Saturday, September 9, 2023

Back to the Future: The Musical - An Unnecessary Trip

Reviewed by Judd Hollander

The Broadway graveyard is filled with musical efforts that sprang from movies. Groundhog Day, Mrs. Doubtfire, Rocky and Pretty Woman among some of the more recent internees. While it’s too early to consign Back to the Future: The Musical, based on the hit 1985 film of the same name, to the same fate, it may soon be headed in that direction. This despite some pretty strong special effects. As well as a very appealing lead performance.

It’s 1985 in Hill Valley, California and high school student Marty McFly (Casey Likes), whose rock-n-roll band just failed their latest audition, is terrified of ending up like his family. His mother Lorraine (Liana Hunt) is an alcoholic; his older brother and sister (Daryl Tofa, Amber Ardolino) have lives on the fast track to nowhere; and his father George (Hugh Coles) is a beaten-down milquetoast who is terrified of confrontation. George is also is constantly harassed by his former high school nemesis Biff Tannen (Nathaniel Hackman), who is now his supervisor at work.

(L-R) Roger Bart and Casey Likes in Back to the Future: The Musical.  Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman (2023)

One evening Marty’s friend Doc Brown (Roger Bart), the town crackpot, announces he has invented a time machine and wants Mary to document an upcoming test run. Doc intends to use the machine himself, which he has built inside a DeLorean. However before he can start on his journey, Doc collapses due to exposure to plutonium. The element used to power the vehicle. In a panic, Marty jumps into the DeLorean to go for help, but once the car reaches 88 miles an hour, the time circuits activate and send Marty thirty years in the past.

Shortly after his arrival in 1955 Hill Valley, and while searching for the Doc Brown of that time, Marty encounters his parents as teenagers. He also inadvertently interferes with their first meeting. One which initially kindled their romantic feelings for each other. Now before he can attempt to return to his own time, Marty has to get his parents to fall in love. Otherwise, neither he nor his siblings will ever be born. Matters become even more complicated when Lorraine starts having romantic feeling for Marty. Much to the fury of the overbearing Biff, who sees Lorraine as his personal girlfriend. Even though Lorraine wants nothing to do with him.

(L-R, top row) Victoria Byrd, Jonalyn Saxer, Becca Peterson. (L-R, bottom row) Casey Likes, Liana Hunt in Back to the Future: The Musical.  Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman (2023)

There is certainly enough material here for a stage adaptation. The core idea of the show being how one small event can change the future forever. Tied in with this is the importance of never settling when it comes to what's really important in life. Be it deciding to run for political office or choosing to stand up for someone you care about.

Unfortunately in transferring the story to a new medium, the creative team, which includes Bob Gale as the bookwriter, who also co-wrote the script for the original film, all seem to have forgotten an important step in the process. That being, to make sure the new property is different enough from the original to warrant its creation in the first place. Yet what ends up on stage feels more like a tired retread. With many scenes and dialogue copied almost beat for beat.
It doesn’t help that the creators have also forgotten the “less is more” principle. Specifically as it applies to the characters of Doc Brown and George McFly. 

Roger Bart in Back to the Future: The Musical.  Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman 

Doc, played by the usually reliable Bart, is so over the top in both eras, there’s no real character development or backstory for the audience to latch onto. Here, he fritters to and fro and rarely varies his vocal cadence. Even worse, Bart’s verbal interactions with Likes often mimic the Burns and Schreiber “taxicab” routine. The only time Doc becomes anything more than a caricature is when Bart sings “For the Dreamers”. A quiet ballad which offers a fleeting glimpse behind his fast-talking facade as he realizes that finally, he has a chance to be something more than a laughingstock.

The character of George has similar problems. A hapless sad sack with no confidence whatsoever, Marty must try to teach him to stand up for himself. However George’s laugh, facial tics, hand gestures and efforts to try to follow Marty’s advice are so exaggerated, they quickly become annoying. This is a case of someone trying too hard to be funny and instead becoming painful to watch. As with Doc, George’s portrayal would have worked far better if we were given some history on the character as to why he is the way he is.

Another issue is that the score by Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard is not all that memorable. The strongest numbers in the musical ones that were in the original film. Additionally, the first act finale just falls apart, instead of giving the audience a reason to return for act two. One of the few new numbers to really stand out is “Gotta Start Somewhere”, which boasts a very strong performance by Jelani Remy as Goldie Wilson.

