235 West 44th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 7, $69-$189
A kind of cult — er, rather large fan base — has grown up around Anastasia, Don Bluth’s 1997 animated movie about the fall of the Romanovs in Russia and the possible survival of one of the tsar’s daughters. When I went to see the new musical version, which opened last night at the Broadhurst, the theater was packed with big groups of young girls who were giddy with delight at the prospect of seeing their beloved movie brought to life on the stage; they then proceeded to shriek in unison at their favorite romantic scenes, making the experience feel like The Ed Sullivan Show when the Beatles appeared. The many twentysomething women in the audience were perhaps less giddy than wistful and teary-eyed as they watched the theatricalization of a film that has meant so much to them since they first saw the animated movie back in the late 1990s, when they were the same age as the shrieking girls are now. Thus, the show appears to have a built-in, review-proof audience. They oohed and aahed during the disappointing first act, set in St. Petersburg in 1906-7, 1917, and 1927, which catered to the younger fans at the expense of the story, but the second act, set in 1927 Paris, was enchanting, taking a far more adult approach, a treat for young and old alike.
Anastasia features a book by four-time Tony winner Terrence McNally (Kiss of the Spider Woman, Love! Valour! Compassion!) and music and lyrics by Tony winners Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, the same trio that turned E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime into a hit musical in 1998; Flaherty and Ahrens wrote the score for the animated film, and six of those songs, including the Oscar-nominated “Journey to the Past,” are in the Broadway show, along with sixteen new tunes. Neither of the Fox films was completely true to the real story of the Romanovs and Anastasia, and McNally has fiddled with the truth as well, but this is not historical fiction as much as romantic fantasy. The Grand Duchess Anastasia (first played by Nicole Scimeca, then Molly Rushing and Christy Altomare as she grows up) is one of four daughters of Tsar Nicholas II (Constantine Germanacos) and Tsarina Alexandra (Lauren Blackman), who live in luxury in the royal palace, shut off from the real world. Old Russia is coming to an end, but the only one who seems to realize that is the tsar’s mother, the Dowager Empress (Mary Beth Peil), who decides to spend her declining years in Paris. The seven-year-old Anastasia wants to go with her beloved grandmother, who gives her a special music box to remember her by until Anastasia can come visit her. Ten years later, the Romanovs are still awash in elegance and finery when they are attacked during the Bolshevik revolution, as the Communists take control of Russia.
Amid postrevolutionary poverty and destitution, rumors swirl that Anastasia might still be alive. Seeking a reward, Dmitry (Derek Klena) and Vlad (John Bolton) try to find a girl they can train to be an impostor, then present to the Dowager Empress. Also on the hunt for Anastasia is Czekist Gleb Vaganov (Ramin Karimloo), a rising star in the Communist Party who wants to make sure all of the Romanovs are dead. He meets and offers help to a street sweeper named Anya (Altomare), but she refuses. Dmitry and Vlad soon believe that Anya, suffering from amnesia, is the right girl for their plan. As they scheme to escape to Paris in 1927 and bring Anya to the Dowager Empress, little memories come back to Anya that hint that she might actually be the real Anastasia. In creating a new telling of the true story, McNally has replaced the evil, villainous Rasputin with the significantly more human, heartthrob-handsome Gleb, while also creating the energetic and fun-loving Countess Lily (Caroline O’Connor), the Dowager Empress’s lady-in-waiting and a potential love interest for Vlad. Choreographer Peggy Hickey offers numerous dances as the action moves from 1906 Russia to 1927 France, including a troika, a waltz, the Charleston, and even ballet, making excellent use of Linda Cho’s costumes, which range from spectacular ball gowns to peasant drab. Meanwhile, Aaron Rhyne’s projections, which often evoke travel, get more creative once the maps go away, enhancing Alexander Dodge’s cleverly functional set. Tony-winning director Darko Tresnjak (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, The Killer) can’t save the dreary sentimentality of the first act but really opens things up in the vastly more entertaining second act, which begins with “Paris Holds the Key (to Your Heart),” immediately letting us know that things are going to get better. All the while, the shrieking continues, culminating in a rafters-shaking noise at the finale. Spoiler alert: Ten years ago, the real Anastasia’s bones were found, with DNA evidence confirming that she died with the rest of her family in the Bolshevik attack. Of course, McNally, et al. opt for a different ending for the musical, and you’ll be very glad they did.
