220 West 48th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through August 2, $25-$145
Opera diva Renée Fleming makes her Broadway debut playing opera diva Raquel De Angelis in Joe DiPietro’s underwhelming, over-the-top romantic farce Living on Love. Based on Garson Kanin’s last play, Peccadillo, Living on Love is set in 1957 in the elegant Manhattan living room of the Diva and her husband, Vito De Angelis (Douglas Sills), a conductor who insists on being called the Maestro. The Diva is a fading star jealous of Maria Callas’s success, while the Maestro never wants to hear anyone mention the name of his archrival, Leonard Bernstein. Robert Samson (Jerry O’Connell) is the latest in a succession of ghost writers — which the Italian Maestro calls “spooky helpers” in his broken English — attempting to work with De Angelis on his memoirs. One afternoon Iris Peabody (Anna Chlumsky) shows up, a mousey editor who is there to either make sure the manuscript is finished or take back the large advance of $50,000 — which the Diva has already spent. Desperate for the money, and suspicious of each other’s motives, soon the Diva is writing her own autobiography with Robert, a huge fan of hers, while Iris is doing the same with the Maestro, who, naturally, loves the ladies. Plenty of high jinks ensue, but you won’t be calling out “Bravo! Brava!”
Living on Love is a tepid tale of music and jealousy, with stale jokes and clichéd situations that the audience can see coming from as far as La Scala. Sills (The Scarlet Pimpernel, Little Shop of Horrors) is excellent as the wild, unpredictable Lothario, chewing up and spitting out Derek McLane’s lovely scenery with a furious panache. Unfortunately, Met Opera star Fleming, O’Connell (Seminar, Stand by Me), and Chlumsky (You Can’t Take It with You, Unconditional) can’t keep up with him, their characters flat and obvious. Blake Hammond and Scott Robertson provide some comic relief — yes, you know you have a problem when a comedy needs comic relief — as the family servants, cleaning up and making minor set changes with aplomb, but their shtick, which also includes singing, grows repetitive fast and, as the latter repeats over and over, “There’s nothing you can do about it.” Tony winner DiPietro (Memphis, Nice Work If You Can Get It) doesn’t give director Kathleen Marshall (Nice Work, Wonderful Town) much of a chance with the musty material. The only saving grace is Sills’s performance, but it’s not enough to salvage the proceedings. Fleming displays occasional flare in her Broadway debut, but her snippets of songs are more of a tease than a treat. You’ll be looking for the fat lady to sing long before the silly finale.
252 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through June 21, $60 - $149
David Hare’s Skylight is a fierce battle of wits and wills, pitting former lovers against each other as they argue about class, wealth, privilege, social responsibility, love, and cooking. Carey Mulligan stars as Kyra Hollis, a thirty-year-old teacher living in a drab apartment complex in a not-so-pleasant neighborhood in northwest London. On a snowy night, she is unexpectedly visited by Edward Sergeant (Matthew Beard), the university-age member of a family she used to work for. Edward is concerned about the well-being of his father, Tom (Bill Nighy), a millionaire restaurateur who, according to Edward, is having trouble dealing with the loss of his wife, Alice, a year before. Edward doesn’t know the full story behind the relationship that his father and Kyra had, right under Alice’s nose, but he thinks Kyra can help him out of his funk. “Dad’s got very peculiar,” he says, adding, “You know Dad. He’s not what you might call ‘emotionally available.’” He also expresses his displeasure at how Kyra walked out on the Sergeants. “My mother died. She actually died. Not you. You did something else. You cut yourself off from us without saying anything. And in a way I’m coming to think that’s much worse. Because you just left and said nothing.” Shortly after Edward leaves, Tom arrives, and then the fireworks really begin. Tom is in attack mode, condescending and critical, lacing into Kyra, who is making pasta, for the life she’s chosen, teaching underprivileged children and living in a dive in a bad part of town. He walks determinedly around the apartment, carefully adjusting furniture and even trying to take over the cooking. But Kyra defends the choices she’s made, accusing Tom of being a cold, selfish prig more concerned with money and possessions than people. “You have no right to look down on that life!” Kyra says, to which Tom soon replies, “You’re the only person who has fought so hard to get into it, when everyone else is desperate to get out!” Their intellectual game of cat and mouse keeps getting more fiery — it’s no coincidence that they even argue over her cheap space heater — and eventually explodes when they start getting to the true heart of the matter, whether they ever really were in love, and whether that love still exists.
