Capsule Reviews

Purlie Victorious

Drake Dixon

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.


Broadway’s Best Shows About the Labor Movement

By Katie Devin Orenstein

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. 

Source: New York Public Library

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. 


The Pride of Broadway: Celebrating LGBTQ+ Plays and Musicals

Broadway has long been a platform for diverse stories, and the LGBTQ+ community has found a powerful voice within its hallowed theaters. From groundbreaking dramas to electrifying musicals, the Broadway stage has showcased the struggles, triumphs, and vibrant lives of LGBTQ+ individuals. Let’s delve into the realm of LGBTQ+ plays and musicals, exploring iconic productions that have captivated audiences and left an indelible mark on both the stage and society.

Angels in America: Tony Kushner’s monumental masterpiece, “Angels in America,” shattered barriers and ignited conversations about sexuality, politics, and the AIDS crisis. Set against the backdrop of 1980s America, this two-part play explores the intersecting lives of a group of individuals affected by the epidemic. With its poetic language, powerful themes, and unforgettable characters, “Angels in America” remains an enduring symbol of LGBTQ+ resilience and the fight for equality.

Fun Home: Based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, “Fun Home” invites audiences on a deeply personal journey of self-discovery and acceptance. This groundbreaking musical delves into Bechdel’s experiences growing up in a funeral home, her relationship with her closeted gay father, and her own exploration of her sexuality. With its poignant storytelling and memorable songs, “Fun Home” shines a light on the complexities of family dynamics and the quest for authenticity.

A Strange Loop: Uplifting and introspective, “A Strange Loop” offers a fresh and unapologetic perspective on the challenges faced by a young, black, queer artist. Michael R. Jackson’s innovative musical takes audiences on a journey through the mind of Usher, a struggling writer grappling with self-doubt, body image, and societal expectations. With its blend of humor, soul-stirring songs, and raw honesty, “A Strange Loop” celebrates the power of self-love and artistic expression. A Strange Loop is coming to the West End.

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The Normal Heart: Larry Kramer’s seminal play, “The Normal Heart,” serves as a powerful testament to the early years of the AIDS crisis and the tireless activism that emerged during that time. Through the character of Ned Weeks, loosely based on Kramer himself, the play confronts the government’s inaction, the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, and the urgent need for community support. “The Normal Heart” continues to be a rallying cry for LGBTQ+ rights and a reminder of the importance of solidarity in the face of adversity.

The Laramie Project: “The Laramie Project” is a poignant and heart-wrenching play that explores the aftermath of the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student in Laramie, Wyoming. Through a series of interviews conducted with the people of Laramie, the play reflects the town’s response to the hate crime and examines broader issues of prejudice and intolerance. By giving voice to various perspectives, “The Laramie Project” calls for empathy and understanding in a divided world.

The Boys in the Band: Mart Crowley’s groundbreaking play, “The Boys in the Band,” made its mark in 1968 as one of the first plays to unapologetically portray gay characters. Set during a birthday party, the play explores the complexities of friendship, love, and self-acceptance within a group of gay men. It remains a significant cultural touchstone, representing a time of evolving LGBTQ+ visibility and the challenges faced by the community.

The Nance: Set in the 1930s, “The Nance” provides a glimpse into the world of burlesque and the life of a “nance” — a stock character often portrayed as a campy, effeminate gay man. Douglas Carter Beane’s play sensitively explores the dichotomy faced by the protagonist, Chauncey Miles, as he navigates his personal life while performing on stage. “The Nance” serves as a powerful reminder of the struggles faced by LGBTQ+ individuals during an era of limited acceptance.

Torch Song Trilogy: Harvey Fierstein’s “Torch Song Trilogy” follows the journey of Arnold Beckoff, a drag queen and gay man, as he seeks love, family, and acceptance in 1970s and 1980s New York City. This landmark play explores themes of identity, relationships, and the longing for a sense of belonging. With its mix of heartache, humor, and resilience, “Torch Song Trilogy” became a touchstone for LGBTQ+ audiences and a symbol of hope.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch: A rock musical like no other, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” tells the story of Hedwig, a transgender rock singer from East Germany. With a fusion of catchy songs and a compelling narrative, this musical explores themes of gender identity, love, and the quest for self-acceptance. “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” has captivated audiences with its fierce energy and unapologetic celebration of individuality.

