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

TRAVESTIES

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Roundabout revival of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties is dazzling audiences at American Airlines Theatre (photo by Joan Marcus)

American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through June 17, $59-$252
212-719-1300
www.roundabouttheatre.org

“I’m finding this conversation extremely hard to follow,” Henry Carr (Tom Hollander) tells Tristan Tzara (Seth Numrich) in Tom Stoppard’s Travesties, which is being revived in a thoroughly entertaining Roundabout production at the American Airlines Theatre through June 17. The playwright is famous for his complex plot lines and dialogue, but in Travesties, as in such other Stoppard works as Arcadia, The Coast of Utopia, and The Invention of Love, you need not get every literary or political reference in order to have a grand old time. In 1917, British diplomat Carr, Romanian Dada leader Tzara, Irish writer James Joyce (Peter McDonald), and Russian Communist revolutionary V. I. Lenin (Dan Butler) were all in neutral Zurich as WWI raged. In Travesties, Stoppard imagines the four men interacting at the Zurich Public Library and Carr’s apartment as Joyce (in a mismatched suit) shares limericks (“A librarianness of Zurisssh / only emerged from her niche / when a lack of response / to Ruhe Bitte. Silence! / Obliged her to utter the plea.”) and writes what would become Ulysses, the monocle-wearing Tzara spouts Dada doctrines (“All literature is obscene! The classics – tradition – vomit on it!”), and Lenin makes party declarations while writing Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (“We must say to you bourgeois individualists that your talk about absolute freedom is sheer hypocrisy. There can be no real and effective freedom in a society based on the power of money.”). Meanwhile, Carr sues Joyce over a pair of trousers involved in a presentation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. (That part is actually true.) Also adding to the marvelous mayhem are Bennett (Patrick Kerr), Carr’s very well informed butler; Nadya (Opal Alladin), Lenin’s wife; Gwendolyn (Scarlett Strallen), Carr’s younger sister; and Cecily (Sara Topham, who portrayed Wilde’s Cecily in a 2012 production of Earnest at the McCarter Theatre), the astute librarian.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Henry Carr (Tom Hollander) oversees the sociopolitical and literary madness in Tom Stoppard’s Travesties (photo by Joan Marcus)

Travesties is told from the point of view of Carr, an unreliable narrator who is telling the story half a century later as an old man in a ratty hat. Many scenes are repeated, slightly differently, in what Stoppard calls “time-slips,” accompanied by a flashing light and darkness, as if Carr’s sketchy memory is making a do-over. (The lighting design is by Neil Austin, with sound and music by Adam Cork.) In 1975, Stoppard told the Village Voice, “I must make clear that, insofar as it’s possible for me to look at my own work objectively at all, the element which I find most valuable is the one that most people are put off by — that is, that there is very often no single, clear statement in my plays. What there is, is a series of conflicting statements made by conflicting characters, and they tend to play a sort of infinite leap-frog.” That leap-frogging also applies to Stoppard’s judicious use of repurposed quotes from Shakespeare (Hamlet, As You Like It, Julius Caesar, others), Ulysses, and, primarily, The Importance of Being Earnest while commenting on the state of art itself. “The idea of the artist as a special kind of human being is art’s greatest achievement, and it’s a fake!” Carr says. “A man may be an artist by exhibiting his hindquarters. He may be a poet by drawing words out of a hat,” Tzara explains. “What now of the Trojan War if it had been passed over by the artist’s touch? Dust. A forgotten expedition prompted by Greek merchants looking for new markets,” Joyce relates. “The sole duty and justification for art is social criticism,” Cecily tells Carr. And Lenin declares, “Literature must become a part of the common cause of the proletariat, a cog in the Social democratic mechanism.”

(photo by Jenny Anderson)

The cast of Travesties rehearses before heading to Broadway (photo by Jenny Anderson)

