5 New Musicals Less Miserable Than Les Miz
BY Brandon Voss
April 24 2014 3:45 PM ET
Based on Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s 1992 animated film, Disney’s latest stage spectacle is as magical as its scene-stealing carpet ride, but out director Casey Nicholaw and out book writer Chad Beguelin keep the corny crowd-pleaser grounded in genuine emotion. Adam Jacobs is adorable as the scrappy street urchin, and James Monroe Iglehart’s Genie, while Disney-asexual, is like the sassy, overcaffeinated offspring of Steve Harvey and The Real Housewives of Atlanta.
New Amsterdam Theatre, open-ended.
Heathers: The Musical
Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s uplifting musical adaptation of the 1988 cult comedy, a dark satire of high school cliques brightened for the “It Gets Better” generation, does right by the film’s quotable mean girls and bullied misfits. It’s no campy trifle thanks to a killer score that includes “I Love My Dead Gay Son,” an unlikely showstopper about tolerance, sung by grieving fathers after the murder of two jocks staged in a compromising position. Lick it up, baby.
New World Stages, through September 7.
Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s ambitious concept musical is a bit of a mess, but let it go, let it go to watch the “wickedly talented” Idina Menzel belt her face off as Elizabeth, a spirited divorcée starting over in Manhattan. While the Sliding Doors split narrative — is she Beth or Liz? — can be confusing in its earnest exploration of chance and choice, LaChanze and out actor Anthony Rapp (Rent reunion alert!) are doubly charming as her fiery lesbian friend and droll bisexual buddy.
Richard Rodgers Theatre, open-ended.
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill
Five-time Tony-winner Audra McDonald aims high for one more as Billie Holiday in Lanie Robertson’s intimate bio-play. Set in a Philly jazz joint in 1959, mere months before the legendary singer’s death from substance abuse, this tragic and touching solo tribute recounts her life story through her signature songs, including “Strange Fruit” and “God Bless the Child.” No mention here of Lady Day’s notorious bisexuality, but McDonald’s transformative performance is intoxicating.
Circle in the Square Theatre, through August 10.
50 Shades! The Musical
Low-budget stage spoofs can be painful, but this raunchy original parody of the best-selling erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey, created by members of the improv troupe Baby Wants Candy, is so funny it hurts. Housewife book-clubbers deliver lots of knee-slappers, but the sweetest sting is the clever casting of gay Asian comedian Chris Grace, who’s large and in charge as the spank-happy Christian Grey. There’s also eye candy aplenty thanks to a chorus of living S/M fantasies.
Elektra Theatre, open-ended.
Read last month’s theater picks here.