Archive for On Broadway
It’s one of the most wonderful times of the year — nominations will soon be out with the whole country buzzing about Broadway.
You can check out our 2013 Broadway theater awards calendar to see when and who will be making the announcements and when all the pretty prizes will be handed out.
In the meantime, we wanted to do a rundown of the shows eligible for this year’s big categories:
Shows Eligible for Best Musical
Shows Eligible for Best Revival of a Musical
Who do you think is gonna take home this year’s biggest prizes?
The critical reviews for the first revival of Jekyll & Hyde aren’t much nicer than those for the original mounting. Ripping most ferociously into the abismal lyrics, “pea-fog thick” smoke and confused direction by Jeff Calhoun, most critics were impressed by Costantine Maroulis and Deborah Cox, R&B artists who manage to bring moments of nuance and amazing vocal chops to an otherwise overcooked production. The show says: “Take me as I am.” — if you aren’t ready to embrace a campy, scantily-clad, over-amplified, steampunk Jekyll & Hyde, you’ll be much happier watching Cinderella down the street, but bad reviews or no, you can rest assured that Jekkies will line up nightly to take in this latest mounting of one of Wildhorn’s best shows.
NEW YORK TIMES
“Let us give a warm welcome back — or maybe just a shrug, a sigh and a tip of the bowler hat — to the return of Jekyll & Hyde…Mr. Maroulis meets the throat-thrashing challenges of Mr. Wildhorn’s score with aplomb, his high-reaching pop tenor evincing little strain when rising to the piercing climaxes. I was also impressed by Mr. Maroulis’s quietly intense performance as the obsessive Dr. Jekyll…Statuesque and beautiful, Ms. Cox brings a suffering dignity to this cliché in corsets. More important for those who have come to hear a pop diva do what pop divas do best, her dark, lustrous voice does nice justice to her character’s signature song, the power ballad ‘Someone Like You.’… I register no objections to allowing Mr. Maroulis to give his voice a rest by having the evil Hyde appear (via video) as a flame-haloed, glowering devil in a giant mirror, his half of the duet having been prerecorded. If anything, this innovation reduces the campy histrionics of having the same actor engage in a singing duel to the death with himself…Unfortunately there’s no way to digitally airbrush away the hokum that pervades the whole show, like the ample stage smoke puffing away throughout the proceedings, giving a most commendable featured performance as the fabled pea-soupy London fog. The actors portraying the sniveling or snobbish enemies of Dr. Jekyll all perform their chores with flavorsome relish…Mr. Wildhorn’s score is probably his most appealing, as it mixes equal parts Hammer horror, Andrew Lloyd Webber-style pseudo-operatics and adult-contemporary-radio anthems…Do the clichés in the lyrics outnumber the exclamation points, or vice versa?”
“Technically impressive and well sung by its two leads, this revival of the bombastic, ballad-heavy musical would feel right at home in a Vegas casino…To do full justice to the campy excesses of Jekyll & Hyde, this review would most appropriately be delivered in the form of a power ballad. Such overbearing musical numbers permeate this 1997 musical by Frank Wildhorn (music) and Leslie Bricusse (book and lyrics), which previously enjoyed a four year run on Broadway despite critical brickbats. Audiences may also embrace this revival of the turgid tuner based on the classic horror tale by Robert Louis Stevenson despite a likely similar negative reception…Director-choreographer Jeff Calhoun (Newsies) has ratcheted up the show’s gothic elements in his high-intensity staging, featuring extensive projections, a deafening sound design and a Grand Guignol-style presentation. But for all the production’s excesses, it proves decidedly underwhelming, devoid of thrills or genuine emotion…Jekyll & Hyde never immerses us in its classic tragic tale. It’s akin to a well-designed haunted house from which you find yourself eagerly longing to escape.”
“Yes, it is bombastic and overwrought. It’s true that there’s enough smoke to make three Whitesnake videos. OK, it sometimes makes The Phantom of the Opera seem small and staid. But there’s something to cheer about in the revival of Jekyll & Hyde that has rolled into Broadway after a 25-week national tour. It is what it is, and it does that very well. It’s a big, loud rock opera and makes no apologies for itself. Nor should it. If you wanted a subtle musical without stabbings and bondage, what exactly are you doing at Jekyll & Hyde? The new version…takes itself so seriously that it almost veers into camp, but it’s a stunningly beautiful steampunk vision with great costumes, projections and sets. Plus, the three main vocalists who came along to sing these Frank Wildhorn songs will make your ears bleed: Constantine Maroulis, Deborah Cox and Teal Wicks. Who cares if there’s way too much lightening and overacting? These three can deliver, some even while wearing naughty Victorian outfits…Sometimes when watching Jekyll & Hyde there are moments when it seems like what you’re watching is outtakes from ‘This Is Spinal Tap.’ But that’s this show’s charm. You’ll always be of two minds about it, so just give in to the silly side.”