Travesties takes place on Tim Hatley’s literary set, a wood-paneled library with stacks and stacks of blank books lined up on shelves and typescript pages scattered across the floor, along with a piano that Carr occasionally plays. (Hatley also designed the splendid costumes.) Stoppard originally asked his friend Patrick Marber to recommend potential directors for this revival, but Marber ultimately suggested himself, and Stoppard agreed. Stoppard also agreed to some changes, adding back elements from the 1974 version and cutting things from a later published edition. Marber (Dealer’s Choice, Don Juan in Soho) celebrates Stoppard’s love of language and controlled chaos in the unpredictable madcap farce, which never slows down for an instant and keeps audiences at the ready for just about anything to happen. Tony and Olivier nominee Hollander (Way of the World, Hotel in Amsterdam) is utterly delightful as Carr, revealing himself to be a wildly gifted comic actor with a firm grasp of the absurd. The rest of the cast is equally adept at mixing sociopolitical commentary with lovely tomfoolery and physical comedy. “Oh, what nonsense you talk!” Tzara tells Carr, who responds, “It may be nonsense, but at least it’s clever nonsense.” Tzara retorts, “I am sick of cleverness. In point of fact, everything is Chance,” to which Carr says, “That sounds awfully clever.” A moment later, Carr tells Tzara, “Oh, what nonsense you talk!,” to which Tzara explains, “But at least it’s not clever nonsense.” Such is Stoppard’s Travesties, in a nutshell.

SPRINGSTEEN ON BROADWAY

(photo by Rob DeMartin)

Springsteen on Broadway continues at the Walter Kerr Theatre through December 15 (photo by Rob DeMartin)

Walter Kerr Theatre
219 West 48th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday/Wednesday - Friday/Saturday through December 15, $75-$800
brucespringsteen.net/broadway

A few minutes into Springsteen on Broadway, sirens could be heard outside the Walter Kerr Theatre. Bruce, who was standing at the front microphone, acoustic guitar strapped across his chest, backed away, looked offstage, and said, “They’re coming to get me. They know I don’t belong here.” If there’s one thing the New Jersey native has proved since October 3, 2017, it’s that he is right at home on the Great White Way, so much so that what was initially a limited run through November 26 of that year has been extended several times, now through December 15 of this year. And despite most tickets going for $400 to $800 a pop, the shows still sold out in minutes. The Boss is famous for his four-hour concerts with the E Street Band, but Springsteen on Broadway is more reminiscent of his solo tours behind such records as The Ghost of Tom Joad and Devils and Dust. Yet it is not a concert; written and directed by Bruce, Springsteen on Broadway is a moving, powerful exploration of a man and his innate, unquenchable desire to become a successful musician. Inspired by a secret performance he presented to President Barack Obama and about 250 White House staffers as a thank-you just before the end of Obama’s second term, Springsteen has crafted a two-hour show that combines personal stories from his childhood to the current day with songs from throughout his career. Many of the intimate tales are adapted from his bestselling 2016 memoir, Born to Run, but this is no mere book reading with music. The sixty-eight-year-old Springsteen has always been an engaging storyteller, and he takes it to the next level on Broadway, unafraid to reveal his faults along with his triumphs. As he details, years of therapy have helped him face his demons.

(photo by Rob DeMartin)

Bruce Springsteen shares his personal adventure in intimate ways on Broadway (photo by Rob DeMartin)

On the road, Springsteen changes his setlist night after night, playing deep cuts, reinventing old favorites, and taking requests, reacting to signs held up in the crowd, but Springsteen on Broadway is a much tighter affair, even if it feels loose and improvisational. Heather Wolensky’s spare set evokes the feel of a small club, with music trunks scattered about, a piano at stage left, a glass of water on a stool, and a bare brick wall, with no adornment anywhere. Going back and forth between guitar and piano, Springsteen, in a black T-shirt, boots, and jeans, plays fifteen songs related to episodes from his life, from acquiring his first guitar to jamming in clubs in Asbury Park, from falling in love to raising a family. He discusses his relationship with both his father, which he has documented in many songs, and his beloved mother, for whom he wrote one of his sweetest tunes. He often steps away from the microphone while continuing to talk or sing, his voice fading from the speakers but instead gently and dramatically drifting across the theater. To give away any of the numbers would be unfair, so you’ll find no spoilers here, but know that he doesn’t stray from the script, except for a few shows when his wife, singer-songwriter Patti Scialfa, was sick and he replaced one section of the show with a different story and song about raising his kids.

