A Bronx Tale Review

 Bobby Conte Thornton as Calogero and Nick Cordero as Sonny

Bobby Conte Thornton as Calogero and Nick Cordero as Sonny

“A Bronx Tale,” the new Broadway musical co-directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks, tells a story that its author, Chazz Palminteri, says is true: He really did witness a mob killing as a kid in the Bronx and kept quiet about it, winning over the local mobster, who became in effect his second father – posing a challenge to Palminteri’s real father, an honest bus driver. Palminteri also really did date an African-American girl when he was a teenager.

But the musical that’s opened at the Longacre – the third “A Bronx Tale,” after Palminteri’s solo stage play that debuted Off-Broadway in 1989, and the 1993 De Niro movie – seems based less on a true story than on other Broadway musicals. The characters feel borrowed from “Jersey Boys” and “Guys and Dolls,” the plot in Act II from “West Side Story.” And Alan Menken’s score, a pleasing if generic mix of doo-wop and Motown and Broadway ballads, manages to make “A Bronx Tale” feel like an old jukebox musical, even though all of the songs are original and none of them likely to become hits.

Robert De Niro, co-director of A Bronx Tale

Robert De Niro, co-director of A Bronx Tale

This familiarity has its advantages. There’s a Broadway sheen to “A Bronx Tale,” a show that is put together by a group of seasoned Broadway pros. (The single exception is De Niro, making his Broadway debut as a director, although his contribution to the end result is less clear than Zaks’.)

Now, it may be true that each member of the creative team has done his best work elsewhere, and that “A Bronx Tale” is unlikely to make anybody’s top 10 list. But the show is also unlikely to disappoint theatergoers nostalgic for the old neighborhood and the old-time Broadway show. There is an audience for surface entertainment if it’s polished enough. So, yes, maybe the grit from the old Italian-American neighborhood of Belmont Avenue has been scrubbed clean, but there is craftsmanship on display in the look of the show, from the set design by Beowulf Boritt (Act One, On The Town) that cleverly suggests a fire escape-dotted tenement neighborhood circa 1960 to the lighting design by Howell Binkley (Hamilton) that bathes the stage in hues of hot red and jazzy blue. The choreography by Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys, On Your Feet) is efficient and effective.

Click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged.

The same can be said about the cast. The character Calogero — stand-in for Chazz Palminteri (whose real first name is Calogero) — is portrayed by two actors. Hudson Loverro is terrific as a swaggering nine-year-old Calogero. As the teenage Calogero, Bobby Conte Thornton, who supplies the (often unnecessary) narration, has good looks and a good voice, and isn’t required to act very much. Ariana DeBose is a charming and mellifluous presence as Jane, the only woman character that has anything approaching a distinctive personality. Richard H. Blake portrays Lorenzo, Calagero’s father, a stolid counterpoint to the more exciting Sonny.

As Sonny, Nick Cordero shines in A Bronx Tale, a mobster as cool and generous as Sinatra, and as casually ruthless as any Goodfella. When he takes Calogero under his wing, there seems genuine affection there, and it’s clear why Calogero would become besotted, especially after Sonny in an act of mercy gives Calogero the nickname “C.” At the same time, Cordero’s Sonny isn’t a panda bear; he can turn vicious on a dime, and he trusts no one — traits that he himself sees as limitations.   Cordero even sings my favorite song in the show, “One of the Great Ones,” and is the main voice in the amusing “Nicky Machiavelli.” Nick Cordero is, in short, the best thing about “A Bronx Tale.”

Ironically, the actor feels rescued from “Waitress,” in which he had the thankless role of the abusive husband Earl; before that, he was the best thing by far in the stage adaptation of “Bullets Over Broadway.” This poses an interesting dilemma: Is it better to have a mediocre role in a good show, or be the best thing in a mediocre one?


A Bronx Tale

Longacre Theater

Book by Chazz Palminteri; Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Glenn Slater; Choreography by Sergio Trujillo; Directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks

Set designed by Beowulf Boritt, costumes designed by William Ivey Long, lighting design by Howell Binkley, sound designed by Gareth Owen

Cast Nick Cordero, Richard H. Blake, Bobby Conte Thornton, Ariana DeBose, Lucia Giannetta, Bradley Gibson, Gilbert L. Bailey II, Joe Barbara, Michael Barra, Jonathan Brody, Ted Brunetti, Brittany Conigatti, Kaleigh Cronin, Trista Dollison, David Michael Garry, Rory Max Kaplan, Dominic Nolfi, Christiani Pitts, Paul Salvatoriello, Joey Sorge, Cary David Tedder, Kirstin Tucker, Keith White, Michelle Aravena, Gerald Caesar, Charlie Marcus, Wonu Ogunfowora, Hudson Loverro and Joseph J. Simeone

Running time: Two hours, including on intermission

Tickets: $77 to $187


Buy tickets to A Bronx Tale


Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway: Review, pics, video

“Dear Evan Hansen” has changed now that it’s on Broadway, in ways that make it an even more affecting musical. Ben Platt’s performance, impressive from the get-go, is even better. But what’s changed the most is the world outside the theater, turning the story of a lie that gets out of hand into something more realistic and unfortunately more relevant.

