Most of us know Ossie Davis as an actor and an activist. That is about to change with the opening tonight of his play “Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch”.
Perhaps best known for the work that inspired the popular musical “Purlie”, “Purlie Victorious” stands on its own as a major achievement. It is also a rediscovery, since it hasn’t been seen in a commercial production since 1961 when it opened on Broadway at the Cort Theatre.
The plot may seem simplistic. Purlie has come home to Cotchipee County (locale: somewhere in the Deep, Deep South) to reclaim an inheritance owed to his family and purchase the church called Big Bethel. However, the machinations that involve this reclamation are anything but. And Davis’s sharp-witted script, embellished with delicious one-liners, is a comic feast of Machivellian twists and turns that result in one of the freshest and funniest play that that we’ve seen in years. The side-splitting shenanigans that transpire in the fast-paced 95 minutes are complemented by unexpected surprises. When Purlie welcomes his soon-to-be disciple Lutiebelle into his home, you think he will be effusively greeted by Aunt Missy, his sister-in-law. And that’s just when the fun begins, courtesy of the expert staging of Kenny Leon. Leon’s stagings of such powerhouse plays as “Fences,” “A Raisin in the Sun”, last season’s “TopDog UnderDog” and “Ohio State Murders” have cemented his reputation as one of our most accomplished directors. Hitherto, he’s not been able to establish his mark in comedy. That mark is made indelibly with this production. And what an ensemble has been assembled: Leslie Odom radiates charm, charisma and conviction as our protagonist who specializes in “white folk psychology”; Kara Young, nominated for back-to-back Tonys the past two seasons in “Clydes” and “The Cost of Living”, surprises as the most engaging comedienne Broadway has seen since Annaleigh Ashford captivated in “You Can’t Take It With You”; Bill Eugene Jones, seen earlier this season in “Fat Ham”, is uproarious as Gitlow, the “deputy for the colored”; Jay O. Sanders is bombastically hilarious as the Ol Cap’n, the symbol of the Old South; Noah Robbins, in the role that Alan Alda originated, is a wonderfully amusing antagonist to his father, the ol Cap’n; Vanessa Bell Colby’s “That’s the Biggest Lie Since the Devil Learned to Talk” line brings down the house with her exquisite comic timing and the sheriff and deputy of Bill Timoney and Noah Pyzik are goofily expert. It’s a terrific ensemble.
Derek McLane’s set transformation for the epilogue wins applause and it deserves to. And the epilogue itself is so memorable…combining ,as much as “Purlie Victorious” does, humor with power resulting in uplifting joyousness.
Verdict: You’ll have a great time. Purlie not only emerges Victorious but this is a triumphant return to Broadway of a wonderful play.
Already seen everything Broadway has to offer? Ahead of this year’s autumn equinox, here’s Broadway’s Best Shows’ picks for what you should catch around New York City this fall. These shows are currently running, and some only have a few performances left, so grab your tickets now!
Little Shop of Horrors
The long-running hit revival of Alan Menken & Howard Ashman’s horror-comedy-musical at the Westside Theatre is still going strong. With the introduction of new stars Corbin Bleu and Constance Wu as Seymour and Audrey, respectively, now is a great time to catch the show, or even return for a repeat viewing!
Atlantic Theatre Company presents Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Baker’s latest work, Infinite Life. The dramedy, which was extended through October 14, is set at a water-fasting retreat in Northern California where a group of women of a certain age are hoping to cure their bodily pains and disorders.
Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors
If you’re looking for a laugh that will also get you in the Halloween spirit, this monstrous farce now running at New World Stages ought to do the trick. In a fresh and sexy take on the classic vampiric tale, James Daly stars as the fabled foe alongside Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Jordan Boatman, Arnie Burton, and Ellen Harvey. The new play by Steve Rosen (The Other Josh Cohen) and Gordon Greenberg–who also directs–is now making its New York debut after regional productions at Maltz Jupiter Theatre in Florida, Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, and Segal Centre for Performing Arts in Montreal.
