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Howard Shapiro



Publications
Philadelphia Inquirer

Reviews

A

Billy Elliot

Like the 2000 movie with the same director (Stephen Daldry), choreographer (Peter Darling) and writer (Lee Hall, who retooled the script for the stage and wrote lyrics to Elton John's infectious music), Billy Elliot's stage incarnation doesn't just move. It soars - up from the coal mines of northern England, out of the constant street violence between miners who strike and national riot police who strike back, past the poverty and isolation of a red-brick town that is its own intellectually gated community. (Read Full Review)

A

Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Fans of the film - there are many - may balk at the show's book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott, which closely shadows the film's plot but ditches some of its tense edginess, especially among the three queens who pilot their bus, named Priscilla, into the unknown. But I challenge the purest purist not to break into a smile - and then keep it. (Read Full Review)

A

A Streetcar Named Desire

A superb revival with a mostly African-American cast. The tale of Blanche — a trashy Southern woman who has lost the family estate and lives in delusions of grandeur — is fluid and powerful in the staging by Emily Mann...Forget the dreary stagings of Streetcar, with intense interpretations at every turn. This one has both life and heart, not just mind; it’s as funny as it is violent and loud. And its cast brings Streetcar off with such style, the play seems naturally written for a black family in the French Quarter of 1952. (Read Full Review)

A

One Man, Two Guvnors

The hoot of the season...I dare you to see it and not laugh out loud, a lot...I got the feeling as the show moved on that the audience believed we were no longer onlookers, but were conspiring with the actors to bring the whole thing off — a real feat for the cast and the production. (Read Full Review)

A

Clybourne Park

The fiercest, frankest, funniest discussion of race I have seen on a stage. It is smooth — taut, realistic and stringing together ideas about real estate and racial perceptions...The cast is uniformly excellent. (Read Full Review)

A

Magic/Bird

[A] smooth and warm new play about a friendship that blooms from the deep roots of rivalry...Daniels and Coker are supported by a team of four actors who make Magic/Bird one of the better examples of ensemble acting on Broadway so far this season. (Read Full Review)

A

Newsies

A thrilling, robust new musical... There's not a new idea about musicals in Newsies - just a superb rendering of all the old ones. The show makes you realize again that, against all odds, musicals can feel like real life.
(Read Full Review)

A

Master Class

Daly channels Callas in a steady and sure production staged by Stephen Wadsworth, an occasional director at the Metropolitan Opera. Unlike the original explosive version with Zoe Caldwell ... the revival's pensive quality gives Daly room to reflect, to stunning result. She delivers more without moving a single facial muscle than many actors say with a wide range of emotions. Daly's ploy - freezing an expression, timing it perfectly, thinking but never revealing just what's going through her character's head - leaves us hankering for the next line of Terrence McNally's shimmering script, when Daly puts Callas' thoughts into words with maximum impact, My friend Jeff, at the theater with me, effectively likened the performance of Daly ... to the screen style of Bette Davis; each can convey the essence of a character in both animated speech and immobile silence. (Read Full Review)

A

Death of a Salesman

In the tautly directed revival by Mike Nichols, Hoffman telegraphs a fluid, unwavering intensity; he's as tragic, menacing and full of demons when he's at rest as when he's at odds with everyone in earshot...What makes this production so powerful is the way Nichols draws clear characters from everyone - even the waiters in a late scene seem to have back-stories hidden somewhere in their portrayals. (Read Full Review)

A

Follies

If you're not sold on the revival of Stephen Sondheim's Follies by the time Bernadette Peters walks onto a lonely, red-lit stage on Broadway and gives desperate life to the torch song "Losing My Mind" - if that remarkable rendition doesn't seal the deal, well, there's nothing else to be done. But then, you've probably already bought into this polished, eye-poppingly designed production of the 1971 classic about aging stars of the old follies who come to their first and last reunion at the theater where they triumphed. The follies went out of style in the '40s, the performers went to other lives, the theater where they performed went into decline and now faces demolition. (Read Full Review)

