This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

COVID-19 & NEW YORK CITY ARTS AND CULTURE

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Since May 2001, twi-ny has been recommending cool things to do throughout the five boroughs, popular and under-the-radar events that draw people out of their homes to experience film, theater, dance, art, literature, music, food, comedy, and more as part of a live audience in the most vibrant community on Earth.

With the spread of Covid-19 and the closing of all cultural institutions, sports venues, bars, and restaurants (for dining in), we feel it is our duty to prioritize the health and well-being of our loyal readers. So, for the next several weeks at least, we won’t be covering any public events in which men, women, and children must congregate in groups, a more unlikely scenario day by day anyway.

That said, as George Bernard Shaw once noted, “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”

Some parks are still open, great places to breathe in fresh air, feel the sunshine, and watch the changing of winter into spring. We will occasionally be pointing out various statues, sculptures, and installations, but check them out only if you are already going outside and will happen to be nearby.

You don’t have to shut yourself away completely for the next weeks and months — for now, you can still go grocery shopping and pick up takeout — but do think of others as you go about your daily life, which is going to be very different for a while. We want each and every one of you to take care of yourselves and your families, follow the guidelines for social distancing, and consider the health and well-being of those around you.

We look forward to seeing you indoors and at festivals and major outdoor events as soon as possible, once New York, America, and the rest of the planet are ready to get back to business. Until then, you can find us every so often under the sun, moon, clouds, and stars, finding respite in this amazing city now in crisis.

JAGGED LITTLE PILL

(photo by Matthew Murphy)

The Healys celebrate another Christmas in suburbia in Jagged Little Pill (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Broadhurst Theatre
235 West 44th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 5, $49-$189
jaggedlittlepill.com

Don’t be misled into thinking that Jagged Little Pill is yet another high-profile jukebox musical about a famous entertainer. The mostly worshipful and misguided biographic whitewashes such as The Cher Show, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, and even the best of the bunch, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, have been inundating Broadway over the last few years with, for the most part, a dreary mediocrity and predictability. Instead, Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody and Tony-winning director Diane Paulus have crafted a powerful narrative of suburban America inspired by the songs of seven-time Grammy winner Alanis Morissette, primarily from her smash 1995 breakthrough album, Jagged Little Pill, in addition to other tunes from throughout her career as well as a few new, previously unreleased ones, with music by her longtime collaborator Glen Ballard.

The show opens in the Healys’ home as Mary Jane (Elizabeth Stanley) is preparing the family’s annual Christmas letter. She brags about her husband, Steve (Sean Allan Krill), a partner in a law firm; their daughter, Frankie (Celia Rose Gooding), an artistic wunderkind; their son, Nick (Derek Klena), who has been accepted to Harvard; and even herself, focusing on how she has survived a car accident. “It’s amazing what you can get used to with a little discipline,” she cheerfully writes. “The mind and body are connected in ways we can’t even imagine. I’ve gotten to a point where I can’t feel anything!” She can’t feel anything because she’s hooked on opioids, which help her not face the reality of her life: Her husband is a workaholic, her daughter is a radical lesbian, her son is about to get caught up in a sex scandal, and she is a drug addict. When she later bumps into three vapid friends at the local coffee shop, one says to her, “M.J., you have to give yourself some credit. We all know you’re ‘Super Mom.’” But even Superman has his Kryptonite.

(photo by Matthew Murphy)

Lauren Patten brings down the house as Jo in Alanis Morissette musical (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Her carefully created world threatens to come crashing down when she learns that one of Nick’s best friends, Bella (Kathryn Gallagher), might have been raped at a party and Nick might be involved in some way. But she’s not about to let the truth get in the way of her family’s success, even as the house of cards starts tumbling down all around her. “Whether you like it or not, how you present yourself to the world matters,” she tells Frankie, an African American child the Healys adopted. “People act like my parents are heroes or something just for wanting me,” Frankie explains to Phoenix (Antonio Cipriano), the new kid in school. “My mom always says she ‘doesn’t see color.’ But sometimes I wish she did. Is that weird?” Frankie is instantly attracted to the strange Phoenix, which does not make her supposed girlfriend, Jo (Lauren Patten), very happy. Meanwhile, Steve thinks it’s time for him and Mary Jane to go to marriage counseling. “I don’t want to be resented when I’m just trying to provide for you / I don’t want to be berated for simply doing my best to reach you / I don’t want to be controlling / I just want our life to be normal again,” he sings. But nothing will ever be “normal” for the Healys again, whatever “normal” even means anymore. As Bella later says to Mary Jane, “Tell me when I’m going to feel normal again.”

