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Musicals

Titanic

June 18, 2024

The tapestry Stone weaves with his multitude of characters—too many to mention here—is always fascinating in its subtle details.  Each person stands on his or her own helped by superb performances by the entire cast under the skilled direction of Anne Kauffman ("Mary Jane" and "The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window").  Under her care they all sing magnificently helped by guest music director Rob Berman’s sensitive handling of the Yeston score, directing the large Encores! Orchestra to bring out all the facets of the almost operatic music. [more]

David, A New Musical

June 14, 2024

"David" now at the AMT Theater is an ambitious Off Broadway musical dramatizing the story of the youth of the hero David, later second king of Israel. It has a bouncy contemporary score by Albert Tapper and a large talented cast. Somewhat indebted to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Biblical musicals, it is narrated by the older King David on his deathbed to the Prophet Nathan. Most of David’s adventurous exploits take place off stage, while the dramatized scenes are mainly political and dramatic. [more]

The World According to Micki Grant

June 9, 2024

Grant’s work is well-known to many, but this intimate, compact little revue featuring four actors, Matelyn Alicia, April Armstrong, Patrice Bell and Brian Davis, is an enjoyable, informative, and intimate love letter celebrating Grant anew. Although known for writing the 1959 single “Pink Shoe Laces” (sung by bobby sox darling Dodie Stevens), and the more visible musicals "Your Arms Too Short to Box with God" and "Cope," the evening’s offerings include many lesser-known works by Grant as well as unpublished songs, narratives, and poems, all demonstrating the broad, deep, and cutting edges of her humor, observation, and thought provocation in subjects running the gamut from love, war, rebellion, and justice. Days later, I’m still singing her two big songwriting numbers from the Stephen Schwartz musical "Working," “Cleanin’ Women” and “If I Could’ve Been” in my head. [more]

Three Houses

May 25, 2024

Someone once coined the adage, “Write what you know.”  For the past few seasons, we have seen many writers have a lot to say about surviving the Covid lockdown, but none so eloquently as Dave Malloy in "Three Houses." Where there is often the sameness in the stories we’ve heard thus far, Malloy chooses to give us three not so disparate individuals each with a particular heartbreaking loneliness. All three tales are prefaced “so this is the story of how i went a little bit crazy living alone in the pandemic.” Where aloneness is ripe for scenes that are maudlin, Malloy setting these tales to music is rapture. [more]

Winesday: The Wine Tasting Musical

May 24, 2024

When it comes to coffee klatches, wine seems to be a good substitute, or at least that is the case with the women in "Winesday: The Wind Tasting Musical," with book and lyrics by Jenne Wason and music by Joseph Benoit. It is a show that could leave you tipsy at the end but generally satisfied with the experience. The songs are clever and well-sung by a solid group of five actors, and the book doesn't rely on a straightforward plot but provides a series of entertaining vignettes that help define the characters' lives with details about their ups and downs. Jamibeth Margolis's direction effectively guides the cast to deliver funny, well-integrated performances in a constrained setting. [more]

My True Love: A Perfect Musical Fairytale

May 21, 2024

'My True Love: A Perfect Musical Fairytale" is a musical fairy tale, written by Ben Boecker, about the choices made when the world is a place of dreams. Solid direction by Carolyn Popadin guides the diverse cast as it takes the audience on a romp through a magic land of self-discovery as a young witch explores the complex ideas surrounding consent, self-realization, and acceptance. Don’t let the heavy-sounding themes throw you off; the show is a frothy musical comedy with a good ensemble and a couple of outstanding individual performances. It intentionally comes close to a feeling of a student production, but that idea strongly supports the overall thrust of the show. [more]

The Wiz

May 16, 2024

The eye-filling sets by Hannah Beachler and video and projection design by Daniel Brodie include subtle tributes to Black Culture that not all theatergoers may notice on a first look. When Dorothy first lands in Oz, the landscape and houses are reminiscent of Tremé, the Black neighborhood in New Orleans decimated by Hurricane Katrina. The overhead set piece is inspired by the arch in New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong Park as well as incorporating patterns found in quilts on the Underground Railroad. African symbols are carved into the bark of the trees along Dorothy’s path on the Yellow Brick Road as well as depicted on the sides of the theater proscenium arch. When Glinda enters, she comes out of house at the address 1804, commemorating the year of Haiti’s independence. The red and black sets and costumes (by Sharon Davis) for the sequence in the Castle of Evilene are a tribute to West African culture. [more]

Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club

May 13, 2024

The lead of the show is film star Eddie Redmayne, who won the Olivier Award for his performance as the Emcee in the London production and is also Tony nominated for this show. Director Rebecca Frecknall’s staging (with her British production team) is imaginative and innovative, quite unlike any Cabaret you have seen before. The new Sally Bowles is Scottish American actress Gayle Rankin who appeared as Fraulein Kost on Broadway in Sam Mendes’ 2014 Broadway revival of "Cabaret" which appeared at Studio 54. Frecknall’s interpretation is more dissolute and dissipated than most versions so that when American writer Clifford Bradshaw arrives in Berlin to get material for a novel the city is already deep in the throes of degradation and degeneracy when he meets second-rate singer Sally Bowles as the party girl par excellence and lead female singer of the Kit Kat Club. [more]

The Heart of Rock and Roll

May 13, 2024

"The Heart of Rock and Roll" at the James Earl Jones Theatre is one of the more pleasant entries in the jukebox musical derby.  Using the musical catalog of Huey Lewis and the News, Tyler Mitchell and Jonathan A. Abrams, (book by Abrams), have fashioned an amusing story of a working class Joe who is torn between his love of rock music and his need to make a living in business.  Heart began its Broadway-bound journey in 2018 at the Old Globe in San Diego, but is set firmly in the 1980’s. [more]

David and Katie Get Re-Married

May 7, 2024

"David and Katie Get Re-Married" is the creation of David Carl and Katie Hartman. Using original songs, funny and timely commentary, and interesting props, they take a musical romp through the trials and tribulations of tying the knot again. Michole Biancosino provides outside-the-box direction for the humorously demented exploration of whether marriage is an institution or whether the people doing it should be institutionalized. In the end, it becomes clear that it is, maybe, both. It is a show to be savored in the afterglow of the experience. [more]

Hell’s Kitchen on Broadway

May 3, 2024

The new musical "Hell’s Kitchen" has made a successful transition to Broadway from The Public Theater and the new version seems to have corrected some of the flaws from before. This juke-box musical with a score by singer/songwriter Alicia Keys and a book by playwright Kristoffer Diaz (The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity), is a big ambitious show, a love letter to New York, and inspired by the coming of age story of Keys’ 17th year. It is no longer over-miked by sound designer Gareth Owen, characters seemed to have deepened, the plot seems to have gelled into a distinct coming of age story, and the redesigned set by Robert Brill has moved much of the action closer to the audience. It is a crowd pleaser with the iconic Keys’ songs “Girl on Fire,” “Fallin’” and “Empire State of Mind.” Excitingly performed by its cast made up of a handful of characters and a large ensemble of 15 singer/dancers, its most famous leads Shoshana Bean and Brandon Victor Dixon as Ali’s parents are given less to do as this is the daughter’s story. In the leading role of 17-year-old Ali, making their professional Broadway debut, is Maleah Joi Moon who proves to be an exciting musical personality who can hold a show such as this together. [more]

Suffs

May 3, 2024

The transfer to Broadway has brilliantly expanded the show.  The new production designed by Riccardo Hernández (scenery), Paul Tazewell (costumes), Lap Chi Chu (lighting) and Charles G. LaPointe (wigs & hair) brings Taub’s script to vivid life, much better than the more didactic and spare Public Theater rendering.  These artists put Taub’s script into historical context making the battle all the more vibrant. The new version also has rethought the casting, reshuffled and improved the songs and, more importantly, is more focused and effective in telling about the conflicts—internal and external—that plagued the suffrage movement.  These included dissonance between Catt and Paul; the thorn-in-the-movement’s side of the Black contingent led by the brilliant Ida B. Wells (a charismatic Nikki M. James); and the far left, Socialist ideals of the hothead Ruza Wenclawska (Kim Blanck, brilliantly avoiding caricature). [more]

The Great Gatsby: A New Musical

May 2, 2024

As for previous theatrical takes on the classic Jazz Age novel--and a few cinematic ones, too--the understandable allure of Fitzgerald's breathtaking sentences has represented a deathly siren's song for those tempted to dramatically interpret Fitzgerald by emulating him. Adopting a much smarter tack, book writer Kait Kerrigan avoids crashing into the tony shores of Long Island, where the story is mostly set, by remembering that imitation is not only the sincerest form of flattery but also usually very boring. Kerrigan still dutifully opens ("In my younger and more vulnerable years...") and closes ("So we beat on, boats against the current...") with the literary hits, also leaving in place the unhappy character arc of the novel's Midwestern narrator Nick Carraway (Noah J. Ricketts), but she lets the transplanted naif enjoy a friskier journey arriving at the disillusionment that he eventually feels from witnessing the cruel machinations of the East Coast elite. [more]

