who learn to love, cope and risk over the course of many decades. Luba Mason and Caesar Samayoa are quite endearing as the two California residents whose lives overlap. They give remarkable performances mainly appearing alone on stage telling and singing their stories. Cudos to librettist Ellen Fitzhugh and composer Michael John LaChiusa for bucking the trend and giving us a deep but small-scale musical revealing two lives through variously well-chosen experiences which add up to lives well lived. Long after you see it, it you will recall incidents that Lillian and Carlos recount. This may be the result of the fact that Los Otros is based on real people and true life experiences. [more]

As You Like It (Public Works)

September 3, 2022

Public Works’ musical adaptation of "As You Like It" is an enchanting evening of summer fun under the stars. Trimmed to a long one act, the story is accessible for both those who know the Shakespearean original and those who don’t. The score is always easy on the ears and has many crowd pleasers. The huge cast led by Rebecca Naomi Jones as Rosalind and including non-professional community partners is totally comfortable with the Elizabethan language and the contemporary score by Shaina Taub. With this show, Shakespeare in the Park has a real winner. [more]

Kinky Boots

September 1, 2022

Several years after vacating its Broadway home, "Kinky Boots" has settled in to a cozier off-Broadway venue, Stage 42, at a presumed discount for theatergoers, albeit with a much smaller orchestra and actors whose talents far exceed their name recognition (and no mask mandates, which might be a dealer breaker for some). Also returning is director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell who gives the resized production the same energy as the original, nurturing a buoyant vibe that, as before, underscores the show's positive messages about celebrating difference, particularly as it relates to hoary conceptions of masculinity. But, when everything is said and sung, Fierstein and Lauper's joyously uplifting, but shallow, efforts are only memorable for meaning well. That's not nothing, especially these days, but the show could have been so much more. [more]

Titanique

August 22, 2022

"Titantique" is the most hilarious musical parody to play New York in many a year. Since international superstar Céline Dion only got to sing one song at the end of James Cameron’s blockbuster "Titanic," the now iconic “My Heart Will Go On” which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Song, why not turn the film into a cabaret musical with a score made up entirely from the Céline Dion catalog? That is just what Marla Mindelle, Constantine Rousouli and Tye Blue’s book has uproariously done, casting Mindelle in the leading role as a perfect mimic of Céline Dion, Rousouli as hero Jack Dawson, and Blue directing the show. Whether you recall the film from 25 years ago or not, the satire is pungent and the jokes skewer many pop culture icons. [more]

Adventures in Vegas

August 3, 2022

A tiny dynamo, Bell Wolff, early in her career, found the perfect role as Ermengarde in several productions of "Hello, Dolly!". She yearned to perform the bigger part of Minnie Faye and nearly got the chance when she auditioned for the film version of "Hello, Dolly!". She tells of the disappointment of being passed over and sings “Moving the Line” (Mark Shaiman/Scott Wittman) about her frustration, one of 13 songs that punctuate "Adventures in Vegas," illuminating her life experiences. She is reprieved with an invitation to join a new act in Las Vegas, the "Bottoms Up Revue" at Caesars Palace, and jumps at the chance, starting a whole new chapter in her life which will include romance and, eventually, heartache. [more]

Notre Dame de Paris

July 17, 2022

It may be a bit unfair, but there’s no escaping comparing "Notre Dame De Paris," currently exploding on the stage of the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, with its immensely popular French-literature-inspired brethren "Les Misérables" and "Phantom of the Opera." All three are audience-pleasing spectacles with lusty, manipulative scores that hit the audience right between the eyes.  The major difference involves how their stories are told.  The latter two are constructed as bigger-than-life plots driven by bigger-than-life songs. "Notre Dame," on the other hand, is a series of very French pop songs that are the plot, storytelling not particularly effective due to their being sung in French, albeit with good translations flashed on several screens. There is very little non-sung dialogue.  All the songs were brazenly amplified to rock concert level so that their ubiquitous crescendos and climaxes could be savored. [more]