(photo by Matthew Murphy)

Bella (Kathryn Gallagher) tries to stand tall in the wake of sexual abuse in Jagged Little Pill (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Jagged Little Pill has its share of jagged edges, occasionally dancing too close to clichés, hammering home its #MeToo message far too aggressively, Frankie’s affection for Phoenix is underdeveloped, and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s choreography feels like it’s escaped from a different show as an ensemble of frantic dancers regularly get in the way. They almost — but thankfully don’t — ruin Patten’s dynamic performance of one of Morissette’s most famous songs, “You Oughta Know,” which rocks the theater to its foundations. Patten, seen previously in such shows as Fun Home, The Wolves, and Days of Rage, firmly establishes herself as someone to watch. Cody (Juno, Tully) has a lot of fun with riffing on “Ironic” (“Hold up, wait a second, that’s actually not ironic,” one of Frankie’s classmates argues) and cleverly exposes disturbing aspects of suburban America while tackling issues of race, addiction, and sexual abuse.

Tom Kitt’s orchestrations do justice to Morissette’s originals, with powerful versions of such familiar songs as “All I Really Want,” “Hand in My Pocket,” and “You Learn” in addition to tunes from such other Morissette albums as Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie and Under Rug Swept, delivered by a terrific cast and an eight-piece band (that really don’t need to keep rolling onto Riccardo Hernández’s set. There’s also a beautiful scene in which Mary Jane is joined by her younger self in a haunting dance. Jagged Little Pill might not be nonfiction, but it rocks with a poignant realism, since Morissette’s songs are often so confessional, based on painful events from her life. The story takes place over the course of a year, concluding with a very different Christmas letter. As Morissette so poignantly wrote, “You live you learn / You love you learn / You cry you learn / You lose you learn / You bleed you learn / You scream you learn.”

A SOLDIER’S PLAY

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Capt. Richard Davenport (Blair Underwood) and Pvt. James Wilkie (Billy Eugene Jones) watch Sgt. Vernon C. Waters (David Alan Grier) in flashback in A Soldier’s Play (photo by Joan Marcus)

American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through March 15, $59-$299
212-719-1300
www.roundabouttheatre.org

Perhaps no one knows Charles Fuller’s A Soldier’s Play better than David Alan Grier, even more so than Fuller himself. In the show’s original 1981-83 Negro Ensemble run, which earned Fuller the Pulitzer Prize and featured Adolph Caesar, Denzel Washington, and Samuel L. Jackson, Grier replaced Larry Riley as Pvt. C. J. Memphis. In Norman Jewison’s 1984 film, starring Caesar, Washington, Riley, Howard E. Rollins Jr., Wings Hauser, Robert Townsend, and Patti LaBelle, Grier played Cpl. Bernard Cobb. And now Grier is taking on the role of controversial sergeant Vernon C. Waters in the show’s Broadway debut, a Roundabout production that moves with expert military precision at the American Airlines Theatre.

It’s 1944, and Waters is in charge of an all-black unit of the 221st Chemical Smoke Generating Company at Fort Neal, Louisiana, under the command of Capt. Charles Taylor (Jerry O’Connell). In the opening moment, a drunk Waters is on his knees on a platform, calling out, “They’ll still hate you!” A shot rings out, and Waters falls dead, murdered in cold blood by an unseen perpetrator. Capt. Richard Davenport (Blair Underwood), a black lawyer attached to the 343rd Military Police Corps Unit, arrives to solve the crime, but the white Taylor has a problem with that.