“‘It is the curse of mankind that these polar twins should be constantly struggling.’ The same could be said of the 1997 musical itself, now receiving an overamplified, dry ice-drenched Broadway revival following a national tour: It’s good and — well, not evil, but head-scratchingly, laughably, even painfully bad. And one that you’ll be constantly struggling to sit through…As the titular schizophrenic scientist, American Idol alum Constantine Maroulis — a 2009 Tony nominee for his turn in the ’80s jukebox show Rock of Ages — supplies hair-band-worthy locks and lungs of steel. His ”This Is the Moment” (the 11 o’clock number that comes 45 minutes in) is indeed momentous — a triumph of vocal pyrotechnics over clichéd phrases, misaccented lyrics, and throat-testing key changes. He also supplies an accent that travels the whole of the United Kingdom…Cox — as Lucy, the hooker with the heart of gold and bustier of steel — is quite terrific throughout. She even manages to make that ubiquitous cabaret tune/power ballad ”A New Life” audible over the stadium-level orchestrations. Oh yes, the tunes: Wildhorn has written some darn good ones. And they’ll get lodged in your head so firmly that you’ll need ”It’s a Small World” to clear them out. But, oh, the lyrics! Example: ”You’ve not heard/A single word I’ve said/My fear is he’s in over his head!”…Perhaps that’s why the music is amplified to eardrum-splitting levels! But there are so many puzzlements in this production, which is both over- and under-directed…Calhoun came up with a good idea — which then went terribly, terribly wrong. It is, I think, the curse of Jekyll & Hyde. C-”
Ouch! To say the critics laid into Motown: The Musical, Broadway’s latest attempt to make another Jersey Boys-style jukebox hit, is a huge understatement. Though the soundtrack of the show will have your toes tapping, you’ll leave the theatre still searching for a story. With book-writer Gordy telling his own tale, the musical’s plot lacks intrigue and features undeveloped characters, drive-by plot points, and a one-sided and uninteresting perspective. Character after character is jammed onstage, showcasing an unbelievable number of songs but not much else (save some great orchestrations and a phenomenal performance by little Raymond Luke Jr. as a young Michael Jackson). Does this mean the death knell for new jukebox musicals? Many seem hopeful. For those excited to see this new show, move quickly before it boogies off Broadway or even consider a night with friends and a good Motown record instead — you may have more fun!
NEW YORK TIMES
“More than 50 songs (!) are performed in Motown, usually, alas, in truncated versions. Most are simply presented as concert versions by the actors playing the artists who made them famous, but a few are shoehorned awkwardly into the story as “book” songs…Making way for so much music means that Motown breezily scrimps on storytelling. Characters come and go so quickly we barely have time to register their famous names, let alone get to know them…The dialogue is often vinyl-stiff, written in a shorthand meant to convey as much story as possible in as few words as possible…The performers put their songs across with verve and an admirable lack of self-consciousness…For all the richness of its gold-and-platinum-plated soundtrack, Motown would be a much more satisfying nostalgia trip if Mr. Gordy and his collaborators were more effective curators of both story and song, rather than trying to encompass the whole of the label’s fabled history in two and a half hours. Irresistible as much of the music is, I often had the frustrating impression that I was being forced to listen to an LP being played at the dizzying, distorting speed of a 45.”
“If you are looking to bathe in nostalgia evoked by beloved tunes while watching talented and committed professionals do their industrious best to locate the magic of legendary performers, this is the show for you. If you prefer a well-written story with multidimensional characters that digs beneath the surface and uses song with dramatic acumen, then steer clear…Clichés abound…Director Charles Randolph-Wright’s fluid but old-fashioned staging complements the corn level. Choreographers Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams excel at reproducing the funky moves of groups such as the Temptations, the Four Tops, and, of course, the Supremes, but when trying to represent the tumult of the 1960s in “War” or the anger and rage engendered by the assassination of Martin Luther King in “What’s Going On,” their effortful work falls short. Ethan Popps scintillating orchestrations and arrangements (done with Bryan Crook) pop beautifully under his superb musical direction…Stealing the show is Raymond Luke Jr. as the young Michael Jackson. It’s not just that Luke has the sound and the moves down cold; his innocent, radiant joy in performing momentarily elevates the proceedings to a whole new level. Though some fans may be disappointed that so many of the songs flash by in snippets, Gordy has gambled that Motown: The Musical is all about its music—and he’s probably right.”
AM NEW YORK
“Instead of having to endure perhaps a dozen different jukebox musicals based on various Motown icons in future years, Motown: The Musical allows us to get it all over with in one shot. It’s an unwieldy and unfocused attempt to package dozens of hit songs from all the trailblazing Motown performers of the 1960s and 1970s into a single sugarcoated, sanitized narrative revolving about workaholic megaproducer Berry Gordy. Still, this elaborate, very busy production ought to please anyone looking to take a nostalgia trip and overlook its problems…Although many famous performers and groups are ably impersonated both physically and vocally…they all receive the same superficial treatment. Gordy was closely involved with the musical and wrote its poor book…“Jersey Boys,” which is undeniably the best of the jukebox genre, unhesitatingly addressed the Four Seasons’ gritty past, while “Motown” hides all traces of scandal under the rug. Even the racial tensions of the period are addressed too fleetingly to make an impact. Ironically, while Motown bemoans how the music industry was ultimately swallowed up by corporate giants that wooed away Gordy’s major clients with wild offers, the musical is essentially a company history section of a corporate website. 2 stars “
“The 2 1/2-hour show, about Motown Records under founder Berry Gordy, opened Sunday at The Lunt-Fontanne Theatre completely unbalanced: The songs are staggering, the book utterly flimsy. Both are due to one man: Gordy, who clearly knows what makes an indelible hit song, but also has an inability to write objectively about that skill. As the book writer, Gordy comes across almost divine, a true visionary who literally changed the world and race relations but was eventually abandoned by the artists he made stars when they sought to cash in. There are parts of the show that even a North Korean dictator would find excessively flattering…Charles Randolph-Wright proves a director with real skill, able to seamlessly juggle an insane amount of songs, dozens of scenes and harness some quite stunning performances, led by a go-for-it Brandon Victor Dixon as Gordy and Valisia LeKae as Diana Ross, who especially shines during an ad lib moment with the audience…To be fair, Gordy’s story is a remarkable one and should be told onstage, warts and all. His songs are the soundtrack of America, but letting him tell his own story has cheapened it.”
