The reviews are in for the latest Jukebox musical to hit the Great White Way – A Night With Janis Joplin - and once again the critics are split. Those who loved the show found Mary Bridget Davies’ vocals and energetic performance spot-on and intoxicating, while others were left loving the singing, but wondering how the life of such an extreme personality could be told in such a sentimental, vanilla way. They all agree the show was supported by a fantastic cast, costumes, sound, lighting, choreography, projections and effects – elements that try to raise this show above it’s mediocre book – and that in the end, despite the truth about its subject, it’s a fabulous concert about a woman who just loves and wants to sing the blues.
NEW YORK TIMES
“Mary Bridget Davies['] uncanny vocal impersonation of Joplin keeps the house rocking for much of the show’s running time…[but] if the real Joplin had the kind of sensible perspective on her life and career that she exhibits in this show — happily reminiscing about her youthful love of painting, or giving a learned docent tour of blues history — she would probably not have died of an overdose of heroin and alcohol at 27….Still, if the Janis who waxes nostalgic while partaking sparingly of the bottle does not quite match our image of the fiercely needy, heedless young woman who sang and partied with reckless abandon, frankly, it’s a bit of a relief. The default setting of biographical shows about performers who lived loose and imploded early often borders on the ghoulish…Her ability to match Joplin’s highly emotive style could probably give members of the audience who saw the real woman something close to a contact high — or maybe a nostalgia high is the better term.”
“I doubt if the walls of the classic Beaux-Arts showplace have ever felt any vibrations like the powerful full-throated wails of soulful orgasmic psychodelia emoted from Mary Bridget Davies in the title role of A Night With Janis Joplin…Writer/director Randy Johnson’s concert-style musical is not to be lumped in the same category with that trio of Beatles imitation concerts that have played Times Square or other such shows that rely solely on mimicry. The ambition is a little higher here, and while A Night With Janis Joplinhas its flaws as drama, as a raucous, hyper-energized tribute to one of American music’s great icons, it’s a joyful explosion…[Davies'] emotional commitment to the material is so forceful and sincere that by the first act curtain you may find yourself less concerned with Janis Joplin and anxious to see more of A Night With Mary Bridget Davies…Between songs Davies’ Joplin is an adorable, cherubic-faced gal sharing with the audience her preference for dive bars and gritty blues and bits of her life story through amusing patter…But A Night With Janis Joplin is about the good times, and there are plenty of them to be enjoyed in this rowdy and heartfelt celebration.”
“Legendary blues and soul singer Janis Joplin was an astounding force of nature onstage and off. A new concert musical on Broadway provides a rockin’ good time while imaginatively evoking her impassioned, thrilling talent…Soulful and genuine, Davies gives a lively, energetic performance. She captures much of the exuberance and uniquely raspy wailing that made Joplin a musical legend, though she lacks Joplin’s raw onstage sexuality and brash, raunchy persona…Johnson’s book sentimentalizes Joplin, whitewashing her hard-drinking, drug-fueled lifestyle and focusing instead on her enthusiasm and passion for her music…With dynamic use of lighting, projections, sound design and the choreography of Patricia Wilcox, Johnson creates a high-caliber spectacle around the compelling story of a uniquely talented singer-songwriter who embodied her generation’s passionate attitudes.”
“Mary Bridget Davies will take longtime Joplin fans on a trip, but she deserves a sturdier showcase than this discursive salute to the artist and her influences…if you’re after a contextualized bio-musical to provide insight into rock’s first undisputed queen, writer-director Randy Johnson’s sanitized concert tribute, A Night With Janis Joplin, is not the place to look…In terms of the physical production, the show has a time-capsule authenticity. What feels more artificial is the tidily retrospective mood of the protagonist…In the overwritten patter for Joplin that links the songs, Johnson appears to be aiming to tap the collective spirit of oppressed womanhood thirsting for liberation across the decades. But that theme is expressed too mechanically to resonate, and great as she is on the vocals, Davies is not a good enough actor to smooth out the script’s many clunky transitions…Whatever this tame tribute lacks in scope, it has a considerable saving grace in Davies’ electric renditions of the songs – wild and joyously raucous one minute and ragged with sorrow the next.”