The Outsiders: A New Musical

April 22, 2024

The cast of "The Outsiders: A New Musica"l bring their own substantial charisma to the stage, but it's been dramaturgically constrained by Adam Rapp and Justin Levine's book, which sacrifices poetry for explanation. That unfortunate choice is abetted by a score from Levine, Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance (the latter two comprising the folk duo Jamestown Revival) that, influenced by "Oklahoma!" instead of pure sentiment, is far too Rodgers and Hammerstein, when it should have aimed for Rodgers and Hart. [more]

Lempicka

April 21, 2024

In telling the life story of Tamara de Lempicka, the show begins with a fascinating premise. Unfortunately, neither the score nor the book lives up to her high standards. Unlike "Sunday in the Park with George" which showed us the workings of the artistic process, "Lempicka" is more interested in the social aspects of the 1920’s and 1930’s Paris than in Tamara’s revolutionary paintings. The cast works hard to put over the new musical but they are defeated by commonplace situations, banal song lyrics, and over-used pronouncements. The musical of Tamara de Lempicka’s life still has to be told. [more]

Teeth

April 13, 2024

Sarah Benson’s direction is spot-on, but we find ourselves wishing the closing scene was more than just a plethora of bloody penises. This is where the creatives needed to say, “Okay, this is probably not what we wanted to say”. Adam Rigg’s scenic design though spare, is perfect for a mid-America room that can pass as a small church, or AA meeting. The neon cross is a great touch and Jane Cox and Stacey Derosier’s changing colors do not go unnoticed…particularly when the cross is pink amidst a lavender wash when Ryan is in the scene. Enver Chakartash’s costume design is appropriate across the board, although the women’s outfits in the closing scene are a mélange of Tina Turner’s castoffs from "Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome." Choreographer Raja Feather Kelly provides fine ensemble suites for the Promise Keeper Girls. [more]

Water for Elephants

April 8, 2024

Playwright/bookwriter Rick Elice has written the greatest jukebox musical (so far) in his 2005 Jersey Boys. In his adaptation of Sara Gruen’s bestselling novel Water for Elephants, he may just have written the best stage musical about circuses by making the animals as real as the human characters. The indie folk band Pigpen Theatre Co. has written a varied collection of songs, ingeniously orchestrated, that are always exciting as they both forward the story and reveal the emotions of the people who sing them. However, it is director Jessica Stone assisted with circus design by Shana Carroll who has done the most inventive and original work. [more]

The Who’s Tommy

April 8, 2024

But, as the book's co-writer with Townshend, McAnuff is self-aware enough to recognize that "The Who's Tommy" needs to blow one's mind through sensory overload. That way, thoughts can't interfere with the emotional gloss covering the bizarrely bleak world, replete with both Nazis and Nazi wannabes, the show's "deaf, dumb, and blind" protagonist must endure. Its cheeriest passage is, in fact, the British victory over Germany in World War II, which occurs early on and quickly curdles after Captain Walker (Adam Jacobs), an airman thought killed in action, returns home to London in 1945, to discover that Mrs. Walker (Alison Luff) already has found another fella (Nathan Lucrezio), who her rightful husband promptly murders. [more]

The Notebook: The Musical

April 4, 2024

While the characters age, the use of diversity here has them switch races, so that while one couple has a Black Allie and a white Noah, another has a white Allie and a Black Noah, as well as Allie’s parents being played by an interracial couple. Although it is easy to follow, it is somewhat distracting until one gets used to it. The setting has also been updated from the 1940’s to the 1960’s so that Noah fights in Vietnam now rather than World War II. Brunstetter’s book is faithful to both the novel and the movie, except that while the earlier two versions were recounted by the older Noah reading to his increasingly distracted wife from the notebook that she wrote in chronological order, here there are flashbacks within flashbacks, backtracking some of the events. Brunstetter has also made the ending more explicit than either the book or the film, as well as keeping much of the original sentimentality at bay. [more]

