NouNou On Broadway Broadway Capsule Reviews by David NouNou To comment, please
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LATEST BROADWAY OPENINGS
'PIPPIN' THE NIGHT AWAY: Patina Miller in 'Pippin.' Photo: Joan Marcus
The miracle of the season has arrived and being performed at the Music Box Theatre.
What a theatrical journey this past season has been. We hit unfathomable lows with some of the most dreadful offerings Broadway has encountered but thanks to Diane Paulus and her exceptional vision and directorial skills, and the circus creation by Gypsy Snider; they have managed to end this season with a Utopian high. There is enough magic here and cause for celebrating for many a season to come. I must admit I was never a fan of the original 1972 version of this musical. In this new re-imagined revival of Pippin I was like a kid at the circus having the time of my life.
Now for the formidable cast, I wish I could name everyone of the ensemble but space and the reader’s attention span forbids me. Patina Miller, who has taken over the part of Leading Player originally played by Ben Vereen; and Matthew James Thomas, as Pippin, are perfection. In support, Terrence Mann and Charlotte d’Amboise as Pippin’s parents are theatre royalty now who have learned their craft and know how to display it. However, there is a "scene stealer" the likes of which we see once or twice in a lifetime, and she is Andrea Martin as Pippin’s grandma, Berthe. Rachel Bay Jones is adorable as the girlfriend. A special shout-out to the rest of the ensemble who were absolutely otherworldly as the circus performers each being a part of a cohesive whole.
Well, what else can I say? Pippin is the theatrical event of the year, and the sexiest, most original Broadway revival of the New Millennium.
MUSIC BOX THEATRE, 239 West 45th Street, (212-239-6200).
'TRIP' IS OUTSTANDING TREAT: Vanessa Williams & Cuba Gooding Jr. in 'The Trip to Bountiful.' Photo: Joan Marcus
THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL
Like the finest of aged wine, The Trip to Bountiful has to be sipped and savored. You cannot gulp it; you have to sit back and enjoy the full bouquet and aroma of it. Written in 1953, the same year as William Inge’s Pulitzer-winning play Picnic, which was produced earlier this season (and has turned rancid like vinegar with age), Bountiful has just mellowed to perfection. This is thanks, in large part, to Michael Wilson’s splendid direction, as he has infused it with such a robust flavor.
Cicely Tyson, last seen on Broadway in 1983 in the ill-fated The Corn Is Green, is simply incandescent here. She is heartbreakingly real as the old lady just wanting to get out of the city and the environment she is in, smell the salt air off the Gulf Coast and feel the soil through her fingers one more time. Ms. Tyson gets younger and revitalized before our eyes the closer she gets to Bountiful. She is a thing of beauty to behold. Simple and lingering is the best way to describe The Trip To Bountiful. It’s a journey that everyone dreams of making once they reach a certain age. Under stress and pressure, we each have our own Bountiful to which we would like escape and return, if for no other reason but to recall simpler and gentler times.
STEPHEN SONDHEIM THEATER, 124 West 43rd Street, (212-239-8200)
'THE NANCE': (l to r) Nathan Lane & Lewis J. Stadlen. Photo: Joan Marcus
Nathan Lane is always a reason to celebrate, especially when he is performing in a vehicle that meets his talent and showmanship. The Nance is no exception; it is one of his best roles. As Chauncey Miles, the gay burlesque/vaudeville performer (a “nance”) and self-loathing gay man, he extracts a genuine gold mine of a performance. On a chance meeting one evening, he meets the naïve, good-natured young drifter Ned, brilliantly portrayed by Jonny Orsini in his Broadway debut. Anyone who can hold his own against Mr. Lane on a one-to-one basis is a star of tomorrow. This one nighter eventually leads to a relationship.
Set in 1937 in a burlesque house there is Efram (Lewis J. Stadlen, wonderful as ever), owner and comic of the grind house that is about to be shut down due to the strict obscenity laws of the time. There are also three strippers, the staple of any burlesque show, beautifully captured by Cady Huffman, Jenni Barber and Andréa Burns. Ultimately, it is about the downfall of Chauncey and his self-destruction. His breakup scene with Ned is one of the most heartbreaking, poignant and mesmerizing scenes in a show either in this or any other season in recent memory. Besides the wonderful Mr. Lane, there is also Jonny Orsini. Remember his name.
