NouNou On Broadway Broadway Capsule Reviews by David NouNou To comment, please
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BACK TO BERLIN: "Cabaret" on Broadway. Photo: Joan Marcus
Cabaret was, is and always will be a masterpiece. Believe it or not, when it started out, Cabaret had a wholesome patina about it back in 1967. In 1998, Sam Mendez and Rob Marshall got a hold of it and turned it into a decadent, delicious, legendary, raunchy masterpiece. In the ensuing years, the proverbial envelope has been pushed even further to create a masterpiece with a lot of raunch. Thanks to a solid book and one of the most brilliant scores ever written for a musical, the show stands the test of time. It can never go back to its pristine original self; it has to constantly move with the times and move forward, but at what cost? The show was controversial from the onset; it dealt with a hedonistic Berlin and the rise of Nazism. How much more controversial can you get in a musical? However, in all its revivals, it maintained its integrity and good taste.
Alan Cumming has become synonymous as the Emcee. He was revolutionary and magnetic in 1998. He was the heartthrob and role model for every young club kid who wanted to be with him or be him. He forged his persona and flamboyance. What was chic and outré for its time now just seems sleazy. I know that certain actors leave an indelible imprint of their performance; I just hope that Mr. Cumming won’t be reprising this role well into his elder years as Rex Harrison did with Henry Higgins or Yul Brynner as the King of Siam or Carol Channing as Dolly Levi. Mr. Cumming is a versatile actor as he has proven on TV's "The Good Wife." I hope he brings some original versatility back to the stage.
TRANSGENDER TRIUMPH: Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwig, with band member Tim Mislock. Photo: Joan Marcus
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH
No need to belabor the point, let’s just cut to the point and that is Neil Patrick Harrris giving a legendary performance. You may not get the whole gist of the show, it could be a confusing plotline, but one thing that is for sure, he is a theatrical phenomenon. Forget that you know him as a celebrity; meet a superstar of the stage. His gender-bending performance as Hedwig, the German girlyboy who gets a botched up operation to turn into a woman, is the stuff that dreams are made of. Every gesture and movement adds to the characterization. The first half of the show was like witnessing a raunchy channeling of Marlene Dietrich. It was sheer perfection. Needless to say that the safest bet this year for the Tony Award is the Best Musical Actor category. Without knowing who the other four nominees will be, (just be happy you got a nomination), the winner is...Neil Patrick Harris.
BELASCO THEATRE, 111 West 44th Street , (212-239-6200)
THE SINGLE LIFE: Scene from 'If/Then.' Photo: Joan Marcus
If you like your musicals to be semi stylish and totally pretentious, then you are in luck. If/Then is the one for you. Elizabeth (Idina Menzel) lives in two worlds; as Beth she is the career woman, as Liz she is the married woman, love vs. career, which road to take? In life we make choices every day. The choices we make may work out just fine or may have consequences, but we don’t have an alternate or parallel universe to see how our lives would work out in both states. Furthermore, the creators have the hubris of changing the lives of the other people who are in the path of our changes. Imagine if those people would have parallel universes as well, think how messed up things would really be? If all this sounds confusing, it is. Just think how Idina Menzel or Adele Dazeem (she is Idina in John Travolta’s parallel Oscar universe) must feel on a nightly basis. She has to deal with her life going simultaneously as two different personalities on two different paths. What makes it odd, why didn’t the creators just have her live in one universe that has both love and marriage and a career? Life would be simpler and more realistic for everyone concerned than what was placed on stage. LaChanze (Tony winner for The Color Purple) as Kate, the lesbian friend comes off best; she is feisty and good to have in any universe.
RICHARD RODGERS THEATRE, 226 West 46th Street, (877-250-2929.)
My word….yet another version of squalor and desperation to dream a dream on the streets of Paris and storming the barricades for one more day. Is there anything that can keep this musical away for at least a decade? After its resounding opening success in 1987, it ran for 16 years, which brought us to 2003. This was followed by an abysmal cheesy revival in 2006 that ran for a little over a year, which would ultimately generate a worldwide successful movie in 2012 that would off course spawn yet another revival in 2014. Now that’s a lot of misery.