Dead Outlaw

April 1, 2024

Conceived by Yazbek, the show is structured as a folksy retelling of the haplessly heinous Elmer McCurdy's life and post-life story, with the unbelievably true and undeniably dead portion reaching its final chapter after a prop person discovered Elmer's mummified corpse in 1976 on the set of "The Six Million Dollar Man." Unfortunately, Yazbek's collaborators from the Tony-winning "The Band's Visit"--book writer Itamar Moses and director David Cromer--are decidedly second fiddles this time around, adding little to the proceedings to make "Dead Outlaw" notable as anything other than a pretty solid concept album, especially as performed by an indefatigable combo that includes Della Penna belting out some of his own lyrics and strumming multiple instruments. [more]

A Sign of the Times

March 3, 2024

This York Theatre Company production at the New World Stages, following a presentation at Goodspeed Musicals in 2016, shoehorns these songs into a book by Lindsey Hope Pearlman from a story created by Richard J. Robin. It has an ambitious plot that glibly takes on a number of themes roiling through the turbulent Sixties:  women’s lib, civil rights, the war in Vietnam, the sexual revolution, Andy Warhol, and even a premature touch of gay liberation. [more]

Jelly’s Last Jam (New York City Center Encores!)

February 26, 2024

Does the New York City Center Encores! new production of "Jelly’s Last Jam" hold up against the original Broadway production (1992-1993) which starred Gregory Hines (Tony Award), Savion Glover, Keith David and Tonya Pinkins (Tony Award)? Yes, it does and makes a good case for Jam’s enjoying a strong future.  This production, directed with verve and precision by Robert O’Hara, is both a fine musical and a fine drama, a diamond in the crown that is the Encores! thirty-year history. [more]

Five, The Parody Musical

February 25, 2024

When she arrives dressed in a white pant suit, Labeija steals the stage with Hillary’s number “Miss Me Now” which trumps them all with a series of Broadway parodies paying tribute to Clinton’s love of the theater, with recognizable quotes from "The Sound of Music," "Company," "Gypsy," "Chicago," "Evita," "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and "Dreamgirls." However, while all of this is clever, at times the show becomes “can you identify this parody.” A “Six Mixalot” for the company takes the same place as “The Megasix” in "Six." Lena Gabrielle does fine work with the four-person all-female band but the sound design by Bailey Trierweiler, Kevin Heard and Uptown Works is often too loud for this small Off Broadway theater. [more]

Days of Wine and Roses: The Musical

February 7, 2024

Reteaming with O'Hara and book writer Craig Lucas for the first time since the 2005 Tony-award-winning "The Light in the Piazza," Guettel's hodgepodge of a score equates jazz with blithe inebriation and opera with soul-crushing regret, a mostly tiresome juxtaposition that includes the gobsmacking discordance of Kirsten drunkenly bebopping around her apartment while vacuuming it. That O'Hara is never less than luminous, coordinated, and note-perfect during this ill-conceived pas seul fundamentally captures what's wrong with the musical: it's much too beautiful. [more]

White Rose: The Musical

February 1, 2024

While we are presented with characters who are doing a noble thing and can be touched by what they go through to accomplish their task, Brian Belding’s book and lyrics repeatedly take us out of 1942. In breaking up a fight between her brother and her old flame, Sophie blurts, “Are we seriously doing this?!”…Seriously? The tone is not “then” in 1942, it’s a university student of present day. When Willi walks in on the scene, he asks “What the f*@k is going on?!” We don’t doubt the impulse behind it, but was that really the vernacular in 1942? Natalie Brice’s score has its moments with some of the solos, but the full company songs sound like retreads of "Les Miserables" chorus numbers. “Munich” sounds like “Blind Eye” sounds like “Why Are You Here?” sounds like “The Mess They Made” sounds like “We Will Not Be Silent.” All are full throttle songs with the same sentiment, so why are there so many? [more]

Once Upon a Mattress (New York City Center Encores!)

