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Posted on 03/31/14
Photo from Les Misérables
Photo: Michael Le Poer Trench

B

Most critics roll their eyes at this revival of a musical that has enjoyed a Broadway presence for 18 out of the last 27 years. Still, they generally agree that this particular production is pretty decent, even if the story is as melodramatic, and the music as bombastic, as ever. The high marks are mostly due to a near across-the-board admiration for Ramin Karimloo's superb Broadway debut as Jean Valjean; more than a few rave that his restrained rendition of "Bring Him Home" is the best that they've heard. As for the rest of the cast, only Will Swenson as the vengeful Javert receives notable praise; the rest are decidedly hit-and-miss. As for that famous turntable? Critics don't seem to miss it at all.


Posted on 03/25/14
Photo from The Happiest Song Plays Last
Photo: Joan Marcus

B

As this is the final of Quiara Alegría Hudes' trilogy of "Elliot" plays, critics often look to the first two plays (the second of which, Water by the Spoonful, won the Pulitzer Prize) as a point of comparison. And for the most part, they are disappointed. Quite a few describe the play as "diffuse" or "shapeless" and think that Hudes has stretched the play too thin trying to address commentary on Iraq, PTSD, American health care, Egypt's uprising, and more. A notable dissent comes from TheaterMania's David Gordon, who believes Happiest Song is the best of the trilogy, and many critics appreciate the lyricism and sincere warmth of the writing. Actor Armando Riesco gets high marks for his performance as the lead, Elliot Ortiz, as does the Latin music from Nelson González.


Posted on 03/25/14
Photo from Appropriate
Photo: Joan Marcus

C

There’s agreement that Branden Jacobs-Jenkins new play is reminiscent of many classic plays and playwrights that have explored the dramatic possibilities of dysfunctional families and their secrets, with many bringing up comparisons to August: Osage County. Yet the extent to which this is considered a positive varies wildly from critic to critic. In one camp, there are those who consider this a "very fine, subversively original" (NYT's Brantley) play with “an uncommonly deft dramatic and technical achievement and perhaps a star-making production for Jacobs-Jenkins” (EW’s Lee). Others pillory it as a “a mess, undercooked and overexplained” (New York’s Green) which “could have made a significant impression on the American dramatic canon [but] lands with a mere ho-hum” (TheaterMania's Gordon).


Posted on 03/25/14
Photo from Tales From Red Vienna
Photo: Joan Marcus

C-

Apparently, even the outsized talents of Venus in Fur's Nina Arianda can't distract from the uneven storytelling in David Grimm's new play about a gentlewoman turned prostitute in post-World War I Vienna. Newsday's Winer concisely sums up the general sentiment of the New York critics, calling it a play that "is all plot and little deeper meaning." Though the novelty of the play's story and an "arresting" (Variety) opening scene initially engross critics, it seems that Grimm never quite makes good on his promising premise. Some blame this on a lack of focus in tone, purpose, and direction, while others find fault with an outlandish plot twist in the third act. Either way, critics feel that what may have started out as a profound exploration into the difficult choices of a desperate woman seems to have ended up being little more than a shallow melodrama--a shift that leaves most critics disappointed, to put it mildly.


Posted on 03/25/14
Photo from Aladdin
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

B

Many critics succumb to the magic of the most recent in a long line of Disney musicals: the dazzling special effects, high-spirited cast, infectiously cheerful tone, and familiar Alan Menken tunes. On the other hand, there's general disappointment with Chad Beguelin's new book, which most see as a lesser version of the 1992 film's script, over-stuffed with cheesy puns and anachronistic comedy. There are some definite raves for director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw's clever staging (especially for the literally show-stopping "Friend Like Me"), but just as many find it all a bit busy. Though the divide seems to come down to a general one between all-around Disney cynics and those who don't mind the Mouse House's presence on the Great White Way, all agree that James Monroe Iglehart's phenomenally energetic Genie is reason enough to take this magic carpet ride.