Jelani Remy and the cast of Back to the Future: The Musical.  Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman (2023)

Likes does quite well in the lead role, coming across as a beleaguered sort who you don’t mind spending time with. He also looks alternatively terrified and frustrated as he tries to fit into 1955 Hill Valley, while continually trying to dodge Lorraine’s evermore amorous advances. Additionally, he nicely put across all of the songs he is tasked with. Including a killer rendition of “Johnnie B. Goode”. Other good performances include Mikaela Secada as Marty’s girlfriend, Hunt as Lorraine and Remy as both Goldie Wilson and Marvin Berry.

John Rando’s direction is uneven. He’s on point when it comes to the more dramatic moments, but his efforts fall flat when it comes to the comedy. Attempt at which feel awkward, uncomfortable, and continually distract from the stronger elements in the story.

The one especially strong aspect in the show are the special effects, Especially when it comes to having a full-size car appear to travel 88 miles an hour on a Broadway stage. Designer Tim Hatley and the rest of the team also come up with a finale that is superb. Sadly, these final moments don’t make up for all of the pitfalls that have come before. Indeed, it would be great if the DeLorean really did allow one to travel through time. That way, Gale, Rando, et. al., could have gone back to the beginning of the creative process and this time, tried to get it right.

Casey Likes in Back to the Future: The Musical.  Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman (2023)

Featuring: Casey Likes (Marty McFly), Jelani Remy (Goldie Wilson/Marvin Berry), Merritt David Janes (Principal Strickland/Lou Carruthers/Mayor Red Thomas/Sam Baines), Mikaela Secada (Jennifer Parker), Nathaniel Hackman (Biff Tannen), Hugh Coles (George McFly), Daryl Tofa (Dave McFly/Slick), Amber Ardolino (Linda McFly/Stella Baines), Liana Hunt (Lorraine Baines), Roger Bart (Doc Brown), Victoria Byrd (Betty/Pretty Baby Trio), Becca Petersen (Babs/Pretty Baby Trio), Will Branner (3D), Jonalyn Saxer (Clocktower Woman/Pretty Baby Trio), Nick Drake (Reginald (Starlighter #1)), Kevin Curtis (Starlighter #2), Joshua Kenneth Allan Johnson (Starlighter #3)

Ensemble: Amber Ardolino, Will Branner, Victoria Byrd, Brendan Chan, Kevin Curtis, Nick Drake, Marc Heitzman, Merritt David Janes, Hannah Kevitt, JJ Niemann, Becca Peterson, Emma Pittman, Jonalyn Saxer, Mikaela Secada, Daryl Tofa

Back to the Future: The Musical
Book by Bob Gale
Music & Lyrics by Alan Silvestri & Glen Ballard

Based on the Universal Pictures/Amblin Entertainment film
Written by Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale

Fight Director: Maurice Chan
Wigs, Hair and Make-Up: Campell Young Associates
Musical Supervisor: Vocal & Music Arrangements: Nick Finlow
Music Director: Ted Arthur
Orchestrations: Ethan Popp & Bryan Crook
Dance Arrangements: David Chase
Sound Designer: Gareth Owen
Lighting Designers: Tim Lutkin & Hugh Vanstone
Video Director: Finn Ross
Illusion Designer: Chris Fisher
Choreographer: Chris Bailey
Designer: Tim Hatley
Directed by John Rando

Winter Garden Theatre
1634 Broadway
Tickets; 212-239-6200,
Running Time: 2 hours, 35 minutes, with one intermission
Open Run

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Camelot - Where ideals and human nature collide

Reviewed by Judd Hollander

Some people will always be resistant to change. Though if said changes are truly worthwhile, one should never stop trying to make them a reality. This is the message at the heart of the 1960 Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musical, Camelot. A revival of which is now at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater .

Based on T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King,” Camelot takes place in a mythical medieval England during the reign of King Arthur (Andrew Burnap). After a long and bitter war with France, the two countries have agreed to a peace treaty. One contingent upon Arthur marrying the French princess Guenevere (Phillipa Soo). Initially against this royal union, Guenevere soon finds herself intrigued by Arthur, who is unlike any royal she’s ever known.

Arthur is rather unique when it comes to royalty, as he is not of noble blood and only ascended the throne after he pulled out a sword embedded in a large stone. A feat thousands of others had tried and failed. Despite feeling ill-suited to his position, and remembering how harshly the kingdom’s knights and others in power have treated the masses, Arthur has a vision of a new era. One where knights are defenders of justice, honor, and chivalry. Though it soon becomes apparent many of those who formerly enjoyed almost unlimited power, and the pleasures it afforded, are not happy with these new guidelines.