January 30, 2024

Of course, in true American musical theater form the elegant Princess has been transformed into the bedraggled and uncouth Winnifred (Foster, in her best goofy guise, proving her talent knows no boundaries).  Winnie answers the call to audition to be the bride of the equally goofy Prince Dauntless (Michael Urie, funny, but hampered by his material’s lack of sophistication while taking a busman’s holiday after recently departing from "Spamalot)". The marvelously imperious Harriet Harris plays Dauntless’ mother, Queen Aggravain married to the mute, but highly communicative King Sextimus the Silent (David Patrick Kelly, adorable). [more]

The Greatest Hits Down Route 66

January 28, 2024

The title of Michael Aguirre’s "The Greatest Hits Down Route 66," the story of the Franco family’s road trip during the summer of 1999, refers to Carl Sandburg’s 1927 "The American Songbag,' a best-selling collection of early folksongs. Aguirre tells us that “the goal is to use music as a memory, an imprint, incidental. It should carry emotional weight but don’t depend on it to move the plot forward.” And that is the problem with the show: the songs are extraneous to the plot and have little impact as most of the 13 songs sung are so familiar, in the musical arrangements of Grace Yukich and Jennifer C. Dauphinais. There are no surprises in the music played by a three piece band and a lead vocalist, Hannah-Kathryn “HK” Wall. Occasionally, the narrator played by Joél Acosta joins in or sings a song himself. [more]

Brighter than the Sun

January 19, 2024

Hendley is solid in his performance as the narrator of his and his grandmother’s story. His presentation commands attention without demand, smoothly and effortlessly focusing on the words being spoken. He has created a show with a strong storyline but needs a rework of the structure. Although his narrational guidance is well-written and beautifully presented, it adds too much exposition when perhaps the information could be dramatized. [more]

Becoming Chavela

December 25, 2023

Ranchera is a style of traditional Mexican folk music with origins in the ranchos of rural Mexico. The songs are about love, patriotism, or nature and are usually sung by men. The vocals have a rough, raw quality in contrast to the more refined vocalizations of the urban singers. In Mexico City, Chavela defied the norms and sang rancheras with her style and interpretations while staying true to the rawness of delivery and the ideas expressed by the lyrics. Trudeau transforms herself into Chavela with an on-stage costume change and then provides solid interpretations of some of Vargas’ classic rancheras as she takes the audience on an exploration of Vargas' life in Mexico City, a brief time in Cuba and to the mid-1970’s when she stopped performing as a result of all the tequila she had consumed over the years. Although Trudeau's voice is more refined, she still delivers the songs with all the passion and fire needed in some and the introspection and sadness in others. Her embodiment of Vargas is complete. [more]

Buena Vista Social Club

December 20, 2023

While the exciting new stage musical Buena Vista Social Club shares the same name with the acclaimed 1999 documentary by Wim Wenders, playwright Marco Ramirez’s book for the new show takes a different approach to the true story now under the direction and development of go-to director Saheem Ali (Fat Ham) for new work by people of color. While the film took us to the recording studio and then interviewed or followed the daily lives of the major singers and musicians involved ultimately taking us to their July 1, 1998 Carnegie Hall concert, the stage show instead tells the 1956 backstory of several of the main characters after we meet them at the 1996 recording session. Although the film made the male singers Ibrahim Ferrer and Compay Segundo the main characters, the musical puts the focus on recording star Omara Portuondo. Both approaches contain the original songs sung by the Cuban music group of old timers that came together in 1996 to record an album of almost forgotten Cuban songs making both versions documents of the highest authenticity. [more]

How to Dance in Ohio

December 12, 2023

Based on an identically titled 2015 HBO documentary by Alexandra Shiva, "How to Dance in Ohio," in its musical form, works best whenever that magnificent seven is completely together onstage and falters mightily if none of them are present. Their characters' bond comes courtesy of Dr. Emilio Amigo (Caesar Samayoa), a psychologist--in both real and theatrical life--who specializes in social therapy for autistic people. To assist them in the closing stage of their adolescent development, Dr. Amigo's creative approach is to hold a spring formal, a traditional rite of passage that, of course, generally produces a lot of anxiety even if you're not neurodivergent. Through the voice of Marideth (Madison Kopec), the newest and most studious member of the group, Rebekah Greer Melocik's high-minded book makes sure to point out this hoary event's gendered baggage, though simply as an annotation rather than as the basis for any intriguing character conflict. [more]

An Axemas Story

December 7, 2023

Despite its fairy-tale plot, Axemas isn’t really suitable for children because of language and sexual situations, but everyone else will find something amusing in this rag-taggle production.  An Axemas Story could use some tightening and more professional looking scenery, but it’s tongue-in-cheek fun, nevertheless. The score is beautifully played under the musical direction of Sara Linger and the keyboard expertise of Buck McDaniel. [more]
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