The critics agree that Matilda: The Musical is an incredibly imaginative delight for both children and adults. Cleverness and magic abound in this new production, thanks to the direction of Matthew Warchus and the creative songwriting of Tim Minchin, who focus on the power of storytelling and the magic of books — unlike the 1996 movie, this musical is about people, not supernatural abilities. Engaging and entertaining performances make this production irresistible — Milly Shapiro and Bailey Ryon receive praise as two of the four possible Matildas you’ll see, and Bertie Carvel’s cross-dressed Mrs. Trunchbull is both scary and believable as the show’s antagonist. The overwhelming consensus is that this musical is one of a kind and the best new work in recent memory — plain and simple, it’s not to be missed.
NEW YORK TIMES
“Rejoice, my theatergoing comrades. The children’s revolution has arrived on these shores, and it is even more glorious than we were promised. As directed by Matthew Warchus, with a bright, efficient book by Dennis Kelly and addictive songs by Tim Minchin, “Matilda” is as much an edge-of-the-seats nail biter as a season-finale episode of “Homeland”. Above all it’s an exhilarating tale of empowerment, as told from the perspective of the most powerless group of all. I mean little children. It’s principally [her] teacher that occupies our Matilda Wormwood, played the night I saw the show by the marvelous Milly Shapiro, who resembles an avenging cherub from a Renaissance day of judgment painting. (The part is played in rotation by three other actresses, Sophia Gennusa, Oona Laurence and Bailey Ryon.) And I promise you have never met a teacher who inspires fear and loathing as commandingly and wittily as Miss Trunchbull, portrayed by the incomparable Bertie Carvel in a performance that breaks the mold of cross-dressing on Broadway, as a fascist on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The elements of storytelling have been laid out for us from the beginning. When first seen, [designer Rob] Howell’s set is an airy wonderland of large letter-bearing tiles and bookcases. It suggests the endless supply from which Matilda (and vicariously we) can draw to make words, which make sentences, which make stories. [Songs by] Mr. Minchin deliver plenty of swipes at deserving targets, including parents who make their children their religion, in the opening number, “Miracle.” But he is never merely clever, a restraint that speaks to this musical’s point that intellect doesn’t have to trump emotion. He has written some lyrically expressive charmers for Matilda and Miss Honey, which identify them as soul mates in loneliness. As for the child performers, who are supplemented by adults portraying children, I mean it as the highest praise when I say they are not adorable. Or aggressively bratty or scene stealing. They occupy most convincingly that anxious state of siege we call childhood. Mostly “Matilda” exists entirely on its own terms, to serve and to celebrate the story, without the hard-sell tactics that are usually a musical’s lifeblood. In the current landscape of Broadway…this show [feels] truly revolutionary.”
“Welcome to the deliriously amusing, malevolent, heartwarming, head-spinning world of “Matilda: The Musical.” You won’t want to leave. Thank Roald Dahl, who wrote with such glee about drunk, stupid, lazy, cruel adults and bewilderedly abused, brilliant children, of whom Matilda is the paradigm. As in London, where the show is a huge hit, ‘Matilda” is directed by Matthew Warchus with songs by Tim Minchin and a book adapted from Dahl by Dennis Kelly. All are aghast at the girl’s obsession with books, a point nicely emphasized by designer Rob Howell, who has blanketed the front of the Shubert Theatre with letter tiles, looking like a Scrabble player’s hallucination. Warchus and choreographer Peter Darling have devised “Matilda” as a mad cartoon. In one scene they pile the school children atop one another, their arms extended like some multilimbed god as Miss Trunchbull looks on in contorted fury. To their great credit, the writers and Warchus have underplayed the telekinetic powers with which Dahl endowed Matilda. One of this show’s many strengths is its reliance on human, not technological, magic. The ensemble, young and old, boasts terrific performances across the boards. But the true amazement is in the unaffected yet utterly self-composed and irresistible performance of young [Milly] Shapiro; I can only hope the other Matildas are equally enchanting.”
“The new Broadway musical “Matilda,” based on Roald Dahl’s 1988 children’s fantasy novel, was originally conceived by the Royal Shakespeare Company as family-friendly Christmastime entertainment, not unlike the cheesy and overly sentimental shows that flood New York each holiday season. But it turned out to be an incredibly intelligent, heartfelt and entertaining work that went on to achieve critical and popular success in London and now arrives on Broadway like a white knight sent to rescue a disappointing season for new musicals. Singer-songwriter Tim Minchin’s unique and unpredictable score is as character-sensitive and penetrating as it is melodic and memorable. Matthew Warchus’ (“God of Carnage”) inventive production does not shy away from depicting Matilda’s peers as unashamedly self-indulgent and the world around them as garish and threatening. Bailey Ryon, who played the role [of Matilda] at the Saturday matinee I attended, gave a nuanced, spunky performance that more than captured the character’s determined spirit and vulnerability. Bertie Carvel, who was brought over from the London production, gives a delightfully exaggerated performance as the monstrous Miss Trunchbull.”
“A small army of [children] has invaded Broadway’s Shubert Theatre and, along with an astonishing adult performance by a heretofore unheralded British actor on these shores, Bertie Carvel, they form the captivating cadre of kids in “Matilda,” by some large and tickling measure the most splendiferous new musical of the year. With a delectably clever score by Tim Minchin and a slyly evocative book by Dennis Kelly, the musical, minted by the Royal Shakespeare Company and adapted from the story by Roald Dahl (of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” fame), is distinguished by its wonderful look and a caliber of choreography for young people you rarely ever experience. If Milly Shapiro’s accomplished, confident, well-sung Matilda sets the standard, then any one of this pint-size quartet will make you — and any other grown-up or child who happens to tag along — happy to be a ticket holder. Director Matthew Warchus, choreographer Peter Darling and set and costume designer Rob Howell conjure a universe of exotic and yet familiar flavors, [and] Carvel’s Miss Trunchbull is as close as you can imagine to a figure who’d swim in your head after consuming a tablespoonful of spoiled mayonnaise. It’s as immersive and strangely moving — for adults, surely — as any new musical to come along in a while. Minchin, Kelly, Warchus and company have worked an incandescent sort of magic in turning a Broadway theater into a Dahl’s house.”