Click on any photograph by Matthew Murphy to see it enlarged.

The plot’s trajectory seemed fanciful to me half a year ago, before the subject of “viral fake news” itself went viral. It is also bracing to realize that I omitted an important and relevant matter with which the musical deals…how much Evan and his mother Heidi (Rachel Bay Jones) are struggling financially, and how resentful Heidi is..

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

December 2016 New York Theater Openings

Four shows are opening on Broadway this month, three of them new musicals: “A Bronx Tale” marks the Broadway debut of Robert De Niro as a “co-director,” although Jerry Zaks is reportedly doing the heavy lifting.  “Dear Evan Hansen,”  a cult hit Off Broadway by the team of Pasek and Paul, is transferring to the Music Box.  And “In Transit,” another Off-Broadway hit, is co-written by Kristin Anderson-Lopez, who went on to compose the music with her husband Bobby Lopez for “Frozen.”

But some of the most thrilling theater in December is happening Off-Broadway — including “Othello” directed by Sam Gold, starring David Oyelowo and Daniel Craig; Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) in an adaptation of the bestseller “Tiny Beautiful Things” directed by Hamilton’s Tommy Kail; and “The Dead, 1904,” starring Boyd Gaines and Kate Burton, a re-creation of the dinner party at the center of James Joyce’s “The Dead,” in which theatergoers are among the dinner guests.

And then, this being December, there are Christmas plays up the wazoo — too numerous to include here.

Below is a selection of the plays, musicals and less easily categorized theater pieces opening in December, organized chronologically by opening date. Each title is linked to a relevant website. Also included are links to buy tickets (if you can’t get them at the box office.)

Color key: Broadway: Red. Off Broadway: Purple or Blue. Off Off Broadway: Green.
To look at the season as a whole, check out Broadway Preview Guide 2016-17 and Off-Broadway Fall 2016

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December 1

A Bronx Tale (Longacre)

A Bronx Tale The Musical Pre-opening information; subject to change A Bronx Tale The Musical View More Images Longacre Theatre, (12/01/2016 - ) First Preview: Nov 03, 2016 Total Previews: Opening Date: Dec 01, 2016 Closing Date: Total Performances: Category: Musical, Drama, Original, Broadway A Bronx Tale The Musical tickets Official Website Opening Night Credits Production Staff Theatre Owned / Operated by The Shubert Organization (Philip J. Smith: Chairman; Robert E. Wankel: President) Produced by Tommy Mottola, The Dodgers and Tribeca Productions Book by Chazz Palminteri; Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Glenn Slater; Musical Director: Jonathan Smith; Music arranged by Ron Melrose; Music orchestrated by Doug Besterman Directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks; Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo Scenic Design by Beowulf Boritt; Costume Design by William Ivey Long; Lighting Design by Howell Binkley; Sound Design by Gareth Owen; Hair and Wig Design by Paul Huntley; Make-Up Design by Anne Ford-Coates Musical Supervisor: Ron Melrose Casting: Tara Rubin Casting; Press Representative: Boneau / Bryan-Brown; Fight Coordinator: Robert Westley Cast Richard H. Blake Lorenzo Nick Cordero Sonny Ariana DeBose Jane Lucia Giannetta Rosina Bradley Gibson Tyrone Bobby Conte Thornton Broadway debut Calogero Hudson Loverro Broadway debut Young Calogero Athan Sporek Young Calogero Alternate Gilbert L. Bailey II Joe Barbara Michael Barra Broadway debut Jonathan Brody Ted Brunetti Brittany Conigatti Kaleigh Cronin Trista Dollison David Michael Garry Rory Max Kaplan Dominic Nolfi Christiani Pitts Broadway debut Paul Salvatoriello Broadway debut Joseph J. Simeone Joey Sorge Cary Tedder Kirstin Tucker Swings: Michelle Aravena, Gerald Caesar, Charlie Marcus, Wonu Ogunfowora and Keith WhiteThe Bronx Tale, about a youth in the Bronx who against the wishes of his father gets involved in organized crime,  began life as a one-man show written and performed by Chazz Palminteri. It was then made into 1993 directed by and co-starring Robert De Niro. De Niro is co-directing the musical with Jerry Zaks, marking De Niro’s Broadway directorial debut.


