by Dan Dinero on 5.20.19
The cast of Hadestown. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
BOTTOM LINE: Having a hard time deciding on a Broadway musical? Here are brief reviews of everything that is still running from this season.
Awards season—it’s that time of year when Broadway is humming, but it can be hard to know what to see. Do you go by number of nominations? Wait for awards to be handed out and risk having the show you had your eye on become the new impossible ticket? (Hadestown is already that show). Or do you just have folks coming to town and want to know what to bring them to? Hopefully we can help. Editor Dan Dinero (who has seen everything) will do a brief review of the musicals that are still playing from the current season.
* Updated 6/10 with Award wins
Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations
Award nominations: 12 Tony, 1 Drama Desk, 3 Outer Critics
Award wins: 1 Tony
Jukebox musicals are tricky; while Jersey Boys showed that it’s possible to have a well-written book, this kind of craft is rare. Ain’t Too Proud tells the story of the Temptations, and it does so adequately. I’m less impressed by the staging than some—if you want to see how many ways there are to see the names of random American cities displayed on large projections, this is the show for you. I’m also a little puzzled by the nominations for Dominique Morisseau’s book—I thought there were more than a few painfully cheesy lines. (Someone actually says “Temptation was everywhere…and I’m not talking about the group.") There are also some lost opportunities, like the potential to parallel the group’s history of repeatedly replacing one member with another (there have been 24 members over the years) to the mechanization of industry and the dehumanization of capitalism, a parallel I have no doubt Morisseau is aware of. I wonder if heightening this might have injected the show with another layer of storytelling, one it so sorely needs. But odds are, most people interested in seeing Ain’t Too Proud will love it just as it is. Certainly there are some great performances, even if lead Derrick Baskin doesn’t truly get the chance to shine until the very end. If you’re a fan of The Temptations, you’ll no doubt have a ball here.
Ain’t Too Proud plays at the Imperial Theatre. For tickets and more information visit ainttooproudmusical.com.
Award nominations: 8 Tony, 7 Drama Desk, 4 Outer Critics
Award wins: 1 Drama Desk, 1 Outer Critics
This show is kind of crazy, often fun, and then also somewhat puzzling. In many ways it’s the twin to Tootsie, but will (I’m betting) not do as well when the awards are handed out. Both are adapted from 80s movies, but have been rewritten rather significantly. Both feature terrific leading male performances and a strong supporting cast. Both have words (both book and lyrics) that are often hilarious, combined with music that forgettable, generic Broadway—the kind that only gets nominated because there aren’t many other options. And both are somewhat problematic—Tootsie has its gender issues, while Beetlejuice has some tricky race-related things. Where are the people of color? Why are there so many white people dancing to calypso music? Why is there a random Miss Argentina with some kind of pan-Latina accent? But if you can look past this (and there is a LOT of other stuff to look at) Beetlejuice has much to offer, especially in the first act. Again, it’s often insane, and some may find the manic energy a bit wearying. But while perhaps Tootsie is a better crafted musical, I definitely laughed harder and louder at Beetlejuice, the show that (I think) has more character, more spunk (which I’m sure would be music to Beetlejuice’s ears).
Beetlejuice plays at the Winter Garden Theatre. For tickets and more information visit beetlejuicebroadway.com.
Be More Chill
Award nominations: 1 Tony, 8 Drama Desk, 4 Outer Critics
Award wins: None
Be More Chill is sort of Dear Evan Hansen, Mean Girls, and Little Shop of Horrors all put in a blender and then shoved into The Matrix. Certainly it sounds promising, and Joe Iconis is a talented composer. But this is one show that I actually think suffered in its move to Broadway. While I didn’t love it Off Broadway, I was on its side. Now, it just feels garish, as if the (young) creative and producing team saw their new Broadway-sized budget and just went crazy. “Let’s do ALL THE THINGS.” Any charm this show had has been lost, except for a few select moments (like George Salazar’s second act number, which now feels like it should be occurring in some other musical). Many of the actors are mugging away as if their lives depended on it, lead Will Roland seems to have learned singing technique from Auto-Tune, and don’t get me started on the sad “tribute” to Bye Bye Birdie that is “The Smartphone Hour.” But hey—the audience I saw it with screamed and screamed. For the many fans who fell in love with this show online via its recording, getting to see this show on Broadway is no doubt thrilling. For everyone else, see Mean Girls instead.
