It’s corn! I can’t imagine a more beautiful thing! And Shucked, the new musical from team Robert Horn (Book) and Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally (Music & Lyrics) playing at the Nederlander Theatre, has all the ingredients for a great night at the theater. Directed by Jack O’Brien, Shucked is a comedy that follows Maizy (Caroline Innerbichler) who is on a mission to save her town, Cob County, from impending doom. In search of a cure for the dying corn harvest, Maizy ventures into an unknown world that will change her, and her town forever. The songs are fun but the true standout is Horn’s book which is overflowing with puns, double entendre, word play, and dad jokes. It is clever and fast paced, plowing through the less than dense plot. The cast is full of newcomers and Broadway favorites such as John Behlmann, Grey Henson, and the incomparable Alex Newell, who prompted many to their feet after the show stealing song “Independently Owned”. The silly, and sometimes down right corny humor may not be for everyone, but it should be. Shucked offers something that has been sparse on Broadway as of late… bushels of laughter.
Jamie Lloyd may be the most exciting director to come to Broadway since Ivo Van Hove caused a stir with “A View From the Bridge”….Lloyd’s productions of “Betrayal” and “Cyrano De Bergerac” were revelatory and now with “A Doll’s House” he adds another illuminating credit to his impressive resume. From the moment you walk into the Hudson Theatre you are thrust into theatricality, for seated onstage in a spare setting is the Nora of this production: Jessica Chastain. Eventually her cast members will join here, before the lights dim, and the actual play begins, but the signal is clear: this will be “A Doll’s House” unlike any previous production of the play. There are no children in this production, no nanny, no maid and the conclusion which involves a decision by Nora to leave her current existence is new and startling, all of this courtesy of Amy Herzog’s efficient and smart adaptation of the Ibsen classic. The play has been streamlined into one act that serves the classic Ibsen text handsomely. The praiseworthy performances in support of the excellent Ms. Chastain include Arian Moayed, Michael Patrick Thornton, Jesmille Darbouze, Tasha Lawrence and Okieriete Onaodowan. In a year rich with superlative revivals, including “Top/Dog, Under/Dog”, “Death of a Salesman”, “Between Riverside and Crazy” and “Ohio State Murders”, we must now include “A Doll’s House”.
By Noah Price
Academy Award winner Jessica Chastain has returned to the stage in a beautifully raw new production of A Doll’s House at the Hudson Theatre. Amy Herzog’s new adaptation succeeds in a way that makes the classic feel clear and current, while simultaneously reminding us just how ahead of his time Ibsen was. The wonderful ensemble of actors do all the heavy lifting on an empty stage, with monochromatic costumes and no props. Chastain holds your attention from the moment you walk in the theatre, perched like a sculpture (or doll) upon a chair rotating the stage during preshow. Make no mistake, this is her show from top to bottom. She plays most of the dialogue straight, only allowing herself emotional release towards the middle act. (It runs without intermission). She is locked into this journey and I was staring into her eyes looking for clues as to where she would go next. Nora’s famous exit will have you debating your seatmate. Tony nominee Arian Moayed (Succession) finds subtlety and layers to Torvald. And Michael Patrick Thornton is wonderful and lovable as Dr. Rank.
It begins and ends with a narrator, evoking memories of one’s own childhood and one’s relationships with one’s parents. That narrator is Danny Burstein (Tony Award winner for “Moulin Rouge”) and the parents depicted on the Studio 54 stage are Nathan Lane (3 Time Tony Award winner) and Zoe Wanamaker (4 time Tony Award nominee and 2 time Olivier Award winner). The play is “Pictures From Home”, adapted by playwright Sharr White from a photo memoir by Larry Sultan and you will want to purchase the book after seeing the play. But go into the theatre, unaware of the memoir, as most theatregoers will, and you will be surprised, engrossed, haunted by personal memories and recollections that will make you reflective of your past and give you perspective about your present.
One thing is certain: you will never feel the same way about grilling hamburgers again with your family. But even vegetarians will delight in that scene. There are so many wonderful moments in this play: funny, truthful, bittersweet, melancholy, and powerful that one hesitates to single any particular one out, but if you don’t relate to this undeniably affecting and mesmerizing production, the loss is yours. Bartlett Sher, who did such a first-rate staging of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, has integrated the real life of photos of the Sultans with care and precision; he has also extracted a trio of memorable performances. Nathan Lane is at his best (and they don’t get any better than Lane), balancing the humor and pathos of the paterfamilias with grace and subtlety; Danny Burstein reminds us that he is one of our finest actors and guides us through his journey with impeccable humanity; and Zoë Wanamaker is both crusty and heartfelt as the mother who refuses to take sides, sometimes, between father and son. Almost every production on Broadway these days receives a standing ovation, but “Pictures From Home” received one of the most genuine standing ovations I can recall, interspersed with cheers and bravos. Most deserved!