Kinky Boots: Inspired by a true story, “Kinky Boots” follows the journey of Charlie Price as he takes over his family’s struggling shoe factory and forms an unlikely partnership with drag queen Lola. With a vibrant score by Cyndi Lauper, this feel-good musical celebrates acceptance, self-expression, and the power of embracing one’s true self. “Kinky Boots” offers a joyous celebration of diversity and the triumph of love over prejudice.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert: Based on the hit film, “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” takes audiences on a fabulous journey across the Australian Outback with a trio of drag queens. This exuberant musical combines dazzling costumes, disco hits, and a heartfelt story of friendship and self-discovery. Through its vibrant spectacle and themes of resilience and acceptance, “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” has become a beloved LGBTQ+ anthem.

Broadway has played a vital role in giving voice to LGBTQ+ narratives, allowing for greater understanding, acceptance, and celebration of the community’s experiences. As Broadway continues to evolve, it remains an essential platform for sharing the diverse stories of the LGBTQ+ community, fostering empathy, and inspiring change.


The Best Theater District Restaurants

Whether you’re cramming in a few more shows before this year’s Tony Awards (reminder: June 11th!), entertaining friends from out-of-town, or just in need of a good meal in Midtown, here are five quality restaurants in the Theater District, hand-picked by the Broadway’s Best Shows editorial team. All five wait staffs will get you to your 7 or 8 o’clock curtain in time if you ask. We highly recommend reserving tables in advance.

La Masseria

This Theater District mainstay opened in 2004, and is more elegant and a little less chaotic than other red sauce joints in the neighborhood, while still being great for families or groups. Try the Capri-style ravioli di angelina or the i cucuzielli fritti alla Chef Pino, a.k.a. the chef’s specialty fried zucchini. 

235 W 48th St (between Broadway and 8th.) Reservations available by phone or email here. 

The Lambs Club

The Lambs Club was formerly the home of a private club for actors and performers, and the decor might make you feel dropped into an episode of Mad Men. Chef Jack Logue offers a three-course pre theater menu for $75, or you might try the baroque-ish “Stanford White burger” with Gruyere and pickled onion. 

132 W 44th st (between 6th and 7th.) Reservations on Resy


This nearly one hundred year old institution is so old school it even has a dress code (no tank tops, sports jerseys, or hats) but the menu isn’t tired at all. The name of the game here is the steaks, which you can see carefully aging through a storefront window on 52nd. Again, not a spot for a light meal! Try to save room for the pecan pie a la mode. 

228 W 52nd (between Broadway and 8th.) Reservations on OpenTable. 


Situated in a former Astor mansion, the luxurious Barbetta is the oldest restaurant in New York to still be owned by the family that opened it, way back in 1906. The menu features delicacies from the Peimonte region of Northwest Italy. If you arrive for the pre-theatre pre fixe menu early enough, you might be able to score a table in the restaurant’s jaw dropping back patio – it’s first come, first serve. The menu notes the year each dish was added to the repertoire, like the minestrone soup, made using the same recipe they used on opening day in 1906.

321 W 46th (between 8th and 9th.) Reservations here

The Mermaid Inn

The Mermaid Inn might be best known as a stylish and unpretentious cocktails and oysters bar, and their raw selections and happy hour options are excellent. For those who prefer their crustaceans cooked, they offer Manhattan’s best lobster roll. Be sure to try their french fries seasoned with Old Bay spice mix. The Inn also has locations in Greenwich Village and Chelsea, and will soon reopen on the Upper West Side at Columbus and 76th. 

127 W 43rd (between Broadway and 6th.) Reservations on OpenTable

We would be remiss not to mention:

Sardi’s and Joe Allen

We’ll never reveal just how much of our “Broadway’s Best Kept Secrets” newsletter feature comes from overheard conversations at Sardi’s and Joe Allen. The caricatures lining the walls at Sardi’s have become so famous that sometimes we need a reminder that they also serve food there– particularly classic the spinach cannelloni. Joe Allen stays open late for an after-theater burger, and you can eye the posters of flop shows while you gossip and eat. 