“As a musical biography, “A Night With Janis Joplin” is pretty much a bust. The book by Randy Johnson, who also helmed, skims lightly over the singer’s Texas childhood and her tenure with Big Brother and the Holding Company, with nary a word about her personal life or the booze and drugs that cut it short…there’s not a hint of personal data in the show’s book…Davies, who looks like Joplin, sings like Joplin, howls like Joplin and has been touring the country in a show and a role-of-a-lifetime that she owns…As a concert, the well-wrought production should satisfy any rabid fan of Joplin’s musical brand of the blues. But for anyone expecting an honest portrait of Janis — or of the hedonistic Sixties era she personified — you can just cry, cry baby.”
The reviews are in for Big Fish, and the critics have mixed feelings about the large-scale production. By all accounts, the musical — based on the Tim Burton movie and the Daniel Wallace novel — features spectacular stage magic from the mind of director Susan Stroman and a lovable leading man in Norbert Leo Butz (as Edward Bloom). Some consider the score by Andrew Lippa and the book by John August (the screenplay writer for the 2003 movie) to be weaknesses of the production, lacking in imagination and creativity, but some say that Stroman’s technical ingenuity covers all of that up nicely. Basically, if fantastical lighting and scenery are what you want to see, Big Fish could be great for you. If you’re searching for a story with an unpredictable plot and emotionally-charged characters, maybe you’d be happier sitting this one out.
NEW YORK TIMES
“For a show that celebrates tall tales, “Big Fish” feels curiously stunted. Granted, this movie-inspired musical about a whopper-spinning traveling salesman, which opened on Sunday night at the Neil Simon Theater, is certainly big by most conventional measurements.”
“Fantasy wages war with reality in Big Fish, a delightfully old-fashioned musical based on Daniel Wallace’s beloved novel (and Tim Burton’s 2003 film). In one corner, there is Edward Bloom (the sensational Norbert Leo Butz), a traveling salesman from backwater Alabama given to spinning tall tales about mermaids and giants to fill in the gaps in his otherwise ordinary life. In the other, there is his son, Will (Bobby Steggert), a just-the-facts journalist who’s never really connected with his often absent, now-ailing dad and faces the prospect of fatherhood himself.”
NBC NEW YORK
“Edward Bloom will die a “glorious” death at the end of “Big Fish,” which has just opened at the Neil Simon Theatre. That’s not a spoiler; it’s an explanation. Blessed, if you’d call it that, to know the “when” and “how” of his life’s final chapter, the peculiar protagonist of Susan Stroman’s giddy, overstuffed new musical is free to take risks the rest of us wouldn’t, for fear of bodily harm.”
“I doubt Broadway has ever seen a prettier, more sensuously kinetic musical than Susan Stroman’s adaptation of “Big Fish” set to music by Andrew Lippa (“The Addams Family.”) It’s enchanting, especially once it slows down a bit to catch its breath. That doesn’t happen until the second act, but it won’t matter much, even to fans of the Tim Burton movie (or the Daniel Wallace novel that started it all).”
“Wholesomeness gets a bad rap on Broadway these days, usually regarded as the kind of unbearably sweet and inoffensive entertainment that sophisticated theatergoers must endure while taking their conservative grandmas out for a night on the town. But Big Fish, the new musical that tattoos its heart on its arm, displays no fear in plopping its unabashed wholesomeness right in your lap. Its spirit is steeped in Rodgers and Hammerstein decency that propels an evening that’s adventurous, romantic and, yeah, kinda hip.”
The reviews for Soul Doctor are in and they aren’t too pretty. Though reviewers find the principal subject of the musical (Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach) fascinating, there is universal agreement that the writing and music for this new musical don’t do his story any justice. The most positive elements of the production are solid performances by Eric Anderson (as Shlomo Carlebach) and Amber Iman (as Nina Simone), but even their efforts aren’t enough to save this show from being both strange and mediocre.