“I didn’t know that Major Hines was assigning a Negro, Davenport,” Taylor says. “My preparations were made in the belief that you’d be a white man. I think it only fair to tell you that had I known what Hines intended I would have requested the immediate suspension of the investigation. . . . I don’t want to offend you, but I just cannot get used to it — the bars, the uniform — being in charge just doesn’t look right on Negroes!” Taylor attempts to talk Davenport out of accepting the case, in part because of the danger he thinks he will face from the local KKK, but Davenport is not about to be scared into leaving. “I got it. And I am in charge! All your orders instruct you to do is cooperate!” he firmly declares.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Capt. Charles Taylor (Jerry O’Connell) is not thrilled that Capt. Richard Davenport (Blair Underwood) has come to investigate a murder in Roundabout Broadway production (photo by Joan Marcus)

Assisted by Taylor’s right-hand man, Cpl. Ellis (Warner Miller), Davenport begins interrogating the members of the unit, which includes Pfc Melvin Peterson (Nnamdi Asomugha), Pvt. Louis Henson (McKinley Belcher III), Cpl. Cobb (Rob Demery), Pvt. Tony Smalls (Jared Grimes), Pvt. James Wilkie (Billy Eugene Jones), and Pvt. Memphis (J. Alphonse Nicholson), each of whom had a unique relationship with Waters, via their responsibilities to the army as well as through their place on the company’s extremely successful baseball team, as most of them played in the Negro League. Their stories unfold in flashback as Davenport and the witness sit stage right as the captain watches the action take place in the center and at left. Derek McLane’s two-level wooden set switches from the men’s barracks to Davenport’s and Taylor’s offices as chairs and desks are brought on and offstage and beds are pushed from the back to the front, accompanied by sharp lighting by Allen Lee Hughes.

Davenport also speaks with key white suspects Lt. Byrd (Nate Mann) and Capt. Wilcox (Lee Aaron Rosen); the former in particular is an avowed racist with no respect for Davenport. “Where I come from, colored don’t talk the way he spoke to us — not to white people they don’t!” Byrd says about Waters, talking about the night of the killing. Davenport discovers that Waters apparently had many more enemies than friends, resulting in plenty of suspects.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Broadway debut of Charles Fuller’s A Soldier’s Play is set in an all-black army barracks during WWII (photo by Joan Marcus)

Directed with adroit sureness by Tony winner Kenny Leon (A Raisin in the Sun, American Son) and loosely inspired by Herman Melville’s 1924 novella Billy Budd, A Soldier’s Play is a scorching look at racism, in the military in 1944 as well as today. Waters strongly believes that black men need to rethink their place in society and how they will succeed. “The First War, it didn’t change much for us, boy — but this one — it’s gonna change a lot of things,” he tells Memphis. “The black race can’t afford you no more. There use ta be a time when we’d see somebody like you, singin’, clownin’ — yas-sah-bossin’ — and we wouldn’t do anything. . . . Not no more. The day of the geechy is gone, boy — the only thing that can move the race is power. It’s all the white respects — and people like you just make us seem like fools.” It’s not a position that everyone agrees with, but Grier (Porgy and Bess, In Living Color) handles the role with a grace and intelligence that makes Waters neither hero nor villain, instead a strong-willed individual with a different experience than his fellow soldiers, and a different way of approaching the future.

Underwood (A Streetcar Named Desire, The Trip to Bountiful), whose father is a retired army colonel, is bold and steadfast as Davenport, a fearless man who is going to stand by his convictions and fight for what he’s earned. O’Connell (Stand by Me, Seminar) is resolute as Taylor, who is somewhat caught in the middle, a stand-in for much of America of the 1940s (and today), wrestling with the racism he grew up with while seemingly trying to accept that things are changing. Leon and Fuller (Zooman and the Sign, A Gathering of Old Men) do an excellent job developing the characters, each actor — there are no women in this testosterone-filled tale — getting the chance to speak his mind, wearing Dede Ayite’s effective costumes and eliciting some whoops when taking them off. Now almost forty years old, A Soldier’s Play doesn’t feel dated in the least. In fact, it feels all too of-the-moment, and all too necessary.

MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON

(photo by Matthew Murphy)

Lucy Barton (Laura Linney) recalls a significant time in her life in play based on Elizabeth Strout novel (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Monday - Saturday through February 29, $70-$150
www.manhattantheatreclub.com
lucybartonplay.com

It’s always a pleasure watching the exquisite Laura Linney, whether on television, in film, or onstage. Nominated for three Oscars and four Tonys and winner of four Emmys, the Manhattan native has an instantly infectious appeal; you want to be in her luminous presence. She is terrific once again in her latest Broadway play, the one-woman show My Name Is Lucy Barton, which is based on Elizabeth Strout’s 2016 novel and continues at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through February 29. Under Richard Eyre’s expert direction, she flows between sharing her story with the audience and portraying her mother. So why isn’t it better?

