For more than thirty years, the Canada-based Cirque du Soleil has been wowing audiences with its unique reinvention of the circus, concentrating on stupendous feats of acrobatics with live music and an all-human cast. For its Broadway debut, however, it has bitten off more than it can chew with Paramour, running at the Lyric Theatre through February 19. Instead of concentrating on what the troupe does best, director and conceiver Philippe Decouflé and creative guide and creative director Jean-François Bouchard decided to frame the thrilling acrobatics within the confines of traditional musical theater, obscuring both in the process. Jeremy Kushner is the ersatz ringmaster as AJ Golden, a famous film director — don’t call them movies! — who thinks he has found his next superstar (and personal and professional muse) in local ingénue Indigo (Ruby Lewis) during the Golden Age of Hollywood. But standing in between them is Indigo’s partner, pianist and composer Joey (Ryan Vona), who is in love with her. As success comes to Indigo, she must make difficult decisions that will forever change her life and career.
The book is as standard as they come, as are the music (by Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard) and lyrics (by co-composer Andreas Carlsson). As expected, the show looks terrific, with ecstatic sets by Philippe Guillotel, glittering costumes by Daphné Mauger, and choreography by Raffaello D’Andrea, but what’s wrong with Paramour can be summarized by one set piece that focuses on the central love triangle. A trio of aerialists, dressed in the same colors as AJ, Indigo, and Joey, beautifully reenact their troublesome situation, avatars performing remarkable feats in the air, but then AJ, Indigo, and Joey start singing a song that essentially retells everything we have just seen, as if the audience can’t be trusted to understand what the flying dance was all about. Indeed, the acrobatics usually occur in the background, forming no bond with the main story, as if they are two separate entities. Even when they do come together, as in a Calamity Jane scene involving a teeterboard, we are left scratching our heads, wondering why. The performers, who include artistic gymnasts Tom Ammirati, Martin Charrat, and Amber Fulljames, aerial strap artists Andrew and Kevin Atherton, trampolinist Lee Brearley, dancer Yanelis Brooks, martial artist Sam Charlton, contortionist Myriam Deraiche, juggler Kyle Driggs, Chinese pole and Cyr wheel specialist Jeremias Faganel, and clown Nate Cooper (who wanders through the audience before the show starts), exhibit extraordinary talent, but director West Hyler (the Big Apple Circus, Jersey Boys) puts too little of it front and center. It all feels too gimmicky; in fact, in front of each theatergoer, Velcroed to a seat, is a menu of merchandise that you can order and have delivered right there as you sit. That might work in Vegas, but it’s far too cheesy for Broadway.
SHUFFLE ALONG, OR THE MAKING OF THE MUSICAL SENSATION OF 1921 AND ALL THAT FOLLOWED
Music Box Theatre
239 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 9, $69 - $169
Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed has some of the best music and dancing you’ll find on Broadway right now. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the book to support it. The show tells the story of the historic 1921 production of Shuffle Along, a landmark musical featuring music by Eubie Blake, lyrics by Noble Sissle, and book by vaudevillians F. E. Miller and Aubrey Lyles; Blake played the piano onstage (there was no orchestra pit at the 63rd Street Music Hall), while Sissle starred as detective Jack Penrose, Miller was mayoral candidate Steve Jenkins, and Lyles was candidate Sam Peck. The 1921 cast also included Lottie Gee as Jessie Williams, Gertrude Saunders as Ruth Little (later replaced by Florence Mills), and Adelaide Hall as a Jazz Jasmine in the large ensemble. George C. Wolfe (Jelly’s Last Jam, Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk) wrote the book for and directs the new show, which went through significant revisions during previews — at one point it was clocking in at more than three hours (the final version is two hours and forty minutes), and six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald (The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill), who plays Gee, had to take time off for illness. (It was later revealed that she is pregnant and will be going on maternity leave July 24, when Carolina Chocolate Drops singer Rhiannon Giddens will take over her role.)