Iluminate (New World Stages) 


Acrobatic dancing by performers wearing glow-in-the-dark costumes

My review of Iluminate  at a previous venue


December 3

Sgt. Stubby (St. Lukes Theater)


Subtitled “The Great American War Dog Musical,” the family-friendly show is inspired by the true story of a stray from New Haven, Connecticut who became a hero in World War I.


December 4

Dear Evan Hansen (Music Box)


A high school student pretends to have been best friends with a classmate who committed suicide in this musical by the songwriters of A Christmas Story: The Musical. This was a cult favorite Off-Broadway.  My review when it was Off-Broadway.


The Illusionists (The Palace)


On Broadway for the third holiday season in a row, The Illusionists will present magic from the early 20th century,

My review the first time around.


Sing (Theatre at St. Clements)


A South African and American Holiday Musical celebration starring and directed by Thula Dumakude.

December 5

The Babylon Line (Lincoln Center)


A play by Richard Greenberg about a writer from bohemian Greenwich Village who commutes to Levittown to teach a creative writing class that includes one student that reawakens his own artistic impulses. The cast includes Josh Radnor and Elizabeth Reaser.


December 6

Rancho Viejo (Playwrights Horizons) 

Rancho Viejo

In Dan LeFranc’s comedy of anxiety and awkward neighbors, the residents of the (fictional) affluent suburb of Rancho Viejo drift from one gathering to the next, wrestling life’s grandest themes while fending off existential despair — set against the lustful, yearning strains of a distant bolero. The cast includes Mark Blum and Mare Winningham.

December 7

Tiny Beautiful Things (The Public) 

Tiny Beautiful Things for calendar

Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) plays Sugar, an anonymous online advice columnist in a Vardalos’ stage adaptation of the book of the same name by Cheryl Strayed. Directed by Thomas Kail (Hamilton.)


December 8

The Band’s Visit (Atlantic Theater)


This musical with a book by Itamar Moses (Fortress of Solitude) and music by David Yazbek (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), and directed by David Cromer (Our Town), with a cast including Tony Shalhoub and John Cariani, is an adaptation the 2007 film about an Egyptian Police Band that arrives in Israel to play a concert but is sent by mistake to a remote village in the middle of the desert.


Anna Christie (The Wild Project) 


Eugene O’Neill’s drama of a woman torn between the expectations of men and the secrets of her past, gets a timely retelling under the direction of Peter Roberts.

The Dead, 1904 (Irish Rep)


Based on the novella by James Joyce, “The Dead,1904 is a new adaptation in which an audience of 40 guests will themselves attend the Misses Morkan’s holiday party, move from room to room with the actors, listen to the music, watch the dances, dine on a meal inspired by the menu in the novella, and observe the characters in their interactions.  The production will take place in an authentic Victorian mansion.” It stars Kate Burton and Boyd Gaines.

December 11

In Transit (Circle in the Square)



Broadway’s first a capella musical — no orchestra — chronicles the intertwining lives of 11 subway riders. It was a  hit Off-Broadway in 2010. Co-written by Kristin Lopez-Anderson, now known for Frozen. Its 16-member cast includes Justin Guarini, Telly Leung and Erin Mackey.


December 12

Othello (NY Theatre Workshop)



Sam Gold directs David Oyelowo (Selma) in the title role and Daniel Craig (Betrayal, Spectre) as Iago in Shakespeare’s tragedy.


December 14

Nina Conti In Your Face (Barrow Street Theater) 


With handcrafted masks that transform audience members into “live puppets,” along with her sidekick, the “foul-mouthed” Monkey, Conti creates a hilarious new show nightly. This is ventriloquism for a new generation

Martin Luther On Trial (The Pearl)


With Satan as the prosecutor and Luther’s wife for the defense, witnesses including Adolf Hitler, Sigmund Freud, Rabbi Josel, St. Paul, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Pope Francis take the stand. Even as 2017 marks 500 years since Luther ignited the Protestant Revolt against Rome, he continues to spark intense debate

December 19

Bright Colors and Bold Patterns (Barrow Street Theatre) 


A one-man show written by and starring Drew Droege. “Josh and Brennan are about to get married in Palm Springs on a lovely Saturday afternoon. However, the night before becomes a drunken, drug-fueled scream riot, because their friend Gerry has arrived, furious that their invitation says “please refrain from wearing bright colors or bold patterns.”

What to See on Broadway Thanksgiving Week 2016

The turkey float in the Thanksgiving Day parade

The 90th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will feature (as it traditionally does) numbers from Broadway musicals — on CBS, The Color Purple,  On Your Feet, and School of Rock; on NBC, Cats, Holiday Inn, Paramour and Waitress. But you can also see the whole shows on Broadway during Thanksgiving Week.