NEW YORK TIMES
“I think I can guarantee that the months to come will bring no odder musical than Soul Doctor…Played with self-effacing gentleness by Eric Anderson, Shlomo certainly makes an arresting figure…Then there’s the unlikely female lead: the great African-American performer Nina Simone, played by the suave, rich-voiced Amber Iman…Also featured: a Nazi who shoots dead a dancing, singing Jew in the show’s early scenes…Given this unusual blend of elements, it should be no surprise that Soul Doctor is a bizarre and at times bewildering musical…As is often the case with bio-musicals, we learn the notable turns of the man’s life — or at least those that fit comfortably into an unabashedly celebratory show — without really exploring his depths…Those with affectionate memories of Carlebach’s music may find Soul Doctor inspiring and absorbing. I found it disappointing that this intriguing figure came across as a bland, bromide-spouting relic of the hippie era, albeit one tie-dyed in classic Jewish guilt. Sometimes the most interesting and inspiring lives are the most difficult to dramatize.”
“The new Broadway musical Soul Doctor examines the life and times — and music — of Shlomo Carlebach in a unique, if plodding, study of a charismatic holy man who finds himself stuck between an unstoppable force and an immovable object. Carlebach, widely considered to be the modern era’s father of Jewish popular music, makes for a fascinating biographical subject, even if the re-orchestrations of his staid, folksy compositions aren’t quite lively or diverse enough to fill a two-hour, 30-minute musical. The unusual score is lifted somewhat by a couple of pleasing gospel numbers and engaging performances by Eric Anderson in the title role and Amber Iman as Nina Simone, one of Carlebach’s biggest influences…In the lead role, Anderson (Broadway casts of Kinky Boots and South Pacific) displays a formidable presence — and beard — with a disarming mix of placid shyness and childlike bursts of kinetic energy…Amber Iman makes her Broadway debut as Nina Simone, oozing with effervescence and consistently thrilling the audience with her sterling voice and glamorous costumes…Soul Doctor should please Carlebach devotees and, for the uninitiated, the details of his exceptional life will stir enough curiosity to send them to Google for more. But despite the spectacular life journey of this socio-religious phenomenon, the use of his solemn hymns as the basis for musical theater is at best an ambitious, if godly, pursuit.”
“Eric Anderson as Shlomo and Amber Iman as Nina spiritedly lift Soul Doctor beyond Old and New Testament realms…Shlomo and Nina’s first encounter is worth even the Broadway price of admission…Neil Patel’s Wailing Wall set moves us seamlessly to the jazz and hora beats of Seth Farber’s orchestra and Benoit-Swan Pouffer’s go-with-the-flow choreography; lyrics are by David Schechter and Carlebach, who died in 1994…This is a biographical musical, not a Disney fantasy.”
“Lots of luck marketing Soul Doctor to a general audience. This worshipful musical biography of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, the so-called “Rock Star Rabbi” credited with infusing Jewish music with the musical idioms of 1960s pop culture, has obvious appeal for its core audience of fans. But there’s nothing transcendent about Daniel S. Wise’s plodding book or Rabbi Carlebach’s “soulful” but dated music to lift the show out of its narrow niche and give it the universal appeal of a latter-day Fiddler on the Roof. Eric Anderson, who played Shlomo Carlebach in a 2008 production at New York Theater Workshop, has the voice and presence, not to mention the physical stamina, to carry off the demanding role of a character who’s never offstage…Helmer Daniel S. Wise has staged the hair-raising events of the Rabbi’s early life in Vienna with efficiency if not much originality…Unless you’re personally into it, there’s entirely too much of this ponderous religious pedantry to keep an audience alert. And while the cast seems to be in constant motion, the choreography is clunky and obvious.”
“Oy gevalt. It’s not that there’s anything particularly terrible about Soul Doctor, the biographical musical about the late ”rock-star rabbi” Shlomo Carlebach, but there isn’t all that much to recommend either. Carlebach is certainly an interesting figure: An Orthodox Jew who embraced pop music and hippiedom over traditional scholasticism and rose to prominence in the 1960s, he served as a striking countercultural counterpoint. But director Daniel S. Wise’s production — which consists mostly of a Judaic jukebox of Carlebach’s popular melodies — fails to achieve anything beyond a standard, and occasionally cringeworthy, retelling of his life.”
First Date opened on Broadway yesterday to very mixed reviews – its apparently a show that you either love or hate. Small in scale and light in content, the show is nonetheless entertaining and fun, with Mr. Levi and Ms. Rodriguez holding their own and selling this predictable fluff piece brilliantly.