LYCEUM THEATRE, 149 West 45th Street (212-239-6200).
THE SUPREMES: (l to r) Sydney Morton (Florence Ballard), Valisia LeKae (Diana Ross), Ariana DeBose (Mary Wilson) in 'Motown: The Musical.' Photo: Joan Marcus
MOTOWN: THE MUSICAL
Oh, the hubris and ego it must have taken Berry Gordy to write the book of this musical. The fact that Motown label had such a great array of artists and song catalog, they are virtually unparalleled. So how could a label that has given so much joy, pleasure and kept the whole world entranced with its music in the 60s, 70s, and 80s be so heavy-footed and leaden? We can thank the same Berry Gordy, founder of Motown (and subsidiaries), who has written the inept book. Not only is it inept, it is so preachy and sanctimonious. He gave life to so many artists, but he sucked out the life of any semblance that this show could have had.
The ill-conceived placement and juxtaposition of the songs are so bad that they border on the ludicrous. The galaxy of artists from: The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson etc., could each have had a musical of their own (oh wait, The Supremes did and it was the brilliant Dreamgirls); instead they are compressed as snippets. No sooner does one song begin, then we are forced into the next, instead of enjoying the wonderful acts, the show is bogged down with a holier-than-thou book. What should have been a celebration of Motown has become a dreary musical about the travails of Berry and Diana Ross, with the songs interspersed throughout. What a missed opportunity for a glorious evening.
LUNT-FONTANNE THEATRE, 205 West 46th Street, (877-250-2929).
EXOTICA IN THE U.K.: The cast of 'Matilda The Musical.' Photo: Joan Marcus
MATILDA THE MUSICAL
Based on Roald Dahl’s children’s story, Matilda, it has been expertly converted into a musical. The book by Dennis Kelly captures all the dark themes that are in Dahl’s story. Matilda is not to be confused with the schmaltzy Annie. Its themes are cruelty, loss of love, never having love and punishment. The sun is not coming out anytime soon here. This musical concentrates on an unwanted little girl and unloved or appreciated by her addlepated parents. Matilda is one miracle child, and Milly Shapiro miraculously plays her. In all my theater-going years, I have never seen a child actor that could delve into such dark recesses and come out victorious. Her performance left me breathless. Truly, Miss Shapiro gives the best female performance of the year.
In addition to Ms. Shapiro, there is a lot to enjoy in this musical. With a strong book, score by Tim Minchin, a wonderful performance by Bertie Carvel as headmistress Miss Trunchbull, a cast of un-cloying children who can sing and act, a magnificent set and lighting by Rob Howell and Hugh Vanstone, respectively, and excellent direction and pacing by Matthew Warchus. I have to add this is more of an adult musical and not for a squeamish or fidgety child. Concentration and attention must be paid.
SAM S. SHUBERT THEATER, 225 West 44th Street (212-239-6200).
'BOOTS' IS A HOOT: (L-R) Stark Sands, Annaleigh Ashford, and Billy Porter. Photo: Matthew Murphy
When was the last time you saw an original musical and enjoyed it just for the sake of being fun? Here is a musical that is eager to please and has one of the best scores in many years. Granted, it is no Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim or Andrew Lloyd Webber, but it has the threads of all these masters; both music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. What a perfect project to utilize her musical writing skills and talent. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about Harvey Fierstein’s book; it becomes too leaden and mawkish in the second act, but thanks to Ms. Lauper’s score, she manages to keep the show afloat.
A musical about Charlie (Stark Sands) inheriting a failing shoe factory that was left to him by his father and with the aid of the drag queen, Lola (Billy Porter), they turn this broke business into an over-the-top venture, stilettos for drag queens. The plot is nothing new: straight and gay forming a beautiful partnership and learning from each other’s past hard knocks in life. Both Mr. Sands and Mr. Porter are perfect in their roles. However, being that Mr. Porter is the drag queen, hence the showier part, his arc becomes more visible (just as Albin is in La Cages aux Folles), but equal credit must be given to Mr. Sands. The goodwill doesn’t end there, for there is wonderful direction/choreography by Jerry Mitchell, who has brought imagination back to the musical form; and Gregg Barnes’ costumes and shoes are gorgeous. Both men have provided show-stopping and heart-pounding moments. This is one show that, at the final curtain call, doesn’t get the obligatory standing ovation because the person in front of you has stood up and blocks your view, thus creating a ripple effect. This show and the cast get a standing ovation because they have earned and deserve it.
