Theater Review

Pippin Revival Dazzles

Pippin has always been a musical where the theatricality and the score compensate for some obvious story issues. So, introducing a circus motif to tell the Pippin story, as Diane Paulus has done in her new, often dazzling revival, proves to be an inspired concept. The result is a musical loaded with treats; the first act soars with razzle-dazzle highlights; Act Two loses some of the momentum, but the love story that develops involving Pippin and the widow, Catherine, does charm. It all culminates in a finale that is properly grand. However muddled the line between the troupe of performers and the characters they play becomes, Pippin nevertheless entertains wonderfully, thanks to its staging and the popular Stephen Schwartz score.

Pippin was a huge hit when it premiered on Broadway in 1972 but has never been revived on Broadway. As directed by Bob Fosse, it was a triumph of imaginative staging, and Schwartz's score also made major contributions, but the staging and the score camouflage the fact that, at times, the story isn't all that involving. Read more »

Bring the Kids...

Cinderella

If you have a little kid at home between the ages of a seven-year-old who can sit through a show and a fantasy-prone twelve-year-old, Cinderella might be the ticket to buy if you’re going for them. With a mediocre score from the legendary team of Rogers & Hammerstein and a contemporary book by Douglas Carter Beane, this musical is ideal for kids and perfectly tolerable for adults. Read more »

Right Turn on a Dead End

In the midst of a largely disappointing and fairly fluffy Broadway season, Orphans, now playing at the Gerald Schoenfeld, shines through the mediocrity and dullness as a spark of fun and sincerity. With no theatrical heavyweights on its bill and Alec Baldwin as its only big name, this play surprises with its sincerity and the strength of the performances it contains.

All three actors make some bold choices, committing to them with the poise of one that does not believe in turning back, and the results are rewarding. Taking a character approach to the mysterious Harold, Baldwin seems to be laying it on thick when he first stumbles on drunk, but quickly warms to welcome as his comic and yet touching interpretation unfolds. Maintaining a presence of unquestioned confidence, Baldwin gets laughs without directly playing for them. His character work never undermines the truth of his portrayal, making for an unlikely father figure who appears like the God we thought had abandoned us. Read more »

Disappointing Matilda

Matildawith a book by David Kelly, music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, is based on the popular children's novel by Roald Dahl. After a brief run in Stratford-upon-Avon in late 2010, it opened in London in November, 2011, going on to win seven Olivier awards, including best musical. In simple terms, Matilda tells the story of a five-year-old girl who loves to read, and, with the help of a supportive teacher, overcomes a dysfunctional, nasty family and obstacles at school to find happiness.

It is always exciting to be in a theater for a preview performance of what is anticipated to be a hit musical; when that new musical has the pedigree of hit status and reviews in London (which was also true of Billy Elliot, a show I loved), the energy level can be even higher. Read more »

Go Phish

Ever wonder what a musical composed by Phish frontman Trey Anastasio would sound like? On the off-chance that you have, Hands on a Hardbody should put any such wonder to rest. Set at a car dealership during a promotional competition of endurance, this musical is about as moving as the stationary Nissan pick-up truck it's centered around.

Seeking to represent a portrait of America, the creators of this musical have instead captured a snapshot of one isolated, little corner of a vast and diverse nation and tried sticking it in a frame far too large for its dimensions. Read more »

These Boots Are Made for Broadway!

Broadway has a new crowd- pleasing musical: Kinky Boots, a generously entertaining collaboration between Broadway veteran Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the book, and Cyndi Lauper -- yes, that Cyndi Lauper -- who wrote the score, her first for Broadway. The musical has a good, high energy first act, then gets even better in Act Two.

Kinky Boots is adapted from a 2005 British movie which itself is based on a true story of a young man, Charlie, who inherits his father's struggling English shoe factory. Charlie ultimately partners with Lola, a drag queen, to produce footwear for drag artists in the hopes of saving the factory and the jobs of all his workers. Read more »

Tiffany's of a Lesser Metal

Just in case you haven't seen the movie or read the book, there is now a stage adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany's. With all the cheer and excitement of a funeral procession, this pseudo-play unwilling drags itself through the motions, regretting its very existence, wailing the question Why? -- which would be difficult for any audience member to answer. There is a real cat in this production, one of its livelier points, and it even had the good sense to leap out of its leading lady's arms and make a premature dash for the wings. At least someone knows when to jump ship on this sinking excuse of a needless imitation.