Bruce Springsteen has won a special Tony for his Broadway debut (photo by Rob DeMartin)

Bruce Springsteen has won a special Tony for his Broadway debut (photo by Rob DeMartin)

And proper etiquette demands that you don’t sing along; at one point, as some audience members started to join Bruce on one of his biggest hits, he stopped and said, “You know this is a fucking one-man show, right?” He later encouraged audience participation on a treasured classic. “My vision of these shows is to make them as personal and intimate as possible. I chose Broadway for this project because it has the beautiful old theaters which seemed like the right setting for what I have in mind,” Springsteen explained in a statement announcing the run. “My show is just me, the guitar, the piano, and the words and music. Some of the show is spoken, some of it is sung, all of it together is in pursuit of my constant goal — to communicate something of value.” As he has been doing since the late 1960s, Springsteen has again communicated something of value. Early in the show, the Grammy, Oscar, and now Tony winner — Bruce has been awarded a special Tony for his “once-in-a-lifetime theatregoing experience” — notes that he has spent his entire existence avoiding the dreaded five-day-a-week job. But now he can’t get enough of it, all told spending more than a year on Broadway, sharing his poignant, personal, life-affirming story as only he can.

SAINT JOAN

(photo by Joan Marcus)

A teenage farm girl (Condola Rashad) is on a mission from God in Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan (photo by Joan Marcus)

Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through June 10, $65-$159
saintjoanbroadway.com
www.manhattantheatreclub.com

“There is something about her,” men say of Saint Joan, the title character in Bernard Shaw’s 1923 play. There is also something about Condola Rashad, who portrays Joan in the current Manhattan Theatre Club revival at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Rashad has now appeared in five Broadway shows, earning four Tony nominations, for Stick Fly, The Trip to Bountiful, A Doll’s House, Part 2, and Saint Joan. (She was also nominated for a Drama Desk Award for her 2009 off-Broadway debut, Ruined, but got shut out as Juliet in a misbegotten Broadway revival of Romeo and Juliet in 2013.) The thirty-one-year-old Rashad is charming as Joan, a teenage farm girl in 1429 who claims that Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine speak to her and that God has commanded her to lead the French to victory in Orleans against the occupying English so the hapless Dauphin (Adam Chanler-Berat) can claim the throne as King Charles VII. She joins a luminous roster of actresses who have played Saint Joan, including Wendy Hiller, Uta Hagen, Joan Plowright, Jean Seberg, Imelda Staunton, Imogen Stubbs, Amy Irving, and Diana Sands, the only other black woman to portray Joan in a major production, at Lincoln Center in 1968. Rashad’s Joan is sweet-natured but determined, gentle yet forceful, a kind of hero just right for the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter generation. Joan goes about the world of men — Rashad is the only woman in the cast, among twelve actors, save for a brief appearance by Mandi Masden as the Duchess de la Trémouille — with an ease that emanates from her faith.

Military squires, royals, and religious leaders disparage Joan until they meet her, slowly falling under her captivating spell. Robert de Baudricourt (Patrick Page) brags about how he “burns witches and hangs thieves,” but Joan tells him, “They all say I am mad until I talk to them, squire. But you see that it is the will of God that you are to do what He has put into my mind,” and he does. Captain La Hire (Lou Sumrall) calls her “an angel dressed as a soldier.” Charles might not want to be king, but Joan is on a holy mission to see that he is crowned at Rheims Cathedral. “If the English win, it is they that will make the treaty: and then God help poor France!” she tells Charles. “You must fight, Charlie, whether you will or no. I will go first to hearten thee. We must take our courage in both hands: aye, and pray for it with both hands too.” But after she impossibly takes Orleans despite being massively outnumbered and then urges the campaign continue on to recapture Paris, the military, the church, and the monarchy realize her power and turn on her, trying her for sins that could get her burned at the stake.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

The Dauphin (Adam Chanler-Berat) finds a savior in Joan (Condola Rashad) in Manhattan Theatre Club Broadway revival (photo by Joan Marcus)

Scott Pask’s set is dominated by large gold pipes hanging from above, as if the entire play takes place inside a giant church organ, spreading Joan’s religious message. “It is in the bells I hear my voices,” Joan tells Jack Dunois (Daniel Sunjata), who ably fights by her side. “Not today, when they all rang: that was nothing but jangling. But here in this corner, where the bells come down from heaven, and the echoes linger, or in the fields, where they come from a distance through the quiet of the countryside, my voices are in them.” Shaw (who preferred not to use the first name George) famously said, “I’m an atheist and I thank God for it”; in writing the play, he was trying to neither convert anyone nor convince them to leave the fold, nor was he creating a biblical-style story of good versus evil. In a preface to the published edition, Shaw wrote, “There are no villains in the piece. . . . It is what men do at their best, with good intentions, and what normal men and women find that they must and will do in spite of their intentions, that really concern us.” Shaw, who also wrote such works as Pygmalion, Major Barbara and Man and Superman and won the Nobel Prize shortly after Saint Joan, does not include any superheroes either. “I am not a daredevil: I am a servant of God,” Joan says to Dunois. “My heart is full of courage, not of anger. I will lead; and your men will follow: that is all I can do. But I must do it: you shall not stop me.”