AL HIRSCHFELD THEATER, 302 West 45th Street, (212-239-6200).
STAR COLUMNIST: Tom Hanks in 'Lucky Guy.' Photo: Joan Marcus
Lucky Guy is a conundrum. Does one enjoy it as a play, or savor it because Tom Hanks is making his long overdue (and remarkable) Broadway debut in the late Nora Ephron’s last, incomplete play? The story is told in the third person about famed journalist Mike McAlary (Mr. Hanks), who started writing for Newsday, got a column at the Daily News by replacing Jimmy Breslin, switched over to the New York Post, and back again to the Daily News. This is not a fully fleshed-out play written from the perspective of the first person (McAlary), but through conversations and extensive research by Ms. Ephron, from people who knew him best.
Tom Hanks, as Mike McAlary, is excellent. He has the swagger, chops, and resilience to pull off McAlary, and also adds his own charm, charisma, and uniqueness, which may not always appear in the script. His performance is modulated and he brings it home as a complete character.
BROADHURST THEATRE, 235 West 44th Street, (212-239-6200).
CHEKHOV SPOOF: (L-R): Sigourney Weaver, Kristine Nielsen, & David Hyde Pierce in 'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike'. Photo: Credit: Carol Rosegg
VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE
Those who have a fear of Chekhov may rest easy because in this offbeat comedy by Christopher Durang, who refers to the three siblings in his new farce named after Chekhov’s characters, (Vanya, Sonia and Masha), is meant strictly for laughs and a jab at Chekhov and his dreary forlornness and boredom. However, parodying Chekhov can run into a dead end. I mean, how much can you stretch having people talk about desolation and loneliness (even if it is for laughs)? The best moments are David Hyde Pierce’s (Vanya) soliloquy in Act II about the simplicity of life in the 1950s, and Kristine Nielsen’s (Sonia) impersonation of Maggie Smith attending the Oscars in Act I. Sigourney Weaver is good but has a thankless role (Masha). Tighter direction by Nicholas Martin could have been used for some of the more exaggerated performances by Ms Weaver, Ms. Nielsen; Billy Magnussen (Spike), Ms. Weaver’s boy toy; and Shalita Grant as the maid with psychic powers (Cassandra). However, with dramadies being written all the time, and comedy/farces being so rare, why quibble?
GOLDEN THEATRE, 150 West 65th Street, (212-239-6200).
TALE AS BIG AS TEXAS: Holland Taylor as Richards in 'Ann.' Photo: Ave Bonar
What you get in Ann is a labor of love and passion, written and performed by the superb Holland Taylor. Through her thorough research and tenacity, Ms. Taylor does not just perform Ann Richards, the one-term Texas governor; she inhabits her. Not only in appearance, but in accent, movement and her zest for life. Starting out at a college commencement, we learn of her adolescence, her parents, marriage, children, and finally, the robust, zesty politician. If the evening might seem a bit long, it is, for a good director was needed to edit some of the passages. However, Holland Taylor is nothing short of magnificent, in a once-in-a-lifetime role for the indomitable actress.
UPDATED 'CINDERELLA': Laura Osnes as the classic heroine. Photo: Carol Rosegg
RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN'S CINDERELLA
Whenever a sweet, good-natured peasant girl marries a prince, normally one would say it’s a typical Cinderella story. However, this is Cinderella and the parameters are rather narrow. Never having seen any of the TV versions of Rodgers & Hammerstein’sCinderella, be it the 1957 original version with Julie Andrews, or the 1965 version with Lesley Ann Warren or the 1997 version with Brandy, it is hard to draw any perspectives. However, having only seen the glorious 1950 animated Disney version, I was totally enchanted with it as a child and as an adult. It still has the magical power to captivate at only 72 minutes. This version is two hours and 20 minutes, so you can imagine how padded it is.