Sardi’s, 234 W 44th (between Broadway and 8th.) Reservations on OpenTable

Joe Allen, 326 W 46th (between 8th and 9th, across the street from Barbetta.) Reservations on OpenTable



Meet Tom Kitt, the Tony-nominated composer of this season’s ALMOST FAMOUS.

Photo by Jenny Anderson

Tony, Emmy, Grammy, and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and orchestrator Tom Kitt earns his seventh Tony nomination with ALMOST FAMOUS. He shares his nomination with co-lyricist and book writer Cameron Crowe, who also wrote the original film. 

Kitt won his two Tonys, as well as a Pulitzer Prize, for composing and orchestrating NEXT TO NORMAL with lyricist Brian Yorkey. He has also been nominated for orchestrating SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS and JAGGED LITTLE PILL, and for composing IF/THEN and FLYING OVER SUNSET. He won an Emmy for composing the 2013 Tony Awards opening number with Lin-Manuel Miranda, and a Grammy for the JAGGED LITTLE PILL original Broadway cast album. 

Get to know more about this Broadway musical stalwart with our TONY TALK Q&A:

Who was the first person to text/call you when you got the nomination?

The first text I received was from my friend Sarah Levine Hall who is a producer on the Tony Awards.  I was watching my son’s percussion recital, and I briefly checked my phone and saw that she had sent me a hand clap emoji.

Show some love to a fellow nominee this year. Whose work blew you away?

This is a hard question to answer as there is so much brilliant work on Broadway this season, but personal favorite would be my friend Annaleigh Ashford whose work in Sweeney Todd is virtuosic in every way.

Top restaurant in the theater district?

Joe Allen is my go-to.  Love the food, the ambience, and the “High Fidelity” poster.

The first Broadway show you ever saw?

Peter Pan with Sandy Duncan.

When did you decide to become a theater artist?

It was when I was at Columbia University as an undergrad.  My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) Rita Pietropinto introduced me to another student named Brian Yorkey and we began writing shows together, dreaming of someday getting to Broadway.

What is your earliest Tonys memory?

My earliest memory is of me convincing my mom to let me stay up past my bedtime to watch the show with her and my sister.  We couldn’t wait for the performances of the musicals we were constantly singing songs from.

Who’s your favorite Tonys host in history, and why?

This would be a tie between Neil Patrick Harris and James Corden, because they both entrusted me with the great honor of co-writing the opening number for them.  Also, special shoutout to my friend Ariana DeBose who was incredible last year.

All-time favorite Tonys performance on the telecast, and why?

It would be “Bigger,” the opening number that I wrote with Lin-Manuel Miranda for Neil Patrick Harris in 2013.  It was the first time I had ever done anything like that, and it was so gargantuan and terrifying.  And then on the telecast, everything clicked, and it was truly magical.  To this day, I marvel at what the entire team (Neil especially) was able to pull off and how emotional it all makes me feel.

Most memorable Tonys acceptance speech, and why?

For me, it would be Lin-Manuel Miranda’s acceptance speech in 2016 for Hamilton, where his “love is love is love” rallying cry was a direct call for humanity to rise above the hate and violent acts that divide us, and for artists to continue to find the melodies that bring us into harmony.

What is one play or musical you would like to adapt or revive on Broadway, and why?

I would love to explore an adaptation of Sam Shepherd’s play, “True West” as a musical.  It would be exciting to see Shepherd’s indelible characters and rich dialogue become songs, maybe in an alt-country feel.


TONY TALK: Jessica Hecht

Meet Jessica Hecht, the Tony-nominated actress from this season’s two-hander SUMMER, 1976, in which she stars opposite Laura Linney.

SUMMER, 1976. Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Hecht is one of our most versatile and gifted theater artists, with Broadway credits dating back to 1997, when she starred in the Tony-winning play THE LAST NIGHT OF BALLYHOO. This year’s marks her second Tony nomination, after being recognized for her work in 2010’s A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE. Additional Broadway appearances include BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS, A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, and FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, among several others.

Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Joan Marcus

She has appeared many times on the New York stage throughout her career, including this season’s LETTERS FROM MAX by Sarah Ruhl at Signature Theatre Company. She is also known for her television roles on Friends, Breaking Bad, and Special, for which was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award, among others.

Get to know this New York theater icon with our TONY TALK Q&A:

Who was the first person to text/call you when you got the nomination? 

I texted Laura Linney to express how indebted I am to her.

Show some love to a fellow nominee this year. Whose work blew you away?

I loved David Zayas in Cost of Living.

Top restaurant in the theater district? 

I like Bond 45 for the incredible Antipasto…Also I met Todd Haimes there several times and it now holds these memories of him.

The first Broadway show you ever saw?

Shenandoah!! Which I saw in 1976! I went with my class from middle school in Bloomfield, CT. It was a revelation!

When did you decide to become a theater artist?
While at Connecticut College, I met the great Morris Carnovsky and he was so devoted to the work he had done in the Group Theatre and I was awed by him and just followed him around like a puppy and he told me to go to New York and Study with Stella Adler and I never looked back.

What is your earliest Tonys memory?
Well I think being at the live awards for The Last Night of Ballyhoo…and having our play win for Best Play…as we sat in the nosebleed seats (in a dress I borrowed from magnificent Dana Ivey!) has become my earliest adult memory…and it just trumps all other memories.

Who’s your favorite Tonys host in history, and why? 

Nathan Lane and Mathew Broderick made you feel like you were on the inside of some delicious joke in a familiar and true, “this is our time” way that was thrilling.

All-time favorite Tonys performance on the telecast, and why?

Hamilton… Come on… 🙂

Most memorable Tonys acceptance speech, and why?

Danny Burstein. So genuine, so simple. It was ultimately a love note to the community from him …and Becca.

What is one play or musical you would like to perform on Broadway, and why?

Sarah Ruhl’s Stage Kiss would be a dream to do on Broadway. It’s equally theatrical and intimate …ingeniously so. I’d also do anything by Tennessee Williams of course….for much the same reason as Stage Kiss….Isn’t that the thrill? To be both wonderfully theatrical and steadily real. 

Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of SUMMER, 1976 is running at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, currently scheduled through June 18, 2023.


TONY TALK: Audra McDonald

Meet Audra McDonald, the Tony-nominated star of this season’s OHIO STATE MURDERS.

OHIO STATE MURDERS. Photo by Richard Termine.

A bona fide Broadway star, Audra McDonald is the only actress to have been recognized in all four acting categories. This year, she is nominated for the 10th time for her performance as Suzanne Alexander in Adrienne Kennedy’s OHIO STATE MURDERS. The production marked Adrienne Kennedy’s Broadway debut at the age of 91, and was directed by Kenny Leon.

THE GERSHWINS’ PORGY AND BESS. Photo by Michael J. Lutch.

Of her 13 Broadway outings, some of her most notable include CAROUSEL (1994), MASTER CLASS (1996), RAGTIME (1998), A RAISIN IN THE SUN (2004), THE GERSHWINS’ PORGY AND BESS (2012), and LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR & GRILL (2014), all of which won her Tony Awards for her performances.

Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday for LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR & GRILL (Photo by Warwick Saint)

Get to know more about this Broadway icon with our TONY TALK Q&A:

Who was the first person to text/call you when you got the nomination?
I was on the train heading to the city for rehearsal, and my friend sent me a video message of his son saying “Hi Auntie Audra, congratulations on your Tony nomination!” That’s how I found out.

Show some love to a fellow nominee this year. Whose work blew you away?
I was bowled over by “Fat Ham”. I thought it was an incredible adaptation and I was truly blown away.

Top restaurant in the theater district?
It’s just south of the Theater District, but Boqueria – incredible tapas!

The first Broadway show you ever saw?
Starlight Express

When did you decide to become a theater artist?
When I was 9 years old, the first time I stepped on the stage in my dinner theater in Fresno, California. I felt such electricity and the sense that was where I belonged. I felt normal for the first time in my life.