Rachel Bloom: Death, Let Me Do My Show
From the creator and star of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, this new musical comedy looks death squarely in the eye. Don’t let her “everybody pretend it’s 2019” top of show message fool you–Bloom brings her signature brand of intelligent, raunchy, thoughtful comedy to tackle pandemic grief and confusion. The strictly limited run ends September 30 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.
Céline Dion (as homaged by a roster of mostly former Elphabas) continues to sail through the story of the Titanic at the Daryl Roth Theatre! In this gay fantasia, which opened at Asylum NYC in June 2022 before moving to its current home, Céline uses her own discography to conjure her memory of the iconic ship, confusing fact with James Cameron’s fictional filmic telling.
In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs September 15 to October 15, we’re taking a look at the history of Hispanic and Latinx theater artists on Broadway, both onstage and off, including some lesser-known projects beyond beloved hits like In The Heights and On Your Feet!
Kiss of the Spider Woman
Manuel Puig, a queer Argentinian writer and dissident, grew up obsessed with the glamor of Hollywood leading ladies. He turned these experiences into his 1976 novel El beso de la mujer araña, or The Kiss of the Spider Woman. Terrence McNally collaborated with Kander and Ebb to turn it into a dark, sensual musical set in an Argentine prison, with Latina trailblazer Chita Rivera as the fantastical Spiderwoman. It won 6 Tonys in 1994, and rumors continue to circulate about a possible revival.
A Chorus Line
You’re probably familiar with this 1975 mega-hit musical. You might not know how the show, with a cast reflecting the diversity of New York City, has important connections to the Latino community. Puerto Rican New Yorker Nicholas Dante co-wrote the book with James Kirkwood Jr., making him both the first Latino to write a Broadway musical and the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Fellow Nuyorican Priscilla Lopez was Tony-nominated for her role as Diana Morales. While there were many Latino dancers and performers in New York at the time, there were very few roles specifically written for them outside of West Side Story (and, a widespread practice of casting non-Latinos in that show, including in the 1961 movie.) Morales’ identity was prevalent in the storytelling (“hey, they don’t have bobsleds in San Juan”), but it was not her only character trait, and she wasn’t the sole Latinx person onstage. Equally groundbreaking was the character of Paul, a queer Puerto Rican who worked on Broadway and as a drag queen, closely based on Nicholas Dante’s own life.
Premiering at the Vivian Beaumont in 1974, Short Eyes was the first Broadway play by a Latino playwright. An indictment of the racial injustices in New York’s prison system, it was written by Miguel Piñero during his sentence at Sing Sing. Joseph Papp shepherded the production first to the Public Theater and then to Broadway, where it was nominated for the Tony for Best Play.
Latin History for Morons
Colombian-American comedian and actor John Leguizamo turned his own frustrations and lack of knowledge of his own history into a one-man Broadway show, which premiered at the Public Theater downtown in 2017 before moving to Broadway. Sparked by his son getting bullied for being Latino, Leguizamo parses through forgotten history and unkind stereotypes to find role models and heroes. The show was also filmed as a Netflix special, and Leguisamo received a Special Tony Award.
Anna in the Tropics
Cuban-American Nilo Cruz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece premiered on Broadway in 2003. The original production starred Jimmy Smits, Priscilla Lopez, and Daphne Ruben-Vega as workers in a cigar factory in Tampa. Smits’ character Juan Julian reads Anna Karenina to the workers as they roll cigars, and the drama of the novel bleeds into their own lives. It was also nominated for Best Play at the Tonys.
Starring Edward James Olmos, Zoot Suit was the first Latino-written and -directed musical on Broadway. The title refers to the wide-lapelled suits popular among young Chicanos in the 1940s. It had a wildly successful run at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in 1979, where it told the true story of the World War II era L.A. Chicano community, including the famous ‘Zoot Suit’ riots of 1943. While its Broadway run in 1980 was short-lived, Olmos was nominated for his first Tony award for it.