Savion Glover’s choreography is energetic and exhilarating while incorporating multiple genres, as are Ann Roth’s dazzling period costumes. But the relating of the behind-the-scenes efforts of a group of black men and women trying to storm Broadway is trite and clichéd, dragging down the rest of the show. Brandon Victor Dixon (The Color Purple, Motown: The Musical) and Joshua Henry (Violet, The Scottsboro Boys) are fine as Blake and Sissle, respectively, but Brian Stokes Mitchell (Man of La Mancha, Kiss Me, Kate) as Miller tries his best with dry lines, and Billy Porter (Kinky Boots, Miss Saigon is miscast as Lyles. Brooks Ashmanskas (Something Rotten, Fame Becomes Me) is fun as all the white men. It all makes for way too bumpy a ride, despite such songs as “Broadway Blues,” “Affectionate Dan,” “Honeysuckle Time,” “Love Will Find a Way,” “You Got to Git the Gittin’ While the Gittin’s Good,” and “(I’m Just) Wild About Harry,” with rousing orchestrations and arrangements by Daryl Waters (After Midnight, Memphis). The Playbill comes with a bonus re-creation of the original program (and some extra information) from when the show opened May 23, 1921, at the 63rd Street Music Hall. Shuffle Along wants to be both historic and historical, instead losing its focus as it gamely attempts to meld substance with style.
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Through June 5, $69-$148
The musical version of Bret Easton Ellis’s popular but controversial 1991 novel, American Psycho, which was also made into a popular but controversial 2000 film, has posted an early closing notice on Broadway, ending its short run at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on June 5 after a mere eighty-one performances. So what went wrong with the show, a sold-out smash in London? The Broadway production looks great; the set, designed by the always innovative Es Devlin (Machinal, Chimerica), is often breathtaking and thrilling, with blinding whites everywhere, gorgeous minimalist furniture, and ultracool lighting by Justin Townsend (The Humans, The Other Place), pulsating with fast-moving projections by Finn Ross (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night). When a plexiglass front comes down, the stage turns into Dexter’s dream kill room, as New York City investment banker and ahead-of-his-time metrosexual Patrick Bateman (Benjamin Walker) uses a number of techniques to dispose of people standing in his way. But director Rupert Goold (King Charles III, Enron), Walker (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), book writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Based on a Totally True Story), and composer and lyricist Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) can’t quite decide whether American Psycho is a tongue-in-cheek satire of 1980s Wall Street, a black comedy about greed and desire, or a psychological exploration of obsession and violence. Much like Martin Scorsese’s overrated The Wolf of Wall Street, which also takes place during the Reagan era, American Psycho is filled with characters you either strongly dislike or just don’t care about, people you don’t want to spend even a few hours with on Broadway (including Alice Ripley as Mrs. Bateman, Drew Moerlein as Paul Owen, Theo Stockman as Timothy Price, and Heléne Yorke as Evelyn). Meanwhile, the music shifts between hits of the time by such bands as Tears for Fears, Phil Collins, the Human League, and New Order alternating with Sheik’s new songs (“Selling Out,” “Cards,” “I Am Back”) that don’t stand up in comparison. There were significant changes made for American audiences, including adding, deleting, and shifting around numbers, which might not have been the best idea. The show, which garnered a mere two Tony nods (Best Scenic Design and Best Lighting Design of a Musical) but a hefty eight nominations from both the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle, closes with an $8.8 million loss, something that would probably send Bateman looking for yet more people to take out his anger on.
