Poll: The Worst Broadway Show of 2014

Last year, there were so many more bad shows on Broadway from which to choose.

This year, I couldn’t bring myself to add some clear-cut flops that I considered well-intentioned efforts. (But that shouldn’t stop you; that’s what the “Other” slot is for.)
Remember to judge the quality of the show as you see it, not whether it did well at the box office.
The eight* choices below are arranged chronologically by opening date. (Only shows that opened in 2014 qualify.)
Feel free to comment after taking the poll.



*Two choices were added to the original six, after a large number of respondents typed in their titles in the “Other” slot.

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Sting Extends in The Last Ship. Photographs

Sting, the composer of “The Last Ship” who took over the role of Jackie White in the musical on December 9th, will now stay through January 24th.


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An American in Paris Opens…in Paris. Photographs

An American in Paris, the musical based on the 1951 movie by Vincente Minnelli that starred Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly, opened yesterday at the Théâtre du Châtelet, in Paris. This stage version, which stars New York City Ballet’s Robert Fairchild and the Royal Ballet’s Leanne Cope, is scheduled to begin performances at Broadway’s Palace Theater on March 13, 2015.

Directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon with a book by Craig Lucas, the musical, which uses music by George Gershwin, tells the story of an American soldier in postwar Paris who is hopelessly in love with a French girl — and tells the story largely in dance.


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What did the critics think?

Sarah Crompton of the Telegraph called it “bold, satisfying and witty, greatly helped by the colourful fluency of Bob Crowley’s virtuosic projected designs which bowl around Paris, creating everything from boats on the Seine to the interior of the Galeries Lafayette. In routines such as I’ve Got Rhythm (which starts as a funeral dirge and becomes a life-enhancing whirl of movement) and I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise (as grand and splashy as a Busby Berkeley extravaganza), Wheeldon writes a love letter to the great American musical itself.”

Cristophe Martet in Yagg: Far from wanting to copy Minnelli, Christopher Wheeldon has created his own fantasy and glamor and spectacle full of visual ingenuity. (rough translation from the French.)

 Rosita Boisseau in Le Monde:The musical An American in Paris,  at the Théâtre du Châtelet, spins on a small cloud of constantly changing scenery showing the tourist sites of the capital city…Any fear of dizziness gives way to euphoria thanks to the golden cast and hot Gershwin music…The British choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, little known in France, achieves the miracle of (almost) making us forget the 1951 film directed by Vincente Minnelli starring Gene Kelly, while making us curious to see it again…. (rough translation from the French)

Interesting article from the Christian Science Monitor: Breaking into song: How France is tapping its toes to American musicals

The Elephant Man Review: Gawking at Bradley Cooper, Deformed Dreamer

Elephant Man, The Booth TheatreBradley Cooper is shirtless and in boxer shorts when we first see him on stage as John Merrick in director Scott Ellis’s competent production of Bernard Pomerance’s play “The Elephant Man” that has opened tonight at the Booth Theater. There is Cooper, a movie star with impeccable pecs, People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2011, portraying a historical figure who was so grotesquely deformed that he was at first exhibited as an “elephant man” in freak shows.
As in past productions, including the two on Broadway, the actor portraying Merrick applies no makeup or prosthetic devices to simulate Merrick’s actual appearance (this would be “distracting,” the playwright has said), but the audience is not forced just to imagine what he looked like. As Cooper stands there, Alessandro Nivola, the actor playing Frederick Treves, the doctor who rescued Merrick, is projecting the actual images of Merrick while graphically describing his horrendous condition. (See photograph below.)
The actor on stage must use his voice and body to convince us of his painful burden — a physically taxing role that seems to encourage, if not demand, an extraordinary performance. Now, the history of Hollywood (if not Broadway) is full of great beauties portraying ugly characters (model Charlize Theron won an Oscar as a serial killer in “Monster”) and of able-bodied actors recreating lives of the disabled (Daniel Day Lewis won an Oscar as the incapacitated artist and writer Christy Brown
in “My Left Foot.”) Cooper, contorting his body and speaking haltingly out of the side of his mouth,  offers a fine performance as Merrick, one likely to satisfy those who got their tickets specifically to see him in the flesh. But it did not strike me as an extraordinary performance, which comes as something of a surprise: Cooper has said that it was the 1980 film of “The Elephant Man,” directed by David Lynch, that “crystallized” his decision to become an actor, and that he performed the role of Merrick for his master’s thesis in acting at the New School, which included research at the London hospital where Merrick lived until his death at the age of 27 in 1890.
Coincidentally or not, the 1980 film is currently streaming on Netflix, which may prompt a question among some people about whether it is worth the price (from $80 to $169 per ticket) to see the Broadway production, when you can just stay home and watch the film that so inspired Bradley Cooper.
The regular theatergoer might well dismiss such calculation with contempt, always preferring the live experience. This revival certainly offers a polished production with a thoroughly professional 14-member cast, including several performers besides Cooper who have impressive reputations and steadfast admirers: Patricia Clarkson, Nivola , Anthony Heald (Silence of the Lambs, Inherit the Wind), who plays both Merrick’s drunken carnival “owner” and a bishop who befriends him; and Scott Lowell (Ted Schmidt in Queer as Folk) who is making his Broadway debut portraying four different characters.