This weekend we welcome the Jewish New Year and kick off the High Holiday season! In celebration, we are bringing you a list of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows that you can see this year featuring Jewish stories and themes. Here’s to a sweet year of theater-going ahead!
This new musical from Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman premiered last season Off-Broadway at the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s home theater in the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Now it’s getting its Broadway debut at the Barrymore Theatre this fall, with Broadway favorites Chip Zien and Sierra Boggess reprising their roles, and Julie Benko (of Fanny Brice standby fame) joining the cast! The show follows the true story of the Comedian Harmonists, a group of singers, some of them Jewish, as they rose to prominence and toured Europe during the rise of Nazism in the early 1930’s.
Prayer for the French Republic
Also a transfer from a successful Off-Broadway run, Prayer for the French Republic is playwright Joshua Harmon’s (Bad Jews, Significant Other) latest examination of modern Jewish themes. Manhattan Theatre Club presents the play at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre beginning in December 2023, with David Cromer back at the helm. The play covers several generations of a Jewish family in France, moving between two distinct eras of Jewish/French history in an exploration of everlasting antisemitism and questions of Jewish identity and its place in the world.
A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical
The story of the life and career of singer-songwriter Neil Diamond, famously a nice Jewish boy from Flatbush, is retold in this bio-musical using his own catalog of hits. Stereotypical parents, Yiddish slang, and reference to his Eastern European family’s “coming to America” give this Broadway musical a nice Jewish flair. Will Swenson plays the music icon, with Shirine Babb set to join the company in the role of Diamond’s psychiatrist, who helps him recount the story.
I Can Get It For You Wholesale
Classic Stage Company will present a revival of this 1962 musical Off-Broadway this Fall, with Santino Fontana, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Adam Chanler-Berat, Judy Kuhn, Joy Woods, and more in the cast. Set in 1930s New York, in the Jewish-dominated garment industry, nearly every character in the show is Jewish, and the score is inflected with klezmer melodies. Julia Lester plays Miss Marmelstein, the role in which Barbra Streisand made her Broadway debut!
As a follow-up to our pre-theater dinner recommendations, here are our recommendations for where to eat dinner before a Broadway show on the cheap. Our criteria: they must have entrees for under $20, a meal there can’t take longer than 30 minutes, and no national chains. (And we promise, we’d never send Broadway’s Best Shows readership to any establishment without an A from the Health Department.)
Everyone orders at the counter at this authentic and efficient taco spot, which also offers quesadillas and tostadas, which are open-faced tacos on a crunchy tortilla. They make the masa for the tortillas from scratch every day, and gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan options abound for all preferences. Make sure to ask your server for “con todo,” so you get all the toppings– guacamole is no extra charge.
Lucky’s has been a Hell’s Kitchen institution since 2005, arguably even essential infrastructure – they’re open until 4:30 in the morning on Friday and Saturday nights. They offer the menu of a big fast food chain even though 52nd street is their sole location, and you can order combos like the #1, a burger with fries and a drink.
This outpost of the legendary Chinatown noodle shop features the same menu, with its signature options for noodle thickness and shape– it’s in the name, they really do pull the noodles fresh by hand for each order. Unlike the downtown location, the Hell’s Kitchen shop accepts credit cards!
Designed to look like a 1950’s burger counter, Lovely’s opened in early 2023. The Charlotte’s Special cheeseburger with special sauce is just $8.50. They’re open until 1 am on weekends, and while they don’t sell milkshakes, they do offer a killer chocolate pistachio Bundt cake.
There are a million slice counters in Midtown, but Capizzi offers something a bit more elevated– every pie is made from scratch, and is personal-pizza sized. It’s very quick and unpretentious, so you can avoid the line over on 40th street at Joe’s and try something new, like a white artichoke pie, or an egg, pancetta, and provolone pie.
When Hamilton opened at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in the summer of 2015 it set Broadway ablaze, triggering a cultural phenomenon not seen in the theater for quite some time before then (or since). Given the musical’s zeitgeisty success, it also skyrocketed the profiles of its leading players, many of whom have launched top-notch careers in the years since, both on and off the stage. Here’s our recap of what those original cast members have been up to since starring in Hamilton, one of Broadway’s Best Shows.