Born and raised in the rural town of Amgash, Illinois, Lucy is now reflecting on a critical time in her life, when she spent nearly nine weeks in a New York City hospital. Her husband hates hospitals, so he refuses to visit her, instead choosing to care for their two young daughters. She is estranged from her parents and siblings but is shocked when her mother, who she hasn’t seen in many years, unexpectedly arrives and spends days and days sitting in a chair in Lucy’s hospital room, mostly gossiping about people from the old neighborhood, quite disinterested in Lucy and her family. While her mother is there, Lucy recalls the physical and psychological abuse she suffered at the hands of her parents and discusses the life she led as a child, with no television, no newspapers or magazines, no books, no friends, no sense of personal identity. “How do you even know what you look like if the only mirror in the house is a tiny one high above the kitchen sink?” she says.

(photo by Matthew Murphy)

Laura Linney is once again exquisite in one-woman show on Broadway (photo by Matthew Murphy)

So she set out on a new course, moving to the big city but unable to shake a haunting loneliness. “I was lonely,” she explains. “Lonely was the first flavour I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me.” It’s this loneliness that is at the center of the story, and primarily women’s loneliness. Her mother can’t stop talking about women like her friend Kathie Nicely and her cousin Harriet, who left their husbands or were left by them, and their often unsuccessful efforts to make new lives and establish their own identities.

But there’s also a lonely feeling watching the play; we wrap ourselves around Linney (The Little Foxes, The Big C, The Savages), not the narrative, which seems inconsequential for the most part, and the material lets down the rest of Eyre’s (Guys and Dolls, Notes on a Scandal) production, which is stellar. Bob Crowley’s pristine set consists of a chair and a hospital bed as well as three successively larger wall screens in the back on which video designer Luke Halls projects peaceful shots of corn and soybean fields in Illinois and the Chrysler Building and streets of New York City, with precise lighting by Peter Mumford as Linney shifts between characters.

Despite it being her story, Lucy is an unreliable narrator. She regularly says “I think,” not firm in what she is relating. At one point she says of her mother, “Maybe she didn’t say that. I don’t remember.” Later she admits, “I still am not sure it’s a true memory, except I do know it, I think. I mean: It is true.” It’s as if she’s doing a (wonderfully) staged reading of the book; Rona Munro’s (The James Plays, Bold Girls) adaptation sounds more like an audiobook you can listen to while driving. In fact, the play is presented “in association with” Penguin Random House Audio, which published the audiobook in 2016, read very differently by Kimberly Farr. But forgetting everything else, there is one main reason to see the play, and her name is Laura Linney.

THE INHERITANCE

(photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2019)

Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance tackles issues of gay eroticism, literature, and legacy over six and a half hours (photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2019)

Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 West 47th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Wednesday - Sunday through June 7, $39 - $199
theinheritanceplay.com

Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance is a terrific two-and-a-half-hour play — however, it runs six and a half hours in two lengthy installments at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, each of which requires separate admission. Angels in America meets The Boys in the Band by way of E. M. Forster’s Howards End in the epic drama, which broke the record for winning the most Best Play awards in the West End, including four Oliviers (Best Play, Best Actor for Kyle Soller, Best Director for Stephen Daldry, and Best Lighting Design by Jon Clark). The play is set in contemporary New York City, where Eric Glass (Soller) and Toby Darling (Andrew Burnap) are in love and are considering marriage after seven years together. Toby is a beautiful, magnetic, hard-partying writer who is turning his coming-of-age novel, Loved Boy, into a play; the more grounded Eric works for Jasper (Kyle Harris), a social justice entrepreneur. Eric and Toby are friends with an urbane, wealthy older couple, Walter Poole (Paul Hilton) and Henry Wilcox (John Benjamin Hickey), who host fabulous gatherings at their summer place in the Hamptons. Fate brings actor Adam McDowell (Samuel H. Levine) into Toby’s life; Toby quickly thinks Adam should star in his play. But when Toby meets bedraggled street prostitute Leo (Levine), a double for Adam, various relationships start swirling out of control.

(photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2019)

Eric Glass (Kyle Soller) and Henry Wilcox (John Benjamin Hickey) talk about life and love as E. M. Forster (Paul Hilton) looks on in Olivier Award winner (photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2019)

Throughout the play, Forster (Hilton) comments on the plot and interacts with some of the characters, as if he’s the omniscient narrator of a novel. Early on, a Greek chorus of young men speak with Forster about Howards End. “It’s a great book, don’t get me wrong. And the movie’s good. But, I mean, the world is so different now. I can’t identify with it at all,” one man says. “It’s been a hundred years,” adds another. “The world has changed so much,” a third points out. “Our lives are nothing like the people in your book,” a fourth chimes in. Forster asks, “How can that be true? Hearts still love, don’t they? And break. Hope, fear, jealousy, desire. Your lives may be different. But surely the feelings are the same. The difference is merely setting, context, costumes. But those are just details.” Lopez is referring to his play itself, a modern-day reimagining of Howards End that has been transformed into a gay fantasia. The difference in context matters very much, however, and is brought into sharp focus by the presence of Forster, a closeted homosexual who did not have sex until he was thirty-eight and died in 1970 at the age of ninety-one. He would not allow his own gay fantasia, the queer novel Maurice, written in 1912, to be published until after his death, a fact that is discussed in the play, which also deals directly with the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s.

Hilton (Peter Pan, Anatomy of a Suicide) is sensational as both Forster and Walter; when he reappears onstage after a lengthy absence, the audience erupts into applause, and with good reason: He is essential to the narrative, which too often drifts into melodrama that would even make Douglas Sirk cringe. Levine (Kill Floor) makes a poignant Broadway debut as Adam and Leo, switching between two characters that are polar opposites of each other. Soller is superb as the thoughtful and caring Eric, displaying a tender chemistry with Tony winner Hickey (The Normal Heart, Love! Valour! Compassion!), whose Henry is the seasoned sage of the group and whose painful memories of those lost to AIDS leads to one of the play’s most searing moments. (Hickey will be on hiatus through April 22 to make his directing debut with Plaza Suite and will be replaced by Tony Goldwyn.) Daldry (Billy Elliot, Skylight) tries to keep things moving on Bob Crowley’s minimal set, a large platform around which Eric and Toby’s friends and wannabe writers (including Jonathan Burke, Carson McCalley, Jordan Barbour, Darryl Gene Daughtry Jr., Dylan Frederick, and Arturo Luís Soria) hang out, watch the action, and interject, getting more in the way than adding worthwhile dialogue.

(photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2019)

Henry Wilcox (John Benjamin Hickey) has some sharp things to say to the younger generation in Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance (photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2019)

“With personal relationships. Here is something comparatively solid in a world full of violence and cruelty,” Forster wrote in his seminal 1938 essay “What I Believe,” continuing, “Not absolutely solid, for Psychology has split and shattered the idea of a ‘Person,’ and has shown that there is something incalculable in each of us, which may at any moment rise to the surface and destroy our normal balance. We don’t know what we are like. We can’t know what other people are like. How, then, can we put any trust in personal relationships, or cling to them in the gathering political storm? In theory we cannot. But in practice we can and do.” Lopez (The Whipping Man, The Legend of Georgia McBride) captures that part of Forster’s ethos but also strays from it too often.

There is also a very noticeable lack of women in the story, and only one onstage, the key figure of Margaret, played by the impeccable Lois Smith (The Trip to Bountiful, Marjorie Prime), who sums it all up at the end, but by that time Lopez has long bit off more than he can chew, taking on too much and losing focus of the main plot in favor of emotionally manipulative scenes that lack the necessary subtlety even as he tackles such intense subjects as gay eroticism, class, sex, AIDS, and, most critically, legacy. The Inheritance is filled with delicate, beautiful scenes that will move you deeply, unforgettable moments that exemplify what makes live theater so potent. But it just can’t sustain itself for six and a half hours.