Laura Osnes as Cinderella is lovely and in perfect voice. Santino Fontana is charming as Prince Topher, who has far more talent than this flimsy role offers. Victoria Clark, as usual, has that enchanting voice that carries us on air, and Harriet Harris is “Bebe Glazer in crinolines,” her character from the hit TV sitcom “Frasier.” What happened to the mean stepmother she could play in her sleep? It is a shame her role as a wicked stepmother was only hinted at and not actually realized in print or in the acting.
'ANNIE' BACK ON BROADWAY: Lilla Crawford stars. Photo: Joan Marcus
Not being an Annie fan might seem to many as being un-American or hating apple pie. However, seeing this show 35 years after its initial opening, I couldn’t help but marvel at the incredible score by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin and the standards that have filled our musical catalog. Almost every song in it is a classic and makes this show revivable for young and old alike. The young get to learn the songs for the first time; and the old get to recognize and smile to themselves that they saw the original as children, and now they are seeing it through their children’s eyes.
Special mention has to be made of David Korins’ set design; they are lovely; and Donald Holders’ lighting frames the sets beautifully with rich hues. All in all, it is a well-mounted revival with the exception of Ms. Finneran and some of the less-than-sterling supporting performances. This will be a nice, pleasant diversion for the holidays.
'NICE' FOOT 'WORK': Kelli O'Hara & Matthew Broderick in 'Nice Work If You Can Get It.' Photo: Joan Marcus
NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
Is sweet and cute enough to ride the Broadway deluge, all of which are opening in late April on Broadway, right now? The competition is stiff out there, and there are some shows that will get lost in the shuffle. Unlike Kathleen Marshall’s 2011 revival of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, Nice Work lacks the originality and razor-sharp crispness she imbued in that show, especially in the choreography department. This show looks like it has run out of steam from the get-go and just pieced together the Gershwin songbook. It is as if they just took random songs and interspersed them throughout the show. The book has some humor injected by Joe DiPietro. However, both the direction and choreography are uninspired.
Even the visual concepts of the show are unmemorable: Be it the sets by Derek McLane or the costumes by Martin Pakledinaz, they both have a used look to them, as if they have been transported from another show. Even the score by the Gershwins, which should be a standout, just comes across as ho-hum, and nothing is staged vibrantly. Any pleasure that is derived from the show is, in large part, due to the personality and humor of the cast and not necessarily by the creative teams.
EXTRA! EXTRA!: Jeremy Jordan (center) & cast of 'Newsies.' Photo: Deen van Meer
Energy abounds aplenty in this new Disney musical, thanks in large part to Alan Menken’s catchy music and Jack Feldman’s poignant lyrics; expert, fast-paced direction by Jeff Calhoun; brilliant choreography courtesy of Christopher Gattelli; and a most fascinating revolving set by Tobin Ost. The only drawback to this otherwise well-done musical is Harvey Fierstein’s middling book. He brings his usual heavy-handed, trite dialogue and often cutesy, groan-inducing lines that are neither stylistic nor realistic to the period, but are merely modern, hip phrases to which the youth of today can relate.
The musical’s ultimate genius is the trenchant, innovative way it takes a bleak period of New York history from more than a century ago and somehow turns the grim narrative into a fun, educational, and marvelously entertaining evening that is loaded with infectious energy/choreography and unforgettable songs.
NEDERLANDER THEATRE, 208 West 41st Street, (866-870-2717).
'ONCE': (left to right) Steve Kazee & Cristin Milioti. Photo: Joan Marcus
Once is belabored by the subject matter, constricted by the storyline, disjointed by the narrative, episodic by nature, manipulative by emotional heart-tugging, and packed with fillers. What was once a charming, free-spirited, 85-minute indie musical movie about two people who discover each other one day in Ireland through their music and song has been turned into a stultifying, two-hour and 20-minute Broadway musical filled with clichés and little originality.