The Pulitzer and Tony-winning writer-star of Hamilton has been exceptionally busy since departing the Broadway cast of his hit show. Miranda has lent his talents to several film & TV projects, both on and off screen, having written songs for Moana, Mary Poppins Returns, Vivo, Encanto, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, 2023’s The Little Mermaid remake, and more! He made his feature film directorial debut with Tick, Tick… Boom!, the adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s rock monologue musical.He also appeared onscreen in the Mary Poppins sequel, His Dark Materials, as well as in guest appearances on several long-running TV series. The proshot of Hamilton landed on Disney+ in 2020, featuring the full original cast, and his first Broadway musical, In the Heights, was adapted into a film in 2021 (he even made a cameo appearance!). His freestyle group, Freestyle Love Supreme, had a Broadway run at the Booth Theatre, for which he made multiple guest appearances. He made his Broadway writing return in the spring of 2022, contributing additional for the musical New York, New York, alongside iconic composer John Kander, based on the songs of Kander and his longtime collaborator Fred Ebb.
Leslie Odom, Jr.
Leslie’s star has been on the rise in the years since Hamilton, appearing in several films including Knives Out: Glass Onion, One Night in Miami (for which he was nominated for an Academy Award), and the upcoming reboot of The Exorcist. He has also made television appearances in hit shows Central Park, Abbott Elementary, and more! Six years later, he has made his grand return to Broadway in the titular role of the first ever Broadway revival of Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch by Ossie Davis.
After making her Broadway debut as Eliza in the original Broadway cast, Soo has appeared in four Broadway productions, including the play The Parisian Woman, and musicals Amélie, Into the Woods, and most recently, Camelot. She has also appeared onscreen recently in TV series Dopesick and Shining Girls.
Renée Elise Goldsberry
Goldsberry has not yet made a Broadway return since playing Angelica in Hamilton, but appeared on the New York stage in the summer of 2023 leading the Public Theater’s musical adaptation of The Tempest at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. She has also starred in several television series, including Peacock’s Girls5Eva, and Marvel’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.
The actor, rapper, writer, and producer has also been busy since his Hamilton days, appearing in films like Wonder, Ferdinand, The Little Mermaid, Soul, and Blindspotting (which he also wrote alongside collaborator Rafael Casal). He has also had recurring roles in Apple TV+’s Central Park, Netflix’s The Get Down, TNT’s Snowpiercer, and ABC’s Black-Ish, among cameos and guest spots on several series.
Ramos led the 2021 adaptation of In the Heights as Usnavi, appeared as Lady Gaga’s best friend in A Star is Born, and has since become the face of the blockbuster Transformers franchise, starring in its latest installment, Rise of the Beasts. Also a burgeoning recording artist, Ramos has released two albums, and a slew of singles in the years since his Broadway run.
“Oak” has been on Broadway twice since Hamilton, with a brief run as Pierre in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, and more recently, a supporting role in the 2023 revival of A Doll’s House alongside Jessica Chastain under his belt. Onscreen, he is a lead of the Grey’s Anatomy spin-off series Station 19, and appears in the fourth season of Amazon Prime’s action series Jack Ryan.
Cephas-Jones has mostly turned her attention to film and television, appearing with her Hamilton co-star Daveed Diggs in his film Blindspotting, and in the television series based on the film. She also appeared in Marriage Story, Mrs. Fletcher, and #Freerayshawn, for which she won an Emmy in 2020. As a recording artist, she released her EP Blue Bird in 2020. She will next be seen in Ava DuVernay’s upcoming film Origin, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival to rave reviews in September 2023. A wide release date has not been set.
Groff returns to Broadway in fall 2023 in the revival of Merrily We Roll Along, opposite Daniel Radcliffe and Lindsay Mendez. Immediately post-Hamilton, he starred in David Fincher’s Netflix series Mindhunter for two seasons. He returned to voice Kristoff in 2019’s Frozen 2, and played one of the villains in 2021’s The Matrix: Resurrections. On the stage, he was the original Seymour in the still-running 2019 revival of Little Shop of Horrors off-Broadway.
