Music and Lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb; Additional lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Book by David Thompson and Sharon Washington; Directed and Choreographed by Susan Stroman
St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th Street
by Emily Cordes on 5.7.23
The cast of em>New York, New York. Photo by Emilio Madrid.
BOTTOM LINE: Diverse characters chase love, fame, and music in this feel-good homage to ‘40s-era New York City.
New York City has long held mythic status in the popular imagination as both an incubator of big dreams and a haven for all who pursue them. While this idyllic version of New York often stands at odds with its residents’ lived realities, the city’s appeal persists, with countless individuals flocking there in search of new and better lives. It is this same idealism that fuels Kander and Ebb’s Tony-nominated musical New York, New York, as its diverse characters seek love and success in the charged landscape of 1940s-era New York City.
New York, New York is loosely inspired by the eponymous 1977 Martin Scorcese movie musical, and features new orchestrations of many of its original songs, but rests predominately on a score by the film’s musical duo John Kander and Fred Ebb, with additional lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Set in 1946 and brimming with the era’s post-war optimism and creative energy, its story follows a multi-ethnic cast of characters united by music, love, and the city itself.
When a chance encounter brings together down-on-his-luck Irish-descended musician Jimmy Doyle (Colton Ryan) and African-American former USO singer Francine Evans (Anna Uzele), the pair’s ambition and musical gifts spark an equally passionate romance as they fight discrimination and adversity in their shared quest for fame. As Francine rises from singing waitress to live-radio celebrity, Jimmy joins forces with Cuban percussionist Mateo Diaz (Angel Sigala) and Black Army trumpeter Jesse Webb (John Clay III) to form a band and revive his former mentor’s struggling nightclub. When a favor from a producer (Ben Davis) lands Francine a Broadway debut and promising-but-daunting touring prospects, and Jimmy’s jealousy and alcoholism further test their bond, the two must question whether their dreams, and love, can survive the challenges they face.
New York, New York’s musical, choreographic, and visual elements craft a roundly enjoyable experience. Supported by a multi-instrumental cast, Kander and Ebb’s score (consisting largely from previously written material, and so not eligible for most of this season's awards) marries ‘40s jazz and swing with touches of Miranda’s Latin influence, all of which culminate in a striking big-band version of the show’s famous title song. Director-choreographer Susan Stroman’s chorus numbers and ever-shifting ensemble vignettes keep the urban energy flowing while evoking the era’s lively dance styles, and Beowulf Boritt’s skyscraper, neon, and scaffolding-inspired sets immerse characters in an impressive, if sanitized, homage to the city.
The show’s script, however, is less developed, with a fairly broad-stroke storyline that can sometimes over-rely on city-of-dreams cliches, or milk New York’s reputation as a liberal bastion amidst national ignorance (the latter of which, nonetheless, elicited many audience cheers). Additionally, several meaningful subplots, such as the friendship between Alex (Oliver Prose), a Polish-born violin prodigy, and his cagey music instructor (Emily Skinner), or the tension between Mateo, his beauty-queen mother (Janet Dacal), and abusive father, would have benefited from just a bit more fleshing-out. That said, the show makes several clear points about the enduring racism, xenophobia, and sexism that block progress and pit us against each other, and draws similar parallels between the tenuous optimism, lingering scars, and hope for renewal in post-war and post-pandemic worlds alike.
Like the dreams and ambitions that fuel its characters, New York, New York runs more on emotional pull than nuance, but this is, arguably, its appeal: at its core, the show speaks to the unmistakable power of ideals, and the love for an art form, an idea, a person, or a place that can move us to rise above challenge and seek greater heights. Cynicism aside, the myth of New York, and the power of a feel-good musical, endures, and it’s that same spirit that draws audiences to Broadway, and to the city itself, across time and circumstance.
(New York, New York plays at the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th Street. Running time is 2 hours 40 minutes with one intermission. Performances are Tuesdays at 7; Wednesdays at 2 and 8; Thursdays and Fridays at 7; Saturdays at 2 and 8; and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $49 - $229 and can be purchased by calling 888-985-9421 or at seatgeek.com. For more information visit newyorknewyorkbroadway.com.)
New York, New York is written by John Kander and Fred Ebb (Music and Lyrics), and David Thompson and Sharon Washington (Book), with additional lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Direction and Choreography by Susan Stroman. Scenic and Projection Design by Beowulf Boritt. Costume Design by Donna Zakowska. Lighting Design by Ken Billington. Sound Design by Kai Harada. Projection Design by Christopher Ash. Hair and Wig Design by Sabana Majeed. Orchestrations, Music Supervision and Arrangements by Sam Davis. Orchestrations by Daryl Waters. Vocal Arrangements by David Loud. Music Direction by Alvin Hough, Jr. Production Stage Manager is Johnny Milani.
The Cast is Colton Ryan, Anna Uzele, Clyde Alves, John Clay III, Janet Dacal, Ben Davis, Oliver Prose, Angel Sigala, Emily Skinner, Wendi Bergamini, Allison Blackwell, Giovanni Bonaventura, Jim Borstelmann, Lauren Carr, Mike Cefalo, Bryan J. Cortés, Kristine Covillo, Gabriella Enriquez, Haley Fish, Ashley Blair Fitzgerald, Richard Gatta, Stephen Hanna, Naomi Kakuk, Akina Kitazawa, Ian Liberto, Kevin Ligon, Leo Moctezuma, Aaron Nicholas Patterson, Alex Prakken, Dayna Marie Quincy, Julian Ramos, Drew Redington, Benjamin Rivera, Vanessa Sears, Davis Wayne, Jeff Williams, and Darius Wright.