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If anybody is actually deciding to skip the play because of the movie, there are to my mind two main reasons not to do so.
The first is that Pomerance layered into his drama humor, insights, and provocative observations that Lynch does not have in his film (which was not based on the play.) The playwright explores the ways Merrick was treated, even by the most well-meaning, as fraught with moral ambiguity. As a bonus he suggests a parallel in this treatment with how Great Britain at the time behaved towards its colonies.  In a bizarre twist to his tale, Merrick became the toast of late 19th century British society, his hospital room becoming a salon of sorts. The play helps explain this by having the characters one by one – from Treves to the Princess of Wales – tell us how much he reminds them of themselves (although their personalities are wildly different.) Each of the characters is projecting his or her own personality onto that of Merrick, whose face is so malformed he is unable to show emotion.
Spinning off from the fact that the real Merrick (whose first name was Joseph) built a beautiful and elaborate model of St. Philip’s Church in cardboard using his one good hand, the playwright slowly establishes Merrick as a kind of artist, with an artist’s sensibilities, bluntly honest and unpopular perceptions, and a bitterly ironic appreciation for beauty. That leads to the best scene in the play, a touching, erotic encounter between Merrick and Mrs. Kendal, an actress whom Treves originally recruits simply so that Merrick can meet a woman who is trained to be enough in control of her emotions so that she won’t cringe in his presence.
Mrs. Kendal is portrayed by Patricia Clarkson, and her performance is the other compelling reason to see the current Broadway revival of “The Elephant Man.” Hers is not the biggest role, but she is the kind of actress who can communicate transcendent feeling while presenting to us a life that seems simultaneously of elegance, amusement, and ineffable suffering.  She does this through her carriage and her facial expressions and the smallest of gestures, or perhaps just through some actor alchemy that cannot be explained.  It is the emotional transmission between actor and audience that one was hoping would be enacted as precisely and as thoroughly by Bradley Cooper.

The Elephant Man

Booth Theater

Written by Bernard Pomerance

Directed by Scott Ellis

Scenic and Projection Design by Timothy R. Mackabee, Costume Design by Clint Ramos, Lighting Design by Philip S. Rosenberg, and Sound Design by Drew Levy.


Bradley Cooper
Patricia Clarkson
Alessandro Nivola
Anthony Heald
Scott Lowell
Kathryn Meisle
Henry Stram
Chris Bannow
Peter Bradbury
Lucas Calhoun
Eric Clem
Amanda Lea Mason
Marguerite Stimpson
Emma Thorne

running time: two hours, including an intermission

Tickets: $80 to $169

The Elephant Man is scheduled to run through February 15, 2015


December 2014 Openings Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway

Two Broadway shows — The Illusionists and The Elephant Man – are opening in December, as are a handful of Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway# plays and musicals.

(The bulk of the openings this season occurred in October and November.)

Below is a list, organized chronologically by opening date, with descriptions. Each title is linked to a relevant website.

Nothing, of course, is guaranteed about any of these shows, even those that seem the most promising. (This is why I write reviews.)

Color key: Broadway: Red. Off Broadway: Blue. Off Off Broadway: Green.

* Asterisks are next to those shows to which I have been invited (and plan) to review as of this writing.

December 2

Disenchanted (Theatre at St. Clements)

A “not-for-the-kiddies musical” about Snow White “and her posse of disenchanted princesses.”