249 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through September 3, $59-$189
The best musical on Broadway — yes, that includes Hamilton — will be going through a major casting change over the next few months involving the rather critical character of Pierre. But there’s no need to worry, as the show has proved since its debut at tiny Ars Nova in 2012 and subsequent move to a Meatpacking District tent before being presented at the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard on its way to the current smash Broadway engagement. Superstar crooner Josh Groban will be playing Pierre through July 2, after which Oak Onaodowan, who originated the roles of Hercules Mulligan and James Madison in Hamilton and plays Afrika Bambaataa in The Get Down, will take over. In addition, Groban’s superb understudy, Scott Stangland, will play Pierre on April 25, and the original Pierre, Dave Malloy, who wrote the book, music, lyrics, and orchestrations, will appear as his complex creation May 4-9 and June 13, 20, and 27. I have seen all three Pierres, and I can unequivocally say that it does not matter who you see as the downtrodden shell of a man who admits, “I never thought that I’d end up like this / I used to be better.” I actually preferred Stangland to Groban, the former more natural in the role of a man caught up in romantic intrigue in early-nineteenth-century Russia, based on a section of Leo Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace. Malloy was delightful as Pierre in the eighty-seven-seat Ars Nova, where the vodka poured freely. It’s really a no-lose situation, as Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 features such a large and talented ensemble cast and is so spectacularly staged by Rachel Chavkin that you shouldn’t go, or not go, simply based on star power. It’s an extraordinary electro-pop opera no matter who is onstage any given night.
149 West 45th St. between Broadway & Sixth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through December 30, $30-$139
About fifteen minutes before The Play That Goes Wrong was scheduled to begin, there was a commotion at the front of the stage involving several members of the crew. Concerned, I got close to hear what was going on. A woman who appeared to be the stage manager saw me and approached, a worried look on her face. “Have you seen Winston?” she asked me. “Winston?” I replied. “Yes, our dog. He’s missing and we need to find him,” she said, beginning a search through the aisles as the audience wandered in. Aha! The show had already started. In order for The Play That Goes Wrong to be successful, a whole lot of very intricate details and prearranged problems have to go completely right. Fortunately, they do, resulting in one of the funniest plays to hit Broadway in many a season. The Olivier Award–winning British import channels Noises Off, Fawlty Towers, Buster Keaton, and One Man, Two Guvnahs in an uproarious madcap farce that leaves no stone unturned in its wildly inventive quest to celebrate the unpredictability of live theater with superbly choreographed ineptitude. Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields of the Mischief Theatre Company and gleefully directed by Mark Bell, their former teacher at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, The Play That Goes Wrong portrays the opening night of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s ill-begotten production of the fictional Susan H. K. Bridewell’s The Murder at Haversham Manor, a traditional British mystery set in the winter of 1922. In the play within a play, Charles Haversham (Greg Tannahill as Jonathan Harris) has been murdered, and the wily Inspector Carter (Shields as director Chris Bean) has arrived on the scene to interview the suspects, who include Charles’s brother, Cecil (Dave Hearn as Max Bennett); Charles’s fiancée and Cecil’s lover, Florence Colleymoore (Charlie Russell as Sandra Wilkinson); Florence’s brother, Thomas (Lewis as Robert Grove); Charles’s gardener, Arthur (Bennett); and Charles’s butler, Perkins (Sayer as Dennis Tyde). As the play, well, goes very wrong, the crew gets involved too, including sound engineer Trevor (Rob Falconer) and stage manager Annie (usually played by Nancy Zamit, but we saw the excellent Bryony Corrigan in her debut in the role).
One of the keys to the success of The Play That Goes Wrong, which boasts J. J. Abrams as one of its producers — he saw the show in London on a lark and became immediately enamored of it — is that the script is extremely tight and specific; the stage notes explain that “the actors of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are not bad actors but the victims of unfortunate circumstances. . . . In essence, it is vital everyone works to present ‘the play that goes wrong,’ not ‘the play that’s being done badly.’ As the intrigue builds, so do the company’s never-ending troubles, as doors won’t open or close, cues are missed, props are mixed up or break, words are mispronounced, pieces of Nigel Hook’s set fall apart, and characters keep getting knocked out. The humor even extends to the Playbill itself, with fake ads and bios. In addition, there is occasional audience participation — it just so happens that Bennett appreciates midscene applause, and keep a look-out for that ledger. Part of the joyous fun is trying to anticipate what might get screwed up next — as well as wondering if there are any real mistakes, made by the cast, sound designer Andy Johnson, or lighting designer Ric Mountjoy. But the immensely talented troupe, clearly game for anything, are expert improvisers and marvelously adept at physical comedy, so you might never know, but the raised platform that serves as Charles’s study is particularly precarious, apparently destined to cause some major damage. (Members of the cast have indeed suffered injuries over the years performing The Play That Goes Wrong as well as its sequel, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, and The Comedy about a Bank Robbery, also by Mischief.) And as far as injuries go, you might laugh so hard you’ll hurt yourself, which is not necessarily such a bad thing.
