Tag Archives: Broadway

The Present

(Note: This review is based on the December 24, 2016 preview performance.)

The PresentThe supremely talented Cate Blanchett has come to Broadway.  Unlike many film celebrities who flounder on stage, Ms. Blanchett is the former co-artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company, where she also made her theater debut nearly 25 years ago.  The same incredible nuance she brings to her on-screen characters is alive and in proper proportion in her role as Anna in The Present, a modern reinterpretation of an unpublished play by Anton Chekhov.  I would recommend this show simply for the opportunity to bathe in her deeply considered and exceptional work.

Furthermore, there are additional elements to be enjoyed here.  Just as her character has invited friends to celebrate her birthday, Ms. Blanchett and playwright/husband Andrew Upton called upon close associates to share in this production.  Richard Roxburgh — who is technically the star as the pivotal Mikhail— has played opposite her many times including in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and The Seagull.  When I say he makes a terrific libertine, it’s meant to be a compliment.  The cast is rounded out by other actors who have collaborated frequently at STC and elsewhere.  There is an easy flow among them that only intensity over time can produce.  The range of feelings comes across as genuine even when the words sound less so.  Of particular note is Chris Ryan who gives the fragile and naive Sergei remarkable depth in his few scenes.

If you‘ve ever slogged through a so-called lost work, you can imagine that the finding of the play itself is a mixed blessing.  The original piece is a 300 page rambling tale which was locked away in Chekhov’s desk where it was unearthed after his death.   Upton is certainly skilled at updating classics, giving them new life for a modern audience.  This is a more challenging task when the piece in question has been deliberately set aside by its creator after being rejected by its intended leading lady.  Particularly adroit at restyling pre-revolutionary Russian drama, Upton has previously adapted Uncle Vanya plus two Gorkys and a Bulgakov.  For this unnamed tome, Upton chose to move the period to the more accessible 1990s and age the characters to add believable complexity to their emotional lives.  (I recommend reading his author’s note provided in the program to help you jump into the world and understand the relationships he has sculpted out of Chekhov’s rock.)

The first act of The Present is nearly two hours long, yet it moves steadily on waves of insightful conversation and palpable emotion.  It is surprisingly the far shorter second act that gets bogged down when the vodka-soaked characters more consistently speechify and the plot turns frustratingly soapy.  Director John Crowley has added a naturalness – if also an aural challenge – to the action by having his talent move about without any conventional awareness of the placement of the audience.  Alice Babidge provides a clean canvas for the colorful characters with stark scenic and costume design.  Only sad balloons and tacky streamers are employed to communicate the less-than-festive air surrounding Anna’s birthday bash.  Stefan Gregory’s edgy music and sound design add several strong jump-out-of-your seats moments.

If you relish the opportunity to see deeply connected old friends *play* deeply connected old friends, make time to catch this somewhat uneven endeavor.  Limited engagement ends March 19, 2017.  For tickets and information visit http://thepresentbroadway.com.  Shorties like me should note that the mezzanine of the Ethel Barrymore Theatre has those high hand rails attached to each aisle seat and along the edge of the balcony.  At 5’1” I was just able to see over them from the third row.

In Transit

In Transit Circle in the SquareIn Transit is a delightful bon-bon box of a musical.  A loose structure of interconnected stories holds together 11 appealing New Yorkers and 16 catchy production numbers.  A prerecorded introduction by the producers reminds us that all the sounds we hear are created by human voice.  The pieces are performed a cappella and the “orchestra” is a beatboxing whiz appropriately named Boxman.

As evidenced by the many hearty laughs and heartfelt claps, the tales told are highly relatable.  It’s not so much new ground broken as old ground covered in a fresh way.  A few of the jokes might be missed by those unfamiliar with the eccentricities of the New York subway.  But the human elements touched on are universal.

The foot-tapping melodies are filled with clever rhythmic wording. The feel-good energy comes from proven sources.  The book, music and lyrics come with a warm and friendly pedigree having been created by Kristen Anderson-Lopez of Frozen fame along with James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth.   Deke Sharon who worked on Pitch Perfect — the movie that brought “aca” to a wider audience — developed the splendid vocal arrangements, which tease out all the details.

In the central part of inspiring actress Jane, is the engaging Margo Seibert.  Last seen on Broadway in Rocky, she fittingly knows when to punch a note.  As her agent, Trent, Justin Guarini brings sensitivity and thought to his every line.  James Snyder is her slightly beaten-down puppy of a love interest with the gentle tone.  Their emotionally spot-on duet “But, Ya Know” is a highlight.  Providing abundant humor and attitude is Moya Angela in her roles as a boss, a mother and a station agent.