Kinky Boots has been well received by national critics; the production may feature bad English accents and a poorly conceived second act, but that’s not what audience members will remember most vividly. The successes of the production are both memorable and loud, outshining deficiencies. Cyndi Lauper’s songs are eclectic and varied, engaging and catchy — there are anthems in both acts that will linger in your head after you’ve left the theatre. Harvey Fierstein’s book fits the bill, but it may be the strong performance of Billy Porter that truly makes the story come alive. Check out “Kinky Boots” for a feel-good story with all the expected Cyndi Lauper flair.
NEW YORK TIMES
“Try to resist if you must. But for at least the first act of this tale of lost souls in the shoe business, you might as well just give it up to the audience-hugging charisma of [Cyndi Lauper's] songs….It’s a shameless emotional button pusher, presided over — be warned — by that most weary of latter-day Broadway archetypes, a strong and sassy drag queen who dispenses life lessons like an automated fortune cookie. Yet, for a good while, “Kinky Boots” manages to ride over the skeptical grumbling of your conscious mind…The leading players here — notably Stark Sands, Billy Porter and Annaleigh Ashford — pick up on the trademark Lauper mix of sentimentality and eccentricity, but each makes it his or her own…This is fortunate, since we’ll need to cash in those vibes in the show’s second half, when the preachier aspects of Mr. Fierstein’s script take over, and all the clichés stand naked before you….the show recovers its first-act zip and zeal with its finale, “Raise You Up/Just Be,” one of the best curtain numbers since “You Can’t Stop the Beat”…If your memory is forgiving, that’s what you’ll take away from “Kinky Boots,” along with that first-act anatomy of the irresistible sex appeal of a perilously high heel.”
“Thank goodness for songwriter Cyndi Lauper, playwright Harvey Fierstein and the seven fierce drag queens led by a fabulous Billy Porter in the new musical Kinky Boots…this is a musical that comes alive when the lithe and towering men in heels appear. The show that opened Thursday at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre is so full of good will – did you expect anything less from Lauper or Fierstein? – that only a curmudgeon could walk out and not want to hug the crowds in Times Square…True, the second half is almost completely unnecessary, the English accents are laughable and the footwear puns are relentless. But who cares? This is a big ol’ sweet love story about sons, the families we make and red patent leather. Lauper’s catchy, pop-rock soundtrack reflects her ever-evolving taste…Fierstein, also represented on Broadway right now with the book for Newsies, spins his typical theatrical magic, teasing out from the movie both a love triangle and the pull-push of fathers and sons. But the real star is Porter, who delivers a touching, sassy, nuanced performance, often in 8-inch heels….Gregg Barnes’ costumes are schlubby when they need to be and high-beam outrageous when they need to be…Some footwear even got ovations…Elsewhere on Broadway, Cinderella may have her expensive slippers, but it’s likely she’d really love to snag a pair of what’s on offer at Kinky Boots.“
“As timely as this show suddenly seems to be — it posits an ideal world according to Harvey Fierstein, wherein struggle leads to self-acceptance, which leads in turn to public triumph — there’s nothing whatsoever that’s time-bound about Cyndi Lauper’s cheerfully audacious, toe-tapping score….[Kinky Boots] has taken the best of its predecessors…and applied real freshness to familiar formula. Crucially, the style of the production matches the creative identities of the composer and the book writer…There is a new determination to Fierstein’s writing, peppered as always with pedagogy and comedic sugar. Thankfully, “Kinky Boots” avoids the mushy mid-Atlantic traps that befell the likes of “The Full Monty” (a worker-empowerment movie with a very similar plot to “Kinky Boots”), and it similarly dances away from the hyperkinetic excesses of “Priscilla” and the like (David Rockwell’s savvy set is modestly scaled), offering just enough social realism that the world seems always centered in the believable. Drag queens onstage always do best when there are sharp contrasts, and so it goes here: The director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell, whose work is a clever cocktail of flash, grit and nuance, has cast a plethora of zesty character actors and allowed them to forge not so much a traditional ensemble….Lauper’s impressively varied numbers — whether it’s the ballad “The Soul of a Man” or the danceable “Sex Is the Heel” — are the sting in the tale of “Kinky Boots.”…If any show could kill the appeal of the jukebox musical, this is that piece. Lauper might be no Adam Guettel, but the weapon of musical surprise has rarely been so deftly wielded.”
“Lauper has made a career out of celebrating her extravagant individuality and everybody else’s with the unpretentious chutzpah of a true-blue Queens girl. The fact that her infectious spirit shines through every number in her first Broadway musical score is unquestionably the chief asset of Kinky Boots, helping to elevate the show above its familiar template. The novice composer-lyricist is also a good match for Harvey Fierstein, whose warm-hearted book for this aggressively uplifting musical hews close to the 2005 Miramax movie, making smart choices when it does diverge…this might be the shakiest assortment of fake English accents ever assembled on a Broadway stage. However, David Rockwell’s set brilliantly evokes the superannuated grittiness of every depressed British small-factory town…As predictable as the show is, it’s saved by how neatly the material plays to both Fierstein and Lauper’s strengths… the toe-tapping songs show an impressive range of styles and are smoothly integrated into the story…If Mitchell the director too often favors cartoonishness, his work as a choreographer has just the right punch, and Lauper has delivered him a rousing self-affirmation curtain number in which the entire cast gets to strut their stuff…It also provides the cue for costumer Gregg Barnes to pull out all the stops in the glitz-and-heels department. The generic “Just be who you wanna be” refrain might be recycled from countless other Broadway musicals at this point, but audiences craving feelgood candy will eat it up.”