Skylight premiered in England in 1995, with Lia Williams as Kyra and Michael Gambon as Tom, winning the Olivier Award for Best Play and earning four Tony nominations after moving to Broadway the following year. Nighy replaced Gambon in 1997, and therein lays this revival’s biggest problem: Kyra is supposed to be just past thirty, Tom nearly fifty; Mulligan is actually twenty-nine, but Nighy is sixty-four, so it’s difficult to get past the much bigger age difference now, hard to accept that Kyra was head-over-heels in love with the seemingly unlikable Tom, especially since their relationship is now so vitriolic. In addition, although the bookend scenes with Edward provide a different vantage point, they are dreadfully dull. But if you can get past those drawbacks, there’s much to like about Stephen Daldry’s production, which earned the 2015 Olivier Award for Best Revival. Mulligan, who previously appeared on Broadway in The Seagull and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress in An Education, displays a whirlwind of emotions as Kyra, balancing her strength and determination with a heartbreaking vulnerability. She is a more than worthy adversary for Hare regular Nighy (The Vertical Hour, The Worricker Trilogy), who is carefully mannered as the erudite, poignantly nasty Tom. But every time the cerebral, politically tinged duel threatens to be too one-sided — in favor of the far more sympathetic Kyra — Hare (Plenty, The Judas Kiss) and Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Audience), who have previously collaborated on the films The Hours and The Reader, give Tom just the right twist, poking holes in Kyra’s motivations. Bob Crowley’s set opens up the apartment, with no walls or barriers between rooms or to the bleak outside, echoing the obstacles that Tom and Kyra break down as they rip into each other, rehashing their past as they look to the future, wondering if they belong together, or ever did.
The Broadway Theatre
1681 Broadway at 53rd St.
Tuesday - Sunday through April 3, $19.17 - $157
The first act of Doctor Zhivago is a near disaster, filled with way too much spit and sweat (and intestines), ill-defined characters, jaw-droppingly inane and insulting projections, and a cantilevered stage that looks as if the actors might slide right into the audience. The most exciting moment came when a gentleman near the front of the orchestra let loose a series of rafter-rattling snores that got everyone’s attention. But after intermission, this long-in-the-works musical based on Boris Pasternak’s epic 1957 novel and David Lean’s Oscar-nominated 1965 historical romance turned into a much more thrilling tale, finally finding its own voice instead of trying to be a clumsy mash-up of Fiddler on the Roof and Les Misérables. The first act traps itself between overexplication and general confusion as two-time Tony-winning director Des McAnuff (The Who’s Tommy, Jersey Boys) and book writer Michael Weller (who has written such plays as Loose Ends and Spoils of War and such screenplays as Hair and Ragtime) try to narrow the focus of the wide-ranging story down to a dangerous love triangle while also including elements of the sweeping social, political, and economic changes tearing through Russia between 1903 and 1930, as Tsar Nicholas II, Lenin, and Stalin face the Russo-Japanese War, the Russian Revolution, WWI, and the rise of Fascism. And they get little help from lyricists Amy Powers and Michael Korie and composer Lucy Simon (The Secret Garden), who consistently cater to the lowest common denominator, leaving little to the imagination, especially amid all the explosions and gunfire. In “Two Worlds,” a group of Muscovites declare, “Ever since the ancient riders / Crossed the great divide, / Russia is a land where / Rich and poor live side by side. / Two worlds, / Of the plough and the sword. Two worlds, / Of the serf and the lord. / Two worlds, the oppressed, the elite, / And never the two shall meet.” Just as the theme of two worlds pervades the plot, the two acts are like two different worlds as well.
