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What did New York Magazine critic John Simon have to say about this year's Tony nominees? A no-holds-barred review of the season.
 
Anna in the Tropics
The Pulitzer Prize–winning play Anna in the Tropics is a marked improvement over the Cuban-American Nilo Cruz’s previous efforts, although that is not saying very much.
 
*Assassins
The musical tells the story—part fact, part fiction—of our nine actual or foiled presidential assassins, from Booth to Hinckley...Robert Brill’s powerful set, evoking the spookiness of an abandoned roller coaster and arcade; Susan Hilferty’s careful costumes; and Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer’s spectacular lighting enhance the uniformly cogent performances.
 
*Avenue Q
An X-rated puppet show that has fun with racism (song: “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”), homosexuality, full frontal puppet nudity and sex, schadenfreude (song: “Schadenfreude”), obsession with porn, and other things that Sesame Street, from which some of these perpetrators graduated, couldn’t do. The show is clever, but in a sophomoric way.
 

* Big River
The revival is the brainchild of director and choreographer Jeff Calhoun, whose idea it was to blend deaf-mute and hearing actors in the same production ...When the nonspeaking Huck and speaking Jim affirm their newfound friendship’s superseding the master-and-slave relationship, they do so on the raft in the loveliest number, “Worlds Apart.” They face each other, and their signing, more excited than ever, turns into a ballet of arms and hands.

 
Bombay Dreams
Worse than mindless, inept, and boring, it defeats any pejorative trying to sink to its level... What may work on a Bombay screen does not work on a Broadway stage, never mind Don Black’s desperate lyrics and Thomas Meehan’s doomed tinkering with Meera Syal’s clichéd book.
 
The Boy from Oz
Hugh Jackman stars in this trivial, stifiling musical about the life of singer Peter Allen... What is most wanting in Oz is Peter Allen’s charisma, which burst forth like a nova; here, it fizzles, rather like a second-rate meteor straining to be a first-class comet.
 
The Caretaker
In Harold Pinter’s play, Mick, the brutal younger brother, accuses Davies, the shifty tramp whom Mick’s elder brother, Aston, has taken in: “Every word you speak is open to any number of interpretations.” This charge can as justly be leveled at Pinter, whose plays can mean anything, which the gullible mistake for everything. Others, like me, view them as being about nothing... David Jones’s direction toils valiantly on behalf of the production, but cannot make a play out of a sow’s ear.
 
Caroline, or Change
Good works get richer with repeated exposure; the operatic musical Caroline, or Change, transferred to Broadway, seems, on second viewing, poorer. The story centers on the relationship of an 8-year-old Jewish boy, Noah Gellman, with his family’s black maid, Caroline Thibodeaux, in the Louisiana of 1963...Unexpiated liberal guilt permeates the proceedings; events of personal meaning to author Tony Kushner fail to involve us, and even the clever music, mostly pastiche, loses some of its charm upon rehearing.
 
* Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
The revival had a scrupulously dedicated Maggie in Ashley Judd, despite an unflatteringly desexualizing wig; a powerfully tangy and idiomatic Big Daddy in Ned Beatty, and solid supporting work...The lone liability is the Brick of Jason Patric, a Marlon Brando impersonation such as even second-rate stand-up comics have ceased to perpetrate.
 
* Fiddler on the Roof
Ranking high among musicals, Fiddler on the Roof rates a 10 for Joseph Stein’s book, a 91/2 for the Jerry Bock–Sheldon Harnick score, and a resounding 10 for the Jerome Robbins choreography. The current revival earns an 8... That the production is more ecumenical than previous versions is to be applauded; accusations that the show has been goyified are baseless. Leveaux’s pacing is brisk and his spacing painterly. He uses the full depth of the Minskoff stage and creates lively panoramas
 
Frozen
The play's author alleges that Frozen is about forgiveness, that, as the American academic Agnetha, researching her thesis on serial killers in England, declares, “the difference between a crime of evil and a crime of illness is [that] between a sin and a symptom.” But I see more revenge than forgiveness in the play; if there is forgiveness, it stems from Agnetha, the outsider, and not Nancy, the mother of 10-year-old Rhona, who has been ravished and slain by the pedophile Ralph.What Frozen has is first-rate acting. Swoosie Kurtz (Nancy), Brian F. O’Byrne (Ralph), and, in the least well-written part, Laila Robins (Agnetha) could not be better, and if superb performances are enough for you, so is this play.
 
* Golda's Balcony
It’s marvelous when an actor and a role that seemed to be waiting for each other meet in an incandescent embrace. Tovah Feldshuh has impressed in a number of roles, but none has etched itself into her skin and taken over her whole inner being the way that of Mrs. Meir does in Golda’s Balcony.
 
* Henry IV
Let me say it flat out: Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Henry IV, the two parts shortened and fused, is the best American Shakespeare I have ever seen. As a purist, I miss the full texts spread over two evenings; as a realist, and even as a theater lover, I found Dakin Matthews’s compression canny, fluid, and thoroughly enjoyable. The essence is undamaged, the impact perhaps even greater. This is Shakespeare that even Shakespeare shunners must love.
 