April means award season is nearly upon us – nominations will start coming in this month and pretty trophies handed out in the next couple months. Bookmark this page and check back – we’ll update it as more information comes in…
67TH ANNUAL TONY AWARDS
Nominations: April 30, 8:30am EST
Ceremony: June 9, 8pm EST at Radio City Music Hall
Broadcast: Live on CBS
Special Awards: Bernard Gersten, Ming Cho Lee and Paul Libin (Lifetime Achievement)
58TH ANNUAL DRAMA DESK AWARDS
Nominations: April 26, 11am EST at 54 Below
Announcers: John Lloyd Young and Jan Maxwell
Ceremony: May 19, 8pm EST at The Town Hall
Broadcast: Webcast Live on TheaterMania.com
79TH ANNUAL DRAMA LEAGUE AWARDS
Nominations: April 23, 11am EST at Sardi’s
Ceremony: May 17, 12pm at Marriott Marquis
Host: David Hyde Pierce
Special Awards: Bernadette Peters, Jerry Mitchell and Madison Square Garden Entertainment and The Rockettes
63RD ANNUAL OUTER CRITICS CIRCLE AWARDS
Nominations: April 22, 11am EST at Friars Club
Announcers: Robert Cuccioli and Laila Robins
Winner Announcement: May 13
Ceremony: May 23, 4pm at Sardi’s
69TH ANNUAL THEATRE WORLD AWARDS
2013 PULITZER PRIZE FOR DRAMA
Announcement: April 15, 3pm
The reviews for Hands on a Hardbody are in and critics seemed pleasantly surprised by the production. You get the impression that they all went in expecting to hate a show about a group of people trying to keep their hands on a truck, but though they might have found the show static in parts, the combination of characters and song genres not often seen or heard on the Broadway stage offered a refreshing, definitively American tale. Though a little preachy here and there, a little too Phish-ily repetitive in song-styling and a little too truck-centric in movement terms, they found Hands charming and satisfying.
NEW YORK TIMES
“You can hear the sound of America singing in “Hands on a Hardbody,” the daring new musical that opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theater on Thursday night. With a bravado to match the gumption of its characters…this new show drives onto the Broadway lot without the high-gloss blandishments that adorn most big musicals…Of splashy song and dance there isn’t much. The skillful score, by Trey Anastasio of the indie jam-band Phish (music) and Amanda Green (music and lyrics), locks into a bluesy country-rock vibe early and hugs it tight. The characters’ hearts may yearn to dance free, but they are forced by circumstances to stand still…Although it’s far from fully loaded in a conventional sense, this scrappy, sincere new musical brings a fresh, handmade feeling to Broadway…The biggest challenge the musical faces is the inevitably static nature of the story line. It’s not a problem the show really overcomes…“Hands on a Hardbody” can’t always surmount the energy drain resulting from the characters’ inability to move for long stretches. I wish too that the musical’s authors were not quite so thorough in canvassing the headline-making troubles of Americans today…But if the writing occasionally wears its social concerns on its sleeve, the score cuts loose.”
“If sales of Nissan pickup trucks tick up in the next few months, there may be an unlikely source: a Broadway musical….Anastasio and Broadway veteran Amanda Green have written a soundtrack of mostly fine songs in a nice mix of styles — blues, gospel, country and honky-tonk — that will fire you right up. Playwright Doug Wright has had some fun himself, the cast is committed and realistic, and the whole thing is a pleasing, tuneful, heart-filled ode to small towns and American dreams….Director Neil Pepe and Sergio Trujillo, who did musical staging, get full credit for making this show move delightfully despite the subject matter being an exhausting test of endurance…Trujillo has his actors duck under each other’s arms, jump and dance on the spinning truck, make it the object of a tug-of-war and even bring the house down in a “Stomp”-like song in which the actors knock out a beat on the Nissan itself, turning it into a big drum.”
AM NEW YORK
“One of the simplest, purest ways to create a drama is to expose a competition or game where various individuals are all motivated to win – preferably at any cost. There are two great musicals written from this vantage point: “A Chorus Line” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” Now comes “Hands on a Hardbody.”…The musical, which has an underwhelming but heartfelt country-rock score by Phish frontman Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green and a penetrating book by Pulitzer-winning playwright Doug Wright, creates an environment where nearly all the participants are suffering economically and are in desperate need of a financial windfall. Neil Pepe’s production is quite gripping – most impressive is how the actors manipulate the vehicle and perform dance choreography while their hands are still attached to it.”
“Well, Broadway finally got itself an all-American musical in “Hands on a Hardbody.” The question is, will an all-American audience go for it?…[with an] unusually articulate book and well-integrated score [that leaves] characters revealing unexpected aspects of themselves in both song and narrative — which makes [the musical] both musically unpredictable and dramatically credible….If the show has a weakness, it’s that the music is so consistently all-of-a-piece that some of the songs tend to melt into one another….With 10 people stuck to a truck for much of the show, a choreographer doesn’t have much of a chance to do his stuff. But helmer Neil Pepe and Sergio Trujillo, who did the musical staging, find a lot of ways to push that truck around the stage and make it look interesting.”