Based on the 1996 Nicholas Sparks novel and the 2004 Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling film, The Notebook may be one of the most surprisingly successful and genuinely touching musical adaptations in recent history. It tells the story of two lifelong lovers, Allie and Noah, from teenage meeting through the end of their lives, framed through the memories Older Noah must recount to Alzheimer’s patient Allie from the titular notebook. The musical not only elevates the source material, but stands on its own as a uniquely grounded and heartbreakingly beautiful piece of theatre. Ingrid Michaelson has made her debut into musical theatre scoring seamlessly, crafting a luscious, cohesive, soaring soundscape that takes us on the journey of these two lovers.
The stellar cast includes Jordan Tyson and John Cordoza (both wonderful new talents as younger Allie and Noah), Joy Woods and Ryan Vasquez (as middle Allie and Noah), and Tony Winner Maryann Plunkett and John Beasley (as older Allie and Noah). The marvelous effect of this structure being that the different aged counterparts can sing simultaneously in each other’s thoughts and memories, creating genuinely heartbreaking moments. Directed by Michael Grief and Schele Williams, The Notebook is ready to be a Broadway hit.
For many musical theater devotees, PARADE exists only in their minds, through the Original Broadway Cast recording. Now, Leo Frank’s story takes center stage at this New York City Center gala production led by Tony Award winner Ben Platt and Michaela Diamond. Anchored by a sensational orchestra (led by the musical’s Tony Award winning composer, Jason Robert Brown), this production, rehearsed in just eight days, confirms stager Michael Arden’s rise as one of the most exciting new artists in the American musical theatre, a capstone for him after his imaginatively reinterpreted productions of “Once On This Island” and “Spring Awakening”. An impressive ensemble of 30 actors brings this powerful but sad story to vivid life…. In today’s times, with antisemitism on the rise, the story of a Jew wrongfully convicted in a post-Confederate South, holds an elevated sense of profoundness for the audience. This production of PARADE, which only runs thru the weekend, deserves to be seen.
Suzan-Lori Parks’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Topdog/Underdog, is receiving a first-rate, totally enthralling revival at the Golden Theatre on Broadway. Anchored by sensational performances from its two stars, Corey Hawkins and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and directed by Kenny Leon, the play focuses on two brothers, aptly named Lincoln and Booth. Both are driven by their obsession with three-card monte and haunted by their past which inevitably forces them to come to grips with their history and their connective tissue. Watching Hawkins and Abdul-Mateen reflect on the hustle, exposing what it means to be family, makes for a truly riveting two handers. The surprise of the evening comes from Hawkins who graces the audience with his soul stirring vocals…leaving us wondering is a musical on his horizon? Once again Kenny Leon proves he is a master at honoring the writer’s words, trusting his actors to deliver them and providing his audiences with a winning evening at the theater.
If you’re looking for a modern take on a classic, look no further than the American Airlines Theater. The 1969 Tony Award Winning Best Musical, 1776 is back on Broadway with a modern revival full of comedy and commentary. For the first time on Broadway, the cast of characters, founding fathers from the history books arguing for the fate of a nation, are portrayed by a diverse group of actors who all identify as female, transgender, and nonbinary. Crystal Lucas-Perry commands attention as the fiery John Adams, fighting on the side of independence from the tyrannical rule of Great Britain. Carolee Carmello brings a suave strength to the loyalist John Dickinson. Other stand outs include Elizabeth A. Davis as Thomas Jefferson and Sara Porkalob as Edward Rutledge, who’s haunting rendition of “Molasses to Rum” cuts deep. Directed by Jeffrey L. Page and Diane Paulus, this fresh Roundabout/A.R.T production allows us to reimagine the creation of our country through the lens of those excluded from the room without losing any of the patriotism from Sherman Edwards’ and Peter Stone’s original material.
If you’re feeling the least bit down (or depressed), a play that could make you realize how fortunate you are opened at the Samuel J. Friedman on Broadway. It’s a play about loneliness and loss, relationships and hopefulness and it is a powerful and touching play. The winner of a Pulitzer Prize four years ago for its gifted playwright Martyna Majok it has been beautifully directed by Jo Bonney and the four actors that will imprint themselves on your memory are Greg Mozgala, Katy Sullivan, Kara Young and David Zayas. Young, who was Tony nominated last year for her work in “Clydes” is one of Broadway brightest new stars. A salute to Lynn Meadow who has been the Artistic Director of the Manhattan Theatre Club for 50 years and her colleague Executive Producer Barry Grove (48 years), both who have contributed mightily to the American theatre.