As the two lost souls who find solace and a modicum of salvation with each other, Steve Kazee is a handsome leading man with a strong voice and convincing acting chops. As for Cristin Milioti, she has the harder part. She has to be the proverbial wind beneath his wings with a Czech accent, sacrifices her love for him so that he can make the music to find the love that left him, and be lovably irritating. A tall order indeed. It seems that small-scale musicals are, unfortunately, here to stay for a few seasons. Oh, how I yearn for the glory days of the big epic lavish, eye-popping spectacular musical. I can only hope.
BERNARD B. JACOBS THEATRE, 242 West 45th Street, (212-239-6200).
SPIDEY'S TANGLED MUSICAL WEB: Reeve Carney as Spider-Man in what StageZine calls one of the worst Broadway musicals ever. Photo: Jacob Cohl
Zero (0) Stars
SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK
I never thought I would ever be saying the words "please bring back Wonderland," the ill-fated show that may have been one of the five worst musicals ever created for the Broadway stage, and played earlier this year mercifully for a short time. Who would have ever imagined one would long to sit through that dreadful musical over Spider-Man? The good thing about that fiasco was it did not have a reported $70 million price tag. Wow, just think of the different charities and jobless people the millions wasted on Spider-Man could have helped, not to mention closing the gap a little of the national deficit.
Only huge egos, pretentiousness, and any lack of artistic vision could create such a complete and utter mess. What there is of a plot is threadbare and incomprehensible. The score is a hodgepodge of songs and genres. The direction is aimless, and the choreography is pointless. The sets are cheesy and the costumes are absurdly tacky, and again you'll wonder where the money was spent.
The characters are not fleshed out properly, so there is no point in trashing the performers. Anyway, they must be so exhausted from all the changes they had to endure during this exhausting period that even they seem to have given up on character and motivation. However, two horribly, misguided performances and in desperate need of some or any direction do stand out: Patrick Page as The Green Goblin, instead of being the quintessential evil villain, is reduced to doing an impersonation of Jack Nicholson as the Joker in Batman shtick, delivering bad punch lines; and Michael Mulheren as J. J. Jameson, editor of the Daily Bugle. His lines are so trite and hackneyed, and talk about chewing up the proverbial scenery.
If you are easily impressed by a man in a harness, sporting tights and soaring over your head, then this may be your show. However, do not worry about this show's fate, for as long as there are tourists (God bless them) and teenagers that can afford to shell out the big bucks (they seem to get impressed easily with anything flying over their heads), the show will be around for a while.
Chalk up watching Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark as much like being at a dance club on a really bad acid trip gone horribly wrong, with excruciatingly loud techno music playing all night long and no relief in sight to make it stop. Ouch.
MORMONS ON A MISSION: (left to right) Rema Webb, Andrew Rannells, Josh Gad in 'The Book of Mormon.' Photo: Joan Marcus
THE BOOK OF MORMON
It seems that each decade Broadway generates a landmark immortal musical. In the 1950s, it was My Fair Lady ; in the 1960s, Fiddler on the Roof ; and in the 1970s, A Chorus Line, etc., (you get the idea). Well, the New Millennium has finally gotten its groundbreaking musical and it is, without question, The Book of Mormon. I know some of you will say, "Well, what about The Producers ?" And I say that show was highly overrated and nothing earth shattering or original, as it relied heavily on its star power. If you want original, nothing compares to The Book of Mormon. The score, book, direction, acting, choreography, and design are all brilliant, and oddly enough, its roots are embedded, like the classics mentioned earlier, in the traditional but unconventional Broadway musical manner of starting with a great book and score and building on it from there.
From the first episode of TV's "South Park," I have been a huge fan of Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Their sense of humor is unique and fascinating. Nothing is sacred to them, and the word fear is not in their vocabulary. Irreverence is their mantra. Teaming up with Robert Lopez, who co-wrote Avenue Q, was a match made in Broadway heaven, for what they used was their brain, talent, and ingenuity to create a work of art and genius. No multimillion dollar budget and over-inflated egos; just sheer power of the word and the music. Throw in clever and inspired direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw and a hugely talented cast, headed by Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad, both of whom are sublime, and the lovely Nikki M. James and Rory O'Malley are wonderful in what should be Tony Award-winning supporting roles. Hell, throw in Tony Awards for everything, starting with Best Musical, Best Musical Book, Best Score, and Best Direction on down the line.