Jordon Donica, Phillipa Soo (background), Andrew Burnap and the company in Lincoln Center Theater's production of CAMELOT. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Other potential trouble appears in the form of Lancelot du Lac (Jordon Donica); a Frenchman of great courage, virtue, and strength. Something he continually reminds himself, and everybody else. Lancelot’s greatest desire is to become a knight in the service of King Arthur. While he quickly succeeds in this, his overwhelming arrogance alienates him from the rest of the knights. At the same time, Guenevere finds herself becoming attracted to this new arrival. An attraction which quickly becomes mutual and threatens the stability of the kingdom.

Further danger arrives thanks to Arthur’s illegitimate son Mordred (Taylor Trensch). Bitter and angry at his father, Mordred is determined to destroy the King and the legacy he had hoped to create.

Camelot looks at the different sides of human nature while showing how the baser elements of humanity often impede moral progress. As continually pointed out, most people often have to be forced to accept something new, whether it is the better treatment of women, or that the coach carrying a royal bride may now stop at the top of a bottom of a hill rather than the top. Also explored is the danger of implementing change too quickly. For such upheaval may not only threaten those who would do anything to maintain the status quo, but it can also destroy closely held traditions many have lived by all their lives. Yet through it all is the message that it is possible for us to become better. Plus even if we do not achieve everything we hoped, the next generation will be able to build on what this one has begun.

Phillipa Soo, Andrew Burnap, Dakin Matthews, Jordan Donica, and company in Lincoln Center Theater's production of CAMELOT.Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.

The Lerner and Loewe score, backed here by a 30-piece orchestra, never fails to soar. Highlights include the whimsical title tune, the haunting “If Ever I Would Leave You,” and the comic numbers “The Lusty Month of May,” and “I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight?” Also a standout is “What Do the Simple Folk Do?”. A culmination of a verbal fencing match between Arthur and Guenevere, the song illuminates the importance of communication between partners and the danger from a lack thereof.

The only real weak point is the show’s revised book by Aaron Sorkin. While Sorkin has attempted to make the original Learner text more palatable to today’s audiences, some of his efforts are rather questionable. Such as making Arthur’s longtime adviser Merlyn (Dakin Matthews) and Mordred’s mother Morgan Le Fey (Marliee Talkington) scientists instead of wizards. This removal of the magical element from the story makes the work feel a bit more pedestrian.

Andrew Burnap as Arthur in Lincoln Center Theater's production of CAMELOT. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Soo makes a fine Guenevere. A woman with a strong inner core who projects a sense of responsibility, passion, and a desire for a better world. Burnap works well as Arthur. A man initially unsure of himself, we see him grow into both the office and character of King during the course of the production.

Donica makes a powerful as Lancelot. His first number (“C’est Moi”) drips with irony as he sings about virtue and honor, even though he falls for a married woman. His character one you initially dislike for his arrogance, yet eventually come to understand. Trensch makes a strong villain as Mordred, and Matthews is good in the comedic yet wise roles of Merlyn and Pellinore.

Phillipa Soo (center) and company in Lincoln Center Theater's production of CAMELOT. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.jpg

Bartlett Shers’s direction makes effective use of the vast playing space, while Michael Yeargan’s set, coupled with 59 Productions’ projection work, nicely enhances the story.

Camelot is not perfect, but with a strong message, an appealing cast, and a wonderful score, it makes for quite a fulfilling experience.

Featuring: Anthony Michael Lopez (Sir Dinadan), Danny Wolohan (Sir Lionel), Fergie Philippe (Sir Sagramore), Dakin Matthews (Merlyn, Pellinore), Andrew Burnap (Arthur), Phillipa Soo (Guenevere), Holly Gould, James Romney (Pages), Jordan Donica (Lancelot du Lac), Paul Whitty (Dap), Ann Sanders (Clarius), Tesia Kwarteng (Lady Catharine). Delphi Borich (Lady Sybil), Taylor Trensch (Mordred), Marilee Talkington (Morgan Le Fey). Camden McKinnon (Tom of Warwick)

Ensemble: Delphi Borich, Matías De La Flor, Ṣọla Fadiran, Christian Mark Gibbs, Holly Gould, Edwin Joseph, Tesia Kwarteng, Ann Sanders, Britney Nicole Simpson, Frank Viveros, Paul Whitty


Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner

Music by Frederick Loewe

Book by Aaron Sorkin

Based on the original book by Alan Jay Lerner

Based on "The Once and Future King" by T.H. White

Sets: Michael Yeargan

Costumes: Jennifer Moeller

Lighting: Lap Chi Chu

Sound: Marc Salzberg & Beth Lake

Projections: 59 Productions

Hair & Wigs: Cookie Jordan

Fight Director: B.H. Barry

Vocal & Dialect Coach: Kate Wilson

Orchestrations: Robert Russell Bennett & Philip J. Lang

Dance & Choral Arrangements; Trude Rittmann

Music Direction: Kimberly Grigsby

Choreography: Bryon Easley

Directed by: Bartlett Sher


Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center Theater

150 West 65th Street

Tickets: 212-239-6200 or


Running time: 2 hours, 55 minutes, one intermission

Open run

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Shucked - A down-home treat

Reviewed by Judd Hollander

Shucked, the new musical comedy at Broadway’s Nederlander Theatre has far too many corn-related puns, references, and innuendos to count. It’s also corn-poppingly funny.

The musical offers a retelling of a Cob County legend. Cob County was founded about 500 years ago when a band of Pilgrims, who didn’t agree with the Puritan way of doing things, were looking for a place to call their own. Which they found in “miles of unclaimed, Non-Native American owned land.” Mistrustful of outsiders, they planted rows of corn that would grow as “high as an elephant’s eye” and completely surround the town to keep its inhabitants safe from those who had no business being there. This plan worked for generations, with corn and all its variations – including moonshine – becoming their major food source and economic engine. Until the day the corn began to die.

With no one able to understand why this is happening, local farmer Maizy (Caroline Innerbichler), feels they must seek help from the outside world. However, most of her neighbors and friends, including Maizy’s beau, Beau (Andrew Durand) who she is about to marry, reject the idea out of hand.

                              The cast of Shucked. Photo by Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman

Determined not to see her beloved farm, crops and home all dry up and blow away, and with some encouragement from her cousin Lulu (Alex Newell), a resolute Maizy sets out on her journey. Eventually she reaches Tampa , Florida , where she stumbles upon a self-proclaimed “corn doctor” named Gordy (John Behlmann).

Gordy is actually a failed conman, disowned by his family due to his inability in the trade. At first, Gordy has no desire to help Maizy. Until the stones in the antique bracelet she wears catches his eye. After initially confirming the stones value, and how abundant they are in Cob County , Gordy assures Maizy he can fix their corn problem. It’s not long before complications arise when Gordy runs afoul of Lulu. A person who pretty much has a built in radar when it comes to liars; even as she begins to feel an attraction for this outsider Maizy has brought into their midst. Meanwhile Maizy finds herself torn between her love for Beau and her growing feelings towards Gordy

                         Alex Newell in Shucked. Photos by Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman

For all its corn-spun humor – not surprising considering bookwriter Robert Horn’s first kernel of an idea for this show came from the television series “Hee-Haw” – at its core, Shucked stresses the importance of honesty, respect, and family. Family in this case referring not only to those related by blood, but those who are part of an extended community, all of whom depend on each other. There’s also the importance of not being afraid to consider something new, just because it may be different from what has gone before. A point illustrated in the ballad “Walls,” as beautifully sung by Innerbichler. This early number also establishes the show as something more than an elongated comedy sketch. Though to be fair, just about every third line in the show ends in a quip, pun or homily guaranteed to make the audience laugh, groan or nod in agreement. Many of these moments coming from Beau, his brother Peanut (Kevin Cahoon), and the show’s Storytellers (Ashley D. Kelley and Grey Henson).

Shucked isn’t so much a message show as a show with a message; and there is an important difference. That being the musical, which also has passing references to climate change and the current political environment, doesn’t repeatedly hit you over the head with what it wants to say. Rather, it tells a story with a few moral lessons embedded therein and leaves the audience to derive from it what they will.

                              The cast of Shucked. Photo by Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman

The score by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally is excellent, with highlights ranging from the over-the-top opening sequence “Corn,” to the comic “Bad.” There’s also the soulful “OK,” put forth by Durand; the rousing “Best Man Wins;” and the fantastic “Independently Owned.” That last, a powerful blues number by Newell, quite literally stops the show in its tracks and garners the performer a well-deserved standing ovation.

Innerbichler does a wonderful job as Maizy, a strong-willed though occasionally naive sort determined to save the town and get the respect she deserves. Durand works well as Beau, an earnest if somewhat stereotypical hayseed type. Behlmann is fine as Gordy, who learns there’s more to life than coming out on top. Newell is a wonder as Lulu. A cautious but caring cynic who learns to open herself up to the unexpected. Indeed, by the show’s end, all of the characters are significantly changed due to what they’ve experienced.

