by Dan Dinero on 4.30.23
The cast of Shucked (with Grey Henson, Andrew Durand, and Kevin Cahoon L-R in the center).
Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman.
BOTTOM LINE: Having a hard time deciding on a Broadway musical? Here are brief reviews of everything that is still running from this season (as well as a reminder about those that have already closed).
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 losing out on the next impossible ticket? (Sweeney Todd is already that show, and watch out for Shucked). 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 (he’s on the Drama Desk Nominating Committee)—reviews this season's shows.
* Updated 5/2 with Tony nominations, 5/16 with Outer Critics wins.
Award nominations: 9 Tony, 2 Drama Desk, 6 Outer Critics
Oh, & Juliet. I really, really didn’t enjoy this show, and on paper, I totally should have. The music is by “Max Martin and Friends”—meaning, it’s all pop songs that you’ve probably heard a million times. The gimmick, as presented by Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway (no, not that Anne Hathaway)—what would happen if Juliet actually didn’t die? (Answer—she and her gal pals go on a road trip to the set of Moulin Rouge.) It sounds promising, but here’s my issue: for all that the show claims to be feminist, and woke, and socially conscious, and all the rest, it just…isn’t. It’s a show where everything (to me at least) seems phoned-in, ersatz, or just halfway done (like the set, which inexplicably stops halfway up the walls, or the sound design, which allows for comprehension of maybe every other lyric). At least you have Paolo Szot, whose “Teenage Dream” is so bizarre it’s kind of amazing. That said, I may be the outlier—& Juliet is by far one of the most successful of this season’s musicals (at least financially), so clearly there’s an audience for it.
& Juliet plays at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. For tickets and more information visit andjulietbroadway.com.
Award nominations: None
There have been a lot of scathing reviews about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s newest musical, but here’s my take—Bad Cinderella is better (much, much better) than & Juliet. It’s silly, it’s campy, it often doesn’t make sense, it rhymes “hot” with “out”—but it also knows exactly what it is, and doesn’t try to pretend otherwise. Where does the Godmother come from and why does she want Cindy’s necklace? Why is the baker shirtless? Why are the prince’s “Hunks” (that’s actually what they’re called) not only shirtless, but decked out in leather harnesses? I mean, does it matter? Plus, you have Carolee Carmello hamming it up like she had been gifted a lifetime supply of Boar’s Head deli meat. I ended up having to see Bad Cinderella twice (someone was out the first time), and had even more fun on my return visit.
Bad Cinderella plays at the Imperial Theatre through 6/4. For tickets and more information visit badcinderellabroadway.com.
* A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical
Award nominations: 3 Drama Desk, 1 Outer Critics
BEST BET – Take Your Parents (or Grandparents)
My parents LOVED this show. Loved it. And truth be told, I really liked it too. Neil Diamond’s music is incredibly catchy, and I appreciate the desire to do the “life story of famous musician” jukebox show in a new way. Here, there’s a psychologist who is helping older Neil Diamond (an incredible Mark Jacoby) work through his issues. Does it always work? No. But with the talented Will Swenson playing the younger Neil Diamond—the one you (or your parents) know and love—it may not matter.
A Beautiful Noise plays at the Broadhurst Theatre. For tickets and more information visit abeautifulnoisethemusical.com.
Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ (Revival)
Award nominations: 1 Drama Desk
This revival largely recreates Fosse’s original choreography, both from the original 1978 revue Dancin’, as well as from subsequent Fosse shows, like 1986’s Big Deal. So for that reason, its most significant element also won’t be eligible for any awards. Overall, I found Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ to be a bit of a mess—some truly thrilling moments mixed in with a whole lot of “what is happening right now?” The “America” section is especially confusing, as if director Wayne Cilento wanted to avoid any kind of easy patriotic fervor by going for—lots and lots of black. But look out for both Jacob Guzman (my personal favorite, especially his “Mr. Bojangles”) and Kolton Krause (whose “Spring Chicken” gets a well-deserved ovation). Just try and ignore the projections (no, you didn’t enter the Matrix).
Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ plays at the Music Box Theatre through 5/14. For tickets and more information visit dancinbway.com.
Award nominations: 5 Tony, 4 Drama Desk
Also an Outer Critics Special Award for fight director B.H. Barrie
One of the most anticipated of this season’s revivals, Camelot seems to have disappointed many. Aaron Sorkin’s revised book cuts out all of the magical elements from the original, with a result that (for many) also cuts out the show’s theatrical magic. I was less bothered by all the changes, and certainly, Bartlett Sher’s production is visually stunning, especially if you like stark stage pictures (which I do). As was the case with Lincoln Center’s other revivals of Golden Age staples, the orchestra is sumptuous. What’s more curious is the comparatively small ensemble—did the budget for performers get cut since South Pacific and The King and I?