THE SOUND INSIDE

(photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Mary Louise Parker and Will Hochman star in Adam Rapp’s The Sound Inside on Broadway (photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Studio 54
254 West 54th St.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 12, $49-$169
212-719-1300
soundinsidebroadway.com
www.lct.org

The Sound Inside is one of the most beautifully composed shows I have ever seen, an exquisitely rendered work that could have come only from the mind of an expert storyteller. Originally presented in 2018 at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and commissioned by Lincoln Center, it is written by novelist and playwright Adam Rapp, a Pulitzer Prize finalist who has authored such books as The Year of Endless Sorrows, Punkzilla, and Know Your Beholder and such plays as Red Light Winter, The Metal Children, and Blackbird, which he adapted into a 2007 film he also directed. In The Sound Inside, a luminous Mary Louise Parker stars as fifty-three-year-old Yale professor Bella Lee Baird. (Rapp has taught at the Yale School of Drama, and his mother’s maiden name is Baird.) Bella, who has written a mildly well received book, Billy Baird Runs through a Wall, alternates between telling her story in the first and third persons directly to the audience, as if narrating a novel, and participating in scenes with one of her students, the enigmatic and cynical Christopher Dunn (Will Hochman).

“A middle-aged professor of undergraduate creative writing at a prestigious Ivy League University stands before an audience of strangers,” Bella says to open the play. “She can’t quite see them but they’re out there. She can feel them — they’re as certain as old trees. Gently creaking in the heavy autumn air. Is this audience friendly, she wonders? Merciful? Are they easily distracted? Or will they hear this woman out? And what about her? Ironically, she often dissuades her students from describing a protagonist in too fine of detail. Readers only need a few telling clues.” Rapp and director David Cromer, who subtly transforms Studio 54 into an intimate classroom, follow that advice, offering only a few telling clues at a time as we excitedly hear this captivating woman out.

(photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Christopher Dunn (Will Hochman) talks literature and more with his professor, Bella Lee Baird (Mary Louise Parker) (photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Christopher shows up at Bella’s office one day without an appointment. He has a supreme distaste for rules and regulations and eschews common decency. “Do me a favor. Next time you want to stop by without an appointment at least shoot me an email first,” she tells him. “Yeah, I don’t really do that,” he responds. They discuss Dostoyevsky, hipster baristas, and the book Christopher is writing. They strike up a friendship, but Christopher knows he is taking up a lot of her time. “I mean, if you get tired of me just say so and I can go like wander campus and get mentally prepared for the big football game coming up with Harvard this weekend,” he says. “Stockpile the coldcuts. Get my face painted. Do some steroids. Headbutt random campus bulletin boards, etcetera, etcetera.”

Bella, who’s dealing with stomach cancer and has no one else in her life, welcomes the offbeat Christopher into her daily existence. “I have no children and I’ve never been married,” she tells the audience. “Like many single, self-possessed women who’ve managed to find solid footing in the slippery foothills of higher education, I’ve been accused of being a lesbian. And a witch. And a maker of Bulgarian cheese. And a collector of cat calendars. Both my parents are dead. My father suffered a fatal heart attack at sixty-two and I’ll get to my mother in a minute. I have no brothers or sisters. I live in faculty housing. I don’t own property. I’m essentially a walking social security number with a coveted Ivy League professorship and a handful of moth-bitten sweaters.” As they grow closer, they both consider breaking down the barriers that make them each such lonely beings, committing to no one but themselves.

It’s impossible not to become instantly infatuated with Bella, so bewitchingly played by Tony, Obie, and Emmy winner Parker (Proof, Weeds). You want to just rush onstage and give her a giant hug to assure her everything will be all right, even if it won’t. Parker holds the audience in her hands, giving a tour-de-force lesson in acting. Hochman (Sweat, Dead Poets Society) is impressive in his Broadway debut, not intimidated in the least. Rapp celebrates literature without getting pedantic as he explores Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist, and James Salter’s Light Years. Alexander Woodward’s set features several rooms that move into the foreground and disappear into the background, superbly lit by Heather Gilbert, each one representing a different aspect of Bella’s life. Tony winner Cromer (The Band’s Visit, Our Town) keeps up a lively pace as the characters scrutinize what they are to each other.

