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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.


Posted on 03/15/14
Photo from Hand to God
Photo: Gerry Goodstein

A

Critics swear that Robert Askins’ Hand to God—which had a successful run at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in 2011—is a wild and unconventional crowd pleaser. Steven Boyer, reprising his Obie Award-winning role, is unanimously hailed for his virtuoso performance. New Jersey Newsroom’s Sommers lauds a “devilishly droll show thanks to [playwright Robert] Askins’s nimble writing, a talented cast and director Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s pitch-perfect staging,” but the locus point is Boyer doing double duty as man and possessed appendage. Urges The Post’s Vincentelli, “‘Hand to God” boasts the kind of berserk, star-making performance you have to see to believe.” “Curse yourself if you miss it…” raves Time Out’s Feldman. “Talking to the hand has never been this good.”


Posted on 03/12/14
Photo from The Open House
Photo: Joan Marcus

A-

Overall, critics admire Will Eno's offbeat way with words and praise his latest offering as an enjoyably sharp, quirky, and poignant variation on the dysfunctional family drama. Detractors, on the other hand, are left scratching their heads at Eno's "incomprehensible" and "puzzling" style, but even the negative reviews give high marks to the "impeccable," "expert" cast, design team, and direction by Oliver Butler. If nothing else, The Open House "whets the appetite" for Eno's The Realistic Joneses, opening on Broadway next month.


Posted on 03/10/14
Photo from All the Way
Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva

B+

All hail the history play! Critics are digging the Shakespearean sweep of Robert Schenkkan's bioplay of LBJ's first year in office, though many feel it might be too broad (sketchily drawn supporting characters, too many subplots) to be really effective. There's admiration for director Bill Rauch's fluid direction and mostly high marks for the supporting cast. But it's Bryan Cranston's ferocious star turn as the "accidental president" that really gets critics' blood pumping. Without him, many wonder whether the play would land at all.