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Off-Broadway

Rock & Roll Man

June 29, 2023

"Rock & Roll Man," the new jukebox/biographical musical at the New World Stages has a great deal going for it. The story of legendary Rock & Roll impresario Alan Freed is told in a series of delicious period songs with a few original works (by Gary Kupper who also cowrote the libretto with Larry Marshak and Rose Caiola) thrown in. The show is basically factual, although a tad exaggerated, and doesn’t shy away from Freed’s well-known issues such as his alcoholism and taking payola. Best of all, the cast is led by Constantine Maroulis in a complicated, fine-tuned and, for him, subdued performance. [more]

The Gospel According to Heather

June 24, 2023

"The Gospel According to Heather," with book, music, and lyrics by Paul Gordon, is a story about a teenager's struggles with fitting in with her contemporaries, finding a boyfriend, and dealing with the supernatural powers which she seems to have acquired after finding a Roman coin in a fish. On the surface, this show appears to be a coming-of-age tale with music, but it is much more: it is a cleverly done and, at times, pointed commentary on the socio-political nature of contemporary America, and of religion. [more]

The Light in the Piazza

June 23, 2023

New York City Center Encores!’s new production of the musical, directed by Chay Yew, stars another Tony Award winner, the sensational Ruthie Ann Miles, as the determined Margaret Johnson with beautiful-voiced Anna Zavelson as a believably three-dimensional Clara. The Encores! production is more down-to-earth than either the film or the original Lincoln Center production and more satisfying as a human drama.  There’s no stinting on humor, but the characters’ formerly trivial problems now seem more worthy of our attention. [more]

The Trouble with Dead Boyfriends

June 21, 2023

The show is a deft combination of action and humor with elements of horror. One of the production numbers, "Dissection Dance," is an homage to the "Time Warp" choreography of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." The name of the high school, George R. Romero High School, invokes the zombie horror films he created. And with the ensemble's comedic timing, the show delivers an entertaining romp, with a feminist twist, through the psyche of three adolescent girls: Madison, Stella, and Grace. It needs a bigger stage and more actors but it is still an entertaining theatrical experience. [more]

Lizard Boy

June 20, 2023

Scheduled to run only until July 1, "Lizard Boy" deserves a longer life as one of the most satisfying musical theater offerings to be seen currently in New York. While the message of tolerance and diversity is not heavy, the theme is dramatized so that no one can mistake its intent. The three-person cast is superb in the acting, singing and musical departments. Brandon Ivie’s staging is clever and imaginative, while the book, music and lyrics by Justin Huertas make audience goers look forward to his next project with eager anticipation. [more]

Singfeld! A Musical Parody About Nothing!

June 15, 2023

Picking the easiest possible creative path, a decision the effort-averse George would no doubt admire, the McSmiths forgo imaginative risk-taking in favor of simply copying their source material, shaping "Singfeld!" as a parody musical about writing a parody musical. In other words, "Singfeld!" is also about nothing, which makes the entire endeavor feel, at times, akin to a Sartrean spiral or, as Jerry's archnemesis Newman (Jacob Millman) more bluntly puts it, "hackey." That's not to say there aren't some funny moments during "Singfeld!," but when humor is largely based on "remember when?," the comedic ceiling is right above your head. [more]

Days of Wine and Roses

June 14, 2023

Lucas’ script remains faithful to Miller’s teleplay (with the excision of Joe’s delirium tremens in the psycho ward or his second hospitalization) and much of the dialogue is actually Miller’s. However, the problem is the score. Guettel’s 18 songs (including four reprises) are often atonal, unmelodic, unrhymed and don’t scan. While this is true of the Tony Award-winning "The Light in the Piazza" that score had such a lush sound that it was automatically romantic and appropriate for its story. Here it is almost as though Guettel is striving for opera but without the orchestral underpinnings to make it so. The lyrics are mostly recitative, abstract and metaphorical. Aside from three songs in which Joe or Kirsten are joined by their seven-year-old daughter Lila (played by Ella Dane Morgan), only the couple sing, with O’Hara given seven solos. The real problem is as Stephen Sondheim said about his musical Do I Hear a Waltz?: these are characters that wouldn’t sing so the only way to solve this is to have made "Days of Wine and Roses" an opera with a great deal of orchestral music. Here the songs do not add anything to the story. Like Marvin Hamlisch’s score for the stage version of "Sweet Smell of Success," Guettel’s music is devoid of atmosphere, period or otherwise, unless this is the fault of the orchestrations by Guettel with additional orchestrations by Jamie Lawrence. [more]