The Cher Show
Award nominations: 3 Tony, 4 Drama Desk, 3 Outer Critics
Award wins: 2 Tony, 2 Drama Desk, 1 Outer Critics
Like last season’s Summer, the book for the Cher Show has three different actresses playing the living legend. While I thought this device worked better (or at least was more straight-forward) in Summer, The Cher Show is still a fun night out for Cher fans. All your favorite songs are here, as well as your favorite Bob Mackie designs, deftly reinterpreted for the rigors of a Broadway run. Stephanie J. Block does a fantastic job of playing Cher as a real person (i.e. without coming off like a bad (or even good) drag queen impression) and the other two Chers (Teal Wicks and Micaela Diamond) are solid as well. And it’s nice to see Emily Skinner back on Broadway, even if she’s underused here. Or if you prefer, go to see some of the sexiest Broadway dancers working today (including Charlie Williams, one of my all-time favorites). Director Jason Moore clearly knows who the audience for this is.
The Cher Show plays at the Neil Simon Theatre. For tickets and more information visit thechershowbroadway.com.
Award nominations: 14 Tony, 7 Drama Desk, 12 Outer Critics
Award wins: 8 Tony (incl. Best Musical), 4 Drama Desk, 6 Outer Critics (incl. Best Broadway Musical)
Hadestown is the clear choice for best musical of the year (which is why it’s already a tough ticket). I have to admit, I wasn’t a huge fan of this when it played at New York Theatre Workshop a few seasons back (a run that made it ineligible for certain Drama Desk categories). This just goes to show how much a musical can change if the creative team continues working on it, rather than making the leap right to Broadway. “Wait For Me” in act one may easily be the best musical number of the season thanks to the masterful combination of design, music, and performance, but the rest of the show is pretty great too. I love the fashioning of hell as a capitalist factory nightmare, and the use of the small ensemble is quite effective. And then there are the performances—Amber Gray, Patrick Page, and especially André De Shields—the minute he walks onstage, you know you are in the hands of a consummate professional. But best of all is Rachel Chavkin’s direction, who is somehow able to stage the ending of a well-known myth in such a way that you think—maybe—things will turn out differently. I mean, the people around me actually gasped at the climax (including some who must have known what happens). At NYTW, I came away thinking “ho hum, another retelling of a Greek myth. But to what end?” This new production has more than answered that question. But if you can’t get tickets now, don’t worry—I’m sure this will be around for years.
Hadestown plays at the Walter Kerr Theatre. For tickets and more information visit hadestown.com.
Award nominations: 3 Tony, 2 Drama Desk, 3 Outer Critics
Award wins: 2 Drama Desk, 2 Outer Critics
Plus special Tony and Outer Critics Awards for the puppetry
This is the musical that everyone loves to make fun of (or trash). I actually think it has a lot to offer, including a score that is arguably, at least musically, more interesting than the score for Beetlejuice (Eddie Perfect wrote both, but nominators ignored this one). King Kong is one of three of this season’s musicals to feature a woman of color in the lead role, and Christiani Pitts is definitely working hard for the money. And considering the problematic (racist and sexist) way this story is often told, the creative team takes great pains to try and fix those issues. Are the contemporary gender politics heavy-handed at times? Sure. But at least there’s an effort, unlike those shows (ahem, Tootsie) who mistakenly think they’ve got their PC creds firmly in place. King Kong also shows some seriously incredible Broadway stagecraft, including the best sailing ship effect I’ve ever seen. And then of course there is the title character who, even haters must admit, is pretty thrilling. Especially given that tickets for this are a relatively easy get (there are discounts galore, not to mention TKTS), and that the Broadway effects may be hard to reproduce on tour, I think this is definitely a show to see, especially if you need to find something for the whole family.