Camelot plays at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center. For tickets and more information visit lct.org.
Victoria Clark and Justin Cooley in Kimberly Akimbo. Photo by Joan Marcus.
* Kimberly Akimbo
Award nominations: 8 Tony
BEST BET – Musical Theatre Bliss
Kimberly Akimbo premiered at the Atlantic in November, 2021, and won last year’s Drama Desk award for Outstanding Musical (a rare feat for an Off Broadway show—it beat out juggernaut SIX). So while it’s not eligible for Drama Desk and Outer Critics awards this year, I suspect it will do quite well at the Tonys. Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire have written a gem of a show, based on Lindsay-Abaire’s 2001 play about a teenage girl with progeria (aka “Benjamin Button disease”), which prematurely ages her. The always wonderful Victoria Clark plays young Kimberly, but there’s also an incredibly charming Justin Cooley as her new friend Seth, the hilarious Bonnie Milligan as Kimberly’s criminal Aunt Debra, and a terrific ensemble cast. Kimberly Akimbo is more thoughtful and quiet than your typical big Broadway musical, more akin to shows like Fun Home, The Band’s Visit, and A Strange Loop (all of which won the Tony for Best Musical). I’m not convinced Kimberly Akimbo will follow in their footsteps, but that may be all the more reason to see it now, while you can.
Kimberly Akimbo plays at the Booth Theatre. For tickets and more information visit kimberlyakimbothemusical.com.
New York, New York
Award nominations: 9 Tony, 6 Drama Desk, 12 Outer Critics
Award wins (so far): 2 Outer Critics
If you’re a Eurovision fan, the best way to describe New York, New York is as the Broadway musical version of those “postcards” that introduce each country’s act—the ones where the singers are filmed cavorting around some random scenic vista in the host country. Or perhaps a more apropos comparison is that of riding one of those big red buses around Manhattan (the horror!). You know that famous “Lunch atop a Skyscraper” photo? And the phenomenon of “Manhattanhenge”? And Central Park, and Grand Central Station, and The Met? There’s a scene and or song for each, and requisite diverse cast to match. They even used Maria’s bedroom door from West Side Story! It’s all very…pleasant. The cast does what they can, but most of them have so little to do, that isn’t much. (And why would you cast musical theatre icons like Emily Skinner and Janet Dacal, but then not use them? It’s baffling.) Sure, Anna Uzele’s rendition of the two most famous numbers (“And the World Goes ‘Round” and the title song) are thrilling enough. But it’s all too little, too late.
New York, New York plays at the St. James Theatre. For tickets and more information visit newyorknewyorkbroadway.com.
Award nominations: 6 Tony, 4 Drama Desk, 4 Outer Critics
Award wins (so far): 2 Outer Critics
I moved to New York not long after Hal Prince’s original production had its short run, and have been eagerly awaiting a first-class revival ever since. Parade has a gorgeous score by Jason Robert Brown, and the recording is one that I return to time and again. It tells the story of Leo Frank, the Jewish factory superintendent who was wrongfully convicted, and later lynched, for the murder of young Mary Phagan. Like Into the Woods, Michael Arden’s production started at City Center and has largely kept the same minimal set—it’s basically a stage on a stage on a stage, with a lot of archival photos projected on the back wall. (Although there’s one element—Mary’s later appearance at the end of Act 1 and in Act 2—which had a brilliant delicacy at City Center but had to be reimagined for the Jacobs, and this new version just does not work.) But here’s the thing—it may not be possible to match the fantasy of the original production that lives in my head. Micaela Diamond certainly does a solid job as Leo’s wife Lucille, which is no easy feat considering the role was created by the inimitable Carolee Carmello. I was less taken with Ben Platt—there’s something a bit youthful about him that doesn’t work for me here (yes, I know he’s roughly the same age that Leo Frank was). And as for the overall production, it feels a bit like the team did their historical research, and want to show their work. It’s as if Parade was being re-imagined as a true crime documentary. Yet at the same time, you get the sense they feel like it might be impolitic (post 2020) to point the finger at the man who many feel is the most likely culprit. Instead, we’re left with the fact that the case “is still ongoing.”
Parade plays at the Jacobs Theatre through 8/6. For tickets and more information visit paradebroadway.com.