The second act is everything the first is not: Exiting, romantic, and involving, with moments worthy of an epic Broadway musical, even if there is still plenty of clunky dialogue and melodramatic lyrics. “Nothing comes before your verse,” Zhivago’s wife, Tonia (Lora Lee Gayer), tells her husband. “We fled Moscow for peace of mind. No one’s troubling us here. It’s time to be selfish and follow your heart.” To which Zhivago responds, “My heart is here . . . with my family.” Later, the partisans sing, “Wherever you run, / There’s nowhere to hide. / The mountain is steep. / The river is wide.” The cast won’t make anyone forget about Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Rod Steiger, Alec Guinness, Geraldine Chaplin, Tom Courtenay, and Ralph Richardson, the stars of the film, but they work hard through the mostly middling material. Tam Mutu (City of Angels, Les Misérables) is a resolute Yurii Andreyevich Zhivago, a very serious doctor, poet, and aristocrat desperate to save his family while also impossibly drawn to his true love, Lara (a heartfelt Kelli Barrett), who is beholden to well-connected local magistrate Viktor Komarovsky (a bold Tom Hewitt) but married to revolution leader Pasha (Paul Alexander Nolan). Costume designer Paul Tazewell dresses Barrett in blue throughout, separating her from the masses, stressing her individuality. Nolan’s performance is representative of the show as a whole; he is jumpy and annoying in the first act, strong and undaunted in the second. Barrett and Gayer excel with their voices, particularly in the duet “It Comes as No Surprise.” And yes, “Somewhere My Love (Lara’s Theme)” makes an appearance. The show started life as Zhivago in 2006 at the La Jolla Playhouse, then was resurrected as Doctor Zhivago five years later in Australia. Although it clearly was not ready for Broadway yet, there’s much to admire in the second act — if you can survive the first, which deserves being banished to Siberia forever.
Neil Simon Theatre
250 West 52nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 4, $67-$147
Neil Simon Theatre
250 West 52nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 4, $67-$147
In the Oscar-winning title song of Gigi, Gaston Lachaille asks, “When did your sparkle turn to fire / and your warmth become desire?” In the new Broadway revival at the Neil Simon Theatre, there is plenty of sparkle and warmth, but little fire and desire, making for a perfectly pleasant evening that never quite hits the high notes of this story of love and extravagance in fin de siècle Paris. Gigi began life as a 1944 novella by Colette, which was turned into a 1949 French comedy starring Danièle Delorme as the sixteen-year-old girl on the brink of womanhood. It then became a Broadway hit written by Anita Loos in 1951 and starring Audrey Hepburn, followed by Vincente Minnelli’s smash 1958 Lerner and Loewe musical, which was nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Score, and won them all. Twenty-five years later it was turned into a Broadway musical by Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music) that won a Tony for Best Score but failed to catch on with the public. Which brings us to the current, first-ever Broadway revival, a modestly entertaining if not exactly illuminating version adapted by British screenwriter and playwright Heidi Thomas (Cranford, Call the Midwife), who has scrubbed clean this tale of accepted high-society prostitution, significantly lessening the age difference between the main characters, Gigi and Gaston, portrayed by former Disney stars Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) and Corey Cott (Newsies), respectively. In fact, Hudgens is fifteen months older than Cott; in comparison, ten years separated Leslie Caron and the older Louis Jourdan in the movie musical. In addition, the signature song, “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” is no longer sung by Gaston’s uncle, Honoré, who was most famously played by Maurice Chevalier, but instead by Gigi’s grandmother, Mme. (Mamita) Alvarez (Victoria Clark), and great-aunt, Alicia (Dee Hoty), completely eliminating any hint of lewdness. As far as the plot goes, Gaston is a very wealthy steampunk bon vivant who dreams of flying. He is experiencing problems with his mistress, Liane d’Exelmans (Steffanie Leigh), and might soon be in search of his next lover, which excites Aunt Alicia, who has been grooming Gigi to prepare her to become a gentleman’s courtesan, one of the class of Parisian women who get rewarded handsomely for their “services.” The idealistic Gigi might not be all about girl power, but she still believes she can make her own choices, setting up the major conflict of the show.