December 4

*The Illusionists (Marriot Marquis Theater)

Seven illusionists perform magic and illusion. Broadway is a stop on their world tour.

 A Christmas Memory (DR2 Theater)

The Irish Repertory Theater production of a new musical based on the short story by Truman Capote, starring Alice Ripley.

December 5

The Asphalt Christmas (Theatre Row – Lion)

“The Bells of St. Mary’s meets The Exorcist in this outrageous satire that celebrates Hollywood Christmas movies, with a nod to the Carol Burnett Show. It’s the story of St. Celestine’s convent school’s annual Christmas pageant…”

December 7

*The Elephant Man (Booth Theater)

Based on the true story of John Merrick, a horribly deformed man in the 19th century who was treated abominably, this second Broadway revival of the 1979 play gives movie heartthrob Bradley Cooper a chance to show his inner beauty. (The deformity is not actually depicted. The audience is asked to imagine it.)

Peer Gynt (Alchemical Theatre Laboratory)

The Immediate Family theater troupe cuts down Ibsen’s sprawling four-hour opus to ninety minutes: “Peer Gynt is a Norwegian boy enamored of folktales about trolls, giant reindeer, and emperors wealthy beyond imagining. As he grows up, his gift for spinning fanciful lies takes him on many adventures all over the world, but he soon loses sight of his true self within the fantasies he creates.”

December 8

*The Invisible Hand (New York Theatre Workshop)

Ayad Akhtar, the author of Disgraced on Broadway, has written a play about bout an American stockbroker (portrayed by Justin Kirk) who is kidnapped and tortured in a remote area of Pakistan, and negotiates to save his life.

December 10

Horse Girls (The Cell)

“Twelve-year-old Ashleigh rules the Lady Jean Ladies, South Florida’s most exclusive horse club. News that her family’s stables are being sold and their horses killed for meat throws the Ladies into crisis in this dark comedy…”

December 11

All That Dies and Rises (IATI Theater)

“a theatrical experiment in the tradition of Grotowski and Meyerhold, finding ecstatic movement in the text of August Strindberg, Franz Kafka, Gertrude Stein and Charles Bukowski”

December 14

Soul Doctor (Actor’s Temple Theatre)

The musical about the guitar-strumming, folksong-composing rabbi, Shlomo Carlebach, and his unlikely friendship with Nina Simone, Soul Doctor had a brief run on Broadway, with a different cast.  My review of the Broadway production.

*Every Brilliant Thing (Barrow Street)

A play by Duncan Macmillan well-received in the UK: “1. Ice cream, 2. Water fights, 3. Things with stripes, 4. Christopher Walken’s voice, 5. Rollercoasters. In Every Brilliant Thing, a young boy attempts to ease his mother’s depression by creating a list of all the best things in the world. Everything worth living for. Through adulthood, as the list grows, he learns the deep significance it has on his own life.”

December 15

*Pocatello (Playwrights Horizons)

Written by Samuel Hunter, who just won one of the McArthur “genius” awards and whose past plays I love, Pocatello has a cast of nine featuring T.R. Knight as Eddie, who manages an Italian chain restaurant in Pocatello, Idaho — “a small, unexceptional American city that is slowly being paved over with strip malls and franchises.”

December 18

Beware of Young Girls (59E59 – B)

“Singer and storyteller, Kate Dimbleby, accompanied by Naadia Sheriff on piano, explores the extraordinary songbook and story of cult favorite Dory Previn. The queen of 70’s confessional songwriters, Previn sang songs of emancipation and sweet revenge.”

#The list includes only a small selection of the shows Off-Off Broadway, only those running more than two weeks and with official opening dates. There are some greatly promising shows that fit neither of these criteria. One I’m planning to see this month, for example, is Send For The Million Men.

For a look at the whole season, check out Fall 2014 Broadway Preview Guide and Off-Broadway Preview Guide

Broadway’s Thanksgiving Week Schedule 2014

Broadway’s schedule is irregular this Thanksgiving holiday week. Below is the calendar, with links to my reviews.  Only three shows will have a performance on Thanksgiving Day, but most have added matinees on Friday.