What is your earliest Tonys memory?
One of my earliest Tonys memories was being in the elevator heading to the stage for “Carousel” to rehearse our number and running into Sally Mayes. She had just come from rehearsal for their number, she was starring in the revival of “She Loves Me” and we both had nominations in the same category. I didn’t know her very well, but we saw each other, fell into each other’s arms, gave each other the biggest hug and said, “have the most amazing night!” It was my first sense of true camaraderie with performers and theater makers. I learned in the end, it’s all a lovefest.

Who’s your favorite Tonys host in history, and why?
Rosie O’Donnell always did a wonderful job. With Rosie, it was about the love of the community and musical theater. She gave so much support to the theater with her TV show. There was such a love and an ease, and she hosted with awe and joy.

All-time favorite Tonys performance on the telecast, and why?
There are so many amazing performances, but what comes to my mind is Jennifer Holiday’s ‘And I Am Telling You’ from “Dreamgirls.”

Most memorable Tonys acceptance speech, and why?
I remember being incredibly moved by Billy Porter’s speech when he won for “Kinky Boots” declaring “this is who I am.” He spoke about his mother not necessarily understanding who he was but loving him anyway and her acceptance. She was there for him and nurtured him so he could grow to be his best self. His love for his mother in that moment and honoring her in that way was intensely moving.

What is one play or musical you would like to perform on Broadway, and why?
The answer is all of them, because I love Broadway so much.


Groundbreaking Musicals of the 20th Century and Their Film Adaptations

by Katie Devin Orenstein

Over a hundred years of evolution have transformed vaudeville, burlesque, and operetta into the mature art form we know today as musical theater. Certain shows in particular pushed the artform forward, deepening the nuance, complexity, and depth of musical content and form. Yet, interestingly enough, these unusual musicals did not have the same transformative impact on cinema, and most have become footnotes to their grander Broadway successes. Below are some of the musicals that transformed the medium, and their film adaptations. 

Show Boat

1927’s Show Boat was the first musical to explore dark, socially relevant themes. Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein innovated the musical melodrama, with a story about workers on a Mississippi River steamship that deals with gambling, alcoholism, racism, and in particular, anti-miscegenation laws. It might not seem novel today, but in the 1920s, Broadway musicals were exclusively comedies, with shoestring plots just to tie the songs and comic business together, if they had plots at all. The musical opened December 27th, 1927 at the former Ziegfeld Theatre, has been revived on Broadway multiple times, and is perhaps best known for the song “Ol Man River.”

Show Boat was adapted into a movie not once, not twice, but thrice: by Universal Studios in 1929 and 1936, and by MGM in 1951, in Technicolor. 

Ava Gardner sings “Bill” in the Show Boat 1951 film.

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess

Porgy & Bess broke new ground in part because it was written as an opera, not a musical. Its Broadway premiere at the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon) on October 10th, 1935 was because its composer, George Gershwin, wanted to “appeal to the many rather than the cultured few,” as he wrote in an essay in the New York Times in 1936. The result is a groundbreaking “folk opera” (Gershwin’s words) about Black Americans that fuses operatic structures and musical theatre conventions like dance breaks and humorous subplots. For decades it was the only opera written for Black performers. While its lush romantic score has made it a mainstay in opera houses around the world, its story of drug addiction, rape, and murder features many negative stereotypes about Black people. Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, who adapted the show’s book for the 2012 Broadway revival, loved the music, and tried to “make the story just as great.”

It was adapted into a movie in 1959 with a stacked cast of Black Hollywood and Broadway trailblazers like Sammy Davis Jr., Pearl Bailey, and Diahann Carroll, with Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge in the title roles. It was to be legendary film producer Samuel Goldwyn’s final film. (The Goldwyn family has something of an affinity for groundbreaking musicals—Samuel’s grandson Tony Goldwyn is co-directing the upcoming Pal Joey revival.)

Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis perform “I Loves You, Porgy” from the 2012 Broadway revival.