Every other part is brought to life by a large cast gifted singers.  There is unmatched support needed when every lead is also someone else’s backup. Holding them all together is Boxman, alternately played by Chesney Snow and Steven “HeaveN” Cantor.  I saw Snow handle the immense and intense responsibility of this Greek chorus/human sound machine and can well understand why it would take at least two sets of vocal chords to cover 8 performances a week.

The production is directed and choreographed with high energy by three-time Tony winner Kathleen Marshall.  She makes terrific use of her deep bench and the 3/4 round stage.  Donyale Werle creates myriad public and private spaces, and of course train cars, using brightly colored plastic seats, lighted stairways and a moving belt.  And costume designer Clint Ramos has provided easy looks plus a show-stopping gown of MTA cards.

If like me you are more than ready to inject a little joy in your day, In Transit is the perfect pick-me-up.  Running a lively 100 minutes, the show is a fit for many tastes and ages.  Tickets are currently available through June 25, 2017 at http://www.intransitbroadway.com/.  All seats at The Circle and the Square have terrific sightlines, so $89 will get you there.

Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

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photo by Chat Batka

When it comes to Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, I am of two minds. My first mind was captivated by the elaborate and imaginative stagecraft. The scenic design by Mimi Lien reaches all the way to the back row of the theater, with drapery-covered walls dotted by family portraits.  Throughout the mezzanine, golden end tables adorned with  artificial candlelight are placed every fourth seat. Down below, the stage is divided into several sections representing Pierre’s study as well as the salons and ballrooms of other aristocratic homes in Moscow.  Each area has audience and orchestra members interspersed. A maze of platforms and ramps allow dancers and singers to encircle viewers with ecstatic performance.  This has the added benefit of ensuring an immersive experience no matter where you sit. For Rachel Chavkin’s inspired undertaking of direction alone, I would recommend this upbeat event to some.

However, my second mind was numbed by Dave Malloy’s pedantic and instantly forgettable musical numbers. I have experience playing in a Renaissance orchestra and I’ve studied jazz piano, so I’m pretty good at picking up a tune. Yet there was not one number from this show that I could remember by the time I reached  7th Avenue. Using phrases from Russian folk tunes is clever, but it is simply irritating when long stretches of dialogue are set to the same five note pattern.

I attended on a night that Josh Groban was unavailable. His standby Scott Strangland, who sang the role of Pierre in Boston, is a more solid figure with a similar vocal style. (To those thinking perhaps this is why I am less praiseful than some, I quickly add that this is very much an ensemble piece.) Standouts in the cast include the expressive Amber Gray who purrs as Hélène a manipulative  adulteress and a delicious Lucas Steele as her rakish brother Anatole.  Both are holdovers from the Ars Nova production.  On the other end of the spectrum is Grace McLean who for her Broadway debut has been taught that a pitchy screech is a great way to communicate high emotion in her role as matron Marya D.

To the credit of the entire cast, I heard each and every line.  I would still recommend that anyone unfamiliar with War and Peace read the synopsis and study the family tree provided in the program.  The primary source for the libretto is a 1922 translation by Aylmer and Louise Maude.  Covering a mere 70 pages of the classic work, the plot stops at a major turning point for the lead characters, which isn’t a very satisfying place at which to end.  While I admire Malloy’s ambition, his lyrics are insipid with little clever turns of phrase beyond the opening number.  I don’t expect everyone to be Lin-Manuel, but I did anticipate shrewder storytelling.

There are times when Bradley King’s lighting and Nicholas Pope’s sound are so frantic their design feels like being on a date with someone who’s already won you over but keeps trying so hard that you start questioning your initial impressions.  Paloma Young’s costume topped off with Leah J. Loukas’s hair and wig design are as period-punk-playful as necessary to support Ms. Chavkin’s creative vision as well as the exuberant movement of the ensemble.

Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812  is certainly a joyful one-of-a-kind experience though built around a sadly bland musical score.  It is playing at the newly curtailed and quite comfortable Imperial Theater.  A new block of tickets through September of 2017 is on sale at http://greatcometbroadway.com.