Show Title
Tues Nov. 25 Wed. Nov. 26 Thur. Nov. 27 Fri. Nov. 28 Sat. Nov. 29 Sun. Nov. 30
A Delicate Balance 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm DARK
Aladdin 7:00 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Beautiful: The Carole Kind Musical 7pm 2pm, 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Book of Mormon, The 7pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm,
Cabaret 7pm 2pm, 8pm 8pm 2:00pm, 8pm 2pm
Chicago 8pm DARK 8pm 2:30pm, 8pm 2:30pm, 8pm 7pm
Cinderella 7pm 2pm, 7:30pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The 7pm 2pm, 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Disgraced 7pm 2pm, 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Elephant Man, The 8pm , 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, A 7pm 2pm, 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Hedwig and the Angry Inch 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Honeymoon in Vegas 7pm 2pm, 8pm   2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
If/Then 7pm ,7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
It’s Only A Play 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Jersey Boys 7pm 2pm, 7pm 2pm8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Kinky Boots 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Last Ship, The 7pm , 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Les Miserables 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Lion King, The 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm,
Love Letters 7pm 2pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Mamma Mia! 8pm 2pm, 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm
Matilda 7pm 2pm, 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Motown: The Musical 7:30pm 2pm 2pm, 7:30pm 2pm, 7:30pm 3pm
On The Town 7pm 2pm,8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Once 7pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Phantom of the Opera, The 7pm 2pm, 8pm 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm DARK
Pippin 8pm 2:30pm, 8pm 8pm 8pm 2:30pm, 8pm 3pm
Real Thing, The 7pm 2pm, 7pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm
River, The 7pm 2pm,7pm 2pm,7pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Rock of Ages 7pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Side Show 7pm 2pm, 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
This Is Our Youth 7pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm,
Wicked 7pm 2pm, 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
You Can’t Take It With You 7pm 2pm, 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm

A Delicate Balance Reviews and Pictures: Glenn Close Back on Broadway

A DELICATE BALANCE Glenn CloseGlenn Close returns to Broadway after an absence of many years, as Agnes to John Lithgow’s Tobias,  a wealthy middle-aged couple whose seemingly serene suburban existence is revealed as a  nightmare involving family and friends, in Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance,” which is opening tonight and scheduled to run at the John Golden Theater through February 22, 2015.  The cast also features Bob Balaban, Lindsay Duncan, Claire Higgins, and Martha Plimpton.

Directed by Pam MacKinnon (who previously paired with Albee on “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”), this is the third production of “A Delicate Balance” on Broadway. The original in 1966, starring Jessica Tandy and Hugh Cronyn, and featuring a Tony-winning performance by Marian Seldes as their spoiled daughter Julia, won for the playwright his first of (so far) three Pulitzer Prizes for Drama, even though critic Walter Kerr had called it “an elegantly lacquered empty platter.”

What do the current-day critics think of this production?

Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Albee is still what he always was, a wildly uneven author whose worst plays are so bad that it hardly seems possible that they were written by the same man who gave us the best ones. Where does “A Delicate Balance” fall on that spectrum? At its best, it’s thought-provoking and sometimes challenging, but it takes a long time to get moving, and I wonder whether modern-day audiences will be willing to wait for it. …Ms. Close’s performance is quiet, tasteful and underprojected, not surprising for an actor who has been absent from the stage for so long. Mr. Lithgow, by contrast, is in extraordinary form, by turns tightly inhibited and almost shockingly anguished.

Ben Brantley, New York Times As you would expect of these highly accomplished, multi-award-winning cast members, none of them are bad. But they’re giving us the play, instead of living it

 Mark Kennedy AP a revival where everyone does great work

Joe Dziemianowicz, Daily News, 4 out of 5 stars  a very good production that’s cool, well-composed and captivating….Close, with her aristocratic take on Agnes, comes within inches of coming off as arch. That approach doesn’t hurt the character. But Close’s unintentional habit of tripping over Albee’s dialogue doesn’t help. Lithgow, meantime, is riveting every moment he’s on stage — which is a lot — even when Tobias is silent.

Elizabeth Vincentelli, NY Post, 2 1/2 stars out of 4: This new “A Delicate Balance” is like a Christmas fruitcake that’s been left out too long: It’s boozy and loaded with goodies — Glenn Close! John Lithgow! — but it’s also on the dry side….Lithgow is best when Tobias is playing along with the women in his life, but his big letting-it-all-out scene feels forced. And Close’s one-note, tight-lipped performance keeps the audience at arms’ length,

 Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times: ….This is an ensemble effort, with no one performer stealing the show as Elaine Stritch did when she played Claire in the 1996 Lincoln Center Theatre revival. The performances are all sharp — Higgins’ Edna is especially crisp — but they’re still coalescing. This is the kind of work that will deepen over time.