THE SHOW ON EVERYBODY'S LIPS: Amra-Faye Wright (center) & company of 'Chicago'. Photo: Jeremy Daniel
Chicago has now become the sixth- longest show on Broadway, and for good reason. Bob Fosse, Fred Ebb and John Kander helmed one of the most inventive books and scores of a musical. In its original 1976 version, the story got lost in its gaudiness. The look and feel was reminiscent of Pippin, another Bob Fosse musical. It was not the hit it should have been. For economic purposes and what was supposed to be a limited engagement at City Center, the new 1996 version, stripped down to essentials by Ann Reinking and Walter Bobbie, stuck to the story, score, and choreography and turned it into a goldmine, and an occasional A-list artist to goose up the box-office does not hurt, either.
THE AMBASSADOR THEATRE, 219 West 49th Street, (212-239-6200).
1980s JUKEBOX JAM: Constantine Maroulis (center) and cast in 'Rock of Ages'. Photo: Joan Marcus
ROCK OF AGES
Did you ever dare dream that one day Constantine Maroulis, an "American Idol" finalist, would be the star of a Broadway musical, and get a Tony nomination for his efforts? Well, boys and girls and aspiring singers/actors, fairy tales can come true. This grab bag of a rock musical can be fun and amusing. Go with low expectations and your rewards will seem greater. This threadbare tale of boy-meets-girl, loses girl, and then finds her again is pasted together with classic songs from such 1980s rockers as Bon Jovi, Styx, Foreigner and Pat Benatar, to name a few. Upon entering the theater and at intermission, you are encouraged to purchase a drink by the staff. Do so. It will not impede your judgment. It will help you tolerate the high decibel level and go along for the ride.
HELEN HAYES THEATRE, 240 W. 44th Street (800-982-2787.)
'WICKED' PAIR: Witches Glinda and Elphalba in 'Wicked.' Photo: Joan Marcus
If there were a Tony Award for the use of the color green, this show would have won it hands down. The story traces the paths of Glinda and Elphalba, the Good Witch and the Bad Witch, respectively, before they became the legends they now are in The Wizard Of Oz. The show is so overdone and cutesy that one longs for a cigarette break and an intermission, and I do not even smoke. However, tourists and children will enjoy the mayhem on stage. All that green will envelop them in a haze of hallucinogenic euphoria.
GERSHWIN THEATRE, 222 West 51st Street. (212-239-6200.)
What can be said of this beautiful Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, now in its 22nd year on Broadway? It is truly the last of its kind. The glitz and beauty of a bygone era where no expense was spared can still be seen in a show. The score is lush, with an emotional storyline. The scenery and costumes are ornate and gaudy. May seem a bit dated now for New Yorkers, but for the out-of-towner, it is still a feast.
MAJESTIC THEATRE, 247 West 44th Street. (212-239-6200.)
Julie Taymor has taken the beloved Disney movie and turned it into a family entertainment for all times. The popular Elton John and Tim Rice score from the 1994 movie is intact, as well as all the lovable characters. The stage dazzles with the lush sets, costumes, and masks. Even a new generation of children and adults can enjoy this opulent musical without having seen the movie.
MINSKOFF THEATRE, 200 West 45th Street. (866-870-2717.)
ABBA songbook reigns supreme here. Thin plotline brings together a memorable evening of delightful fun. Forget about the hokey story. Just go and enjoy the exuberance that is generated on stage. By the finale, you will be dancing in the aisles.
The best jukebox musical ever conceived, thanks in large part to the amazing song catalog of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons and the seamless direction by Des McAnuff. It highlights the career of this incredible group of the 1960s and 1970s, from their shaky New Jersey beginnings to becoming one of the greatest male pop groups ever. Even if this generation is not familiar with the name "The Four Seasons," the songs and the sounds are legendary. One cannot help but be astounded by their song portfolio.
AUGUST WILSON THEATRE, 245 West 52nd Street. (800-432-7250.)
Broadway show listings are strictly the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of StageZine.com. To comment, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us whether you agree or disagree. We love to hear from readers. All shows are reviewed at press previews or post-opening night performances. To list Off-Broadway shows, please e-mail email@example.com