“If you only see only one musical this year loosely based on a 1997 documentary about people in Texas trying to win a Nissan truck by being the last person to keep their hand on it, it may as well be Hands on a Hardbody…there is much to enjoy here, from Hunter Foster’s bullying portrayal of a two-time car-winning champion — if that’s the right word — to Keala Settle’s turn as the desperate, God-fearing Norma. The actors also include the great Keith Carradine, who is probably best known now for appearing on Showtime’s Dexter but who both sang and wrote the Oscar-winning song ”I’m Easy” for Robert Altman’s 1975 movie Nashville. Sadly, few of the numbers in Hands on a Hardbody are as memorable as that melancholic ditty. The tunes that work best find Anastasio and cowriter-lyricist Amanda Green at their musically Phishiest…But the pair’s excursions into country, blues, and a clutch of other genres rarely rise above the generic. Moreover, while the songwriters and book author Doug Wright clearly regard this insane competition as a prism through which to consider such weighty subjects as war, religion, and racism, it is rather difficult to engage with such ruminative choreography when the cast is literally dancing around an enormous car.”
The reviews are in for the new adaptation of Cinderella, now playing at the Broadway Theater, and though critics found the new adaptation by Douglas Carter Beane a bit heavy-handed, they universally felt director Mark Brokaw successfully kept all in check, maintaining the old-fashioned integrity of the original story and pulling together a fabulous cast of talented folks including Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana, who sizzle in the lead roles. But the most excited members of the audience were not the critics, but the little girls and moms who squealed with delight at every magic trick, gorgeous gown and fairy tale kiss, not to mention the tiaras and other merchandise available for purchase in the lobby. If pre-opening sales and audience reception are any indication of run time, this show, even with with its lavish costume and special effect budget, is likely to recoup in no time at all and run happily ever after.
NEW YORK TIMES
“This ‘Cinderella’ wants to be reassuringly old-fashioned and refreshingly irreverent, sentimental and snarky, sincere and ironic, all at once…for a show that’s hawking T-shirts that read ‘I can be whatever I want to be’ (a Hammerstein lyric), it doesn’t seem to know quite what that is….The keynote songs from the original have been retained. And anyone who swooned however many decades ago over ‘Ten Minutes Ago,’ the prince and Cindy’s musical equivalent to Romeo and Juliet’s ‘palmers’ kiss’ scene, will find that it is sung quite fetchingly here. But a lot has been added and deleted….The silver-voiced Ms. Osnes seems to believe unequivocally in her character, which is winning in its own way but doesn’t quite match up with Mr. Fontana….The showstoppers in this version aren’t the songs so much as those instant costume changes from rags to riches by our girl Cindy.”
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“What kind of fairy tale is this? In the hands of playwright Douglas Carter Beane, a quite fine one actually…His script crackles with sweetness and freshness, combining a little ‘Monty Python’s Spamalot’ with some ‘Les Miserables.’…The second half action sags a little as the creators try to shoehorn in as many songs as possible, but there’s no denying this charming, witty adaptation…Director Mark Brokaw gets high marks for juggling a lot of dancing, special effects, heavy scenery and top-notch singing, all in service of a quirky, yet heart filled take on the classic story. They’re helped by a first-rate cast, led by Laura Osnes, who one suspects was born to play a princess. She’s so naturally earnest and sweet than she barely has to act…Beane has taken so many liberties with the classic story that you may not always know where the story is going, a big feat for such a classic tale…For the kids, there is pure magic. Cinderella’s gowns appear with the best Broadway sorcery, a fox and a raccoon become footmen, the horse-drawn carriage appears as if we were in a Vegas magic show and a giant tree monster is slayed.”
“It’s a relief to see a show that softens its revisionist impulses within a warm embrace of sugar-frosted tradition. Reworked for Broadway from its bones as an original 1957 television musical, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella gets off to a halting start and takes some questionable detours. But this pleasurable confection overcomes its conceptual missteps with old-fashioned stagecraft, enchanting design elements, smooth direction and choreography, and most of all, winning contributions from an ideally cast ensemble….The principal architect of this latest overhaul is Douglas Carter Beane, whose book is paradoxically its shakiest element…Thankfully, the classic Charles Perrault tale proves indestructible enough to withstand the meddling. The quintessential element that the production gets resoundingly right is the chemistry between downtrodden Cinderella (Laura Osnes) and her lovestruck Prince (Santino Fontana)…But perhaps equally important is the romantic power of the music….The feeling remains that, much like the glass slipper on all those wannabe princesses, the material is an imperfect fit for Beane’s snappy irreverence. But under the gently guiding hand of director Brokaw, this Cinderella makeover nonetheless has enough magic on tap to deliver crowd-pleasing family entertainment.”
“Watch out, ‘Wicked’ witches, here comes ‘Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella,’ a heavyweight contender for those precious audiences of little girls who attend the theater in princess gowns and glittery tiaras – faithful theatergoers who make regular pilgrimages to their beloved shows and get their mothers to buy them lotsa stuff at intermission. Stage treatments of this classic 1957 made-for-TV musical starring Julie Andrews are common enough. But with additional songs and a witty new adaptation by Douglas Carter Beane, this show counts as a legit Broadway premiere….Helmer Mark Brokaw…has cast this show shrewdly, with actors who can sing, get their laughs, and in one crucial case especially, even dance. That triple threat is Osnes, the brave little trouper who made ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ bearable. While her light soprano gives sweet voice to Ella [Cinderella's name in this version], Osnes’ acting chops and dancing skills make her as lovely to watch as she is to listen to. As her Prince (here called Topher), Fontana may not be as dashing as the dragon slayer of fairy-tale legend, but he’s certainly cute and funny – and limber enough to sing and move and look charming at the same time, an impossible task for many a leading man…The cheeky humor of Beane’s book comes from imposing modern sensibilities (and contemporary lingo) on timeless storybook figures…Cinderella has become a secondary character in a story about a guy who mans up and resolves his identity crisis.”