Scroll down to the bottom for  the Broadway schedule for the week — most shows are dark on Thanksgiving Day, but have added matinees for the day after.

Here too are my recommendations, first for new shows that have opened this season so far, and then evergreens suitable for young children.

Recommended New Shows

In truth, I can only wholeheartedly recommend one show that’s opened on Broadway this season so far, so the following list is stacked with Off-Broadway shows. In alphabetical order:

Finian’s Rainbow


At the Irish Rep, a four-piece orchestra and a 13-member cast led by the glorious Melissa Errico do delicious justice to the show’s terrific tuneful melodies, written by composer Burton Lane (whose long career on Broadway and in Hollywood included the discovery of Judy Garland) and lyricist Yip Harburg (who wrote the lyrics to more than 500 songs, including “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”, “April in Paris”, and many of the songs for “The Wizard of Oz.”) The 15 songs in “Finian’s Rainbow” are an inspiring mix of Irish folk tunes, Southern mountain melodies, Tin Pan Alley, gospel and the blues.

Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

Josh Groban as Pierre and the cast of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway

Josh Groban as Pierre and the cast of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway

An opera with an unwieldy title based on Tolstoy’s War and Peace might seem like an unlikely crowd-pleaser, but Great Comet is the freshest, most inviting show on Broadway this season, especially awesome in its stagecraft. Nineteen of the cast members are making their Broadway debuts, including Josh Groban, who is stellar.

Notes From the Field

Notes from the Field 5

Anna Deavere Smith  portrays 17  disparate characters with her usual dazzling virtuosity, in presenting her argument that there is a school to prison “pipeline” for poor people and people of color.


Khris Davis and Will Pullen as friends who wind up in prison.

Khris Davis and Will Pullen as friends who wind up in prison.

Like Grapes of Wrath, Lynn Nottage’s play offers a devastating look at social and economic breakdown, told not with rants or statistics, but through a riveting tale about good people in a bad situation. The characters in Sweat live in Reading, Pennsylvania, which 2010 U.S. Census data identified as the poorest city in America.


Jennifer Ikeda as Tong and Raymond Lee as Quang

Jennifer Ikeda as Tong and Raymond Lee as Quang

Qui Nguyen’s rap-infused play about two Vietnamese refugees who fall in love is as puckish as a comic book. But for all the pop culture silliness, the playfulness with language, and the clever stagecraft, “Vietgone” paints complex and credible portraits of the two main characters.

Broadway shows for young children


James Monroe Iglehart

James Monroe Iglehart

The genie is James Monroe Iglehart, and he is the one who provides the bulk of the entertainment, morphing from showbiz master of ceremonies to carnival barker to infomercial huckster to game show host to Cab Calloway-like zoot-suiter to disco dj to hip-hopper in a Hawaiian shirt, to yes, a sparkling-suited magical genie who emerges amid smoke from a little lamp. Every number over which he presides – nearly every moment he is on stage –  answers the question that fans of the 1992 film Aladdin might have wondered about: How would Disney be able to translate to the stage the protean cartoon character of genie voiced by Robin Williams at his peak? The answer is James Monroe Iglehart, and the answer satisfies.

Tickets to Aladdin

The Lion King


Based on the 1994 Disney animated film about the coming-of-age of a young lion in the African jungle, this musical offers African-inflected music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice and the visual magic of Julie Taymor. Taymor is the director, a composer and lyricist for some of the songs. But above all, she is the designer of the costumes, masks, and puppets — and it is these visuals that make this show a good first theatrical experience — and worthwhile for any theatergoer no matter how experienced.

Tickets to The Lion King


Matilda 10

“Matilda” is based on Roald Dahl’s dark children’s book about a girl with extraordinary gifts who is at first unappreciated by the adults. The musical  offers dazzling stagecraft overseen by director Matthew Warchus, a faithful and intelligent book by David Kelly, and Tim Minchin’s clever lyrics. The production also, however, sometimes feels in need of a translator. It is very British both in milieu and in enunciation. A major reason to choose this show is that it is set to close on January 1, 2017.

Tickets to Matilda

School of Rock

School of Rock

In his first original musical on Broadway in a decade, Andrew Lloyd Webber has chosen to adapt a movie with a plot that could hardly be sillier, and supplies a new score that could hardly be more addictive. School of Rock – The Musical is full of both hard-charging rock n roll and supremely catchy melodies.

An implicit message of the musical — that rocking and stomping are far more important to fourth graders than math or history – could make a convincing case for the depravity of rock n roll. But if anybody is still alive to be receptive to that argument, they’re sure to be won over by the thrilling performances by the baker’s dozen of talented kids, several sure to share stardom with the adults.