The play refers several times to a framed photograph in Bella’s office of a “woman standing in the middle of a harvested cornfield. She’s in all black and tiny in the vast dead field,” she tells Christopher, who asks, “Is that you in the photograph? Of course it is.” But Bella says she has no idea who it is. The next time he visits her in her office, Christopher is mesmerized by the photo and asks, “Has she gotten smaller? . . . I have this weird feeling that if I come back tomorrow the field will be covered. With snow. Like twenty inches. But no footprints. The woman’s just there. As if the field imagined her.” Bella asks, “Do you think it would be a better image?” He replies, “Maybe not better. But somehow more inevitable.” It’s a fabulous moment in a fabulous play, and one that zeroes in on just who these two people are and what they want out of life.

MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL!

(photo © Matthew Murphy, 2019)

Danny Burstein stars as nightclub owner and ringleader Harold Zidler in Moulin Rouge! The Musical! (photo © Matthew Murphy, 2019)

Al Hirschfeld Theatre
302 West 45th St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through November 8, $179 - $799
moulinrougemusical.com

Just about all you need to know about Moulin Rouge! The Musical! is that, yes, there are two exclamation points in the title. If you thought Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 movie was over the top and filled to excess, wait till you see the Broadway show. Actually, let me take that back; just trust me and skip it unless you’re looking to toss away between $179 and $799 on a bright red saccharine bonbon. As you enter the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, you’re immersed in the sexy, velvety world of the Moulin Rouge, to great effect. (The set design is by the masterful Derek McLane.) Sultry men and women are there to greet and entice you at the sides of the stage, a large windmill beckons from above (“Moulin Rouge” means “red mill”), but beware the big blue elephant in the room. (Literally.) The opening number shows promise, with Danny Burstein leading the adult circus as nightclub owner and ringleader Harold Zidler, who declares, “Hello, chickens! Yes, it’s me. Your own beloved Harold Zidler. In the flesh. Welcome, you gorgeous collection of reprobates and rascals, artistes and arrivistes, soubrettes and sodomites, welcome to the Moulin Rouge!” He continues, “No matter your sin, you’re welcome here. No matter your desire, you’re welcome here. For this is more than a nightclub. The Moulin Rouge is a state of mind. It is that part of your soul which throbs and pulses, it is that corner of your mind where your fantasies live.” Well, not my fantasies, at least.

(photo © Matthew Murphy, 2019)

Satine (Karen Olivo) and Christian (Aaron Tveit) fight for love in misguided musical (photo © Matthew Murphy, 2019)

The sails come off the mill quickly after that, as the innocent and penniless Christian (Aaron Tveit) tumbles head over heels in love with Moulin Rouge star Satine (Karen Olivo), whom Zidler has already given to the Duke (Tam Mutu) in exchange for money that will help keep the club open. Meanwhile, French artist Toulouse-Lautrec (Sahr Ngaujah) follows along, commenting from a Montmartre café. “Face it, Toulouse. We’re not songwriters,” his friend Santiago (Ricky Rojas) says. Lautrec replies, “How hard can it be, for God sake?! June, spoon, moon — done!” Apparently, it’s pretty darn hard, as Moulin Rouge! The Musical! is stuffed to the gills with snippets of more than seventy hits that are either annoying in their brevity or severely overdramatized; just as in the film, the gimmick grows tired fast, even with familiar tunes by Talking Heads, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Lourde, U2, Sia, the Rolling Stones, and Edith Piaf.

Directed by two-time Tony nominee Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Here Lies Love) and with a predictable book by Tony winner and three-time Oscar nominee John Logan (Red, The Last Ship), the show is all glitz and glamour (the costumes are by Catherine Zuber, the choreography by Sonya Tayeh) with no chemistry whatsoever between the characters; not only will you not care about what happens to Christian, Satine, and the Duke, you’ll actively root for them to just make up their minds already and put us out of our misery. (The bloviated production runs just over two and a half hours.) And don’t fall for all the tongue-in-cheek self-referential and anachronistic pop-culture blather. Early on, Christian tells Lautrec and Santiago, “So it turns out they were in the midst of writing a theatrical play with some songs in it. They wanted me to go to the Moulin Rouge and sing one of my songs for the star there, sort of an audition. If she liked my music then she’d get the club to put on their show, which they called Bohemian Rhapsody. I swear, they were like two knockabout vaudevillians escaped from the nearest asylum and the whole thing was the single most insane idea I’d ever heard.” Hey, he said it, not me.