Emilia Clarke is beautiful, energetic, eager, and way out of her league in the role of Holly Golightly. Read more »

Poking at Profundity: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

The emperor is wearing something at the Golden Theater, but to say it's more than a T-shirt and shorts would be generous. While the audience reacted eagerly on the night of this reviewer's attendance at Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, the surrounding enthusiasm was a sentiment that could not be fully shared here.

The promise of something profound is ultimately unfulfilled in this haphazardly heady play that feels more like a situation comedy made for cable than a comedy belonging on a stage. Characters are named after famous figures from Chekhov and Greek mythology, and similarities to their namesakes are explicitly presented, but behind the smoke screen of literary illusions there is little there. Read more »

A Delicate Balance

Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance, currently in revival through February 17th at the Berlind Theater at Princeton's McCarter Theater Center, is a beautifully mounted production: superb acting, marvelous direction, and the handsomest of set and costume designs. This is a "chamber drama" in that all the action takes place in one room -- the grand living room of a rich patrician Connecticut family. The cast consists of six players: an extended family of four and their very best friends, a couple who drop in unexpectedly, apparently intent on staying indefinitely. Read more »

One of Time’s Cruelties

The Other Place is a tight, witty, and powerful piece of theater. There has been an upwelling of solid straight plays on Broadway and Off-Broadway stages as of late, and The Other Place is only going to make it all the more difficult for Tony voters to pick their winners. However, Laurie Metcalf should make it considerably easier for those voters to select a winner for Leading Actress in a Play.

Metcalf [left] is stunning. Playing the role of Juliana, she commits wholeheartedly to a whirlwind of a transformation, falling from a collected, confident, and sexy career woman to a lost and weeping shadow of her former self. Bringing the audience with her on this journey of disintegration, Metcalf’s presence is commanding, breathing with a natural flow as she unravels before our eyes in a flurry of loss and regret.  Read more »

Opportunity for Some Serious Odets

The opportunity to see a full-scale production of an Odets play should be motivation enough for any theater aficionado; like the chance at a title match, it doesn't come along very often. It's not a knock-out, but Golden Boy lands some mean punches, winning by decision.

While notably winded and running out of room at the end of the third round, this production has some very powerful scenes, capturing a moment in American history when plays had large casts and socialism was popular enough in corners of the U.S. to make moneyed men truly uncomfortable. (Note: If you label President Obama as a Socialist, please read more on the subject.) Taking on the imperial juggernaut of capitalism in a boxing ring that works as a metaphor, it is the story of a battle for the soul of a country being fought over the future of one young man's life. Read more »

The Leviathan

The Whale

Leaving a play with the sense that you need a minute to walk off the weight of its strength is a rare and wonderful sensation. It means that the work has hit you, that its words have somehow found their way through the cracks of the protective exterior we all wear to get through the day and reached the vulnerable core where we are still capable of change. This is the place where good plays are meant to take hold, and The Whale, currently running at Playwrights Horizons, is one of these extraordinary plays. Plunging into a depth of unconventional characters adrift in a sea of uncovered territory, playwright Samuel D. Hunter has harpooned an unlikely hero and the swells of torment and love that surround him. Read more »

Porno for Playgoers

The Performers
Longacre Theatre, NY

Abandon all hope of stumbling on substance, ye who enter the Longacre Theatre to see its current showing centered on the world of porn. But if you're looking for some off-color, down-and-dirty humor, you could do a lot worse. The Performers is best summed up by one of its own flippant film titles, "I ate Chinese and now I'm hungry"; it's no main course of theater, but it might leave you wanting some more. Read more »

Scandalous: God's Tired Old Show

Scandalous
Neil Simon Theatre, NYC

Well, you can't blame the cast, and shaking one's fists at God seems pointless, but regardless of who's at fault, Scandalous, the new musical playing at the Neil Simon, is painful enough to make even the most fervent believers question their faith in musical theater. Armed with a heavily plotted story and the general mirth of a crucifixion, this musical is sadly beyond salvation.

It all begins with a poorly selected and misleading title that makes us feel we're about to see something tawdry, or at least mildly titillating; instead we are pushed through the life story of Aimee Semple McPherson, a woman we hardly care about and who would be much better served by a more objective Ken Burns documentary. Read more »

Chaplin Pleases Intermittently

Chaplin
Ethel Barrymore Theater, NYC

Putting together a new musical is no easy task, and every season we witness shows that demonstrate the difficulties involved. Yet, even when a musical is flawed, it still can have moments that make it worthwhile and leaves one wishing the entire show could have measured up to its best scenes. I was reminded of all this while watching Chaplin, the uneven new musical based on the life of film star Charlie Chaplin, and the first new musical to open this season. Read more »

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