254 West 54th St.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 1, $59-$149
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage at last makes her Broadway debut with the timely Sweat, as powerful and searing at Studio 54 as it was last year at the Public Theater. The two-act play takes place in 2000 and 2008 in Reading, Pennsylvania, where the futility of the American dream is on display. The play opens with a scene in 2008, as former best friends Chris (Khris Davis) and Jason (Will Pullen) have been released from prison after eight years behind bars for an undisclosed crime. Flashback to 2000, when factory workers Cynthia (Michelle Wilson), Chris’s mother, who’s married to the drug-addicted Brucie (John Earl Jelks); Tracey (Johanna Day), Jason’s mother; and Jessie (Alison Wright), a divorced drunkard, are celebrating a birthday in a bar run by former factory worker Stan (James Colby) and his bus boy, Oscar (Carlo Albán). When a front-office job at the factory becomes available, Cynthia shows an interest in getting off the floor, leading to dissension in the ranks, jealousy, envy, and, ultimately, violence.
Sweat has transferred exceedingly well from the Public to Broadway, with only very minor tweaks to the script by Nottage (Intimate Apparel, Meet Vera Stark), while the direction by Kate Whoriskey (How I Learned to Drive, The Piano Teacher), who also helmed Nottage’s Ruined, is even sharper. The only cast change is Wright (The Americans), who adds more depth to the role of Jessie; Lance Coadie Williams also returns as a parole officer assigned to Chris and Jason, along with John Lee Beatty’s expertly designed rotating set. (All of the actors give strong performances, but Day stands out as a single mother who is willing to see only so far in front of her.) The play gets right to the heart of what has been happening in the United States during and after the recent presidential campaign, as Democrats and Republicans continue to argue over jobs, particularly in the Rust Belt. Nottage did a lot of firsthand research in Reading, the steel and textile town that was ranked as the most impoverished city in America in 2011 and has remained in the top ten ever since, with extremely high unemployment and low education leading to a poverty rate of more than forty percent. She met with many of the struggling people there, encountering feelings of desperation, sadness, and betrayal, and turned their poignant stories into Sweat, a fierce and fiery work with plenty of heart and soul, a brilliant microcosm of a deeply divided nation where hardworking people have to live with choices no one should be forced to make. [Ed. note: Sweat has just earned Nottage her second Pulitzer Prize, announced on April 10; she also won in 2009 for Ruined, making her the first female playwright to win multiple Pulitzers.]
Walter Kerr Theatre
219 West 48th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 1, $79-$26
Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant’s Amélie is one of the most imaginative romantic comedies of the twenty-first century, an endlessly charming and surprising tale of a lonely young woman who, after an unfortunate childhood, moves to Paris, where she tries to help make everyone around her happy. Her story is told with visual magic and a carnivalesque soundtrack that would seem to lend itself to becoming a musical. Unfortunately, despite a promising cast and crew, the Broadway adaptation that opened at the Walter Kerr Theatre last week lacks all the exuberant and mysterious joi de vivre that made the film, which received five Oscar nominations, such a critical and popular success. Tony nominee Phillipa Soo (Hamilton, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812) stars as the adult Amélie Poulain, who was played with such wide-eyed wonder in the film by Audrey Tatou. (Savvy Crawford is the young Amélie.) Soo has a lovely singing voice, but the motivations for her character’s quirky, beguiling behavior are lost as she interacts with such oddballs as a blind beggar (David Andino), her cold, rigid father (Manoel Felciano), unpublished writer Hipolito (Randy Blair), café owner Suzanne (Harriet D. Foy), airline hostess Philomene (Alison Cimmet, who also plays Amélie’s mother), plumber Joseph (Paul Whitty), waitress Gina (Maria-Christina Oliveras), local grocer Collignon (Tony Sheldon) and his somewhat simple employee, Lucien (Heath Calvert), Fluffy the giant goldfish (Whitty), and a garden gnome (Andino). There’s also a rock star based on Elton John (Blair), but we’re trying to forget we ever saw that.