Gigi has a delightful score, featuring such memorable songs as “The Parisians,” “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” and “The Night They Invented Champagne.” Hudgens sings and dances well, although she strains at overpronouncing her “t”s in dialogue. Hoty (Footloose, The Will Rogers Follies) overplays Aunt Alicia; the scenes in which she trains Gigi in the art of being a mistress fall flat. Former Phantom of the Opera McGillin is fine as Honoré, delivering a lovely “I Remember It Well” with Clark (The Light in the Piazza, Cinderella), who is the strongest part of the show. The weakest is Cott, who lacks the charm and elegance necessary for the role of the man every woman in Paris wants; the program lists his only experience other than Newsies as university productions, so he might need more time to blossom. Derek McLane’s flashy set is structured around the base of the Eiffel Tower as it changes from posh nightclub to fashionable beach resort to Mamita’s and Alicia’s very different living quarters. Director Eric Schaeffer (Follies, Million Dollar Quartet) never really achieves a flow to the narrative, resulting in a bumpy progression of set pieces. It might never all quite gel, and the production magnifies the dated nature of the central story, but it still makes for a nice show. It’s not a bore, but you might not remember it very well either.
Circle in the Square Theatre
1633 Broadway at 50th St.
Tuesday - Sunday through September 13, $75-$150
The best off-Broadway musical of last season is now the best Broadway musical of this season. Fun Home hasn’t merely transferred from the Public’s Newman Theater downtown to Circle in the Square on the Great White Way; it has been positively transformed, with returning director Sam Gold and set designer David Zinn making ingenious use of the small, intimate space, the audience surrounding the famed Circle in the Square stage. Nominated for eight Drama Desk Awards last year, Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron’s magical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s genre-defining graphic memoir is even better the second time around. The deeply personal story delves into the dysfunction of the Bechdel family: father Bruce (Michael Cerveris) is a high school English teacher, a restorer of old houses, and a funeral home director (which leads the kids to call it Fun Home); mother Helen (Judy Kuhn) plays the piano and has a yen for the theater; and younger children Christian (Oscar Williams) and John (Zell Steele Morrow) look up to their older sister, Alison, who is played as an eight-year-old by Sydney Lucas, as an eighteen-year-old by Emily Skeggs, and as a forty-three-year-old adult by Beth Malone. Malone is onstage for the full hundred minutes, watching her character’s life unfold before her. “I don’t trust memory,” she says early on, explaining why she is constantly drawing. When she goes off to college, she finds out something about herself that confuses and scares her — as well as a dark family secret that shakes her already complicated world.
The staging is simply sensational, although there’s nothing simple about it. Furniture, from doors and tables to a console television, a bed, and a casket, rises up and down from beneath the floor as the scenes change, keeping the narrative flowing at a calm, even pace despite the building angst and turmoil. Tesori’s (Violet; Caroline, or Change) music and Kron’s (2.5 Minute Ride, Well) book and lyrics continue to soar, from the outrageously funny “Changing My Major” to the Partridge Family homage “You Are Like a Raincoat,” from the incredibly clever “Ring of Keys” to the mellifluous “Welcome to Our House on Maple Avenue,” with the crack band onstage (and enjoying the show as well when they’re not playing). The cast, once again, is outstanding, with Cerveris just the right bit on edge as Bruce; Kuhn splendidly tentative and nervous as Helen; Lucas a powerhouse as the creative small Alison; Skeggs terrific as the wide-eyed, curious middle Alison; Roberta Colindrez delightful as Joan, a lesbian who catches Alison’s eye at Oberlin; and Joel Perez as multiple characters, including Roy, a handyman who helps out around the house. But Gold’s (The Realistic Joneses, The Flick) revamped staging sheds more light on the adult Alison and Malone’s subtly beautiful performance; instead of existing on the periphery as an observer, she is now right in the middle of everything, sometimes sitting down next to one of her younger selves, getting a much more close-up look into her childhood without getting overly sentimental. (The same can practically be said about the audience.) The Broadway version of Fun Home is so extraordinary, it’s made me nearly forget about the marvelous original production.