The Illusionists ●Turn of the Century

illusionistsBefore reading on, you should know that I LOVE magic.  I have binged on Penn and Teller: Fool Us and have a serious crush on Ricky Jay.  I didn’t even hate Now You See Me 2 and it was spectacularly awful.  In short, The Illusionists Turn of the Century is my kind of crowd pleaser.  I am obviously not alone.  This is the third time this franchise has hit Broadway for the holidays and for the most part it delivers.

The usual magical acts are all here: a lady sawed in half, a floating ball that lights up a backdrop night sky, and birds out of handkerchiefs and in one case out of another bird.  While they are all skillfully executed it is not for them you should pay Broadway prices.  It is the more uncommon, and in some senses subtle performers, that are the bigger draw, starting with The Grand Carlini. This ingenious character — a magician marionette who performs his tricks through the hands of Spanish illusionist Justo Thaus — is not only the most original in the line-up, but also the most firmly planted in the “Turn of the Century” portion of the title.  The effect is captivating and a true marvel.  I have deliberately chosen not to include a photo of this section so that it can reveal itself to you in real time.

Another memorable duo is Dana Daniels (the Charlatan) and his psychic parrot Luigi.  Their family-friendly routines are so hilarious I was actually able to make someone laugh until they cried just by describing them.  A completely different kind of cute arrives in the form of Jonathan Goodwin, The Daredevil.  (Apparently there was at least one Equinox open in 1903.)  He is a returning character and audience favorite from The Illusionists’ last New York run.  As the only member of the cast who does not rely on slight on hand, he delivers the most gasp-inducing moments in the show with his Houdini-inspired stunts.  Among the more familiar acts, Austrians Thommy Ten and Amelie Van Tass (The Clairvoyants) stand out.  You may have seen these “what am I holding” theatrics before, but never with such a level of detail.  No wonder these partners were awarded the infrequently bestowed title World Champions of Mentalism.

Much of the suitably over-the-top atmosphere comes from the choice of The Palace Theater as home base.  The 1913 vaudeville house was renovated by the Nederlanders in the mid-sixties, but retains its somewhat gaudy features.  These have been enhanced by scenic designer Todd Ivins.  (A few of the parlor tricks are carried out in an actual parlor setting.)  At times, handheld cameras feed an ornate center screen in order to project smaller movements beyond the first few rows.  Angela Aaron’s period costumes add lovely flair as does the eerie music of Evan Jolly.

The quick pace and ever-changing mood of The Illusionists Turn of the Century make it an obvious choice for parents seeking special seasonal entertainment that everyone can enjoy.  With its good-natured spectacle, the show also seems like great date material.  Performances run through the first of the year at the Palace Theater.  For tickets and information visit http://www.theillusionistslive.com/turnofthecentury. Remember to dress well; about a dozen audience members wound up on stage.

Heisenberg

HeisenbergMTCFriedman TheatreIf the name “Heisenberg” has frightened you into thinking this is a dense play about quantum mechanics, never fear.  It is, rather, about the most everyday of occurrences: two dissimilar people getting to know each other and determining the substance of their relationship.  Like protons, can they come together to form something bigger and more powerful?  And if they do, what is the potential for that configuration to change?

The series of somewhat commonplace conversations about life, work, and love is made compelling by two gifted actors: Denis Arndt as Alex and Mary-Louise Parker as Georgie.  The disparity in their ages is the least significant of their differences.  I had heard about their incredible chemistry, but that’s not the word I would use to describe their bond.  What flashes between them struck me as more skillful than emotional, like trapeze artists who know exactly when to extend their arms even when there is no music.  There is much communicated in a simple smile or touch.  But it is absorbing artistry, not as impassioned as I expected.

The slow-burn of personal revelations is pepped up with flashes of humor and provocative uncertainty.  Simon Stephens, who so brilliantly adapted The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, has here provided a simple dialogue with a intriguing angle.  We learn fairly early on that Georgie can tell a convincing and detailed lie.  That makes everything she says and does suspect, even when she’s admitting to lying.  It’s a tribute to the characters’ development — their ultimate sweetness and vulnerability —  that I found myself wondering for days whether the key turning points of their journey together stemmed from genuine crisis or Georgie’s well-constructed (possibly dubiously motivated) flights of fancy.