A

Stick Fly

Stick Fly, a new and robust play when Philadelphia-area audiences saw it four years ago at Princeton's McCarter Theatre, is now a new Broadway play, even stronger, smoother and more affecting. The smart playwright Lydia R. Diamond has given Stick Fly added heft and juicer dialogue in several productions along the way, if I am accurately remembering the version four years ago, when McCarter Theatre was part of the play's development. (Read Full Review)

A

Other Desert Cities

[A] searingly funny and jolting new play...Baitz's richly layered, provoking play...explores many facets of being a family, from the commitment to be unconditionally loving without conditions to the notion of a shared responsibility. (Read Full Review)

A

The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess

As it turns out, the intervening months have produced minor changes in action and dialogue in the final scene make the work a little more accessible and less bulky, and there's a bit more verbal grout between the music throughout. But these modifications seem natural in such a well-considered production - seamless with Paulus at the helm, and radiant with industrial-strength polish from a cast led by Audra McDonald as a facially scarred Bess and Norm Lewis as the limping Porgy.

(Read Full Review)

A

Venus In Fur

Fiery, intense and so sexy you could sweat...Much of the heat comes from a living generator, the actress Nina Arianda...There's a booster to this furnace - the Broadway actor and film star Hugh Dancy, who is essentially her prey. The two of them deliver performances that bubble, then explode...Perhaps the best, and creepiest, part of Venus in Fur is that as it moves along in a quick 90 minutes, it becomes harder to tell what this woman knows and what she fakes, and whether truth plays any meaningful part in what she says....Walter Bobbie's direction takes Ives' story to its ripest level. (Read Full Review)

A

Wit

The Manhattan Theatre Club's artistic director, Lynne Meadow, has staged Wit with a kinetic flair and assembled a creative team - including Santo Loquasto, with his stark but handsome set of white columns and furniture - with the perfect feel for a play, in a production with the perfect leading player. (Read Full Review)

A-

Chaplin: The Musical

In the new musical Chaplin, which is every bit as entertaining as Charlie Chaplin himself, Rob McClure portrays the film genius with an irresistible sweetness, like candy you can't - and don't want to - stop eating. In that, of course, he mirrors the Chaplin film persona perfectly. And so does the show, which itself comes off looking like a movie from the pre-talkie years... [A] rose is used somewhat soppily at first as an instrumental piece of the young Chaplin's life... But the little rose eventually becomes a powerful part of the show's storytelling, in a script by Thomas Meehan... Meehan's co-writer is Broadway newcomer Christopher Curtis, whose graceful, pretty score is just right... Director-choreographer Warren Carlyle gives the musical some inspired touches...

(Read Full Review)

A-

Ghost: The Musical

The projections and other effects, from designer Rob Howell and lighting artist Hugh Vanstone, complement the live performances so fittingly that art is able to imitate life while life imitates art at the same time. Then comes the supernatural: Real actors begin to go through real doors or disappear onstage or pop from the corpses of their newly murdered characters — feats designed by the illusionist Paul Kieve, the man who taught Daniel Radcliffe how to do magic on film. (Read Full Review)

B+

Peter and the Starcatcher

It’s a little like Monty Python in its wit and silliness, a little like Wicked in that it fabricates a backstory for an iconic one, and a lot like a piece of children’s theater that went wildly awry. It’s also big fun, if you give it the chance...Its percussion and keyboard backup, played by musicians in the balcony boxes, is too heavily amplified and drowns out too much of the key words and jokes in Rick Elice’s fantastical and often enchanting script. Its direction by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers is filled with rich shtik, but also allows British accents of extreme degrees, from very little to hard-to-comprehend. (Read Full Review)

B+

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Every detail in Nice Work If You Can Get It is finely tuned and beautifully turned out...And the cast is spot-on. Is there any ingenue role in musical theater that Kelli O’Hara...couldn’t make her very own?...This leaves her leading man, Matthew Broderick, in an uncomfortable position. Although his part of a rich playboy with a low-wattage brain means he must appear as a constant shade of gray among the colorful characters on stage, a part he delivers earnestly, his singing seems only serviceable by comparison to O’Hara’s. (Read Full Review)