NEW YORK TIMES
“Who doesn’t love a blind date? Of course, by this I mean, who does? I had one the other day, with the new Broadway musical First Date. I’d heard little about the show, and its authors were entirely unknown to me. Didn’t go so well. Does any of the following sound familiar? An instant lack of rapport; a growing aversion as the minutes pass; a mysterious sense that time has suddenly stopped; a desperate hope that the apocalypse will arrive, preferably right this minute. Magnify those feelings, set them to bland pop-rock music, and you’ll have some idea of the oodles of fun I didn’t have during my evening at First Date…I have been harsh on this modest musical, efficiently if facelessly directed by Bill Berry, so I should underscore that Mr. Levi and Ms. Rodriguez are both appealing performers…I also feel honor-bound to report that the audience at the performance I attended seemed to respond with genuine warmth…But even those who can never get their fill of dating-game gags would have to admit that the singles-searching-for-love thing was a lot fresher back in the 1990s…by now it’s been thoroughly strip-mined and needs to be reinvented, not just rehashed and set to mediocre music. “
“An awkward blind date has the potential for great comedy — as long as it’s not happening to you. In an alternate world, such a date might unfold amid a series of snappy musical numbers with irreverent lyrics. As the clumsy encounter unfolded, maybe the couple’s inner baggage would even surround them with song and dance. That’s the entertaining idea behind the sassy new musical comedy, “First Date.” The overall tone is satiric, but there’s a sneakily persistent undercurrent of optimism in the fun, fast-paced production that opened Thursday night at the Longacre Theatre…The book by “Gossip Girl” writer Austin Winsberg provides the couple with plenty of flippant repartee. A madcap mashup of musical styles and lyrics blazing with one-liners are provided by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner. Director Bill Berry keeps a steady pace amid the dynamic musical staging by Josh Rhodes…Never mind love, will they even make it to a second date? The point is that after just 90 minutes with this mismatched couple and their comical parade of demanding advisers, we still care how it turns out.”
“Familiar material is delivered with comic verve and charm in this winning, small-scale tuner. It’s not surprising to read in the Playbill for Broadway’s First Date that book writer Austin Winsberg has extensive television credits, including Gossip Girl and Jake in Progress. This romantic musical comedy — first seen in a co-production by Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre and A Contemporary Theater — has a definite sitcom-like quality. But it also displays a genuine wit and musical flair that marks a refreshing change from the onslaught of overblown musicals permeating Broadway these days. Starring Zachary Levi of TV’s Chuck in his Broadway debut and Krysta Rodriguez (The Addams Family, Smash), this modest, unassuming tuner is a definite crowd-pleaser, although it may find itself struggling for tourist dollars when the bigger shows arrive in the fall…Not wearing out its welcome at a brisk 95 minutes, First Date has the sort of small-scale charms that make it something of an anomaly on Broadway these days, and would probably be far more at home in an intimate off-Broadway venue. But at the very least, it signals bigger things to come for its talented creatives and leading players.”
“You’d be forgiven if you thought that show might be Chuck — the short-lived series that made Levi a star, at least among the Comic-Con set…Levi is particularly winsome and adorable as Aaron, a decidedly square, salad-eating fella still smarting from a recent breakup to a harpy of an ex. His singing voice, like his character, is engaging but a little thin…Rodriguez, a veteran of Broadway hits like In the Heights and The Addams Family…projects an admirable magnetism as a brusque, red-meat-eating downtown chick who takes no guff, is repeated drawn to bad boys, and seldom carries a relationship past a second date. You can guess how this all ends, right? And you’d be absolutely right. While director Bill Berry keeps the story zipping along, he’s hobbled by a bland score (by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner) that leans too heavily on pastiche as well as a paint-by-numbers book (by Austin Winsberg) that strings together a series of overly broad clichés rather than flesh out truly distinctive characters.”