Posted on 03/16/14
Photo from Stage Kiss
Photo: Joan Marcus

A-

When it comes to Sarah Ruhl, critics have come to expect a certain level of whimsy, lyricism, and even magical realism from her writing. But her newest play, Stage Kiss, appears to be a welcome respite for many critics from her usual fare. Vulture calls it "a superb new romantic comedy," Broadwayworld finds it to be "an evening of sexy hilarity and tender thoughtfulness," and The New York Times encouragingly suggests it may be "Ms. Ruhl’s fluffiest, most accessible play." Though not all critics are pleased by Ruhl's apparent change in genre, the critical response to Jessica Hecht's performance is unanimously positive: "Superb," "riotous," "delightful," and "delicious" are only a few of the words used to describe it. Regardless of the reservations some critics have about a last-minute shift in tone toward the play's end, critics agree that this romantic comedy makes good on the "comedy" part of the deal.


Posted on 03/16/14
Photo from Ode to Joy
Photo: Sandra Coudert

B

Opinions on Craig Lucas' new play are as extreme as the subject matter it explores. One thing most agree on is “terrific chemistry” among the trio of actors, particularly Kathryn Erbe, who gives a “magnetic” performance. Reviewers also agree that this is clearly a personal and heartfelt project by the playwright/director. Where perspectives differ, though, in its impact and execution. For the Post's Scheck, “the flaws in [Lucas’] writing are only magnified by his self-indulgent direction,” whereas Talkin’ Broadway’s Murray considers the play “a notable, memorable success.” Most of the commentary is squarely in the middle, finding both imperfection and value in what the NYT's Brantley calls an “eloquent mess of a play,” while EW's Clark considers it “sputtering, frustrating, but occasionally quite enlightening.” LS&A's Barbour summarizes, “Ode to Joy isn't Lucas' most fully worked-out or, at times, even coherent piece--it is too stuffed with ideas that don't get fully pursued--but it is the most powerful thing he has turned out in years.”


Posted on 03/15/14
Photo from Rocky
Photo: Matthew Murphy

B

This musical adaptation of the 1976 Oscar winner isn't exactly a champion with critics, but they're all pretty dazzled by its knockout of an ending. In fact, the physical production earns high scores from most: Alex Timbers' fluid direction, Andy Karl's sensitively macho Italian Stallion, Margo Seibert's lush voice, and, of course, the technical design, specifically the astounding set and video. While most critics seem to have a soft spot for Sly's underdog tale, there's some complaining that Thomas Meehan's book is faithful to a fault. The hardest punches, though, are for Ahrens and Flaherty's score, described nearly across the board as unmemorable, with clunky lyrics and a lack of grit and spirit. While there's no denying that Rocky's heart is in the right place, critics dispute the show's slogan: The winner here isn't love; it's spectacle.


Posted on 03/15/14
Photo from Satchmo at the Waldorf
Photo: T. Charles Erickson

A-

Overall, critics enjoy Terry Teachout's transition from theater critic to Armstrong biographer and playwright.A few--notably Entertainment Weekly's Nick Catucci--think there are some easy choices made in the script, but for the most part are transported by John Douglas Thompson's triple performance as Louis Armstrong, Joe Glaser, and Miles Davis. Very few critics have any major criticisms, and there's hearty praise all around for Gordon Edelstein's direction, as well.


Posted on 03/15/14
Photo from Antony and Cleopatra
Photo: Joan Marcus

C-

Some critics can understand why Tarell Alvin McCraney chose to place Antony and Cleopatra in 18th-century France and Haiti; after all, the theme of colonialism is in the original. But for the most part, critics find that McCraney doesn't do enough to illuminate the text; at the same time, they think he didn't go far enough with his edits. But by far the biggest complaint (with a few exceptions) is the lack of chemistry between Jonathan Cake's Antony and Joaquina Kalukango's Cleopatra.