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through June 26, $67-$147
As the audience enters the American Airlines Theatre to see the Roundabout revival of Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Long Day’s Journey into Night, a white curtain billows ominously from the right side of the set, blown by the wind from an offstage shore. It’s as if we’re being warned that what we’re about to see is a kind of ghost story, and that’s precisely what we witness over the next three hours and forty-five minutes, an intense tale told as if the dysfunctional Tyrone family must relive their personal horrors over and over again, continually hiding from the truths that overwhelm them. Sixty-five-year-old patriarch James Tyrone (Gabriel Byrne) is a miserly, well-known actor who is fond of the bottle and the small tract of land that he owns. He is still in love with his wife, the fifty-four-year-old Mary (Jessica Lange), a morphine addict who has been in and out of sanatoriums and is struggling to deal with reality. Their older son, thirty-three-year-old Jamie (Michael Shannon), is a brash, ne’er-do-well philanderer and would-be actor always at odds with his father. And the younger son, twenty-three-year-old Edmund (John Gallagher Jr.), is a more sensitive soul who is suffering from an illness that might be consumption. It’s August 1912, and the Tyrones are at their summer home on the beach. “I can’t tell you the deep happiness it gives me, darling, to see you as you’ve been since you came back to us, your dear old self again,” James tells Mary, who has recently returned from her latest rehab stint. James and Jamie are trying to keep the severity of Edmund’s illness from Mary, fearful that the truth will send her back to her drug of choice. “It’s a relief to hear Edmund laugh. He’s been so down in the mouth lately,” she says early on, which James ignores resentfully. Soon James and Jamie are having one of their regular arguments, which upsets Edmund and Mary. “What’s all the fuss about? Let’s forget it,” Jamie says. “Yes, forget! Forget everything and face nothing!” James shouts back, summarizing the general Tyrone philosophy. Meanwhile, Mary compares James’s snoring to the foghorn that keeps her awake at night, as if the harsh sound is a wake-up call, warning of dire things to come that all ignore. As they await the verdict from Doc Hardy regarding Edmund’s illness, the ghosts continue to hover over this doomed family, unable to save themselves from their sad destiny.
Completed in 1942 but not published and performed until 1956, three years after O’Neill’s death at sixty-five, Long Day’s Journey into Night is a semiautobiographical look at the playwright’s own family over the course of one very long day, from 8:30 in the morning to midnight. It takes a while to get used to accepting the cast as the Tyrone family; while Byrne is around the right age for James, Mary is supposed to be eleven years younger but Lange is actually a year older than Byrne, and Shannon and Gallagher at first seem completely miscast, but they both eventually settle into their roles. Director Jonathan Kent (Hamlet, Man of La Mancha) makes the most of Tom Pye’s (The Testament of Mary, Fiddler on the Roof) inviting yet haunting set, Natasha Katz’s (An American in Paris, Aida) appropriately moody lighting, and Clive Goodwin’s (The Glass Menagerie, Once) menacing sound design, keeping the audience on edge as the intense drama unfolds. Byrne (A Moon for the Misbegotten, A Touch of the Poet) and Lange (A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie) ultimately form a stirring James and Mary, their love complicated by suspicion and doubt, in parts previously played by such pairs as Robert Ryan and Geraldine Fitzgerald, Laurence Olivier and Constance Cummings, Jason Robards and Zoe Caldwell, Robards and Colleen Dewhurst, Jack Lemmon and Bethel Leslie, Brian Dennehy and Vanessa Redgrave, and, in 2000, Charles Dance and Lange. The cast also includes Colby Minifie (The Pillowman, Punk Rock) as Cathleen, the Tyrones’ young maid who speaks her mind when she has the chance. “A drop now and then is no harm when you’re in low spirits, or have a bad cold,” she says to Edmund as the two steal a drink from one of James’s closely watched bottles. Of course, drinking can actually do a lot of harm, as the Tyrones, and O’Neill himself, are well aware. This Roundabout revival is a powerful production of one of America’s signature plays, once again justifying its position in the pantheon alongside such other towering achievements as Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, and Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
149 West 45th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 24, $45- $147
Becky Mode’s Fully Committed has been one of the most produced plays in America since its debut in 1999 at the Vineyard Theatre and subsequent transfer for a long run at the Cherry Lane. But the one-person show set at the reservation desk in the dingy, ramshackle basement of a hotter-than-hot New York City restaurant gets lost in its Broadway bow at the Lyceum Theatre. Five-time Emmy nominee Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) takes over the role of Sam (originated by Mark Setlock), a struggling actor working at a hip “molecular gastronomy” eatery where tables must be reserved three months in advance. On this particular day, his manager, Bob, and coworker, Sonya, are not in, leaving him to man the phones alone, a nearly impossible task. In addition to fielding calls from people either making reservations or complaining about various problems, Sam has to deal with his father, who wants him to come home for Christmas; his friend and fellow actor Jerry, who is up for the same role in a show at Lincoln Center; and the crazy chef, who contacts him via a special red phone. The conceit is that Ferguson does all the voices on the other side of the line while running across the stage, from his central desk to the chef’s corner phone to finding a hot spot where his cell phone can get service for personal calls. Among the more than forty characters Ferguson gives voice to are his gentle-speaking dad; demanding VIP customers Bunny Vandevere and Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn; Mafioso Dominic Veccini; Mrs. Sebag, who insists she has a reservation despite Sam finding no record of it; and the cheerful Bryce, Gwyneth Paltrow’s assistant, who is arranging a party at the restaurant with some very special requests.