Heisenberg was commissioned by Manhattan Theatre Club and played off-Broadway last summer at City Center. Within its new Broadway home, director Mark Brokaw has recreated the proper space for his intimate yet significant production, greatly reducing the size of the stage by placing 200 members of the audience in seats on the stage.  The feeling is more of a small town sports arena than a professional New York theater, which is no doubt intentional.  With limited room to move, the two actors can’t help but confront each other at every turn. in action as well as in word.  Outlines of locations from a train station to a butcher shop to a hotel room are defined by scenic designer Mark Wendland using folding tables and chairs. Scenic beats are created with Austin R. Smith’s lighting and David van Tieghem’s sound.

Three of the closest people in my life I met randomly through uncharacteristic circumstances.  So it is not a surprise that the underpinnings of Heisenberg resonated with me.  If you, too, know that experience of a chance encounter that alters your life or you simply enjoy seeing potential unfold between strangers, then you will find Heisenberg an engrossing way to spend 80 minutes.  It is playing through December 11, 2016 at the Samuel  J. Friedman Theater.  For tickets and information visit http://heisenbergbroadway.com.

She Loves Me

These days we can all use an injection of Utterly Charming.  So the timing couldn’t be better for this delightful revival of Harnick and Bock’s She Loves Me.  Even those who are not familiar with the play on which the work is based or the movies that sprang from it can take comfort in the title.  This is clearly not a performance that is going to leave you emotionally shattered and sleepless.

Comfort is derived from the moment David Rockwell’s appealing set is revealed.  Throughout most of the show, the rooms of the enchanting Maraczek’s Parfumerie open, close and turn in central 1934 Budapest.  The store is peopled by staff and shoppers all captivatingly clothed by Jeff Mahshie.  But it is the clever and catchy lyrics by the incomparable Sheldon Harnick that draw us most into this world in which boy meets girl, boy and girl get on each other’s nerves and boy buys girl ice cream.  At 92, Mr. Harnick is still actively engaged in the production process.  He has even added a few new lines to this incarnation of his musical originally produced in 1963.

Of course, much of the joy comes from watching this particularly lively cast at work under the direction of Scott Ellis.  Jane Krakowski appropriately thanked her hamstrings at the recent Drama Desk Awards for helping her steal every scene she is in.  Her bright energy is reinforced by the sly and slightly smarmy lover portrayed by Gavin Creel.  In the role of new girl Amalia Balash, Laura Benanti delivers the right mixture of cotton balls and steel wool.  And for this true blue Chuck fan it was a particular thrill to see the multitalented Zachary Levi throw himself into the romantic lead, Georg Nowack, with genuine exuberance and a sprinkle of Jimmy Stewart to satisfy purists.

Vital support for these headliners is provided by Byron Jennings, Tom McGowan, Peter Bartlett and high school senior (!) Nicholas Barasch.  The entire team is so good together that this piece has been chosen for the first live stream event on BroadwayHD in June and a new cast album due to be released later this year.

She Loves Me is a satisfying confection for anyone in need of some old fashioned sweetness.  The 2 1/2 hours are sure to fly by.  It is currently playing at Studio 54 with tickets are on sale through July 10 at https://www.roundabouttheatre.org/Shows-Events/She-Loves-Me.aspx.

The Humans

Of all the plays this season, Stephen Karam’s The Humans elicited the broadest range of responses from my friends and colleagues.  For each one who put it at the top of their list there was someone who unequivocally hated it.  Now that I’m on the other side of my own viewing experience, I can see why this piece generates both broad smiles and crossed arms.  It’s a cake made with corrosive acid and vanilla buttercream frosting.  Which of these ingredients hits you harder will depend very much on your personal makeup.  The one thing you won’t feel is nothing at all.

Fittingly, the events take place on Thanksgiving, which — lets face it — even in the happiest of households is a holiday that never quite lives up to our vision.  This is certainly true for the sincerely loving Blakes, joined for the first time by the younger sister Brigid’s beau, Richard Saad.  The family is as close to typical middle class city dwellers as you are likely to find on a big stage.  Rich has inherited money in his near future and is therefore on a different plane.  Long held rituals, new practices, and lost traditions come together over the course of evening, making for an odd mixture of comfort, hope and longing.

It must have been challenging to preserve the necessary level of intimacy when the play moved from the Laura Pels Theatre to Broadway.  Multiple Tony winning director Joe Mantello accomplishes this by keeping the action chaotic and tight.  David Zinn’s set successfully recreates what passes for spacious in New York’s Chinatown: a windowless basement with a nearly windowless second story.  Justin Townsend’s lighting and Fitz Patton’s sound add layers of eeriness and occasional humor to the atmosphere.