Three of the most touching parts of the film get lost in the overstaging by Tony-winning director Pam MacKinnon (Clybourne Park, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and the lackluster book by three-time Tony nominee Craig Lucas (An American in Paris, Prelude to a Kiss): when Amélie finds a small metal box in her apartment and tries to track down its rightful owner (Felciano); develops a friendship with the Glass Man, Dufayel (Sheldon), a brittle painter re-creating Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party”; and is enchanted by Nino (Adam Chanler-Berat), a young man who collects discarded prints from a photo booth. The songs, meanwhile, by Daniel Messé (music and lyrics) and Nathan Tysen (lyrics), along with Sam Pinkleton’s uninspired choreography and David Zinn’s confusing set, are trite and unmemorable, making the story much more kid friendly (although Lucas does leave in Amélie’s orgasm joke). What the production seems to miss is that Amélie is not merely an adorable gamine doing cute things but a complex character living in a complicated, broken world that she is trying to fix; unfortunately, she can’t fix the musical itself.
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through May 14, $69-$169
The past looms over a family like so much old furniture in Terry Kinney’s edge-of-your-seat adaptation of Arthur Miller’s 1968 drama, The Price. The last few years have seen a resurgence of Miller’s work in conjunction with the 2015 centennial of the native New Yorker’s birth, including Ivo van Hove’s dual versions of The Crucible and A View from the Bridge on Broadway in 2016 and Signature’s Incident at Vichy and New Yiddish Rep’s Death of a Salesman off-Broadway in 2015 (not to mention Mike Nichols’s 2012 Great White Way revival of Salesman with Philip Seymour Hoffman). Underrated and underseen, The Price is a powerhouse family tale that, in the hands of Kinney and a superb cast, proves to be one of Miller’s masterpieces. It’s 1968, and patrolman Victor Franz (Mark Ruffalo) has returned to the Manhattan home where he grew up. The building is being torn down, so he is selling off the old furniture, much of which holds deep-set memories for him, especially as he approaches fifty and considers retirement. The room is packed with tables, chairs, dressers, lamps, sofas, and more, with dozens of pieces hanging on the walls and from the ceiling, as if ghosts with their own stories to tell. (Miller’s introductory note explains, “The room is monstrously crowded and dense, and it is difficult to decide if the stuff is impressive or merely overheavy and ugly,” a concept that is nailed by set designer Derek McLane.) Victor is joined by his wife, Esther (Jessica Hecht), who presses him to bargain for a good deal and not just give the furniture away; although she loves him, she is disappointed in the choices he has made, especially involving money and career, and now, with their son off at MIT, she wants more out of life. “Just because it’s ours why must it be worthless?” she says to Victor, who does not think the furniture has much financial value, like the rest of his life.
Soon, making his way up the steps, is eighty-nine-year-old Russian-Yiddish furniture appraiser Gregory Solomon (Danny DeVito), a shrewd businessman who can’t help but share his unique insights about existence. “It was very good stuff, you know,” Victor says about the furniture, to which Solomon replies, “Very good, yes . . . I can see. I was also very good; now I’m not so good. Time, you know, is a terrible thing.” A moment later he adds, “When do they call me? It’s either a divorce or somebody died. So it’s always a new story. I mean it’s the same, but it’s different.” Victor says, “You pick up the pieces.” Solomon adds, “That’s very good, yes. I pick up the pieces. It’s a little bit like you, I suppose.” In the middle of their negotiation — with Victor growing more and more frustrated while Solomon cannily avoids naming a price — Victor’s long-estranged brother, Walter (Tony Shalhoub), a dapper, erudite, pristinely dressed surgeon, enters, throwing a wrench into the proceedings as the siblings try to relate to each other after sixteen years of silence between them following their father’s death. Solomon serves as a kind of intermediary, even when Esther returns and they all start reaching deep inside and arguing over past events that shaped their very different lives.
As in Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, the absent family patriarch hovers over everyone and everything; in Menagerie, it’s an unseen portrait of Amanda Wingfield’s husband, while in The Price, it’s the chair, front and just off center, where Mr. Franz would sit. Over the course of the play, each character sits in it, feeling its power, and its lacking. McLane’s imposing set allows the cast to weave through it intricately as they come upon items that spark remembrances, from an old laughing record to an épée to a harp. The nimble Hecht (A View from the Bridge, The Assembled Parties), the ever-elegant Shalhoub (Act One, Golden Boy), and the brusque Ruffalo (This Is Our Youth, Awake and Sing!), Tony nominees all, form an intimate trio, three pros at the top of their game, each character burdened with faded dreams, while DeVito makes an impressive Broadway debut, hanging right with them, injecting humor and smart sarcasm as the old dealer who just might be in it for the thrill of the battle more than any potential profit. Steppenwolf cofounder Kinney (One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, reasons to be pretty) gets right to the heart of the play, examining the choices we all make and the costs, visible and hidden, that come with them, the prices, both financial and not, we pay as we continue through life with differing views of what is of value and what is worth sacrificing. In the first act, just as Solomon and Victor have apparently reached an agreement, a price, Solomon has trouble parting with the money, while Victor keeps getting distracted as the bills are slowly put into his hand. He spends the rest of the play grasping an incomplete sum, as if he is perpetually caught in the middle, agonizing over the choices he made when he was younger as well as those he is making today, a lost soul who has still not come to grips with his past. The price is both literal and figurative, haunted by the ever-present shock of buyer’s remorse. “What have you got against money?” Solomon asks Victor just before naming his price. In this glorious revival, money, of course, is never the answer.