DeBose appeared in the ensemble of Hamilton as “The Bullet,” the dance soloist during the duel scenes. She graduated to Broadway principal status in 2018’s Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, but her huge break came when Steven Spielberg cast her as Anita in his West Side Story redux. She became the second Latina ever to win an acting Oscar in 2022 for that role, and hosted the Tony Awards in 2022 and 2023. She also voices the main character in Disney’s animated 2023 film Wish, and will appear in a Marvel Cinematic Universe film in 2024.
As Labor Day approaches, when we acknowledge and honor organized labor’s contributions to this country, Broadway’s Best Shows is looking back at stories of the labor movement onstage, of which there are many. Perhaps it’s only natural that Broadway feature union stories, since so much of the industry is unionized – actors and stage managers, directors, designers, and stagehands each have their own unions. And what could be more dramatic than a union showdown? It’s ample fodder for storytelling, given its high stakes and everyman heroes.
“Now is the time to seize the day…” In 2012, Alan Menken turned his Disney movie about the newsboy’s strike of 1899 into a stage musical. Its young, energetic cast performed high-flying choreography from Christopher Gatelli, and it turned Jeremy Jordan into a star. It developed a passionate fanbase, which meant thousands of teenage girls now know about the union-busting tactics of William Randolph Hearst. The rousing songs, particularly “Seize the Day,” have even been sung on the picket lines for the 2023 Writer’s Guild strike.
Waiting for Lefty
A parable about workers on the verge of strike that captured the anger and anxiety of workers during the Depression, Waiting for Lefty by Clifford Odets is one of the most important plays of the 20th century. It had a ripped-from-the-headlines immediacy, as New Yorkers were still processing the 1934 taxicab drivers’ strike, the ensuing rioting, and Mayor LaGuardia’s staunchly pro-labor position. It premiered at Broadway’s Longacre Theatre in 1935. Odets directed the production, and performed in the role of Dr. Benjamin. While Odets’ other plays Awake and Sing, Golden Boy, and Country Girl have each been revived multiple times on Broadway, Waiting for Lefty was performed at hundreds of theaters across America during the Depression, but has not yet been revived for Broadway.
I Can Get It for You Wholesale
I Can Get It For You Wholesale is a fascinating text about intracommunity conflict and labor actions by garment workers in Depression era New York. The plot kicks off when protagonist Harry Bogen tries to scab around striking workers. Streisand stole the show as Harry’s overworked receptionist Miss Marmelstein. I Can Get It For You Wholesale will be produced in New York in fall 2023, directed by Trip Cullman downtown at Classic Stage Company and starring a stacked cast, including Santino Fontana, Judy Kuhn, Joy Woods, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Sarah Steele, and Adam Chanler Berat, with Julia Lester as Miss Marmelstein.
The Pajama Game
This classic Golden Age musical takes a lighthearted look at unionized garment workers in Iowa. Its central romance is two star-crossed lovers on opposite sides of a strike–the head of the Union Grievance Committee, Babe Williams, and Sid Sorokin, the new management. The show is notable for being Bob Fosse’s choreography debut. His legendary choreography for “Steam Heat” takes place at the Union rally!
Ahrens’ and Flaherty’s 1997 historical-fiction musical, with a book by Terrence McNally adapting E.L. Doctorow’s novel, touches on nearly every hot button issue in America–racism, sexism, xenophobia and anti-immigrant hatred, and religious tension–and through its sweeping scale, demonstrates how these different issues are connected, and how the political debates and social problems of 1900 connect to today. Audience members are often surprised by the world of 1900s New York the show portrays, especially the militant, mobilized, and very large labor union movement. Two of the show’s protagonists, wealthy Mother’s Younger Brother and impoverished Jewish immigrant Tateh, have their lives turned upside down by strikes and radical ideas, personified in the show by radical anarchist Emma Goldman.