But as the title suggests, it is the humans who stand out.  The chemistry among the actors (Cassie Beck, Reed Birney, Jayne Houdyshell, Lauren Klein, Arian Moayed and Sarah Steele) is top flight.  Their warm, genuine bond is essential to making this production a success.  No wonder of all the terrific recent collaborative works, the Drama Desk chose to honor this cast with a special award for Outstanding Ensemble.  Birney and Houdyshell are particular standouts whose every emotion can be read in their body language from the back row.

The Humans is playing at the barely comfortable Helen Hayes Theater.  If you like your theater on the raw side, this one is for you.  Tickets are currently available through July 24, 2016.  Visit http://www.thehumansonbroadway.com for more information.

The Crucible

The last time I attended a performance of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, I had not yet seen the McCarthy-Era set Trumbo or heard a candidate for president propose the “complete shutdown of all Muslims” entering our country.  The plot struck me as plodding and the dialogue dense.  Those recent reminders that unfounded fear can easily transform into outright hostility gave me a deeper appreciation of the unfortunate relevancy of this classic work.  This is also a superior production, boasting a first-rate cast in the skilled hands of Ivo Van Hove, a director who has become synonymous with dark and moody productions.

The entire ensemble is polished and well-matched.  Leading the way is Ben Whishaw, who at 5’9” is a decidedly unusual choice for the role of John Proctor.  Whishaw’s Proctor — described as “big” throughout the script and typically played by actors large in stature — is undoubtably substantial on an emotional level.  Sweet-faced Saoirse Ronan becomes ugly to her core as his nemesis Abigail Williams.  She is balanced by the loving and warm interpretation of Proctor’s wife Elizabeth delivered by the dazzling Sophie Okonedo.  Act Two is further brightened (darkened?) by a frighteningly powerful Ciarån Hinds as Deputy Governor Danforth.  The headliners are supported by an able troop including Bill Camp as a growingly conflicted Reverend John Hale, Tavi Gevinson as Abigail’s tool Mary Warren, and Jim Norton as what passes for comic relief in the form of Giles Corey.

Throughout the nearly three hour running time, Van Hove proves adroit at slowly building the dread to an almost unbearable level.  To emphasize the timeless cycle produced by anxiety and hate, the director moves the locale from Salem, Massachusetts circa 1692 to a utilitarian “sometime” with a set designed and lit by Jan Versweyveld.  The starkness helps the audience focus on the lightning flashes of impressive effects that pepper the action.  His actors dress in earth-toned unisex clothing by Wojciech Dziedzic, the better to disguise who is friend and who is foe.  The relentless score that buries itself in the pit of your stomach is provided by Philip Glass, master of repetitive background music.

The Crucible is playing at The Walter Kerr Theatre through July 17, 2016.  For tickets and information visit http://www.thecrucibleonbroadway.com. While I admire all the new names that have been brought to Broadway this season, I am equally thrilled to see an evergreen given such fresh life.  It sets a high bar for those to whom this serves as an introduction to the great Miller’s work.

Hamilton

I have two pieces of advice regarding the musical Hamilton. Number one: GO!. Do whatever it takes to get yourself a seat, short of meeting a creepy guy in a Starbucks with cash in hand. Play the lottery.  Sit in a lawn-chair in front of the theater all night. Or stick a pin in an available night in 2017. Because if ever there was a piece on Broadway that deserved to be called “must see”, this is it. And that’s not Kool-Aid talking.  The music is catchy (and, praise be, memorable).  The lyrics are clever.  And the cast is off-the-charts talented.

Number two: Whatever the components of that particular performance — whatever city you are in, wherever in the house you sit, whomever you’re with, and whichever cast members are on stage — enjoy *your* experience of it. It will only be one degree away from all the other fabulous ways you can see this show.  I heard deep sighs of disappointment when some audience members noticed that the part of George Washington was being played by Austin Smith instead of Christopher Jackson. But by the time he boomed out his farewell speech, he had won over even the most ardent fan of the soundtrack album. I have heard similar stories about several of the other standbys.  There are no weak links here.  Even if, as happened to me, Lin-Manuel Miranda is resting his vocal chords, you will not be the least bit disappointed to catch the magic of Javier Munoz in the title role. In fact, my theater friends tell me it’s become the “in” thing to grab tickets for the Sunday matinee in order to guarantee seeing his interpretation.  His vocal technique brings out more of rich seductiveness of Hamilton in contrast to Miranda’s sharp edged frustration. Both are equally important aspects of this increasingly famous Founding Father.