Pal Joey

When Pal Joey opened at the Barrymore Theatre on Christmas Day 1940 it introduced something alien to the musical theater canon: cynicism. In the love triangle between a charming and slimy nightclub singer named Joey, his wide-eyed paramour Linda, and his rich, and married, lover Vera, no one ends up together in the end. Joey starts and ends the show a scoundrel, making him Broadway’s first anti-hero (Show Boat’s tragic couple reunite at the end, and Bess dies in Porgy’s arms. Joey gets out of his misdeeds unscathed but utterly alone.) Lorenz Hart’s witty, suggestive lyrics got now-classics like “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” shunned from radio broadcast in 1940. 

In this clip from the heavily sanitized Pal Joey film, Rita Hayworth performs “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” with the singing voice of Jo Ann Greer.

Notice the lyric discrepancies between the movie and this clip of Patti LuPone singing Hart’s original lyrics:

A group of people dancing

Description automatically generated
the Rogers and Hammerstein Organization


Hammerstein wrote the lyrics for Show Boat, Rodgers composed Pal Joey; their first collaboration was guaranteed to be fascinating. On March 31st, 1943, at the St. James Theatre, Rodgers and Hammerstein opened the first musical to use music and dance not just to entertain but to tell the story: Oklahoma, a tragic yet hopeful fable of community cohesion and romantic desire in rural America. Agnes de Mille’s choreography was particularly innovative, staging farm girl Laurie’s inner torment and indecision as a dream ballet. Oklahoma’s incredibly sophisticated integration of text, music, choreography, and design created the modern musical form, influencing everything from My Fair Lady to Hamilton, Dreamgirls to A Strange Loop, and everything in between

Like Show Boat, Porgy & Bess, and Pal Joey, Oklahoma was made into a film in the 1950s. As with Joey, some sexually suggestive lyrics were excised, in order to abide by the Hayes Code, a conservative set of rules all film studios followed at the time. 

Compare the original text of “Kansas City”

With the film version:

Watch Tony-nominated choreographer John Heginbotham’s version of the “Dream Ballet” for the 2019 Oklahoma revival. Just like in the 1943 original, Laurie departs the stage and a dancer represents her inner psyche:

A Chorus Line

Backstage stories like Show Boat, Pal Joey, and Kiss Me Kate have been a constant presence on Broadway, but none have been as raw or honest as A Chorus Line. The first musical to be developed through a series of workshops, A Chorus Line set the industry standard, although basing the story on the actors’ life experiences remains unusual. It was also the first musical to run for over 10 years on Broadway. Streamlining the plot to just one afternoon cattle call audition for the chorus of an unnamed show, A Chorus Line might be most innovative in its seeming simplicity. Every character has the same objective: they “really need this job,” as Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban’s peripatetic score explains to us in the opening number. 

The 1985 film adaptation was directed by Richard Attenborough, and did not have the success that the stage show did. 

Donna McKechnie performs “The Music & The Mirror” in the original Broadway production of A Chorus Line. Slipping between dialogue and singing like this was pioneered by Oklahoma, as was choreographers Michael Bennett and Bob Avian’s ability to visualize Cassie’s pain and ambition through dance.


TONY TALK: Casey Nicholaw

Meet Casey Nicholaw, the Director-Choreographer of SOME LIKE IT HOT!

Nicholaw is double-nominated at this year’s Tony Awards, for Best Direction of a Musical and Best Choreography, accounting for two of the show’s 13 nominations (the most of any production this season!). This year’s additions also bring his personal Tony nominations to 13 – he won his Tony in 2011 for his direction of THE BOOK OF MORMON.

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Photo by Marc J Franklin

A mainstay of the Main Stem, Nicholaw launched his Broadway career as a performer, appearing in eight shows including CRAZY FOR YOU, VICTOR / VICTORIA, SEUSSICAL, and THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, before pivoting to the other side of the table. He has consistently worked as both a choreographer and director since choreographing SPAMALOT in 2005, helming the likes of THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, ALL ABOUT ME, ELF, SOMETHING ROTTEN, MEAN GIRLS, and THE PROM, to name just a few.