Between the Lines

July 14, 2022

"Into the Woods" is not the only fairy tale for adults in New York right now. "Between the Lines," based on the best-selling novel by Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer, has been turned into a charming and delightful new musical which is actually an improvement over the overlong original. Featuring a talented and attractive cast headed by Arielle Jacobs, Julia Murney and Vicki Lewis as well as several unfamiliar faces, the show offers a melodic and bouncy score to witty and clever lyrics by Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson in their New York theater debuts. Jeff Calhoun’s direction is sharp and smart making this an extremely entertaining show. [more]

Love Quirks

June 28, 2022

Four appealingly performed single Manhattan roommates’ tangled romantic lives are depicted in the pleasant contemporary Off-Broadway musical, "Love Quirks," which has a rapturous score. Composer and lyricist Seth Bisen-Hersh’s striking melodies and literately crafted lyrics render the variety of songs with the polish of accomplished cabaret numbers. A standout is a gay male schoolteacher wryly ruminating while on a date. [more]

The Bedwetter

June 16, 2022

Comedian Sarah Silverman has turned her bestselling memoir, "The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee,"  into a musical with the help of co-book writer Joshua Harmon, author of this year’s award-winning "Prayer for the French Republic," and composer Adam Schlesinger ("Cry-Baby"), who passed away in 2020 just as the show was about to go into rehearsal prior to the pandemic. The new musical, simply called "The Bedwetter," like the book is by turns amusing, first hilarious and later serious. Anne Kauffman’s production has a top-notch cast headed by Bebe Neuwirth, Caissie Levy, Darren Goldstein and Rick Crom. [more]

Islander: A New Musical

June 7, 2022

An import from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, "Islander" embraces that renowned international jamboree's artistry and experimentalism, most notably by forgoing musicians for sound looping machines operated by Findlay and Tennick themselves. Especially for the technophobic (cough, cough), it's an extraordinary feat to witness actors become part of the production crew without the conceit ever feeling gimmicky or compromising the flow of the storytelling. That's no doubt due mostly to Findlay and Tennick's on-the-spot sound engineering abilities, which, to be sure, still take a backseat to their even more remarkable singing and acting. [more]

Romeo & Bernadette: A Musical Tale of Verona & Brooklyn

June 1, 2022

"Romeo & Bernadette" is a musical comedy worthy of the name that delivers on all counts. Mark Saltzman’s spoofing of the old story is great fun and his lines are very clever. The score with its famous melodies transformed in new ways is a lush feast for the each particularly as sung by this excellent cast. Under Justin Ross Cohen’s direction the cast brings this far-fetched story to brilliant life. One only hopes that the threat of the real story of Hamlet comes as a follow-up. [more]

¡Americano!

May 12, 2022

Tony Valdovinos who grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, was 18 before he found out that he was an undocumented immigrant. The new musical "¡Americano!" is based on the true story of his life and challenges. Impassioned and spirited with an animated cast that seems to be living their roles rather than acting them, the show is a superior musical entertainment. Staged with vigor and energy by Michael Barnard, artistic director of The Phoenix Theatre Company where the show premiered in 2020, and choreographer Sergio Mejia, ¡Americano! is both moving and entertaining, moving along with the speed of an express train with never a minute wasted in its urgent storytelling. [more]

Suffs

April 30, 2022

Unfortunately, while Wells (Nikki M. James) and Mary Church Terrell (Cassondra James), another renowned Black suffragist, occasionally pop up to offer intersectional insights, they mostly come across as an addendum to the all-female and nonbinary musical's Paul-centric narrative. Taub knows Wells and Terrell obviously belong in the story she's trying to tell, but she hasn't figured out how to dramatize their inclusion yet. Other suffragists whose names should be much more well known today also receive paper-thin characterizations: Lucy Burns (Ally Bonino); Doris Stevens (Nadia Dandashi); Ruza Wenclawska (Hannah Cruz); Inez Milholland (Phillippa Soo). [more]