The exemplary cast also features Max Gordon Moore as Bluebeard, Walter Bobbie as the Bishop of Beauvais, John Glover as the Archbishop of Rheims, Matthew Saldivar as Bertrand de Poulengey, Robert Stanton as Baudricourt’s steward, Russell G. Jones as Monseigneur de la Trémouille, and Jack Davenport as the Earl of Warwick. Most of the actors play more than one role; Page is particularly impressive as Baudricourt and the Inquisitor. Daniel Sullivan’s (The Little Foxes, Proof) direction can get a little bumpy though there are several deft touches, and at nearly three hours, the show can be a little trying. Which brings us to the rather campy epilogue. Shaw wrote Saint Joan in 1923, three years after her canonization, something he deals with in the somewhat surreal, comic, and arguably out-of-place conclusion. “As to the epilogue, I could hardly be expected to stultify myself by implying that Joan’s history in the world ended unhappily with her execution, instead of beginning there,” Shaw wrote. “It was necessary by hook or crook to shew the canonized Joan as well as the incinerated one; for many a woman has got herself burnt by carelessly whisking a muslin skirt into the drawing-room fireplace, but getting canonized is a different matter, and a more important one. So I am afraid the epilogue must stand.” And so it does, for better or worse.

THE ICEMAN COMETH

(photo by Julieta Cervantes)

David Morse, Denzel Washington, and Colm Meaney star in George C. Wolfe’s Broadway revival of The Iceman Cometh (photo by Julieta Cervantes)

Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
242 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 1, $79 - $209
icemanonbroadway.com

Two-time Oscar and Tony winner Denzel Washington is nothing short of majestic as traveling hardware salesman Theodore “Hickey” Hickman in George C. Wolfe’s powerful adaptation of Eugene’ O’Neill’s staggering masterpiece, The Iceman Cometh. Washington’s charm lights up the dark goings-on at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, where set designer Santo Loquasto has transformed the stage into the No Chance Saloon, the Bedrock Bar, the End of the Line Café, a dank, depressing Greenwich Village dive in 1912 owned by Harry Hope (Colm Meaney) that is populated by a gang of luckless losers intent on drinking themselves into oblivion. The only thing they have to look forward to is the twice-a-year arrival of Hickey, who cheers them up by filling them with free drinks and telling wild stories from the real world outside. He’s like Jesus turning water into whiskey for his apostles, who consist of Larry Slade (David Morse), a former activist who has turned his back on life and wants nothing to do with anyone; Ed Mosher (Bill Irwin), a former circus performer; Harvard Law School graduate Willie Oban (Neal Huff); Boer War nemeses Piet Wetjoen (Dakin Matthews) and Cecil Lewis (Frank Wood); nighttime bartender Rocky Pioggi (Danny McCarthy), who also is a pimp for Margie (Nina Grollman), Pearl (Carolyn Braver), and Cora (Tammy Blanchard); Chuck Morello (Danny Mastrogiorgio), the daytime bartender who is in love with Cora; disgraced NYPD detective Pat McGloin (Jack McGee); communist revolutionary Hugo Kalmar (Clark Middleton), who sleeps through much of the show; Joe Mott (Michael Potts), the only African American at the bar, who wants to open a black-only gambling house; and Jimmy Tomorrow (Reg Rogers), a former journalist who believes he will return to society “tomorrow.”

Larry is deeply disturbed when Don Parritt (Austin Butler) shows up, the teenage son of an old lover from Larry’s anarchist days. Don desperately wants Larry’s approval and acceptance, but Larry refuses to care about anyone or anything, choosing to drink till he dies even though he’s probably the only person in the bar who could actually still play a role in society. As the men and women bicker, argue, joke around, and prepare for Harry’s birthday party, Hickey finally arrives, bigger and better than ever, immediately injecting life into the motley group of drunks. But this time around, Hickey, in his trademark straw hat, has something more to offer besides free drinks and Champagne: He is determined to help each man find a reason to stop being a worthless drunk and instead pick himself off his barstool, return to the real world, and make his “pipe dreams” come true. He is also armed with a secret that he’s not quite ready to share.