What dubious distinction would this version possess that it predecessors lacked? Well, the spinning, revolving turntable set is now gone and replaced by digital backdrops imposed on the back wall based on Victor Hugo’s own drawings. This is supposed to give us a more realistic sense of atmosphere. Since the movie opened new venues from the stage version, current revivalists have to come up with new spins from the behemoth original version and cost cutting (whether downsizing the orchestra or cast) plays a big factor.
Ramin Karimloo is excellent as Valjean and Will Swenson is in great command of his Javert. As for the rest of the cast especially the younger set, what can I say? Instead of singing their parts as characters in the show, they have all learned the nasty habit of singing songs in the American Idol style which is a great detriment to the show. This reinvention and unnecessary humor injected in the oddest of scenes is courtesy of the directors Laurence Connor and James Powell. They discarded the magnificently paced original direction by Trevor Nunn and John Caird and replaced it with their own underwhelming vision. I guess this is their contribution to appeal to a younger audience.
IMPERIAL THEATRE, 219 West 48th Street , (212-239-6200)
'ALADDIN': James Monroe Iglehart. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Theatergoers, be ready to welcome the next decade-long-running musical with open arms. If you have been hungry for spectacle and glitter, you have a feast in Aladdin. If you are tired of the labored, vacuous, threadbare and uninspired musicals, bring the whole family for a joyous magical carpet ride. For no one knows how to entertain and perform magic on stage like the Disney folks; and they are displaying a veritable smorgasbord for the senses.
Is it all perfect in Ali Babaland? No. The book at times is trite and some of the lines are hackneyed. The leads: Adam Jacobs (Aladdin) and Jasmine (Courtney Reed) are not awe- inspiring, but they don’t have to be; they just have to look good in their parts and be serviceable. The supporting players' “friends” are at times hammy and should be reined in. Despite minor missteps there is a Merman/Channing diva amidst all this. We already have Mama Rose and Dolly; we can now add Genie to the roster. James Monroe Iglehart deliciously embodies him. He has the force and drive of Ethel and the zaniness and heart of Carol. What more do you need?
This is a show to be enjoyed as a spectacle and as a magical ride just for the sheer fun of it. When you go to Disneyland, you don’t go to nitpick some of the shortcomings of a ride, you ride them with an abandonment of a child in the body of an adult.
NEW AMSTERDAM THEATRE, 214 West 42nd Street, (866-870-2717).
PUTTIN' ON THE HITS: A scene from 'Beautiful.' Photo: Joan Marcus
BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL
What makes Beautiful an enjoyable evening is the extensive songbook written by the once married husband and wife songwriting team of Carole King and Gerry Goffin. Their life was not a particularly interesting one, thus there is not much of a musical or a storyline. No drama. No tension. Just a simple story of a nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn, who wrote songs, got married as a teenager, had two daughters, moved to the suburbs and got divorced at 28. However, the songs she wrote are incredible, from “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “One Fine Day” up to recording and writing her 1971 multi-Grammy-winning album Tapestry, Jessie Mueller does an admirable job as Carole King. Ms. King was a formidable artist, but as material for a musical, not very interesting subject matter. The evening at best is innocuous fun.
STEPHEN SONDHEIM THEATRE, 124 West 43rd Street, (212-719-1300)
'A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER': Jefferson Mays & cast. Photo: Joan Marcus
A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER
While watching A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love & Murder, and it starts looking familiar to you, as it will, that's because it is loosely based on the brilliant 1949 British black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets, with Alec Guinness playing the eight D’Ascoyne family members. The authors (Mr. Freedman and Mr. Lutvak) have cleverly retained the British flavor with a delightful Edwardian score befitting the period, and enough English humor and sensibility in the book to make it a most delightful and charming evening.The D’Ascoyne name has been changed to D’Ysquith and Louis Mazzini, the disowned distant poor relative, is now Monty Navarro (Bryce Pinkham). What follows is murder most foul and in the most hilarious of manners.
The eight members of the D’Ysquith family are all played by the wonderful Jefferson Mays. Each member has his or her own identity and they each get their comeuppance in due time. Each of their demises is cleverly executed and therein lines the fun. Mr. Mays is an incredible talent, and although each character he portrays only appears for a few minutes, they each have a distinct personality and tone. A Gentlemen’s Guide ranks as one of the highlights of the fall season.
WALTER KERR THEATRE, 219 West 48th Street, (212-239-6200).
'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).
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).
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.
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).
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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org