Music Box Theatre
239 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through August 9, $40 - $139
“I wrote this play because I had this image of a woman standing up at a women’s meeting saying, ‘I’ve never been so unhappy in my life,’” Wendy Wasserstein told Time magazine in a 1989 interview about The Heidi Chronicles. “Talking to friends, I knew there was this feeling around, in me and in others, and I thought it should be expressed theatrically. But it wasn’t. The more angry it made me that these feelings weren’t being expressed, the more anger I put into that play.” Twenty-six years later, The Heidi Chronicles is being revived on Broadway for the first time, in a production directed by Tony winner Pam MacKinnon (A Delicate Balance, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) that opened at the Music Box Theatre on March 19. But little of that anger is evident in what turns out to be a kind of tepid time-capsule experience that lacks energy and fervor; instead, it feels like an outdated story that is past its prime. Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss stars as Heidi Holland, a smart woman who is considering having it all — both a career and a family — as she comes of age in the 1960s and ’70s and then has to reconfigure her hopes and dreams through the 1980s. In the first act, Wasserstein (The Sisters Rosensweig, An American Daughter) follows Heidi as she attends a high school dance in Chicago in 1965, meets the aggressive Scoop Rosenbaum (Jason Biggs) at a 1968 rally for Eugene McCarthy, goes to a women’s meeting in Ann Arbor in 1970, and protests the paucity of women artists in a 1974 exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago as she searches for her purpose in life. In the second act, all of which takes place in New York in the 1980s, she goes to a baby shower, appears on a morning TV show, and has a confab at the Plaza as she tries to come to grips with the decisions she’s made as she approaches forty without a husband, children, or a real home base.
Each act begins with Heidi at a podium, delivering a lecture in 1989 on such overlooked women artists as Sofonisba Anguissola, Artemisia Gentileschi, Clara Peeters, and Lilly Martin Spencer. Those scenes show Heidi as a strong, intelligent, confident, and funny woman, more than comfortable in her own skin. However, in the flashbacks, she is lost and uncertain, most often an observer who doesn’t take action, allowing others — primarily but not exclusively men — to take control. Heidi is more of a humanist than a feminist, as is the play itself, but in 2015, with more opportunities than ever before for women — although there’s obviously still a long, long way to go — the conflicts Heidi faces don’t seem as dramatic as they might have been in 1989, and her diffidence or sometimes seeming paralysis denies the narrative some necessary conflict. We never quite understand why she is best friends with Susan (Ali Ahn), who is far more concerned with appearances than real depth; why she is drawn so much to the egocentric Scoop, even after he’s married; and what she truly gets out of her long friendship with Peter Patrone (Bryce Pinkham). All three supporting roles are played as caricatures who don’t seem to fit in with Heidi’s life. and the songs Wasserstein uses for each scene have become clichéd, from Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” to John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Janis Joplin’s “Take a Piece of My Heart,” all of which today are overkill, substituting for what we don’t see in Heidi. Like the character she portrays, Moss is at her best when delivering the illustrated lectures, relaxed and charming, someone you want to spend time with, but in the memory scenes, she is as understated and frustrating as Heidi. Rising star Tracee Chimo steals the show, playing four very different characters, Fran, Molly, Betsy, and April, making the most memorable statement of the evening when she declares, “Either you shave your legs or you don’t.” Heidi, and Moss, falls somewhere in the middle, and even if that’s the point, it doesn’t make for gripping theater. In 1989, The Heidi Chronicles earned Wasserstein the Pulitzer Prize, and she became the first solo woman to win a Tony for Best Play. But it feels very different all these years later.