The critics were all pleasantly surprised to actually enjoy themselves at a Christmas show. Indeed, when all the best elements from the movie were transformed into silliness like kick lines with leg lamps, huge tap numbers involving a bedlam of 9-year-olds and a child who’s tongue is stuck to a flag pole, attempting not only to talk, but to sing, they couldn’t help but get carried away in the fun. Scored perfectly, directed tightly and choreographed brilliantly, even the most critical movie-aficionado and crankiest anti-Christmas Scrooge found “A Christmas Story” an absolute delight.
NEW YORK TIMES
“You’d have to have a Grinch-size heart not to feel a smile spreading across your face when Luke Spring, a 9-year-old dynamo with feathers for feet, starts tapping his little heart out in “A Christmas Story” … Clad in a sleek black suit, his high-wattage grin beaming into the auditorium, this energetic little charmer raises such a merry clatter with his nimble dancing that it all but brings down the house….“A Christmas Story,” based onthe popular 1983 movie adapted from the writings of the radio personality Jean Shepherd, wins points for being less glitzy and more soft-spoken than the garish, overbearing musical versions of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Elf.”…Shepherd narrates the stage version in the likable person of Dan Lauria, former star of the similarly nostalgic television series “The Wonder Years.” I found the heavy doses of voice-over in the rather clunky movie to be obtrusive and irritating. Happily, the stage version lightens up a little on the cute, smart-alecky asides…making room for the music and allowing the story mostly to speak for itself. Not that there’s much story to speak of….Mr. Pasek and Mr. Paul have provided a likable, perky score that duly translates all of the major episodes in the story into appropriate musical numbers…But the sequences that make the children in the audience perk up and stop fidgeting are naturally the big dance numbers led by the smaller fry in the cast…They are wonderfully showcased in a couple of fantasy numbers that are the highlights of each act, and are choreographed with invention by Warren Carlyle.”
“The show that opened Monday at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre is a charming triumph of imagination that director John Rando has infused with utter joy. It’s also a snappy piece of mature songwriting from a pair of guys barely as old as the original 1983 film. The duo, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, are making their Broadway debuts with a score that is funny, nostalgic, warm and tender…The book by Joseph Robinette honors the film…The cast is led by a multi-talented Johnny Rabe as Ralphie – some performances star Joe West in the role – and a cast of skillful children, who can give the kids over at “Annie” a run for their money. One from the ensemble – 9-year-old tap dancing prodigy Luke Spring – brings the house down during a fantasy scene in a children’s speakeasy. Warren Carlyle’s inspired choreography manages to cut the sweetness with funny tart moments, such as the use of slow motion as a nod to the musical’s roots, or pyramids of people slightly off-kilter or manic elves at a department store…Purists may be upset to miss some film elements – such as Ralphie’s decoder ring – but few will walk away thinking “A Christmas Story” has been dishonored, itself a little Christmas miracle.”
“No coal in the Christmas stocking for this entertaining family show, which sticks close to its source material while establishing an engaging personality of its own….A cut above the pack, it’s cute, corny, wholesome and sentimental – all basic requirements for family-friendly seasonal stage entertainment. But it also packs ample heart into its wistful glance back to a time when rewards were simpler, communities were closer-knit, and both parental and filial roles were less polluted by the infinite distractions and anxieties of contemporary life….Sturdily adapted by Joseph Robinette, it features a peppy, period-flavored score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. With their catchy lyrics and robust melodies, the songs strengthen the characters and situations, dropped in at just the right time to enhance and propel the story….Director John Rando and choreographer Warren Carlyle’s clever use of the dozen talented triple-threat kids in the cast is a winning ingredient. On the surface, Robinette’s work as book writer might appear elementary, but it takes skill to cover every vignette from a movie without merely checking obligatory references off a list…This is an ensemble show rather than a vehicle for star turns, but Lauria’s warmly authoritative presence provides a binding element, and Rabe gives Ralphie irrepressible spirit. Bolton deserves special mention, making Ralphie’s dad a gangly human cartoon, both gruff and affectionate….Unexpectedly, the show pulses with genuine feeling, which should guarantee return engagements.”
“Don’t expect an exact replica of the movie….The film evokes a certain screwball nature that has become as synonymous with the holiday season as candy canes. But the stage adaptation plays like a heart-tugging, best-of version of the movie, with a saccharine score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and a book by Joseph Robinette that desperately panders for laughs….The most iconic moments from the original story have been morphed into entire scenes or songs or running gags…Some of it works beautifully…Odd[ly] yes, but somehow it works. In fact, most of the songs are solid, although there are no real new Christmas classics in the mix…[but] one of the classroom kids — the tiniest, cutest one, Luke Spring — breaks into a tap routine that would draw applause from the likes of Sammy Davis Jr….The musicals’ pleasures are far and wide: Dan Lauria is steady as an older version of Ralphie, who narrates the story. Johnny Rabe, who played Ralphie at my performance (Joe West plays some performances), did a nice job of wrangling the curmudgeonly, hopeful nature of his character…The show feels too long…And Ralphie’s mom (Erin Dilly) feels like a too-sugary shell of the kookily frazzled character…on screen. And of course, the whole production is super-duper schmaltzy….For the most part, A Christmas Story: The Musical is exactly what you expect.”
The reviews are in for Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson, and it seems as though critics would have enjoyed a whole lot more scandal. Carolee Carmello brings to life the title role, and provides the only real entertainment of the night — her voice is powerful and emotional, making the most of otherwise uninteresting numbers. A driving force behind the production, Kathie Lee Gifford is responsible for the tired book and lyrics while David Pomeranz and David Friedman put their names on the music. If you seek a strong musical performance, go see Carolee Carmello, but audience beware, don’t try looking for anything more.