More below the photographs.

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Linda Winer, Newsday: although the play still dazzles with wit, gorgeous writing and the lurking terror of mortality, we miss the accumulating shock (the playwright) gave to the characters’ lives of cozy self-satisfaction (in a previous production.)…Lithgow is droll and manor-born as the retired Tobias, though we never believe he is as ineffectual as Agnes claims. Oddly, Close, who has three best-actress Tonys, seemed daunted at a recent preview by Agnes’ exhilarating but Olympian monologues. Stumbling over the words is a special problem for a silver fox who fancies herself the fulcrum of the family’s equilibrium. For reasons unknown, while designer Ann Roth dresses everyone else with an acute timeless conflation of the mid-’60s and today, Close’s Agnes is overdressed to distraction, lounging around the living-room in gowns and jewels….Nothing, alas, is delicate.

Marc Snetiker, Entertainment Weekly: B In her first leading Broadway appearance since 1994’s Sunset Boulevard, Glenn Close makes a comfy return to the stage as the self-important Agnes, whose self-pity is as dramatic as her pashminas. Close exudes the kind of veteran flair and magnetism you’d presume from such a marquee name. But although this seems to be Close’s marquee, it’s John Lithgow who runs away with the show


Jesse Green, New York Magazine Close, her eyes gleaming with Agnes’s useless intelligence, is superb with this material, totally believable as a lockjawed suburban virago. More fully even than Rosemary Harris, who played the role in the great 1996 revival, Close justifies Albee’s rewrite of the line “our dear Republicans, as dull as ever” to “as brutal as ever” for that production. Alas, he did not have to change it back for this one.

David Cote, Time Out New York: 4 stars out of 5…Pam MacKinnon directs this solid revival with a keen ear for the curling, teasing rhythms of Albee’s ornate lines, and the performances are top-notch, including the perfectly deadpan Balaban and a sinister Higgins as the unwelcome guests. Martha Plimpton finds sympathetic notes in the difficult, shrill role of Julia, and Close and Lithgow handle their tricky speeches with grace and nuance. If Close is a touch too frosty, she’s thawed by Lithgow’s warmth.

Jeremy Gerard, Deadline Hollywood: the affable Tobias of John Lithgow smolders, bursts into flame and slowly grows cold. It’s as rich a performance as I’ve ever seen…Nothing in Pam MacKinnon’s finely calibrated but emotionally uneven and infrequently unnerving staging measures up to the sheer power of either Albee’s dramaturgy or Lithgow’s inhabitance of Tobias.

 Matt Windman, AM New York: two stars out of four.  surprisingly flat and likely to disappoint both those unfamiliar with the three-act play, as well as those who still remember its much acclaimed revival from two decades ago with Elaine Stritch and Rosemary Harris

Side Show Review: Broadway Comeback of Hilton Sister Musical

The real Hilton sisters

The real Hilton sisters

Daisy and Violet Hilton, twin sisters permanently connected at the hip by a ribbon of flesh, were spectacularly popular entertainers in the 1920’s, so it seems fitting that “Side Show,” a musical about them that lasted just a few months on Broadway when it debuted in 1997, is back on Broadway in a spectacularly entertaining production. There’s nothing more quintessentially show business than a comeback, especially for a show with such a cult following; it was by far the most eagerly anticipated musical of the Broadway season in a poll I conducted.
The show’s devotees will surely debate the many changes in this production (which received huzzahs in both La Jolla, California and Washington D.C)  There are flashbacks now that show more of the Hilton’s miserable upbringing; the male characters are more fleshed out; most noticeable of all, the design is way more explicit – the freaks of the side show, from Tattoo Girl to Lizard Man to Geek, are now unmistakable grotesques. But those less in thrall to the musical’s legacy are more likely to see that the “freakery” is itself largely but a side show. Yes, “Side Show” is a story about being an outsider, and about finding love — the best songs in the show, both sung by the sisters, are “Who Will Love Me As I Am,” which closes the first act

and “I Will Never Leave You,” the 11 o’clock number. But “Side Show” is also at heart a conventional show about show business,  a stars-are-born musical that doesn’t dig very deep. It does, however, allow for one musical number after another that are both visually splendid and wonderfully performed.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged

“Come look at the freaks, “ the ensemble sings at the very beginning of the show. The Hilton sisters, the outgoing Daisy (Emily Padgett) and the grounded Violet (Erin Davie) are the star attraction of a carnival run by their exploitative legal guardian known only as Sir (a terrifically slimy Robert Joy), when they are approached by a hustling producer Terry Connor (the always reliable Ryan Silverman) and his sidekick, the song-and-dance man Buddy (Matthew Hydzik.) They want to turn them from a sideshow exhibit into vaudeville stars, on a par with Sophie Tucker and Fanny Brice and W.C. Fields. “I’m very well-connected,” Terry sings (one of the many new songs.)
“So are we,” Daisy cracks.
This doesn’t sit well with Jake (stand-out David St. Louis), who performs as an African cannibal in the sideshow, but who is actually from Hackensack, New Jersey, and whose primary job is to protect the sisters. He delivers the first of the power ballads of the evening, “The Devil You Know.”
With Terry’s help, the sisters take Sir to court, and win control over their own lives.
We see them in increasingly polished numbers, wearing one after another of Paul Tazewell’s dazzling costumes. Davie and Padgett manage to present distinctive flavors in their performances, but also exhibit in the coordination of their dancing exactly why audiences must have been so thrilled by the Hilton sisters.
The second act continues with their show business career but also turns into a love story – or, rather, a story about the difficulty of finding real love. Violet is in love with Buddy, and Buddy wants to marry her; but he’s gay. Jake is in love with Violet, but she can’t see an interracial relationship working. Terry wants Daisy, but only if she’ll undergo an operation that will separate her from her twin.

“Side Show” ends in 1932 with something of an affirmation of the sisters’ independence and individuality, but, to the credit of the creative team, there is a hint of a less-than-happy future; they are cast in a film called “Freaks,” which adds an edge to the song “Look at the Freaks” when the ensemble repeats it as the closing number.  This is nowhere near as sad as the actual story of the Hilton sisters, who lived some four more decades without any further success.  Having been abandoned by their latest manager at a drive-in, they worked their final years as grocery store clerks. But “Side Show” is, after all, a Broadway musical.

Side Show

At the St.James Theater

Book and lyrics by Bill Russell; music by Henry Krieger; additional book material by Bill Condon; directed by Mr. Condon; choreography by Anthony Van Laast; musical direction and arrangements by Sam Davis; sets by David Rockwell; costumes by Paul Tazewell; lighting by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer; sound by Peter Hylenski; special makeup and effects by Dave Elsey and Lou Elsey; hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe; makeup design by Cookie Jordan; illusion consultant, Paul Kieve; orchestrations by Harold Wheeler;

Cast: Erin Davie (Violet Hilton), Emily Padgett (Daisy Hilton), Matthew Hydzik (Buddy Foster), Robert Joy (Sir), Ryan Silverman (Terry Connor), David St. Louis (Jake) and Blair Ross (Auntie/Bearded Lady/Ensemble).

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.

Update December 12: The producers announced that Side Show will close on Broadway on January 4, 2015

The River Review: Hugh Jackman, Two Women, and a Sea Trout

They’ve asked us not to reveal the ending of “The River,” a play by Jez Butterworth (author of “Jerusalem”) starring Hugh Jackman as a man who likes to fish. But I’m not sure what difference knowing the ending would make, since it’s only slightly less enigmatic than the beginning or the middle of this play.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged.

The man (he’s not given a name) has invited the woman (also without a name, portrayed by Cush Jumbo) to join him in his remote cabin built on a cliff above a river, that has belonged to his family for generations. We gather from their conversation that she is his new girlfriend. Some of her comments are drily amusing, almost (but not quite) repartee. She wants to show him the beautiful sunset. He is too busy gathering his fishing equipment for some night-time fishing; since there’s no moon, the sea trout will be out in force, a once-a-year phenomenon that will be a wonder to behold. She is not sure she wants to go.