“First Date, a romantic musical comedy about the horrors, humiliations and occasional happy surprises of blind dates, is cute (but not too cute) and sweet (but not too sweet). So, indications are that this appealing show will do well (but not too well) on Gotham’s Main Stem, despite having come out of nowhere and been assembled by no one you’ve heard of. Creative team of Austin Winsberg (book) and collaborators Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner (music and lyrics) should thank their lucky stars for Krysta Rodriguez and Zachary Levi, who are seriously charming as mismatched blind daters destined to become lovers. Ah, the joys of the modest musical, a rare commodity on Broadway these days but an ideal tenant for the intimately scaled and lovingly restored Longacre Theater. Helmer Bill Berry, producing director of the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle where the show originated, makes judicious use of his resources. David Gallo’s unit set adapts to the various restaurants, wine bars, and cafes where all the dating and mating takes place, enhanced by the witty background projections of a big, bad, sexy city. The design is nice and tight, a perfect fit for the stage, which Mike Baldassari has drolly lighted in those deeper shades of midnight-blue-to-black (with splashes of red) that are universal signifiers of moody music, hard liquor and sex.”
The reviews for Let It Be are in, and though the press found the all of the performers talented, they couldn’t have been more nonplussed, most deeming the show merely a concert by a talented cover band. All brought up how similar in content it was to 2010′s Rain (whose rights’ holders think it’s so similar as to warrant a 50/50 split of revenue) and 1977′s Beatlemainia, which ran for two years. But whether they thought it was a concert or a revival with a different name, they all saw baby boomers and young people alike smiling, dancing and having a great time. If you’re uninterested in Beatles nostalgia and don’t deem this a real Broadway production, go see another show, but if you’re looking to relive your childhood or enjoy to a bunch of songs you know and love, performed well…Let It Be may be just the show for you.
NEW YORK TIMES
“Yes, another Beatles tribute is on Broadway. Wasn’t it just yesterday that Rain opened at the Neil Simon? Pretty much. It was 2010, and Charles Isherwood, reviewing it for The Times, called it “enhanced karaoke.” In long-ago 1977, Beatlemania — “not the Beatles, but an incredible simulation” — opened at the Winter Garden and ran for two years. In his review for The Times, John Rockwell decreed it “an unobjectionable diversion.” Gentle mods and rockers of a certain age, I saw them both. I cringed at the 1977 show. (I mean, all four of the real guys were still alive and in their 30s.) I let myself get carried away at the second. And I can happily report that Let It Be is by far the best of the bunch. The word “celebration” in the subtitle is well chosen, and the performers are outstanding, as nostalgia substitutes and as musicians in their own right. ‘This is not really a Broadway show, is it?…It’s a concert.’”
“Even fake Beatles can bring back good memories of the real thing, when they’re truly talented…If you can check your nostalgia at the door, the tribute show Let It Be that opened Wednesday night on Broadway at the St. James Theatre stands on its own as a lively, multimedia concert and a rocking good time…There’s no question who these enthusiastic musicians are portraying. In fact, it’s a little creepy for those who were around during the originals to see the two deceased Beatles accurately reincarnated. Visually invoking Lennon, Reuven Gershon performs with appropriate cool, while John Brosnan is nicely intense as lead guitarist George Harrison. Enacting still-living Beatles, James Fox incorporates eye-rolling, winking mannerisms and soaring vocals reminiscent of the young McCartney, while drummer Luke Roberts has a head-bopping good time as Ringo Starr. Those four musicians performed in an energetic preview that often had the crowd up on its feet, clapping and singing along…The production is visually appealing, with an array of colorful, sometimes trippy graphics and the grainy news clips or photos projected above, behind and sometimes all around the band.”
“Another year, another Beatles tribute show on Broadway. Less than two years after the Fab Four were last resurrected in Rain, the similarly conceived and executed Let It Be has arrived to satisfy the nostalgic demands of aging baby boomers. Indeed, this show is so closely patterned after Rain that its creators have initiated a lawsuit arguing copyright infringement. But whatever legal complications ensue, there’s no doubt that the experience is virtually the same…It’s essentially a concert by an excellent cover band, featuring elaborate visual trappings. Your enjoyment of the experience will depend both on your affection for the music and willingness to suspend disbelief. If you squint, the four bewigged figures onstage are an approximate visual representation of John, Paul, George and Ringo. And their delivery of the classic material — most of which, ironically, the Beatles never actually performed live — is certainly accomplished enough to be enjoyable. Audiences may well wonder whether the experience is worth paying up to $135 for tickets (more for premium seats), especially when a real live Beatle, Paul McCartney, has been touring this summer. But then again, there’s no underestimating the ageless appeal of this legendary band.”