It takes a while for the show to get cooking as the audience acclimates to Ferguson’s ever-shifting voices and the distinct rhythm of the show, but then it goes on far too long and is annoyingly repetitive as the ultraslim plot erodes like a stale piece of bread. It might work in small, intimate theaters, but on Broadway it feels more like an interesting comedy sketch that never ends. (The running time is ninety minutes.) Director Jason Moore (Shrek the Musical, Avenue Q) can’t come up with quite the right recipe, despite Ferguson’s best efforts. And McLane’s set, which was inspired by the reservation room at Danny Meyer’s Union Square Café and installations by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and features a glut of chairs hanging from the ceiling and a back wall that holds more than nine hundred bottles of wine — feels cold and distant. In our ever-growing foodie culture, this Broadway version of Fully Committed — a term the chef insists the reservationists use instead of “booked” — is merely half-baked, a promising meal that ends up disappointing on the plate and the palate.
Tony-winning star Jessie Mueller has quickly become one of those Broadway sensations you can watch do just about anything, even when she serves up a dish of lukewarm Lifetime schmaltz like Waitress. Mueller, who has risen well above her material in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, does the same in this American Repertory Theater musical, an adaptation of Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 film, which was accepted to Sundance shortly after Shelly was murdered in Greenwich Village at the age of forty. Mueller plays Jenna Hunterson, a waitress in Joe’s Pie Diner, where every morning she makes such delectable, original delights as Marshmallow Mermaid Pie, Fallin’ in Love Chocolate Mousse Pie, and Jenna’s First Kiss Pie. “You want to know what’s inside? Simple question, so then what’s the answer?” she sings. “My whole life is in here, in this kitchen baking.” Desperate to escape an abusive marriage to Earl (Nick Cordero), she is distraught to learn she’s pregnant. When diner owner Joe (Dakin Matthews) suggests she compete in a pie contest with a prize of twenty thousand dollars, she thinks she may have discovered her way out, but her life gets even more complicated when she becomes attracted to her new gynecologist, the married Dr. Pomatter (Drew Gehling). Her coworkers, the sharp-tongued Becky (Keala Settle) and the wallflower Dawn (Kimiko Glenn, in the role played by Shelly in the movie), provide emotional support and comic relief, while Jenna’s coping skills include memories of baking pies with her late mother and imagining what she’ll make next, creating in her mind such telling desserts as I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby Pie, Betrayed by My Eggs Pie, and I Can’t Have an Affair Because It’s Wrong and I Don’t Want Earl to Kill Me Pie. But Jenna can’t stop spending time with Dr. Pomatter despite knowing better. “It’s a terrible idea me and you,” they sing in a duet. Jenna: “You have a wife.” Dr. Pomatter: “You have a husband.” Jenna: “You’re my doctor!” Dr. Pomatter: “You’ve got a baby coming.” Both: “It’s a bad idea me and you / Let’s keep kissing till we come to.” Unfortunately, by the time they come to, it’s too late.