B+

Shatner's World: We Just Live In It

To hear Shatner tell it in his down-to-earth, chummy monologue called Shatner's World: We Just Live in It - which opened Thursday night on Broadway and is coming to Philadelphia for a one-nighter next month - his easy way of saying "yes, I can do that," has dropped him almost by chance into Shakespeare, into record studios, onto stages with Christopher Plummer and Tyrone Guthrie and other greats, and TV studios with Candice Bergen, John Laroquette, James Spader and, of course, Leonard Nimoy. (It's also taken him in directly into some real drek in down years when the money's been tight. (Read Full Review)

B+

Godspell

Contagiously energetic...Despite four decades of a show without any real tension until the last 15 minutes, despite Godspell's jarring juxtaposition of scripture with a hip - and in this revival, sometimes hip-hop - superficiality, despite the show's billing as a feel-good rendition of the admonishing Gospel of St. Matthew, Godspell lives vibrantly as a piece of theater...It's hard to know what to make of all this, especially because it's so catching and playfully upbeat - an all-for-fun Bible in the Church of Our Lady of the Production Number...Still, this Godspell is not just a good time but often outright funny, which is why it will be a hit. (Read Full Review)

B+

Harvey

The actor Jim Parsons has become famous playing a quirky physicist on TV's The Big Bang Theory, and now he's on Broadway, doing wonderful justice to a character with a completely different set of quirks. (Read Full Review)

B+

Born Yesterday

The play is fun enough -- a simple plot and not what you'd call a laff-riot -- but Belushi, the veteran of Second City, Saturday Night Live and scores of movies, and Arianda, debuting on Broadway after an acclaimed Off-Broadway coming-out last season in David Ives' Venice In Fur [sic], serve up Born Yesterday on silver platters. They are attuned, alive and alluring in what becomes their mutual distrust -- and the revival itself, in the hands of director Doug Hughes...becomes an argument against a system of lobbying that would become more accepted and entrenched in the decades following the play's opening. (Read Full Review)

B+

Don't Dress for Dinner

I found “Don’t Dress for Dinner” to be head-knockingly convoluted. So do its characters, as they try to explain what’s going on as the two-act moves to resolve itself; part of the gag is that when they attempt to sort everything out, you can’t follow a thing they are saying past the first two sentences.... I was sitting in the very middle of the orchestra section and lost perhaps 10 percent of the throwaway lines. In the end, it didn’t matter, since the situation of the moment becomes clear with a nastily aimed squirt of a seltzer bottle or a shove that has people falling over the side of a couch. It is farce, after all. And it is, after all is said, fun. (Read Full Review)

B+

The Columnist

Straightforward is the way The Columnist goes, in Sullivan’s sure-footed direction, Auburn’s smooth narrative arc, and a sterling performance by John Lithgow, who makes a wonderfully nuanced Joseph Alsop. (Read Full Review)

B

Jesus Christ Superstar

I kept thinking what would Jesus do? as I watched Paul Nolan, a regular at the Stratford Shakespeare festival - originators of this revival - in the role. Nolan plays Jesus as a put-upon superstar, a humorless figure who displays no flash of being real until the very end. It's hard to admire this Jesus, or even to empathize. Given that we know the end of the story, the portrayal should grab us, or else it's a mere recitation of history, not a drama. Nolan does have a clear, sharp voice - and despite over-amplification that occasionally distorts lyrics, his singing and that of the cast in general is the show's real savior. (Read Full Review)

B

Hair

The show is energetic and fun and the music - what you go for, because it's surely not the script - remains a sumptuous pastiche of world sounds. But the show, directed by Diane Paulus, is less effective in this staging, which panders to the audience more shamelessly than other shameless Hairs; the actors run back and forth in the aisles, address us directly more than in the past, and generally pander like sideshow weirdos...In truth, it's not smart to be a Hair purist because the concept of the show stands in your way. The original show was produced with more of a guidepost than a script, making it malleable; the production you see today may be lots different from the one you saw even recently...Despite wild overamping that plows the clever lyrics under, the excellent voices come across. (Read Full Review)