Get to know more about this Broadway favorite with our TONY TALK Q&A:

Who was the first person to text/call you when you got the nomination?
It was the best nomination morning that I’ve ever experienced. The cast of Some Like it Hot was waiting to perform on the Today Show when the nominations came in so we all got to experience hearing them together as a cast and screaming and crying and jumping around with joy!

Show some love to a fellow nominee this year. Whose work blew you away?
Vicki Clark in Kimberly Akimbo. Her performance is so funny and moving and heartbreaking and uplifting.

44 and X

Top restaurant in the theater district?
44 and X

The first Broadway show you ever saw?
Barnum with Jim Dale

When did you decide to become a theater artist?
When I did my first show at San Diego Junior Theater. I was in the chorus of Annie Get Your Gun and I was hooked.

What is your earliest Tonys memory?
My teen years were when I started watching and became obsessed. Watching the Tonys was the only chance to see numbers from the shows until they toured through LA or San Diego where I grew up. The big shows for me were Ain’t Misbehavin, Evita, Annie, A Chorus Line and The Wiz.

Who’s your favorite Tonys host in history, and why?
Angela Lansbury, because she was Angela Lansbury

All-time favorite Tonys performance on the telecast, and why?
As a kid I loved seeing Dorthy Loudon and Bob Fitch doing Easy Street – it was such a good number and perfect musical comedy.

Most memorable Tonys acceptance speech, and why?
I somehow can still see Nell Carter’s face when she was so surprised that she won for Aint Misbehavin. It was so exciting!

What is one play or musical you would like to direct and/or choreograph on Broadway, and why?
I don’t know that I have one anymore – My list never changed for years, it was always Dreamgirls and Most Happy Fella, and I got to do Dreamgirls in London and Most Happy Fella at encores!

You can currently see Nicholaw’s direction and choreography in THE BOOK OF MORMON, ALADDIN, and of course, SOME LIKE IT HOT, currently running at the Shubert Theatre with a score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, a book by Matthew Lòpez and Amber Ruffin, and starring Christian Borle, J. Harrison Ghee, and Adrianna Hicks.

He’s currently working on a musical adaptation of the 1972 film WHAT’S UP, DOC?, which is aimed for a Broadway run in the coming years!


Vintage Vibes but not Vintage Values

By Jim Glaub

The 2023 Tony Awards nominations are in, and this year’s shows reflect a growing interest in nostalgia, with many productions harking back to classic Broadway eras and themes. Some of the most notable examples include New York, New York, a musical set in the 1940s with all the makings of a classic Broadway show, and Lerner & Loewe’s Camelot, which stayed true to its original production and presented a big, beautiful revival. Other shows like & Juliet, Kimberly Akimbo, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street also incorporate nostalgic elements, using the music and vibes of the ’90s, classic Broadway comedy, and Golden Age musicals as inspiration.

One reason for this trend towards nostalgia is the growing interest in it among younger audiences. According to a study by JWT Intelligence, Gen Z is increasingly interested in nostalgia, with 82% of them saying that they enjoy retro design and 77% saying that they enjoy old-fashioned experiences. This trend is reflected in the success of shows like Some Like It Hot, which is based on the classic film and harkens back to the Golden Age of musical comedies.

But it’s not just about looking back – this year’s Tony nominees also highlight the importance of diversity and inclusion in theater. Many of the shows are written by diverse playwrights, including James Ijames, Lolita Chakrabarti, Jordan E Cooper, and Martyna Majok. And book writers like Amber Ruffin and Sharon Washington bring unique perspectives to their works, adding to the richness and depth of the stories being told.

Some of the most diverse shows this year include Ain’t No Mo’, a play that explores the Black American experience, and Prima Facie, a powerful drama about sexual assault and the legal system. A Doll’s House, which reimagines Ibsen’s classic play with a contemporary twist, and Cost of Living, a poignant exploration of disability and relationships, are also among the nominees.

Overall, this year’s Tony Awards nominations reflect a fascinating mix of nostalgia and diversity, showcasing the rich history of Broadway while also pushing boundaries and bringing new voices to the forefront. It will be exciting to see which shows come out on top and what they have to say about the state of theater in 2023.