NEW YORK TIMES
““The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson,” as the show is subtitled, are actually much more fascinating than you would gather from this formulaic Broadway musical. With book and lyrics by Kathie Lee Gifford and music by David Pomeranz and David Friedman, “Scandalous,” which opened on Thursday night at the Neil Simon Theater, condenses and rearranges McPherson’s story to fit smoothly into the familiar grooves of celebrity biography. In the process the show reduces McPherson’s remarkable life to a cliché-bestrewn fable about the wages of fame….Broadway jackals suspicious of [Kathy Lee] Gifford’s bona fides were surely hoping for an epoch-making turkey in time for Thanksgiving. Sorry, guys. “Scandalous” isn’t so much scandalously bad as it is generic and dull….True, collectors of camp might find some minor pleasures in the splashy biblical pageants of the second act, when McPherson, portrayed with hearty gumption by Carolee Carmello, looks on with a twinkly eye as Adam and Eve chomp from a sequined apple, or vamps as an alluring Delilah as Samson groans in beefcake bondage….God and the good works (and mostly bad musicals) he inspires are almost reduced to a walk-on in “Scandalous,” which plays down McPherson’s extraordinary ministry and spends most of its time dramatizing the punishing peaks and valleys of her personal life.”
AM NEW YORK
“The Tony Award for fearless determination – if such a thing actually existed, ought to go to Kathie Lee Gifford. She has been developing and promoting her musical “Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson” – for which she wrote the lyrics, book and even some of the music – for more than a decade….The score – the work of no less than three composers – mainly consists of generic samplings from various genres: Irish jig, beer hall anthem, tambourine-shaking prayer and so on. Carolee Carmello, who has spent the past few years alternating between the tryouts of “Scandalous” and stints in “Mamma Mia!,” throws all of her dramatic and vocal intensity into the role, but it is an off-putting, aggressive performance. Tony winner George Hearn plays two negligible roles. Such is what happens when you get too old to play Sweeney Todd again”
“There is nothing remotely scandalous about “Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson,” the biographical musical that has book, lyrics and additional music by Kathie Lee Gifford. Despite the inevitable celebrity-lite target on Gifford’s back, the musical about the media-star Christian evangelist of the 1920s does not have the toxic aura of a vanity production. It is well-produced and professional. It’s also not interesting, alas, at least not interesting enough to sustain 21/2 hours of fast-forward storytelling and inspirational songs that almost always end in throbbing climax. At least as problematic is the bombardment of nursery-rhyme lyrics…But we have a reason to give thanks, and that is Carolee Carmello. One of our most deeply wonderful, inexplicably underutilized singing actors, Carmello finally gets a giant vehicle that needs her massive talents….Despite the monotony of the touch-what-you-dream songs (music by David Pomeranz and David Friedman), Carmello alone makes Aimee’s journey feel as adventurous as it clearly was.”
“The musical that just opened at the Neil Simon is distinctive in not one positive way, but it’s nearly impossible to wrench your gaze from its glitz-drenched train wreck thanks to its sublime star, Carolee Carmello. Gifted as an actress and even better as a belter, Carmello could hardly have begged for a more doting showcase vehicle for her considerable talents than this one about 20th-century evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944). Kathie Lee Gifford (book, lyrics, and additional music) and David Pomeranz and David Friedman (music) have provided Carmello with countless opportunities to flaunt her golden pipes, embody bone-deep glamor, and attract the audience with the kind of comforting embrace modern-day headliners are so seldom allowed to deploy….Carmello sails through all this, and quite a bit more, with such ease that you can’t help but be positive she does it 20 times before breakfast every morning, and sings an astonishing amount of vocally taxing material even though she spends all but a few scant minutes onstage, trying to win us over to her cause. That she comes within millimeters of succeeding is still more impressive given the obstacles she’s up against. For what the writers and director David Armstrong foist upon her — and by extension us — is enough to propel the most devout believer into a spiritual crisis…Carmello’s stunning singing, at once brassy and hypnotic and warm, cannot compensate for the utter lack of memorable music, even among the faux-energetic gospel romps, or a halfway-witty lyric, anywhere in the bulging song stack — a big problem for a musical promoting the importance show biz’s value as a medium of communication. The jokes are lame, yes (“I swear some of these Christians are so pious, they just pious me off!”), but the story is impossible to follow, with no character other than Aimee given so much as three minutes of close attention….Based on how high Carmello elevates Aimee beyond what’s on the page, no one need fear for her career. Scandalous itself, however, looks well beyond saving.”
“The American Theatre Wing might as well give Carolee Carmello her Tony Award now. Just like her alter ego for the evening, early-20th-century evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, Carmello is performing miracles, only hers are onstage at the Neil Simon Theatre. In “Scandalous,” the seasoned stage veteran’s top billing is a credit to her performance rather than to her bankability—there’s book writer and lyricist Kathie Lee Gifford for that—and Carmello deserves it, delivering one of the season’s must-see performances (she’s onstage for all but 11 minutes of the show’s two-and-a-half hours). Unfortunately, Carmello’s miracle work doesn’t extend to Gifford’s flimsy, expository musical, which features uncertain direction by David Armstrong….Gifford’s book and lyrics sound like she transcribed McPherson’s Wikipedia page and had it set to music. Carmello is asked to relay countless monologues, usually while stripping off Gregory A. Poplyk’s suitable period costumes to reveal another outfit. (The actor transitions from Aimee at 16 to Aimee at 50 with remarkable ease.) The reason to put a story onstage is to theatricalize it. When Carmello sings, there’s magic in the theater, even if David Pomeranz and David Friedman’s tunes are generic (Gifford also gets a credit for “additional music”). Joel Fram’s music direction and vocal arrangements, though, are an absolute delight. The revival scenes feel like a religious experience, thanks to a winning ensemble and Lorin Latarro’s peppy choreography….There will be bumps in the road this season—and “Scandalous” may be one of them—but there is absolutely no doubt that Carmello is a Broadway superhero.”