Award nominations: 9 Tony, 12 Drama Desk, 7 Outer Critics
Award wins (so far): 2 Outer Critics
BEST BET – Musical Comedy Gold
I’m predicting Shucked will be the big winner this season. Is it artistically “better” than Kimberly Akimbo? Perhaps not. But it’s incredibly enjoyable, and it would seem to have the most appeal to the biggest variety of audiences. Jaded New Yorkers? Parents in for a visit? Tourists from the fly-over states? There’s really something for everyone here—it’s like a kinder, gentler Book of Mormon. Shucked is consistently laugh-out-loud funny; if one joke doesn’t work for you, there are ten more right behind it, many delivered by Kevin Cahoon (who I hear switches up his one-liners each performance). The story is tried-and-true musical comedy: an A couple, a B couple, lots of twists and turns in a plot where the stakes are low and emotions are high, and a happy ending you may be able to see coming from a mile away. But best of all is the extremely appealing ensemble cast. Everyone’s crazy for Alex Newell, perhaps rightly so, but there are two others who I liked even more. Andrew Durand’s rendition of “Somebody Will” just bowled me over, and as one of the two Storytellers, Grey Henson is Shucked’s secret weapon, brilliantly giving audiences permission to laugh without ever being obnoxious or cloying.
Shucked plays at the Nederlander Theatre. For tickets and more information visit shuckedmusical.com.
* Some Like It Hot
Award nominations: 13 Tony, 8 Drama Desk, 10 Outer Critics
Award wins (so far): 5 Outer Critics
BEST BET – Film to Musical Adaptation
From the minute Some Like It Hot starts, you can tell you’re in good hands. It’s solid musical theatre, created by seasoned veterans who know what they’re doing. Before I went back for a return visit, I re-watched the classic 1959 film, and I was struck by just how careful this creative team was. Certain things were changed (it’s now 1933, not 1929; the gang all flees to California, not Florida), but they were changed for clear reasons. There’s also the whole “isn’t it funny when men put on women’s clothes” schtick, and that too is deftly and sensitively handled, yet never with a heavy hand. Many have been marveling over the standout chase scene in Act 2, which is definitely one of this show’s highlights. But best of all is Kevin Del Aguila, who (as Osgood) is giving what is quite possibly my favorite performance in a musical this season.
Some Like It Hot plays at the Shubert Theatre. For tickets and more information visit somelikeithotmusical.com.
Annaleigh Ashford and Josh Groban in Sweeney Todd. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman..
* Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Revival)
Award nominations: 8 Tony, 4 Drama Desk, 3 Outer Critics
BEST BET – For Sondheim Lovers
My vote for Best Revival of a Musical, Sweeney Todd is stunning, from an exciting beginning to an ending that truly made my jaw drop (and I’ve seen many, many productions of this show). It’s also incredibly well directed, with Thomas Kail clearly taking care to view the book scenes as serious material, not just stuff to rush through on the way to “A Little Priest.” Some have taken issue with the different takes on these roles— Josh Groban’s Sweeney is a lot less “deranged serial killer,” and more “exhausted middle-aged man,” for example. But I think this all works extremely well; it's certainly different, and that's what revivals should give you—a new take on a classic. And as Mrs. Lovett, Annaleigh Ashford is a riot. You know you won't forgive yourself for missing this (and neither will Sweeney).
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street plays at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. For tickets and more information visit sweeneytoddbroadway.com.
Award nominations: None
Honestly, the less said about this revival, the better. It seems to have been done by a team of people who had nothing but disdain for the source material—so why bother? Aside from the always brilliant Carolee Carmello and Nancy Anderson, this production was infuriating.
Award nominations: 1 Tony, 3 Drama Desk
Almost Famous is another in a long line of musicals adapted from movies where you ask—why? Not that it was bad—I especially enjoyed Casey Likes as William Miller, the teenager who somehow (it was the 70s, I guess) joins a rock band on tour. While the film had some iconic moments, like the “Tiny Dancer” sing-along, everything felt watered down here.
Into the Woods (Revival)
Award nominations: 6 Tony, 6 Drama Desk, 2 Outer Critics
This revival had a brief run at City Center Encores (which explains the sparse design) before transferring to Broadway. It was a delightful production, but it was really the casting that made it shine. Well, that and Milky White, an ingeniously simple puppet that came alive under Kennedy Kanagawa’s memorable handling. But if you missed him, you’re in luck—he’s one of the few from the Broadway cast who continued on to the tour.
For more information on the Into the Woods tour (it’s currently in Chicago, and will move on to Nashville, Orlando, San Francisco, and Los Angeles), visit intothewoodsbway.com.
Award nominations: 3 Tony, 2 Drama Desk
KPOP’s previous Off Broadway run made it ineligible for many Drama Desk and Outer Critics categories, even though that 2017 production and this one had very little in common. This production was bigger in every way, which didn’t always help. It was also hampered by (what seemed to me at least) bad producing—it just couldn’t find its audience. Those last twenty minutes though, where the show goes full throttle into a legit KPOP concert—that was a blast.