Blackout. We see the man calling the police to report a missing person. But then we hear a woman’s voice – she’s not missing after all; false alarm – but the woman who then appears on stage is, as it says in the program, The Other Woman (Laura Donnelly), and, when the man asks her what happened to her, she explains that, when they went out to fish at night, she lost track of him, and went wandering, and ran into another fisherman, who helped her catch a big trout. She gives the man the trout. He begins to prepare it for cooking. The Other Woman (Donnelly) then goes offstage into the bedroom, and it is The Woman (Jumbo) who returns.

And so it goes, for the 85 minutes of the play, alternating scenes of the man with the woman and then with the other woman. Not much happens. Some moments are repeated; both the woman and the other woman, for example, talk about a robin that got caught in the cabin. The characters talk a lot about fishing, and about love, so that one suspects the playwright is using one as a metaphor for the other. The man tells the woman (or was it the other woman?) that he has never invited any other woman to his cabin, that he vowed only to invite his one true love there – that if he ever invited any woman afterwards, his love for her would be a lie. Both women talk of a sketch they’ve discovered in the cabin of another woman in a red dress.

“The River” is darkly lit, atmospheric, best thought of as a stage poem (the characters often speak as if reciting a poem, and actually recite a few), or a puzzle embedded with clues, with the slightest of payoffs at the end. For those with little tolerance for ambiguity or obscurity, it’s a lot of hooey. For fans of Hugh Jackman, it’s a chance to see him in the flesh, gutting and then cooking a trout.

The River

Circle in the Square Theater

By Jez Butterworth

Ian Rickson (Direction), Ultz (Scenic and Costume Design), Charles Balfour (Lighting Design), Ian Dickinson for Autograph (Sound Design), Stephen Warbeck (Music)

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Laura Donnelly, Cush Jumbo

Tickets: $35 – $175

Running time: 85 minutes with no intermission

The River is scheduled to run through January 25, 2015

November 2014 Openings Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway

Three Broadway shows — The River, Side Show and A Delicate Balance – are opening in November, as are some two dozen Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway# plays and musicals.   This makes for tough choices or a severely hectic schedule for avid theatergoers, especially since five of the shows are opening on November 16th alone – and four more the very next night!

Below is a list, organized chronologically by opening date, with descriptions of most of the shows. Each title is linked to a relevant website.

Nothing, of course, is guaranteed about any of these shows, even those that seem the most promising. (This is why I write reviews.)

Color key: Broadway: Red or Gray✫. Off Broadway: Blue or Light Blue✫. Off Off Broadway: Green.

* Asterisks are next to those shows to which I have been invited (and plan) to review as of this writing.(This will likely change as the month progresses.)

November 3

*The Oldest Boy (Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater)

Sarah Ruhl’s latest play tells the story of Tenzin, the toddler son of an American woman (to be played by Celia Keenan-Bolger) and a Tibetan man (Joel de la Fuente) who is recognized as the reincarnation of a high Buddhist teacher

November 5

*Wiesenthal (Acorn Theatre)

Written by and starring Tom Dugan, the play tells the true story of Simon Wiesenthal, more than 1,100 Nazi war criminals to justice.

November 6

*Sticks and Bones (The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center)

With a cast that includes Richard Chamberlain, Holly Hunter and Bill Pullman, the New Group opens its 20th Anniversary season with the first major New York revival of David Rabe’s Tony Award-winning play Sticks and Bones, “a savage and savagely comic portrait of an average American family pulled apart by the return of a son from the Vietnam War.”

You Got Older (HERE Arts Center)

Directed by Anne Kauffman, and featuring Reed Birney and Brooke Bloom: Mae comes home to take care of Dad.

The New York City Icon Plays: Love in Irish Pub (Quinn’s Bar)

Eight short plays presented in a real Times Square area Irish Bar

Powerhouse (New Ohio Theatre)

The life of idiosyncratic composer and electronic music pioneer Raymond Scott, whose  compositions were used in countless Looney Tunes cartoons of the 1940s and 1950s.

November 11

Lost Lake (MTC at New York City Center – Stage 1)

A new play by David Auburn ( Proof): Veronica (Tracie Thoms) rents a lakeside property and is pulled into the problems of its owner (John Hawkes).

November 12

*Grand Concourse (Playwrights Horizons)

Called to a life of religious service, Shelley is the devoted manager of a Bronx soup kitchen, but lately her heart’s not quite in it. Enter Emma: an idealistic but confused young volunteer, whose recklessness pushes Shelley to the breaking point.”