Kiss Me, Kate
Award nominations: 4 Tony, 3 Drama Desk, 3 Outer Critics
Award wins: 1 Drama Desk, 1 Outer Critics
This is a workman-like revival of some great material. To my mind, the creative team doesn’t trust the material; witness the unnecessary thrusting during the “Tom, Dick, or Harry” number. Some of the performances, especially Kelli O’Hara and Corbin Bleu, are quite fine. But there are so many missed opportunities design-wise – it all feels phoned in. That said, if you’re hankering for a traditional revival, you’ve already seen the far superior My Fair Lady, and you aren’t too picky, then you’ll be fine with this. (Although honestly, if this is you, first see the Off Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish. It’s a much better production.)
Kiss Me, Kate plays at the Studio 54 Theatre. For tickets and more information visit roundabouttheatre.org.
Award nominations: 8 Tony, 12 Drama Desk, 6 Outer Critics
Award wins: 2 Tony (incl. Best Revival of a Musical), 2 Drama Desk, 1 Outer Critics
I love this production. But it is NOT for everyone. Those desiring the Oklahoma! they have come to love, whether via Hugh Jackman or high school theater, will not find it here. Without changing a line of dialogue, Daniel Fish has reimagined this material for 2019 with a production that brings to life the inherent violence of not just the original material, but also of the American national project – both in pre-statehood Oklahoma, and contemporary life. It also has a fair bit to say about gender politics. I’m not 100% behind every choice (although the controversial ballet has changed a lot (for the better) since it was at St. Ann’s Warehouse). But the country/bluegrass-inflected orchestrations are a revelation, and the performances are outstanding, especially Ali Stroker, Patrick Vaill (who should have been nominated for a Tony), and Damon Daunno. If you’re the kind of person who would normally groan at the thought of seeing Oklahoma!, see this one.
Oklahoma! plays at the Circle in the Square Theatre. For tickets and more information visit oklahomabroadway.com.
Award nominations: None
This is the ONLY still-running Broadway show (play or musical) that received 0 nominations—not just Tonys, but Drama Desk and Outer Critics as well. Do with that what you will.
Pretty Woman plays at the Nederlander Theatre. For tickets and more information visit prettywomanthemusical.com.
Award nominations: 7 Tony, 5 Drama Desk, 4 Outer Critics
Award wins: 1 Drama Desk (Best Musical)
A fun, earnest little musical with some delicious performances, The Prom wears its heart on its sleeve, and probably is the show that best exemplifies the kind of progressive-but-safe politics of the Broadway musical in the new millennium. A lesbian is told she can’t bring her girlfriend to her high school prom, so a bunch of Broadway celebs burst into town to help. Some will think this is preaching to the choir, others will find the message a much-needed balm for a beleaguered spirit. While I’m more in the former camp, there are nevertheless some great theatre in-jokes (I see you, Gypsy…uh, Legacy…Robe!) And for someone who often finds Brooks Ashmanskas a bit grating, he finally gets a chance to tackle a more nuanced character, and does so admirably. And if you have a Broadway-obsessed teenager in your life, The Prom should definitely be on your list.
The Prom plays at the Longacre Theatre. For tickets and more information visit theprommusical.com.
Award nominations: 11 Tony, 11 Drama Desk, 10 Outer Critics
Award wins: 2 Tony, 4 Drama Desk, 2 Outer Critics
Won Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical
Tootsie is another big awards contender that is based on a hit movie. The story is similar enough, but here Michael Dorsey is not a soap opera star, he’s a musical theatre actor. On the surface it’s a smart choice, but if you know anything about the theatre industry, be prepared to suspend your disbelief – there are SOOO many things that happen that just couldn’t (and wouldn’t) ever happen in the creation of a new Broadway musical. It’s worse than Smash. And there are some significant gender issues (apparently it’s so much easier to be a woman than a straight white man?) that other critics have pointed out. That said, it’s a well-crafted show with some great performances. Along with some stand-out supporting players, including Sarah Stiles and John Behlmann, there’s also leading man Santino Fontana. He’s the odds-on favorite to sweep the awards, and if he does it will be well deserved. For those who enjoyed him on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, you won’t be disappointed here.
Tootsie plays at the Marquis Theatre. For tickets and more information visit tootsiemusical.com.