Mueller shines once again in Waitress, making the most of what is essentially a hard-to-believe contemporary bodice ripper disguised as a romantic musical comedy. She has a comforting stage presence, blending confidence and vulnerability in charming ways, even as we watch her character make absurdly ridiculous decisions. She, Settle (Hands on a Hardbody, Priscilla Queen of the Desert), and Glenn (Orange Is the New Black, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots) share a warm camaraderie, recalling the trio of waitresses from the television series Alice, along with Eric Anderson (Soul Doctor, Kinky Boots) as Cal, the gruff cook. Christopher Fitzgerald (Young Frankenstein, Finian’s Rainbow) nearly steals the show as Ogie, going all out as a stalker-like major nerd who is interested in Dawn and is not afraid to let everyone know about it. His stirring rendition of “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” is a genuine showstopper. The songs, by five-time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles, are relatively harmless, mixing in multiple genres, but former waitress Jessie Nelson’s (I Am Sam; Corrina, Corrina) book never really gets cooking, jumping around too much while taking underdeveloped or overdone turns. Director Diane Paulus (The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, Hair, Pippin) does what she can with the mediocre material, wisely making sure that Mueller is front and center as much as possible on Scott Pask’s set, which changes from the diner to the doctor’s office to Jenna and Earl’s home. Waitress serves up a few very tasty slices, but it takes more than that to make a wholly satisfying pie.
Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through June 12, $70-$150
In early 2014, Frank Langella played King Lear at BAM, a thought-provoking counterpoint to his latest show, the U.S. premiere of Florian Zeller’s The Father. As Lear, the seventy-eight-year-old Langella, who has won three Tonys and two Obies, battled his failing mind and body while two of his three daughters fought over his wealth and power and the third only wanted to love and care for him. As eighty-year-old André in Zeller’s Olivier-nominated, Molière Award–winning play — not to be confused with August Strindberg’s The Father, currently running at Theatre for a New Audience — Langella is an elegant Paris gentleman dealing with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease while his loving daughter, Anne (Kathryn Erbe), tries to care for him despite his mistreatment of her. After scaring off yet another home nurse, André yells at Anne, “I don’t need her! I don’t need her or anyone else! I can manage very well on my own!” But it’s becoming more and more apparent that he can’t, as he gets lost in a psychological maze of the past and the present, not knowing who is who and where he is while refusing to acknowledge what is happening to him, instead turning the tables on those around him. “I’m worried about you,” he says to a woman (Kathleen McNenny) who claims to be Anne but he does not recognize. “Don’t you remember? She doesn’t remember. Are you having memory lapses or what? You’d better go and see someone, my dear.” He also mixes up Anne’s significant others, either boyfriends or husbands (Charles Borland and Brian Avers) who may or may not be moving to London with her. And he compares his latest caretaker, Laura (Hannah Cabell), to his beloved other daughter, Elise, whom he wildly praises while disparaging Anne. “You have two daughters?” Laura asks suspiciously. “That’s right,” he says. “Even though I hardly ever hear from the other one. Elise. All the same, she was always my favourite. . . . I don’t understand why she never gets in touch. Never.” In addition, André seems to be forgetting whose apartment he’s in and whether he’s living on his own or with Anne, which makes him angry and upset. “I don’t need any help from anyone and I will not leave this flat,” he firmly declares. But he’s of course in dire need of help.
Translated from the French by two-time Tony winner Christopher Hampton (Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Sunset Boulevard) and directed by Tony winner Doug Hughes (Frozen, The Royal Family), Zeller’s play, a companion piece to The Mother, uses clever stagecraft to depict André’s heartbreaking descent. Scenes sometimes repeat or overlap, and having multiple actors play Anne and her partners transfers André’s confusion to the audience, which is also sometimes not sure who is who or if what is happening is only in André’s fading mind. Each scene ends with a sudden darkness, and when the lights come back on (courtesy of lighting designer Donald Holder), bits of Scott Pask’s fashionable French-flat set, from books to furniture, have disappeared, echoing the cognitive losses inside André’s head. André is also obsessed with time, as if, deep down, he really does understand the fate that awaits him but is unwilling to face the truth. He keeps thinking someone has stolen his watch, and he continually refers to time. “Time passes so fast,” he says wistfully. Later he opines, “If this goes on much longer, I’ll be stark naked. Stark naked. And I won’t even know what time it is.” Langella (Frost/Nixon, Dracula) goes from bold and confused to touchingly gentle as André, imbuing him with a Lear-like regalness and an aristocratic refinement even when tap-dancing; it’s a beautifully moving performance from one of America’s finest actors. Zeller, Hampton, and Hughes avoid genre clichés or sentimentality, using clever subtlety to tell a very sad, unfortunately increasingly common tale.