Tickets to School of Rock


Wicked NY

Wicked NY

The musical tells the story of “The Wizard of Oz” from the witches’ perspective, more specifically from the Wicked Witch of the West, who was not, as a child, wicked at all, but just green-tinted, taunted, and misunderstood. There is so much to like about this musical, the clever twists on the familiar tale, the spectacular set, and music that is a lot more appealing in context (such as the song “Defying Gravity”) that I will forgive the contortions necessary to tack on a happy ending.

Tickets to Wicked

Tickets to Hamilton

Broadway’s Thanksgiving Week Schedule

As the Broadway schedule below for Thanksgiving week indicates, seven shows are performing Thanksgiving Day. A Bronx Tale; Chicago; Fiddler on the Roof; Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812; Paramour; Phantom of the Opera; and Waitress. Every other show is dark that day. But most have added matinees on Friday.Some dozen of the shows have also added a performance on the Monday before Thanksgiving.

The show names in the chart below are linked to my reviews, or other relevant articles, when available. I put an asterisk next to those shows that I enjoyed without significant reservation. (Or just one significant reservation — tickets are expensive.)

A key to understanding the chart:
Crossed out dates means canceled performance
Bold faced dates means added performance
Italic dates means a different than usual curtain time

SHOW Mon. Nov. 21 Tue. Nov. 22 Wed. Nov. 23 Thu. Nov. 24 Fri. Nov. 25 Sat. Nov. 26 Sun. Nov. 27
*Aladdin DARK 7pm 1pm, 7pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm, 6:30pm
Alton Brown Live DARK 8pm 8pm DARK 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 1pm, 5:30pm
Beautiful 7pm 7pm 2pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm, 7pm
*The Book of Mormon DARK 7pm 2pm,7pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 7pm
A Bronx Tale 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Cats 8pm 7pm 7:30pm DARK 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm, 7pm
The Cherry Orchard 7pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm
Chicago 8pm 8pm 8pm 8pm 2:30pm, 8pm 2:30pm, 8pm 2:30pm, 7pm
*The Color Purple 7pm 7pm 2pm, 7pm DARK 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
*Dear Evan Hansen 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
The Encounter DARK 7pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Falsettos DARK 7pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Fiddler on the Roof DARK 7pm 2pm, 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
The Front Page DARK 7pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
*Hamilton DARK 7pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Heisenberg 7pm 7pm 2pm, 7pm 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm
Holiday Inn DARK 8pm 2pm, 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm
*The Humans DARK 7pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
The Illusionists DARK 7pm DARK 7pm 3pm, 8pm 11am, 3pm, 8pm 1pm, 6:30pm
In Transit 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Jersey Boys DARK 7pm 2pm, 7pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Kinky Boots DARK 7pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Les Liasons Dangereuses DARK 7pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
*Lion King DARK 7pm 2pm, 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm, 6:30pm
*Matilda 7pm 7pm 2pm DARK 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm, 6:30pm
*Natasha, Pierre… DARK 7pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Oh, Hello 8pm 8pm 8pm 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm, 7pm
*On Your Feet! 8pm 7pm 8pm DARK 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm, 7pm
Paramour 7pm 7pm 7pm 5pm DARK 3pm 2pm
Phantom of the Opera 8pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 7pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm DARK
*School of Rock 7pm 7pm 2pm, 7pm DARK 7:30pm 2pm, 7:30pm 1pm, 6pm
Something Rotten! 7pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
*Waitress DARK 7:30pm 2pm, 7:30pm 7:30pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
*Wicked DARK 7pm 2pm, 7:30pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 7pm

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Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway: Review, Pics, Videos

An opera with an unwieldy title based on Tolstoy’s War and Peace seemed an unlikely crowd-pleaser, but I was thrilled when I saw it Off-Broadway, first at Ars Nova in 2012, and again in a circus tent in 2013. When they announced a Broadway run, however, I wondered how they could possibly pull it off.

They’ve done it! Now installed in the wondrously transformed Imperial Theater on Broadway, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is extraordinary, the freshest, most inviting show on Broadway this season. Great Comet is especially awesome in its stagecraft, as well as in its music, and in its performances. The large, exciting cast includes nearly two dozen who are making their Broadway debuts, including Denee Benton and Josh Groban as the titular characters….Director Rachel Chavkin and set designer Mimi Lien in particular deserve kudos for staging on Broadway something very close to the kind of immersive theater that’s lately been intriguing theatergoers all over the world – everywhere but Broadway, until now.

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photographs by Chad Batka or Jonathan Mandell to see them enlarged.

Dust and Ashes


Sonya Alone

The Prologue

Falsettos Review: Andrew Rannells, Christian Borle as a gay couple

After seeing the current revival of “Falsettos,” New York Times critic Charles Isherwood deemed it perfect, while the New Yorker’s Hilton Als considered it perfectly awful.