(photo by Julieta Cervantes)

Harry Hope’s (Colm Meaney) birthday party is reminiscent of “The Last Supper” in The Iceman Cometh (photo by Julieta Cervantes)

Four-time Pulitzer Prize winner O’Neill (Long Day’s Journey into Night, Strange Interlude) wrote The Iceman Cometh in 1939, but it was not staged until after WWII, in 1946, debuting at the Martin Beck Theatre. It deals with politics, racism, and the forgotten men of America, but O’Neill does not blame society, the economy, or war for their alcoholism and retreat from existence; these are men who would have given up no matter the era, lending the play a terrifying kind of timelessness. Hickey has never been their savior; ironically, he is the one who betrays them by suddenly trying to give meaning to their miserable lives. Wolfe even stages the party scene at a long table reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” Wolfe has trimmed the show down to a slim three hours and fifty minutes, with two intermissions and a pause, pacing the drama well, like drinking a smooth glass of high-end whiskey and not a shot, or full bottle, or rotgut. The cast is exceptional, a team of pros giving it everything they’ve got. Meaney brings depth to Harry, Rogers plays Jimmy with just the right tease of hope, Potts adeptly handles the racism angle, and Butler, in his Broadway debut, is bright-eyed and determined as the young Don, a part previously played by such future stars as Jeff Bridges and Robert Redford.

(photo by Julieta Cervantes)

Hickey (Denzel Washington) has quite a story to tell in Eugene O’Neill revival at the Jacobs Theatre (photo by Julieta Cervantes)

But the key to the success of the show is the relationship between Hickey and Larry; over the years, the former has been portrayed by Jason Robards, Kevin Spacey, Brian Dennehy, James Earl Jones, Lee Marvin, and Nathan Lane, while the latter has been played by James Cromwell, Robert Ryan, Patrick Stewart, Conrad Bain, Tim Pigott-Smith, and Dennehy. Washington and Morse, who both starred as doctors in the groundbreaking, Emmy-winning 1980s series St. Elsewhere, are staunch and deeply affecting in their roles. Morse’s Larry is loud and angry, often walking to the sides of the stage to just watch the other losers, as if he is better than them, even if he won’t admit it. Washington’s Hickey throws knowing glances at Larry; he wants his friend to change but knows it’s unlikely. Washington commands the stage with his full body, gesturing with his arms and legs, at times hunching over just a bit and leaning his head forward as he spreads his new ideas. He delivers the final monologue — on a chair, not a cross — beautifully as his disciples gaze intently from behind. Both Washington and Morse have received Tony nominations for their performances; the show has also been nominated for Best Revival, Best Scenic Design, Best Costume Design (Ann Roth), Best Lighting (Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer), Best Sound (Dan Moses Schreier), and Best Director. The title comes from Hickey’s classic story about returning home one day to unexpectedly find the ice salesman with his wife in the hay, but it also refers to the specter of death haunting each one of these characters.

CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD

(photo by Matthew Murphy)

James Leeds (Joshua Jackson) and Sarah Norman (Lauren Ridloff) experience communications problems in Broadway revival of Children of a Lesser God (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Studio 54
254 West 54th St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through May 27, $29-$159
www.childrenofalessergodbroadway.com

Every so often a previously successful play returns to Broadway in a revival that makes you wonder not only why it’s back but what the heck made it so special in the first place. Such is the case with Mark Medoff’s Children of a Lesser God, which just announced an early closing date of May 27 at Studio 54. Medoff wrote the play specifically for deaf actress Phyllis Frelich, loosely based on her real-life relationship with her husband, Robert Steinberg. The original 1980 production ran at the Longacre Theatre for more than two years and was nominated for four Tonys, winning Best Play, Best Actress (Frelich), and Best Actor (John Rubinstein). The British edition won the Olivier for Best New Play as well as Best Actress (Elizabeth Quinn) and Best Actor (Trevor Eve). And the 1986 film version was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, and winning for Best Actress (Marlee Matlin). So went wrong this time around? Where should I begin?