Written by Heidi Schreck and directed by Kim Fagan, the play features a four-member cast that includes Bobby Moreno, who was so amazing in The Year of the Rooster.

November 13

Lypsinka! The Trilogy (The Connelly Theater)


November 16

*The River (Circle in the Square Theatre)

A trout fisherman in a remote cabin tries to hook a woman into some night-time fishing. Two words: Hugh Jackman.

*Our Lady of Kibeho (Signature Theatre,The Irene Diamond Stage)

Katori Hall (The Mountaintop) is inspired a true story: In 1981, a village girl in Rwanda claims to see the Virgin Mary. Ostracized by her schoolmates and labeled disturbed, everyone refuses to believe, until others start to see her as well.

The Erlkings (Theatre Row- Beckett)

A look at the perpetrators of the Columbine High School massacre.

Tamburlaine, Parts I and II (Polonsky Shakespeare Center)

The Elizabethan play by Christopher Marlowe, edited and directed by Michael Boyd, starring John Douglas Thompson

Major Barbara (The Pearl)

November 17

*Side Show (St. James Theatre)

The Hilton twins, Daisy and Violet, were in real life conjoined twins who were trained by their guardians to become performers, and became the highest paid performers on the vaudeville circuit. “Side Show” purports to tell their story.

This “reimagined” revival of the 1997 musical was well-received in D.C., and is one of the most anticipated shows of the season.

Punk Rock (MCC Theater)

Simon Stephens (who adapted The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) writes about a group of highly-articulate 17-year-old British private school students preparing for their A-Level mock exams, while hormones rage.

Straight White Men (Public Theater)

Young Jean Lee, an innovative downtown playwrights, “defies expectations with a conventionally structured take on the classic American father-son drama….When Ed (Austin Pendleton) and his three adult sons come together to celebrate Christmas, they enjoy cheerful trash-talking, pranks, and takeout Chinese. Then they confront a problem that even being a happy family can’t solve….what is the value of being a straight white man?”

Blank! The Musical (New World Stages)

“Each night, a talented ensemble takes to the stage—with no script, no rehearsal, and no idea what will happen—to perform a brand-new smash hit musical… that you help to create!”

November 18

By The Water (NY City Center – Stage II)

The play by Sharyn Rothstein looks at the effect of Hurricane Sandy on one family.

November 19

Allegro (CSC)

This revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s least known musical, written after their success with Oklahoma and Carousel, follows the life of a physician named Joe Taylor, Jr.

November 20

A Delicate Balance (Golden Theatre)

Glenn Close returns to Broadway in a cast that includes John Lithgow and Martha Plimpton in another one of Edward Albee’s caustic Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpieces, about a long-married couple who must maintain their equilibrium as over the course of a weekend they welcome home their 36-year old daughter after the collapse of her fourth marriage, and give shelter to their best friends who seek refuge in their home, all the while tolerating Agnes’ alcoholic live-in sister. The Edward Albee-Pam MacKinnon match-up, which brought us the priceless recent Broadway production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” holds great promise to repeat the feat.

Pitbulls (Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre)

Keith Josef Adkins, a playwright best-known as the founding artistic director of New Black Fest,writes about a pariah named Mary in a small black community in rural Appalachia — pitbull country – who is viewed suspiciously when a pitbull is killed on the Fourth of July.

On A Stool At The End Of A Bar (59E59 Theaters – B)

November 23

*A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations) (Signature Theatre)

Sam Shepard’s “dark, fragmented, modern-day take” on Oedipus Rex

Me, My Mouth and I (Cherry Lane)

Written and performed by Joy Behar.

November 24

Self Made Man: The Frederick Douglass Story (Arclight Theater)

Frederick Douglass arrives back to his place of birth where he is planning to murder his former owner. But first he tells us his life story.

* Asterisks are next to those shows to which I have been invited (and plan) to review as of this writing.(Consider this a work in progress.)

✫Grey means Broadway shows, and light blue means Off-Broadway shows, to which I’ve been invited past the opening.

#The list includes only a small selection of the shows Off-Off Broadway, with an emphasis on those running more than two weeks and with official openings.

For a look at the whole season, check out Fall 2014 Broadway Preview Guide and Off-Broadway Preview Guide


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