“There’s hardly a moment in the exhilarating, devastating revival of the musical ‘Falsettos’ that doesn’t approach, or even achieve, perfection,” Isherwood writes.

“The rot at the center of ‘Falsettos’ is slathered in self-congratulation,” writes Als, who labels it “one of the most dishonest musicals I have ever seen,” with “weak humor” and “hideously cheap sentiment.”

I wish I felt as passionately as either critic about the Lincoln Center production at the Walter Kerr, the first Broadway revival of a show that was hailed as groundbreaking in 1992. There is much I enjoyed about it, especially the performances of its exceptional seven-member cast, five of whom I’ve singled out for their previous work – Andrew Rannells, Christian Borle, Stephanie J. Block, Tracie Thoms and Brandon Uranowitz. But ultimately I found “Falsettos” neither terrible nor terrific, and that surprised me. I expected to be thrilled by it.

The show certainly has an intriguing history. It debuted on Broadway a quarter century ago, when the creative team of William Finn and James Lapine stuck together two shows that had debuted separately at Off-Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons —  “March of the Falsettos,” in 1981, and “Falsettoland” in 1990. Although written a decade apart, they take place only two years apart…but those two years represent two entirely different eras.

Act I (“March of the Falsettos”) is set in 1979. Marvin (Christian Borle) has left his wife Trina (Stephanie J. Block) and son Jason (Anthony Rosenthal) , because he has fallen in love with a man named Whizzer (Andrew Rannells.) Confused and blue, Trina seeks out Marvin’s psychiatrist Mendel (Brandon Uranowitz); Trina and Mendel fall in love with one another, and eventually marry.

Act II (“Falsettoland”) is set two years later, in 1981. We meet two new characters Marvin’s neighbors, the “spiky lesbians” Dr. Charlotte (Tracie Thoms), an Internist, and Cordelia (Betsy Wolfe), a self-described shiksa (non-Jewish) kosher caterer. Efficiently, Cordelia is chosen to cater Jason’s forthcoming Bar Mitzvah, and Dr. Charlotte notices that “Something Bad Is Happening” (the title of a song) to her patents – including Whizzer. His illness – never named – is, of course, AIDS.

For all its willingness to present ambivalent, bickering characters in complicated relationships, “Falsettos” feels dated in many ways. It has been overtaken not just by plays like “Angels in America” and musicals like “Fun Home,” but even by TV series like “Modern Family” and “The Fosters.” A reconfigured family is now a weekly given on TV. Perhaps as a result, “Falsettos” at times feels like an old-fashioned TV sitcom. For example, the lesbian couple’s existence seems to revolve entirely around the central characters; without a life of their own, they seem to be more plot devices than people. The show also at times recalls an old Borscht Belt entertainment in that (in what feels like a calculated nod to Broadway demographics) much is made of the characters being Jewish.

I’ll admit this sometimes hit the spot for me, such as in the family’s arguments over Jason’s Bar Mitzvah party, and everybody’s anxiety when Jason is up at bat:

We’re watching Jewish boys who cannot play baseball play baseball


Remember Sandy Koufax
You can do it if you wanna do it.
Take heart from Hank Greenberg
It’s not genetic
Even you can be copasetic

Now, it might have been possible for director James Lapine – who is also the co-writer and the original director of the show – to have used what’s out-of-date about the show to transport us back to the era. But the production resists establishing a clear timeline, preferring to pretend to be timeless, as reflected in the set design by David Rockwell. Rockwell’s sets for the recent revivals of On The Twentieth Century and She Loves Me both hit home runs for me, but here he punts with a generic backdrop of a city skyline, and colorless blocks of foam that serve variously as furniture and, at a climactic moment, as a tombstone.

As for the music, “Falsettos” is a sung-through musical with a score full of pleasantly bouncy songs and clever lyrics. The characters often sing separate lyrics simultaneously, woven together into a kind of aural tapestry. There is an impressive artfulness to these compositions. But the melodies produce no earworms, and the lyrics sometimes spin word pictures with the delicacy of a sledgehammer, albeit usually for comic effect, such as in the very first song, “Four Jews in a Room Bitching.”

So, yes, I’m unable to label “Falsettos” perfect, but I also don’t find it hideous. There are moments in this nearly three hour musical – such as the final, moving duet between Christian Borle and Andrew Rannells – when I’m nothing but glad they brought it back.