(photo by Matthew Murphy)

There’s a whole lot of sitting around in ill-fated revival at Studio 54 (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Kenny Leon’s revival is stultifyingly dull — dare I say tone-deaf — as it explores the relationship between James Leeds (Drama League–nominated Joshua Jackson), a speech teacher at a school for the deaf, and Sarah Norman (Tony-nominated Lauren Ridloff), a twenty-six-year-old maid at the school who refuses to verbalize and fiercely rejects any attempt to help her do so. Sarah sees learning to speak as a betrayal of the nonhearing world she is proudly a part of, while James can’t understand why she wouldn’t want to speak or even use the latest technology that might allow her to at least pick up vibrations of sound. Very quickly, James falls for Sarah — well, it’s more like he stalks her — which upsets Sarah’s best friend, Orin (John McGinty), as well as the jealous Lydia (Treshelle Edmond), both students at the school. It also alarms the principal, Mr. Franklin (Anthony Edwards). In their Broadway debuts, Jackson (The Affair, Fringe) speaks too loudly and enunciates too clearly, never varying his speech pattern regardless of what he’s saying to whom, and Emmy winner Edwards speaks too softly, making it hard to hear much of what he has to say. All signed words are spoken out loud by the hearing actor being signed to, while all spoken words are shown in supertitles that are not always in sync with what is being said, often slightly ahead of the action. Whether all this is deliberate or not — Is the hearing world out of sync with the nonhearing? Does the experience of the hearing audience in such straits echo the experience of the nonhearing, faced with bad closed captions? — it just doesn’t work here. The sappy songs by Stevie Wonder and Wings don’t help, nor does Branford Marsalis’s tepid incidental music. It all feels more like a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie of the week than a Broadway production with lofty ticket prices. Tony, Obie, Drama Desk, and Emmy winner Derek McLane’s set consists of multiple open doorways that lead nowhere, least of all the exit. The title of the play comes from the “Passing of Arthur” section of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, which now doubles as the passing of this well-meaning but hackneyed revival, after a mere 23 previews and, coincidentally enough, 54 regular performances at Studio 54.

SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Ariana DeBose stars as Disco Donna in Summer musical at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (photo by Joan Marcus)

Lunt-Fontanne Theatre
205 West 46th St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through November 18, $48-$149
thedonnasummermusical.com

While most people can’t wait for summer to finally begin, those inside the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre can’t wait for it to end. No, we’re not talking about the balmy season but Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, the seriously misguided Broadway show about the Queen of Disco. The bombastic mess disjointedly tells the story of Boston-born LaDonna Adrian Gaines, a young church singer who quit high school to become a star, and what a star she became. Changing her name to Donna Summer, she was taken under the wing of Casablanca Records founder Neil Bogart (Aaron Krohn) and Italian producer and composer Giorgio Moroder (Kaleigh Cronin) and released a slew of dance-hall hits, from “Love to Love You, Baby,” “Bad Girls,” and “Hot Stuff” to “She Works Hard for the Money,” “Dim All the Lights,” and “Heaven Knows,” among others. The tepid, cliché-ridden book, written by Colman Domingo (Wild with Happy, A Boy and His Soul), Robert Cary (Flashdance, Grease Live!), and Des McAnuff (Doctor Zhivago, Jersey Boys), does touch on some of the more dramatic moments of Summer’s life, including being abused by a priest, stalked by a fan, and treated unfairly as a woman in the record industry, but it overdoes its hero-worshipping theme, literally putting Summer up on a pedestal time and time again.

Summer is portrayed by three actors: Storm Lever (Freaky Friday, The Wringer) as the young Duckling Donna, Ariana DeBose (A Bronx Tale, Hamilton) as Disco Donna, and Tony winner LaChanze (The Color Purple, Once on This Island) as Diva Donna. They each have spectacular pipes, but nearly every number is cut into with plot details so very few songs are heard straight through from beginning to end, sapping the life from even the most dynamic numbers. The ensemble consists primarily of women who perform the roles gender-neutral: They do a whole lot of voguing when not portraying men, not entirely successfully. Also in the cast are Ken Robinson (The Color Purple, Memphis) as Donna’s father, Drew Wildman Foster (Doctor Zhivago, Sunset Boulevard) as Donna’s first husband, Helmuth Sommer, and Jared Zirilli (Lysistrata Jones, Romance Language) as Summer’s second husband, Bruce Sudano. Two-time Tony winner McAnuff’s staging does indeed feature disco balls but nothing very memorable; Tony nominee Sergio Trujillo’s (Memphis, On Your Feet!) choreography is less than dazzling, save for some late spinning by DeBose, who seemed to let it all out despite a program insert saying she would not be performing fully because of an injury. Even Paul Tazewell’s sequin-heavy costumes fail to inspire; early on, Diva Donna has to ask the audience what it thinks of her blue gown in order to get applause. The theater is so packed with Summer devotees that very often the first notes of a song are met with cheers as it becomes recognizable, as if this were a concert, not a Broadway musical. But heaven knows it is a Broadway musical, with expensive tickets, and all of us work hard for our money, too hard to spend it on a show that’s just not hot stuff.

HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD

(photo by Manuel Harlan)

Students cheer on their Hogwarts house in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (photo by Manuel Harlan)

Lyric Theatre
214 West 43rd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Wednesday - Sunday through May 12, 2019, $80-$199 per part
www.harrypottertheplay.com/us
www.lyricbroadway.com

In the interest of full disclosure, I have an embarrassing public confession to make: I have not read a single page of any Harry Potter book, nor have I seen any of the films. But that didn’t prevent me from having a jolly good time at Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the two-part, nearly $70 million extravaganza that is scheduled to run at the completely refurbished Lyric Theatre through May 2019. Yes, there were plenty of occasions when many audience members, including lots of kids in Potter garb, laughed, gasped, sighed, and applauded for reasons unbeknownst to me, but Tony winner Tiffany (Once, Black Watch) does an excellent job of making Potter neophytes feel more than welcome; in addition, a cheat sheet in the Showbill identifies the main characters and outlines the timeline of events from the books. The five-hour epic was written by Jack Thorne, based on an original story by Potter creator J. K. Rowling, writer Jack Thorne, and Tiffany. The show begs everyone who sees it to #KeepTheSecrets, and I fully intend to; any character- or plot-related information I divulge can be found on the official website, so I will do my best to give away nothing more.

(photo by Manuel Harlan)

Harry (Jamie Parker) has to help get the gang out of trouble in Broadway extravaganza (photo by Manuel Harlan)

If you don’t want to know anything about the plot or which characters are even part of the story, you should skip this paragraph, but it could serve as necessary context for those unfamiliar with the Potter universe. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child takes place nineteen years after the seventh and final book, 2007’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Harry (Jamie Parker) is married to Ginny (Poppy Miller) and working at the Ministry of Magic. They have three children, the youngest being Albus (Sam Clemmett), who is not particularly thrilled to bear the legacy of his legendary father. That’s all the specifics you’re going to get out of me, except that Noma Dumezweni is Hermione Granger, Paul Thornley plays Ron Weasley, Alex Price is Draco Malfoy, and Anthony Boyle is terrific as his son, Scorpius. The cast also includes Jessie Fisher, Susan Heyward, Geraldine Hughes, Edward James Hyland, Byron Jennings, and David St. Louis in key roles, but to tell you who they’re portraying would give far too much away. Suffice to say that Thorne and Tiffany do a great job of giving everyone their due.

(photo by Matthew Murphy)

Much of the magic is orchestrated by Hagrid (Brian Abraham) in Harry Potter epic at the Lyric Theatre (photo by Matthew Murphy)

The play builds steadily, with each act more exciting than the previous one, although there is some repetition, in addition to more than a bit of questionable science regarding the time-space continuum. Christine Jones’s sets, which range from the Hogwarts facade to the Forbidden Forest, from a Quidditch match to platform 9¾, change with the help of a large ensemble cast in full costumes (by Katrina Lindsay), moving across the stage to music by Imogen Heap in choreographed near-dances by Steven Hoggett, involving suitcases, a rolling ladder, and other objects in fun ways; you’ll expect the players to break out into song at any moment, but fortunately they don’t. As the tension grows, so does the magic (designed by Jamie Harrison), which is primarily analog, avoiding too much high-tech, although there are moments of dazzling projections, shifting characters, and — well, I’m not going to tell you about that, or that, or that, either, but you’ll love it. Be sure to wander around the lobby during intermission, where there are lots of visual treats, from the wallpaper to the carpeting. One of my favorite moments actually occurred outside the Lyric, which features a glowing billboard and a child in a nest high above. I had arrived at the theater early so watched the crowd as it lined up and prepared to go through the scanners. I then saw one of the actors walking down the street and approach the stage door. The security guard asked a small group of costumed girls to wait as the actor went into the theater. The girls paid the actor no mind; little did they know that pure evil had just made room for pure evil. Such are the many secrets of this clever little play, which took London by storm and is now doing the same on Broadway.