AM NEW YORK
“Let It Be is the latest in the never-ending parade of cheap, cheesy Beatles tribute concerts on Broadway that has previously included such titles as Beatlemania in the late 1970s and Rain just three seasons ago. They all represent slight variations on the same formula, in which a handful of competent singer-musicians, while not technically playing the Fab Four as characters, stand in and dress up like them and earnestly pay homage to their vocal and musical abilities and accents. In addition to trippy computer graphics, video clips show fans going wild at the original concerts. In contrast, the performers of Let It Be actively need to encourage their dazed audience to clap along or stand up to get their juices flowing. Seeing as those attending Let It Be probably already appreciate all the best-known Beatles songs, they are likely to have a somewhat pleasant experience despite the generally unexciting and derivative nature of the enterprise. In just a few months, a lot of very exciting things will be happening on Broadway. Let It Be is just an unambitious, summertime space filler. Just let it be. Soon enough it’ll go away — and another Beatles tribute show is sure to come along eventually.”
“Watching the new Beatles homage Let It Be (* * ½ out of four), certain audience members are bound to feel a sense of déjà vu — not for the Fab Four themselves, but for the last Broadway salute to them. Creators of Rain, in fact, filed suit against producers of Let It Be in June, contending that the latter show borrows many elements from the former one…Yet while the shows are strikingly similar in tone and structure…there’s a certain irony in claiming creative ownership of a purely re-creative act. Let It Be, which premiered in London last year, aspires to be nothing more than a nostalgia trip, and as such it’s about as engaging as you could expect…The between-song patter can seem as contrived as their accents, and there are patronizing appeals to older audience members — as when Lennon asks if they remember “when CDs were black” and had two sides, holding up an old LP with reverent affection. Luckily, Let It Be‘s company, which includes supporting musicians, is competent enough as singers and instrumentalists to make the numbers compelling…But more driving, muscular favorites, from Ticket to Ride to Come Together, were executed with enough panache to make you appreciate their magic, even without fully recapturing it. Which pretty much sums up both the appeal and the limitations of Let It Be — and other shows like it.”
There are a number of fantastic new musicals opening around the world that we can only hope soon make their way to the Great White Way. None of these shows have officially announced Broadway runs…yet, but boy are folks buzzing about them!
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (West End)
A Sam Mendes production starring Douglas Hodge (La Cage Aux Folles, Cyrano) with music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman (Hairspray, Smash), with a book by David Greig (The Bacchae, Tintin In Tibet).
Disney’s The Jungle Book (Chicago)
Mary Zimmerman (Metamorphasis) has re-imagined the animated film and original book by Kipling, with new songs by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman, arrangements by Doug Peck and choreography by Christopher Gattelli (Newsies, Godspell, South Pacific).
King Kong (Australia)
The most exciting element of this production is the giant puppet that plays King Kong – the largest ever created for the stage! Directed by Daniel Kramer with a book and lyrics by Craig Lucas (Marry Me A Little, The Light in the Piazza) and music/arrangements by Marius de Vries (Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet), with additional contributions by Stephen Pavlovic from Modular People.
Secondhand Lions (Seattle)
A new musical based on the movie of the same name, directed by Scott Schwartz (Jane Eyre), with a book by Rupert Holmes (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Curtains) and a score by songwriters Michael Weiner and Alan Zachary (First Date).
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Los Angeles)
Inspired by the album from Grammy-winning band The Flaming Lips, this Des McAnuff (Jersey Boys, Jesus Christ Superstar) directed production features glowing LED costumes, projections and a 14-foot robot puppet.
There are tons of new Broadway and Off-Broadway cast albums out and/or available for pre-order and we wanted to help round them up for you so you can keep building your ultimate musical theatre collection. Click on the cast album cover to view/purchase it:
Which do you have? Which do you love? Which are you most likely to have on repeat for the next couple months/years?