“There’s something about a train that’s magic,” Richie Havens sang in a series of Amtrak commercials in the 1980s. There’s more than just a little magic in the first revival of Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Cy Coleman’s 1978 screwball musical comedy, On the 20th Century, which has pulled into the American Airlines Theatre, brought back to glorious life by director Scott Ellis in this celebratory Roundabout production. It’s 1932, and suddenly bankrupt theatrical impresario Oscar Jaffee (Peter Gallagher), trying to recover from a series of failures, has boarded the glamorous Twentieth Century Limited with his musketeer henchmen, Oliver Webb (Mark Linn Baker) and Owen O’Malley (Michael McGrath), in order to convince his former leading lady, Lily Garland (Kristin Chenoweth), to put aside the Academy Award (aka the Oscar, of course) she’s just won and return to Broadway in his new show. But her new lover and frequent onscreen costar, Bruce Granit (Andy Karl), is jealous, and Lily herself is suspicious of the scheming Oscar, who discovered her when she was shlumpy Mildred Plotka and turned her into a star. Also on board the train is a little old lady, Mrs. Letitia Peabody Primrose (Mary Louise Wilson), a religious zealot secretly slapping up signs demanding that all of these heathens “Repent!” while also considering financing Oscar’s next show. As the train continues its overnight journey from Chicago to New York, Oscar grows more and more desperate, resulting in ever-wackier high jinks. “New York in sixteen hours / Anything can happen in those sixteen hours / On that might-y / Ride-the-night-ly / Miracle of engineering brains . . . / On the Twentieth Century / On the luxury liner of locomotive trains,” conductor Flanagan (Jim Walton) proclaims, and indeed, anything can and does occur.
The show has a storied history, adapted from Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s 1932 play, Twentieth Century (itself based on Charles Bruce Millholland’s unproduced Napoleon of Broadway) and Howard Hawks’s 1934 film, 20th Century, which starred John Barrymore as Oscar and Carole Lombard as Lily. (Various other versions and iterations have featured Fredric March, John Cullum, Rock Hudson, Orson Welles, José Ferrer, and Alec Baldwin as Oscar and Madeline Kahn, Judy Kaye, Anne Heche, Lily Palmer, Constance Bennett, Gloria Swanson, and Betty Grable as Lily.) Tony nominee Gallagher (Guys and Dolls, Long Day’s Journey into Night) has just the right amount of smarm and charm as Oscar, even if his singing voice is not quite virtuosic (although he is dealing with an illness that has forced him to miss several performances and delayed the official opening by a week), but Tony winner Chenoweth (Wicked, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown) more than makes up for that in a role that she fully inhabits, giving a rafters-rattling performance that will knock your socks off, as if this were the role she was born to play. (In fact, in 2000, Green told Chenoweth, “You know what part you’re born to play?” To which Comden replied, “Lily Garland.”) When Oscar says about Mildred, “It was there. The pixie . . . the eternal woman . . . the fire . . . the passion . . . and the singing voice of a lost child heard by its mother echoing from beyond a corner,” it could just as well be Gallagher talking about Chenoweth. It’s a spectacular display that actually includes fireworks. The operetta-like score is not particularly memorable, overloaded with repetition and redundancy, but three-time Tony nominee David Rockwell’s Art Deco sets are, along with six-time Tony nominee Ellis’s (The Elephant Man, 1776) gleefully chaotic staging and Tony winner Warren Carlyle’s (After Midnight) glittering choreography. Tony winner McGrath (Nice Work If You Can Get It, Spamalot) and Linn-Baker (You Can’t Take It with You, Perfect Strangers) are a kind of Harpo and Chico to Gallagher’s Groucho, while Tony nominee Karl (Rocky, The Mystery of Edwin Drood) chews up the scenery as the narcissistic Granit. It all makes for one joyous journey, even when things get too silly, but the show’s self-deprecating humor, knowing nods and winks, and endless magic make you overlook its shortcomings (while reveling in the irony that the show that takes place on board a train is playing in a theater named for an airline and is produced by a company whose title can refer to a circular intersection cars drive around). Throughout the show, characters keep knocking on Oscar’s door, waving their scripts in his face. “It’s all about life on a train / I call it ‘Life on a Train,’ Flanagan sings, continuing, “I put it down just as it happened / Oh, the things I’ve seen!” I can happily say the same thing about On the 20th Century, itself: Oh, the things I’ve seen!