Walter Kerr Theater
Music by William Finn; Book and lyrics by William Finn and James Lapine; Directed by James Lapine
Cast Andrew Rannells, Christian Borle, Stephanie J. Block, Anthony Rosenthal, Betsy Wolfe, Tracie Thoms, Brandon Uranowitz
Running time: 2 hours and 40 minutes including one intermission
Falsettos is scheduled to run through January 8, 2017.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses Review: Miscast Liev Schreiber in Stylish Ode to Sexual Assault

In keeping with the casting of Liev Schreiber as a frilly 18th century French libertine in the ill-timed if stylish new Broadway revival of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, may I suggest some actors who could succeed him in the role?

Le Hulk (Lou Ferrigno)

La Roche (Dwayne Johnson)

Le Terminateur (Arnold Schwarzenegger)

Yes, I exaggerate. Schreiber is a versatile and accomplished actor who doesn’t just play violence-prone he-men, like the fixer Ray Donovan in the Showtime TV series or Eddie Carbone in his last foray on Broadway, the 2010 production of Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge. Besides, there will be no replacement cast in the Broadway revival of Les Liaison Dangereuses. The show runs only through January, a “strictly limited engagement” – which is a fairly accurate summary of my reaction to it.

Still, Liev Schreiber is either miscast or misdirected in a role that Alan Rickman first brought to life in the first Broadway production in 1987 and John Malkovich portrayed in the 1988 film adaptation of Christopher Hampton’s play, which is itself an adaptation of a novel written by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos in 1782. In these memorable performances, the Vicomte de Valmont is a character whose powers of seduction are not based on masculine virility but on a nearly feminine silkiness – and a willingness to be coldly and cruelly deceitful.

Sex is a parlor game and a power game for Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil (Janet McTeer), who is his ex-lover, confidante, and, as we eventually realize, bitter adversary. As the play begins, Valmont sets his sights on two new sexual conquests. The first is Madame de Tourvel (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen), who is religious, virtuous and married – her virtuousness the very reason Valmont wants her to succumb to him. The second is at Merteuil’s request – Cecile (Elena Kampouris), a naive fifteen-year-old educated in a convent who is about to be married off to a man who long ago left Madame Merteuil for another woman. It is a wrong Merteuil plans to avenge by having Valmont deflower his bride-to-be.

The play’s depiction of the process by which Valmont sets upon his missions, and of the complications that ensue, is meant to entertain us by straining its outrageous malice through its stylishness and wit. The look of this production is certainly impeccable. Mark Henderson’s lighting design stands out, for the chandeliers filled with actual lit candles that appear to be the major source of light. Tom Scutt’s costumes are sumptuous and his sets are telling – grand facades that are ostentatiously falling apart, filled with magnificent oil paintings and furnishings that are one by one removed, leaving nothing but emptiness. The production design thus hints at an authorial condemnation of the decadent goings-on. There is even the subtlest suggestion that the aristocratic characters’ immoral game-playing helps explain the forthcoming French Revolution. Add to this elements of the plot that feel like shades of the old Hollywood code, in which several of the characters end up paying a price for their depravity. All this surely allows the audience to feel less guilty about delighting in the cruelty of the characters. Indeed, I overheard someone implying that “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” is the kind of adult, sophisticated fare that you rarely see on Broadway these days. But strip away the British locutions, the elegant costumes and the fancy fencing, and the (mostly) quality performances: Does Valmont’s “seduction” of the child Cecile, in which he carries her onto the bed, and sticks his hand under her dress, in some way differ from a sexual assault? Are Valmont and Merteuil’s boasting accounts of sexual exploits all that distinguishable from the Access Hollywood “locker room talk” between Trump and Billy Bush?

Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Booth Theater
Directed by Josie Rourke. Sets & costumes, Tom Scutt; lighting, Mark Henderson; sound, Carolyn Downing; composer & music supervisor, Michael Bruce; fight director, Richard Ryan; production stage manager, Jane Grey.
Cast Janet McTeer, Liev Schreiber, Raffi Barsoumian, Katrina Cunningham, Ora Jones, Elena Kampouris, Mary Beth Peil, Josh Salt, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Joy Franz, David Patterson, Laura Sudduth.
Running time: two hours and 45 minutes including one intermission.
Tickets: $42- $149 (premium up to $275)
Les Liaisons Dangereuses is set to run through January 22, 2017

Update: Les Liaisons Dangereuses is closing two weeks early, on January 8, 2017.

