Broadway Reviews In Brief

Ken AshfordTheatre2 Comments

Sister Act

Saw it last Friday with Tony nominee Patina Miller as Delores Van Cartier (the "Whoopi Goldberg role"), but without Victoria Clark (Tony Winner for Light on the Piazza) as Mother Superior.  I had low expectations for this show, thinking it would be fluff.  But the book was far better than I expected, the music was very good, and the cast simply went all-out.  Minor charactors, particularly the villians after Delores, were much more fleshed out in this production, and they had some show-stopping numbers themselves. 4/5 stars.

Sleep No More

I didn't know what to expect from this off-Broadway "emursion" theater experience, which is a telling of the MacBeth story.  And having gone through it, I still don't know what to make of it.

For those who know nothing of Sleep No More, you attend the show in the McKittrick Hotel.  Completed in 1939, thoe hotel was intended to be New York City's finest and most decadent luxury hotel of its time. Six weeks before opening, and two days after the outbreak of World War II, the legendary hotel was condemned and left locked, permanently sealed from the public… until this show came along.

So the "show" takes place throughout the hotel.  Audience members are sheparded inside, in groups of twenty or so, and distributed throughout the hotel to explore.  All audience members wear white masks.  There is no talking, even among the "actors".  Audience members are encouraged to break from their groups and explore freely.

So I started out on the third floor (of five stories).  The entire hotel is very dimly lit, and throughout the hotel, you hear the wind blowing loudly, as well as low cellos grinding away.  If this sounds llike a haunted house, you would be wrong.  Nothing jumps out at you, and I didn't hear a scream the entire night.  But it is very creepy.

Various scenes of Macbeth are acted throughout the hotel by the perfomers, on a "loop".  The show's creators did not envision any particular way to watch the show — some people chose to follow a charactor (say, Lady Macbeth); others simply chose to travel around the hotel as one would an art exhibit.

At one point, I found myself on a balcony overlooking a very large ballroom.  There were three or four other ghosts on the ballroom ("ghosts" are other audience members, since that's what you look like wearing a mask).  I walked downstairs into the ballroom.  There was some table with food on it, and other interesting items.  I left the ballroom to explore more of the second floor.  About five minutes later, I heard jazz music coming from afar.  I followed it, and found myself back in the ballroom.  Except this time, it was filled with about 20 actors dancing, and about 100 "ghosts".  It was the scene where Lady Macbeth is throwing a party (the "Macbeth" play is set in the 1920's).


The whole evening was filled with moments of wonder and strangeness like this.  Later on in the evening, I walked into a large room that was filled with nothing but bathtubs, about ten of them.  I was all alone.  Then Lady Macbeth walked in, naked, walked right by me and got into a bathtub, mumbling something to herself.  The two of us were there, alone, for about two minutes as she bathed herself.  Eventually, other "ghosts" haphazardly discovered the room, and we all watched Lady Macbeth bathe (the braver ghosts would sit on the edge of the bathtub).

Strange?  Intensely.  Memorable?  Without a doubt.  Entertaining?  Well….. I'm not so sure.  This was not a theatrical piece as much as it was "modern art", using actors as moving set pieces.  At times, I found it frustrating, if only because you weren't really told how to watch this "show".  But I guess that was what they were going for.

Cool thing: you get to keep your mask.

The Book of Mormon

Yeah, it deserved every Tony it got.  And I say that even though Josh Gad wasn't in the performance I saw.

As I was watching the show, I was struck by how much the story is just like a reverse-Sister Act.  Instead of an earthy black street woman finding herself inside a religious place (a nun's convent), B of M is about religious people (Mormon missionaries) finding themselves in an earthy black country (Uganda).  But unlike Sister Act, the humor is NOT family-friendly.  It's what you would expect from Trey Parker and Matt Stone (creators of "South Park").  I'm not huge fans of those guys — I tend to think their shock humor is done just to be shocking — but it actually works well here.  It brings the fish out of water comedy to an entirely new level of humor and discomfort.

Wonderful staging of all the numbers (except possibly the Mormon Hell Dream song, which seems a little superfluous), and fantastic performances, especially from Andrew Rannells and Nikki M. James.  So flawless were these two that you almost felt like you were listening to the soundtrack.

War Horse

It's understandable why this play won best play, as well as awards for lighting and sound design.

Although the plot is rather simplistic (it's based on a children's book) — boy gets horse, boy loses horse to wartime, boy and horse are miraculously reunited after wartime — the way it is told is never dull.  Of course, the real star of the show is the puppetry of the horse itself.  Fluid and beautiful to watch. It breathes, its ears flick the flies, its wonderful to see.

I expect the Spielberg movie to do well, although it will be sad (a little) when they use real horses)



Technically, this show is in previews.  Hunter Parrish (Weeds, Spring Awakening), who plays Jesus, told me it's not being "locked down" until November 5.  Of course, with a play that relies on improvisation as much as Godspell, "locked down" is a relative term.  The musical based on the gospel of St Matthew makes use of plenty of contemporary references, such as Ghadafi being in hell, Steve Jobs being in heaven (where the angels have iPads), and Occupy Wall Street (placed appropriately in a parable about rich men and poor men).

This is not the Godspell of the 1970s.  In fact, while dressing up Jesus during the opening "Prepare Ye", a cast member hands him a T-shirt with a Superman logo.  Jesus waves it off.  He wears blues jeans and a white dress shirt.  The other cast members do sport "clown costumes" but gone is the face makeup.

The staging often involves the use of trap doors built into the stage.  Open them up, and there's a pool for bapitisms.  Another time, it's nine trampolines for each member to jump (high!) on.

But the real change is the orchestration of the songs.  Played by band mambers who literally sit in the audience, the show has a very different sound.  Some of the pop numbers are now most definitely "rock" — you can here the spirit of American Idiot in them.  Some of the ballads are voiced for different singing voices.  It's all very very NEW, even if it is much the same Godspell that we know and love.


The cast in trampolines singing "We Beseech Thee", "Learn Your Lessons Well" and "Day by Day"

Godspell tramps

Godspell more

Godspell day by day