Khan!!!The Musical, A Parody Trek-tacular

May 10, 2023

The music is well-done, with the songs fully integrated into the storyline and lyrics that help define essential elements of the character's nature and are filled with inside Star Trek references and jokes. For example, when Theerakulstit skillfully sings "Young," entirely in character as Kirk, we hear Kirk as an older man regretting getting old and no longer able to be the arrogant swashbuckling starship captain of his youth. When we meet Khan for the first time, Kropp sings “My Wrath,” which gives a history of how he came to be in this place and the reason for his extreme anger at Kirk. Although many of the references will be missed by a non-Star Trek audience, the songs are well-constructed, and more importantly, they are sung by a cast that knows how to sing on key and on pitch. While you may not leave the show humming a tune, they are the types of songs that one will return to without getting bored. [more]

Bliss Street

May 7, 2023

The main issue with this show is the lack of clarity in the book. Who is the play about, the father or the son? Act I is primarily a story about Paul Sub and his business ventures leading up to the creation of The Coventry. Act II is more about Charlie Sub and how his father's business decisions impacted Charlie's life. In both cases, the story's elements need to be restructured to make it more compelling. Does it matter what type of romantic relationship Charlie develops in LA? Did Paul's liquor store fail after the robbery? The book needs to be edited to define clearly which story is being told and to eliminate the scenes that do not advance the story. [more]

New York City Center Encores!: Oliver!

May 7, 2023

When Mary-Mitchell Campbell’s baton brought out the first notes of the "Oliver!" overture from the Encores! Orchestra, the memorable tunes just flowed and didn’t stop until more than two hours later at the standing ovation and exit music.  Lionel Bart’s score is rich in melody, the lyrics and the libretto evoking Dickens while still being theatrical. (The late William David Brohn did the lavish orchestral arrangements.) Lear deBessonet, the show’s director (and the Encores!’ artistic director) has fashioned a fast-moving evening filled with great performances starting with the sweet, fresh-faced Oliver of Benjamin Pajak and the incredibly talented ensemble of kids who gambol about with abandon. [more]

On the Right Track

April 22, 2023

The latest collaboration by composer lyricist Albert M. Tapper and bookwriter Tony Sportiello, "On the Right Track," proves to be a charming chamber musical for three performers playing seven roles. The show combines realism with magic and the supernatural as it tells three stories which take place on a New Jersey Transit train. The Conductor, the narrator, also is a mystical figure who is able to give the characters second chances in life and lea them to a better place than when they came on board. Owing some inspiration to such classics as Sir James M. Barrie’s "Dear Brutus", Sutton Vane’s "Outward Bound" and Frank Capra’s "It’s a Wonderful Life," "On the Right Track" avoids being preachy at the same time that it offers suggestions about how to live one’s life. [more]

Vanities – The Musical

April 5, 2023

Although the women grow up and change over the 26 years we see them, Heifner’s book tends to stay away from politics and the women’s movement other than mentioning markers like Kennedy, Nixon and Bob Dylan. However, the dialogue is bright and lively. The show is definitely a period piece ending as it does in 1990 but there are probably women who still live these lives. While in no way taking a feminist point of view, the characters do evolve and change over the years. [more]

The Harder They Come

March 31, 2023

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of its original film release, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks has turned "The Harder They Come," the cult Jamaican film that starred later reggae legend Jimmy Cliff, into an exuberant stage musical now at The Public Theater. Led by British stage star Natey Jones and American Caribbean actress Meecah, the large cast does full justice to the new score which includes the ten songs used in the movie plus 26 other Jamaican and traditional songs, additionally interpolated ones by Cliff and others, and some with additional lyrics by Parks. There are also three original songs by Parks herself who when she is not involved with one of her plays fronts her own rock band. [more]

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]
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