So strong is every player that it’s hard to single out just one or two.  But in the interest of keeping this review at appropriate blog length I’ll start with Daveed Diggs.  His flashy Franglais Marquis de Lafayette in the first Act is only topped by his effected and slightly bitchy Thomas Jefferson in the second.  Leslie Odom, Jr. makes a commanding yet penitent narrator in the form of Aaron Burr.  And how could I not give special mention to the utterly delightful and hilarious Jonathan Groff as the spitting mad King George III.  My mother is tone deaf and even she can’t stop humming his theme song.

Fortunately, all this talent is in service to a truly remarkable book, music and lyrics by national treasure Lin-Manuel Miranda.  You’ve no doubt read about how, inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography, he saw an immigrant story in Hamilton’s humble beginnings as an orphan on a Caribbean Island who is sent to New York at 14 to make his mark.  I can’t begin to fathom how he turned the revolutionary war and resulting establishment of our government into such dizzying entertainment.  Surely the word genius applies.  Deep appreciation goes out to choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and director Thomas Kail for adding perfect movement and motion to Miranda’s work.  There isn’t a dull moment to be seen.

Best of all is the probability that Hamilton will do for theater what Harry Potter did for reading: bring in a new generation of enthusiastic participants.  There were dozens of students in the theater and their energy was thrilling.  (Special shoutout to the young man who stepped off his school bus wearing a white tuxedo jacket, black bow tie and wide smile.)

Hamilton is currently playing at the Richard Rodgers Theater.  For tickets and information visit http://www.hamiltonbroadway.com.  Sign up for email notices and/or the lottery.   And PLEASE heed the warnings about counterfeit tickets.

Blackbird

David Harrower’s Blackbird won the coveted Olivier Award over Frost/Nixon and Rock ‘n’ Roll, scripts by exceptional playwrights Peter Morgan and Tom Stoppard.  But while the runners-up feature a playfulness with and fluidity of language, Blackbird comes straight from the gut.  Many will find the central conversation frustrating, upsetting and too full of ambiguity.  This piece grew from questions Harrower asked himself after reading a newspaper story about an older man running away with a girl.  Not daring to presume what may be in the minds of others, he leaves it to you to answer some of those questions for yourself.  Your conclusions will almost certainly change during the 80 minute running time and may continue to morph for days after the lights come down.

The central discussion is about a life changing event the two characters shared 15 years before.  In those intervening years, the event has been defined and interpreted many times by people who weren’t involved.  We are witnesses to their first real-time exploration with the only other person who could really shine a light on that period.  Harrower’s writing style contains the poetry of Pinter, the brusqueness of Mamet and the discomfort of Shepard all rolled into a stomach-clenching ball. There is a constant flow of heightening and receding of vulnerabilities and therefore a shifting of which character is in command of the situation.  It’s easy to imagine that the power-shifts also happened in the past.  This possibility acts as a filter through which we struggle to find the truth.  We are forced to withhold final judgement, waiting to hear what the next piece of information will tell us about our two players.

The pair have moved forward in extremely different ways.  Peter (formerly known as Ray) has used the years to reconstruct himself and build a workable life.  It is a blessing that he is played by Jeff Daniels, who is not only immensely talented but supremely likable.  Even in his most ugly moments, you can envision really enjoying having dinner with him.  Conversely, Una has repeatedly lived only those few months from slightly different angles, so that they ARE her.  Having seen Michelle Williams grow up on television and in movies it’s actually quite easy to picture her at the necessary stages. What is missing is a feeling of genuine relationship between them.  While their individual speeches were pitch-perfect, their emotional connection was weak.  At times the actors just seemed tired.

This is the second time Joe Mantello has directed Blackbird on Broadway.  It is appropriate that he stages a messy, intimate conversation in a garbage strewn, claustrophobic break room. The candy wrappers and empty bottles also provide the actors with “business” to fill in their unfinished sentences.  Scott Pask’s set is so perfectly ordinary, the young man behind me kept comparing it to his own office.  Essential shading is provided by Brian Macdevitt’s lighting and Fitz Patton’s sound design. However, I found the creative decision to move the location from England to America less successful.  There are some plot details that would make more sense across the pond.

Blackbird is playing at the gloriously restored Belasco Theater through June 11, 2016. For tickets and information visit http://blackbirdbroadway.com.