Heisenberg Review: Mary-Louise Parker in fake romantic comedy

“Heisenberg” is a play starring Mary-Louise Parker as a wacky 42-year-old American who kisses a 75-year-old stranger on the neck in a London train station, setting off an improbable affair. Rather than the romantic comedy that the two-character play apparently aspires to be, “Heisenberg” is beneath it all a mystery. The mystery is how a team with such track records and talents – playwright Simon Stephens (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Punk Rock) director Mark Brokaw (How I Learned to Drive, The Lyons), Parker (Proof, Weeds) — could produce such gibberish.
In the first scene, Georgie (Parker) tells Alex (a blameless Denis Arndt, at age 77 making his Broadway debut) that she mistook him for her dead husband. Alex placidly accepts her apology, listens to her torrent of talk about herself (she tells him how much she enjoys her job as a waitress, etc.), politely responds to her inquiries about his identity – his name, his age, where he works (he’s a butcher.)
In the second scene, Georgie has tracked Alex down to his butcher shop, and tells him that everything she told him about herself in the first scene was a lie – she is not a widow, indeed never married, she’s not a waitress, etc.
The problem in Heisenberg is not that Georgie behaves like an outright psychotic rather than the usual charming eccentrics that Parker plays. Nor is it that Alex doesn’t react with alarm, but rather takes her out on a date and then accepts her invitation to sleep with her. The problem is that, in the six short scenes of this 80-minute play, there is scarcely a line that comes out of the woman’s mouth that sounds like anything anybody would actually say, except for a character contrived for the stage. “Do you find me exhausting but captivating?” she says at one point.
Alex fares only slightly better.
“Tell me something. I feel like all I’ve been doing all evening is talking,” Georgie says before she launches into another mini-monologue. Eventually, it’s Alex’s turn.
Alex: I can’t think.
Georgie: Please. Throw me a line. Give me something to hold onto. Surprise me.
Alex: I find this kind of thing a bit tricky.
Georgie: I know.
Alex: Just thinking up things to say. It feels a little random. A little

Yes indeed. Later, as if to give Alex equal twee time as Georgie, he’s forced to say: “I compose little poems in my head. I’m like a deranged septuagenarian pooh bear.”

What’s left to say about a rom-com in which the most romantic thing the couple does is travel together to Jersey City, New Jersey?

Everything about “Heisenberg,” in short, is fake, including its title, a pretentious allusion to physicist Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics, which the playwright obviously doesn’t understand.

Heisenberg’s Off-Broadway run at City Center last summer was sold out. The Manhattan Theatre Club has transferred the show to its larger, Broadway house, the Samuel J. Friedman. It’s still the same bare-bones production, with no scenery, an unadorned table and a couple of chairs; midway through, we’re treated to a pillow. Apparently as a way to compensate for the loss of the City Center’s intimacy, the stage at the Friedman is filled with seats for regular audience members, the actors performing on the lip that’s left. The result is that the two sometimes have their backs to the audience, and mostly perform in profile. The major advantage of this arrangement was that I got to watch some audience members during the show – I thought I spotted the terrific actress Lois Smith in the seventh row. Also, the curtain call offered some amusement, when Parker and Arndt both stuck their rear ends at us.

Written by Simon Stephens; Directed by Mark Brokaw
Set designed by Mark Wendland, lighting design by Austin R. Smith,
Costume design by Michael Krass, sound design by David Tieghem, choreographed by Sam Pinkleton
Cast: Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $70 to $165
Heisenberg is scheduled to run through December 4, 2016

The Front Page with Nathan Lane et al: Review, Pics

The best way to sum up the fourth Broadway revival of The Front Page, the 1928 play about Chicago newspapermen, is the way their ads do: Nathan Lane, John Slattery, John Goodman,Jefferson Mays, Holland Taylor….Robert Morse. The show’s appeal, in other words, rests largely in its star turns, which often feel like cameos…

Only one illustrious member of the large cast entirely escapes cameo status — Nathan Lane as Walter Burns, a scheming editor for whom no ploy is too low. Through the alchemy of his barking brilliance, Lane turns the entire third act into more or less a one-man show, everybody else transformed into his supporting players. But he doesn’t even appear on stage until the end of Act II.

Full review at DC Theatre Scene

Oh Hello on Broadway: Review, Pics

I was surprised at how little I laughed during Oh, Hello on Broadway, a comedy act by Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, who have been called “two of the hottest voices in comedy.” They portray Gil Faizon, a “Tony Award viewing” actor, and George St. Geegland, a failed novelist, who have been roommates for 40 years.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged.

What’s on stage at the Lyceum is not quite a real play with a plot, but also not quite a series of comedy sketches. It’s reminiscent of Wayne’s World, but without the narrative consistency, and The Pee-Wee Herman Show but without the colorfully inventive design… It’s 100 anarchic minutes of shtick and weirdness and throwaway notions and one-liners and scenes that mock the idea of scenes — the characters read aloud the stage directions, and make fun of such theatrical conventions as the one-sided telephone conversation. About halfway through, they offer a live episode of their Too Much Tuna parody prank show, in which an oversized tuna salad is delivered from above to a celebrity guest they’ve just interviewed.

Full review at DC Theatre Scene