111 West 44th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Saturday through July 2, $35 - $149
How do twenty-first-century audiences relate to Tennessee Williams? Tony winner Sam Gold explores that question as he combines elements of two recent productions in his new Broadway version, continuing at the Belasco Theatre through July 2. In 2004, multiple Emmy and Oscar winner Sally Field starred in Williams’s The Glass Menagerie at the Kennedy Center, directed by Gregory Mosher. In November 2015, Gold directed a more experimental adaptation of the play for Ivo van Hove’s toneelgroepamsterdam company. And although the casting is curious, Andrew Lieberman’s set can be confusing, and too much of the staging is head-scratching, it mostly works, resulting in a fresh take on Williams’s most intimate and autobiographical play and the one that put him on the map. With the house lights still on, Tom Wingfield (award-winning actor and director Joe Mantello) takes the stage, with his mother, Amanda (Field), and his sister, Laura (Madison Ferris), in a wheelchair, waiting by a small staircase in front of the stage. “Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion,” the graying Tom, looking relatively comfortable in jeans and glasses, announces to the audience. “The play is memory. Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic.” After Tom’s opening monologue, Amanda helps Laura up the steps; they’re a difficult few moments, as Ferris has muscular dystrophy. Lieberman’s depiction of the Wingfield home in St. Louis consists only of a kitchen table at the center, open shelving of various objects at stage right, and an old phonograph with records and some tiny glass animals on the floor at stage left, with large, empty spaces and black walls. For the next two hours (without intermission), Amanda prepares for Laura to meet gentleman callers while Tom has trouble writing and disappears at night, upsetting his mother, who descends ever more deeply into denial of what their lives have become. Meanwhile, an unseen portrait of her husband, who walked out on the family years ago, hangs ominously over them like a dark cloud.
Williams’s breakthrough play, The Glass Menagerie takes its cues from Williams’s real life. His given name was Tom, he grew up partly in St. Louis, his father was a traveling salesman who was away for long periods of time, and his beloved sister, Rose — in the play, Laura recalls being referred to as “Blue Roses” in high school — suffered from extreme mental illness and ultimately underwent a lobotomy. Many of Gold’s choices go against traditional adaptations: Mantello (The Humans, Angels in America) plays Tom at his current age, not as the younger man, changing the dynamic between Tom and Amanda, particularly when they quarrel. Amanda is often an imposing, overbearing figure, but Field (Norma Rae; The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?) gives her a heartbreaking vulnerability, a disillusioned woman who can’t see things as they are. Finn Wittrock (American Horror Story, Sweet Bird of Youth) turns the gentleman caller into a goofy young man with an innate charm who has an instant connection with Laura. But it’s the casting of Ferris as Laura — the first actor in a wheelchair in a major role on Broadway (in the 2015 revival of Spring Awakening, Ali Stroker became the first actor in a wheelchair ever on Broadway) — that most significantly alters the nature of this production. Laura is usually portrayed wearing a brace that hampers her movement as well as her belief that she will ever find a husband. So when Laura calls herself “crippled” and her mother responds, “Nonsense! Laura, I’ve told you never, never to use that word. Why, you’re not crippled, you just have a little defect — hardly noticeable, even!” it takes on different meaning here, since Laura’s mostly confined to a wheelchair. In other productions, when the gentleman caller asks Laura to dance, there’s a moment of hope, but here we’ve already seen it’s seemingly impossible, based on how difficult it is for Laura to even get up a few steps. But we mustn’t forget that, as Tom said at the very start, this is a memory play, so this is how he is remembering it. It’s a bold choice, one that some have argued goes against Williams’s meaning and others have claimed fits in with his intentions. It certainly makes things more uncomfortable, which is not necessarily problematic, as opposed to some of the staging, which is, including the spectacle that becomes the “nice cool rain,” characters running around the audience, and Amanda and Laura arguing over who is going to answer a knock at the door. But the play withstands such unconventional approaches; as crafted by Williams, it is a lot sturdier than the tiny glass animals that Laura collects.