I Am My Own Wife
The memoir chronicles Lothar’s adventures and often narrow escapes under Nazism and Communism, the odd jobs that trained him for collector- and curatorship, and his adjustment to transvestism and homosexuality. The persecution of Jews and homosexuals is compellingly conveyed in terse and shattering vignettes. Equally powerful are evocations of aerial bombardments and other horrors of war.... Jefferson Mays—with mediocre German pronunciation, a good German accent in English, and very fine performing that involves quick character and voice changes—does yeoman’s service.
 

Jumpers
Jumpers proceeds along three levels: First, a murder mystery, which is never solved (something that is, to say the least, problematic). Second, a parodistic philosophical debate between George, fumbling seeker of the absolute, and Archie, cynically amoral relativist. Third, a George-Dotty-Archie love triangle, reduced to an unresolved farce. The trouble is that this three-level prestidigitation never achieves the desired interrelation. We get instead more or less cleverly excogitated, linguistically acrobatic flippancy, along with characters who bypass the heart and end up not mattering.

 
King Lear
King Lear is Shakespeare’s greatest play, and Christopher Plummer is one of our greatest actors. So what happens when these two greatnesses converge? Disaster.
 
* The Little Shop of Horrors
Audrey II, as the plant-protagonist is called, feeds on blood and eats humans. The cast, headed by Hunter Foster, Kerry Butler, Rob Bartlett, and Douglas Sills in a number of kitschy roles, is good enough to eat from top to bottom. Scott Pask (sets), William Ivey Long (costumes), and Donald Holder (lights) do tastily under Jerry Zaks’s zesty direction. Kathleen Marshall’s choreography is sufficient, and the show, though without redeeming social or even botanical value, manages to be chuckably esurient.
 
* Match
If you want to experience what good directing and inspired acting can do for a nice little script, Match should be your meat. Stephen Belber’s play provides a spirited blueprint for directorial and histrionic bravura: It concerns a former ballet master, now small-time dance teacher, living in wistful contentment in a dingy, if cozily overstuffed Inwood walk-up, about to receive a youngish married couple as his first guests in years.
 
Never Gonna Dance
The obvious lesson to be derived from Never Gonna Dance is that you cannot adapt a Fred Astaire–Ginger Rogers movie musical for the stage unless you have a male and female lead who, even if they don’t erase the memory of those glorious stars, can at least stand comparison with them.
 
* A Raisin in the Sun
Adroit boulevard drama that pushes all the right buttons. Under Kenny Leon’s meat-and-potatoes direction, all the principals in Raisin—Phylicia Rashad, Audra McDonald, Sanaa Lathan, and young Alexander Mitchell—do admirably. As for Sean Combs as Walter Lee, his eyes widen a bit too readily, his limbs are so loose as to threaten flying apart, and his face is curiously babyish. Still, he has genuine presence, and his emoting, except in a moment of utmost dejection, has alacrity—no diddling or puffery—and shows potential, if not quite yet heart.
 
* The Retreat from Moscow
Daniel Sullivan has directed with his customary incisiveness and graceful attention to detail, but what supreme acting talent he had to work with: infinitely inventive, exceptionally nuanced, and insidiously compelling. This last applies especially to Eileen Atkins.
 
Sixteen Wounded
Everything about Sixteen Wounded (even the unearned title) reeks of contrivance and dishonesty. A feel-good fabrication with a contradictory ending, Eliam Kraiem’s play pretends that a rabid Palestinian and a laid-back Jew can become the best of friends, and that rampant melodrama can pass for tragedy.
 
Taboo
Unless you are a Boy George fan or a freak-show fancier, you’ll find the pickings as slim as the slender thread trying to hold together the disparate halves of Charles Busch’s revised book. Taboo will steep you in a Hamletic quandary: Ta boo or not ta boo, that is the question.
 
Twentieth Century
As play, movie, or musical, Twentieth Century has never failed to delight—at least not until its 21st-century adaptation by Ken Ludwig. Aside from a few lumbering Ludwigisms, it is hard to determine just what Ludwig contributed to the dazzling Ben Hecht–Charles MacArthur original.... Laughs do remain in the Roundabout revival, but they have to struggle past two serious obstacles—the leads.
 

Wicked
This is the story of two young women, Glinda and Elphaba, who become, respectively, the Good Witch of the East and the Wicked Witch of the West. As Glinda, Kristin Chenoweth is cute as a button, but rather makes you wish for a zipper. The accomplished Idina Menzel brings genuine pathos and edge to Elphaba, but all in vain. And what of a score by Stephen Schwartz, who has clearly lost it? Only one song, “Wonderful,” has a memorable tune, and even that rather trite. The show is clearly more withered than wicked.

 
* Wonderful Town
Few scores score as giddily as the one for Wonderful Town, and few stars shine as brightly as Donna Murphy in this love letter to Greenwich Village. If she has not yet been numbered among the musical theater’s superstars, any unjust doubts are herewith erased. She is a consummate singer and incomparable actress, but also a first-rate comic and a comely presence. The entire cast needs no reviewing, only congratulations.
 
 

 

 
 
Published May 11, 2004

 

 

 
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