B

Man and Boy

It’s uncanny that so long ago, Rattigan could have created a fictional Madoff -- a wily fox with all his charming trimmings in a sharp sauce of guile -- without having known the real Madoff or the real story. But in his play, which opened Sunday night in Maria Aitken’s nicely staged revival by Roundabout Theatre Company – Rattigan manages to capture all the aspects: a world-renowned financier (here, Great-Depression era, 1934) who possesses the trust of many, the song of good works in his words, a Ponzi-type scheme in his books and not a scintilla of conscience in his soul. (Read Full Review)

B

Private Lives

Private Lives is shrill and the zingers repetitive, but the new revival boasts Cattrall and Gross, two smart actors who pull it off with a lush, bygone sensibility I found irresistible...Sir Richard Eyre directs Private Lives with an eye toward the tension that leads up to the fighting, giving the play necessary added heft, and Anna Madeley and Simon Paisley Day, the people both left - really left - to honeymoon alone, are excellent. (Read Full Review)

B

Ghetto Klown

He's endearing when he speaks about his career, self-depricating when he speaks about himself and especially his relationship with a father who both intimidated and infuriated him, and who has left and indelible mark on his psyche. When it comes to revealing his home life Leguizamo is more like an old pal than you may want - he may just be giving you a little too much information. (Read Full Review)

B

Bonnie & Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde were real public enemies. The new Broadway musical Bonnie & Clyde is really its own worst enemy...[It's] n old-fashioned musical with a tidy narrative arc - but it bogs down in little second-half reprises to a belaboring degree...The musical is much more about their romance than their outrageous lust for crime, and it has sweet aspects...Frank Wildhorn's...music is easy and tuneful; I heard people humming it in the restroom line at intermission...If ever a show was enlarged and lifted by its cast, Bonnie & Clyde is it. (Read Full Review)

B-

The House of Blue Leaves

I found the play, which I'd not seen before, disjointed and sometimes clumsy - when the first half is heading toward intermission, for instance, the characters suddenly begin talking directly to the audience, as if another version of the Blue Leaves is suddenly being staged. Or when the play builds to a cheap, unaffecting ending. (Read Full Review)

B-

Once

Taken one at a time, the 14 songs of the new musical Once, which opened Sunday night, work well enough on their own. Stitched together to create a musical, though, they severely test your quotient for plaintiveness - at what point does wearing a heart on your sleeve turn from a metaphor into an actual bloody mess? . . . I would be lying not to say that I was thoroughly charmed by the cast -- led by an achingly vulnerable Steve Kazee as Guy, the Dubliner ready to give up on music until he meets a Czech immigrant, Girl, the delightful and stalwart Cherry Hill native Cristin Milioti. (Read Full Review)

C

Baby It's You!

At the performance I attended, the audience cheered for snippets of popular old songs, and seemed not to care much about the piece of theater that was attempting to frame those songs. That's the sort of audiences Baby It's You! will need. As for myself, grabbing some of the records Greenberg distributed and flipping them onto a turntable would be an infinitely better night. (Read Full Review)

F+

Evita

I have two words for why the revival of Evita will probably stick around a while: Ricky Martin. There’s not another compelling reason to go, and even Martin, a superstar of American-Latin pop with great looks and a winning smile, doesn’t snugly fit into the notion of compelling. (Read Full Review)

F

The People in the Picture

When The People in the Picture, a world premiere production by Roundabout Theatre Company that stars the estimable Donna Murphy, isn't falling under the weight of heart-clogging sentimentality, it's offering a spate of lackluster numbers that suggest what the Fiddler on the roof would be like were he relegated to the basement - it's the difference between kosher and kosher-style...The People in the Picture drops rich and valid issues into a pedestrian script, where adoptive parenting, selfishness versus deep love and mother-daughter battling never really become much more than a list. Mortality and the ties between generations fare better in this story set up to make us teary by the end. I couldn't oblige. By that time, my ducts were clogged with schmaltz.

(Read Full Review)