Harmony

April 18, 2022

Although 25 years have gone by since "Harmony" first tried out at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, the Barry Manilow/Bruce Sussman musical about the Comedian Harmonists is still relevant and timely. This historical musical based on true events which took place mainly in Germany from 1927- 1935 is a necessary reminder of the rise of Nazism and the naïve people who thought it would blow over. Produced by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, "Harmony" could not be in a more fitting setting to tell this story. Directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, the musical has been given a big Broadway-style production for its first New York appearance starring Chip Zien and Sierra Boggess as well as a cast of featured players. [more]

Songs About Trains

April 16, 2022

As a piece of theater, "Songs About Trains" is earnest and unique. Lead author (and performer) Beto O’Byrne, along with contributing authors Eugenie Chan, Reginald Edmund, Jay B Muskett and Rebecca Martínez (who also co-directs) have constructed a work that’s not definitely a musical and not quite a play, but more of a performance piece which sews stories together with music, dance and songs. [more]

The Life

April 12, 2022

The ubiquitous Billy Porter was given command of the most recent New York City Center Encores! presentation, the 1997 musical "The Life."  His direction and re-interpretation of this tawdry portrait of 42nd Street left a great deal to be desired, but strong performances by the leading players made vivid impressions. Originally written by the estimable Cy Coleman (music/book), Ira Gasman (lyrics/book) and David Newman (book), "The Life" is set in the 1980’s as seen from the point of view of a narrator, Old JoJo (Destan Owens, fine in a thankless, add-on role) who observed and commented on his past which included watching himself, Young JoJo (Mykal Kilgore, fine singer, but looking nothing like his counterpart) behave badly. The concert adaptation was by Porter himself. [more]

Penelope, Or How the Odyssey Was Really Written

April 7, 2022

The musical gets a great deal of mileage out of its humor particular in its parody of recognizable tropes. "Penelope, Or How The Odyssey Was Really Written" is an entertaining musical comedy which turns into a feminist statement in the final scenes between husband and wife at the end of the show which gives this ancient Greek tale a modern sensibility. From the way the audience greeted the new musical comedy "Penelope" at the preview performance under review, The York Theatre Company may have a big hit on their hands. [more]

Little Girl Blue

March 15, 2022

Nina Simone’s vocal talents, physical presence and spirit are all dazzlingly channeled by Laiona Michelle in her engaging self-written biographical concert-style musical, "Little Girl Blue." Ms. Michelle employs just enough of Simone’s cadences, facial expressions and physical gestures to create an authentic characterization while supremely singing over a dozen songs associated with the charismatic vocalist. The show’s well-researched spoken word portions deliver historical facts, life details and cultural commentary in the manner of Simone. [more]

Space Dogs

February 27, 2022

Heyman and the rest of the production team quickly turn "Space Dogs" into an exercise of quantity over quality. More lights. More noise. More projections. More props. It's theater as sensory overload, with success measured by distraction. The major problem is that it also leads to a lot of other annoyances, with Nathan Leigh's sound design doing nothing for the intelligibility of Hughes and Blaemire's lyrics, Mary Ellen Stebbins' concert lighting occasionally blinding the audience in MCC's small off-Broadway space, and Stefania Bulbarella's numerous projections just stoking the meaningless hurly-burly. [more]

Black No More

February 19, 2022

"Black No More," the new musical inspired by George S. Schuyler’s 1931 Afrofuturist novel, is the most exciting and inventive new show to be seen so far this season in New York though it is still in need of work. With a book by Academy Award-winning screenwriter John Ridley (12 Years a Slave), the stage version drops Schuyler’s scathing satire of Harlem Renaissance and Depression figures as well as its political election hijinks for a more direct story about race and racism in the United States. As brilliantly staged by Scott Elliott for The New Group, Black No More is also a play of ideas and will keep you thinking and debating long after the final curtain in this story of the sacrifices people have to make to change the world. [more]
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