                The cast of Shucked. Photo by Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman

Jack O’Brien’s direction keeps the show moving nicely while never going off the rails into either parody or preaching. Sarah O’Gleby’s choreographic work is enjoyable from start to finish. Scott Pask’s set, basically a huge barn with all the requisite trimmings, nicely fits the show’s atmosphere. Also deserving of credit is Jason Howland’s excellent orchestrations.

Shucked offers jokes, music, a love quadrangle, and a bit of gentle moralizing. Most of all, it’s a lot of fun.

Featuring: John Behlmann (Gordy), Kevin Cahoon (Peanut), Andrew Durand (Beau), Grey Henson (Storyteller 2), Caroline Innerbichler (Maizy), Ashley D. Kelley (Storyteller 1), Alex Newell (Lulu).

Ensemble: Jimmy Brewer, Audrey Cardwell, Dwayne Clark, Rheaume Crenshaw, Jaygee Macpugay, Scott Stangland, Yasmeen Sulieman, Quinn Vanantwerp


Book by Robert Horn

Music &  Lyrics by Brandy Clark & Shane McAnally

Scenic Design: Scott Pask

Costume Design: Tilly Grimes

Lighting Design: Japhy Weideman

Sound Design: John Shivers

Wig Design: Mia Neal

Music Supervision, Music Direction, Orchestrations and Arrangements: Jason Howland

Choreographed by Sarah O’Gleby

Directed by Jack O’Brien


Nederlander Theatre

208 West 41st Street

Tickets: 212-239-6200 or


Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes, one intermission

Open run


Monday, April 17, 2023

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart - A Wondrous Journey of the Soul

Reviewed by Judd Hollander

The aim of immersive theatre is to have the audience feel they’re actually a part of the story. So it is with the National Theatre of Scotland’s funny, poignant, and very involving The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart. A revival of which is now at The Club Car at the McKittrick Hotel.

It's a snowy December 21, 2010 , the time of the winter solstice – said snow gleefully provided on cue by the audience – and 28 year-old postgraduate student Prudencia Hart (Charlene Boyd), is on her way to a conference in the Scottish town of Kelso . Something of an introvert, Prudencia has followed in her father’s footsteps of collecting. Where her dad collected books, Prudencia is a collector of songs. In particular, Scottish Border Ballads, of which she has become something of an authority.

After the conference, Prudencia and the other speakers find themselves stranded by the heavy snowfall. With nowhere else to go, Prudencia and her adversarial colleague Dr. Colin Syme (Ewan Black) take shelter in a local pub, where it's karaoke night. Feeling out of her depth, Prudencia heads into the cold snowy night looking for the bed and breakfast Colin had just booked. Unfamiliar with the area, she soon finds herself lost in the gigantic whiteout. Until a fellow named Nick (Gavin Jon Wright) appears and offers her aid.

      Charlene Boyd in "The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart".  Photo Credit: Lena Nicholson
Aside from the harsh weather, there’s another reason one shouldn't be outside on the winter solstice. According to legend, it’s the one time of year when the barriers between our world and hell weaken, allowing the Devil to seek unsuspecting souls to take to the underworld. Which is exactly what befalls Prudencia.
While Prudencia at first refuses to believe her fate, she soon realizes Nick is indeed the Devil in human form, and intends to keep her prisoner for eternity. Prudencia’s protests, however, vanish when she beholds her gilded cage. A gigantic library that contains “every book that’s ever been.” At first Prudencia’s new life seems a dream come true. Until she realizes the truth about what being in hell really means.
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart explores the universal pain of loneliness. This includes Prudencia, who has buried herself in her work; Colin, whose glib banter hides a heartfelt secret; and Nick who, despite all the power he commands, must always be apart from everyone. Yet as made clear, only when one breaks down the walls they’ve built can they let others in. Coupled with this is the importance of not looking down on what you don’t care about. A failing of Nick for his attitude toward mortals in general. As well as Prudencia for her disdain towards karaoke and so-called “new age” methods, such as rap, of telling stories. Or how she regards anyone who doesn't care about the things she does.

        Charlene Boyd in "The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart".  Photo Credit: Lena Nicholson
The show also notes that though work can be one’s passion, it shouldn’t be the total sum of an existence. Something Prudencia learns after untold years of research in Nick’s library as she attempts to prove her composition theories. Her joy at finally doing so tempered by the realization no one will ever see the results.
A great asset of the production is its use of language. The characters continually switching from prose to poetry, often with rhyming couplets. While quite funny throughout, it also leads to some very touching moments between Prudencia and Nick as she tries to bridge the gap between them. Their encounters causing both to change in a way neither expected. For Prudencia’s “undoing” is not so much a fall or humiliation, but rather a realization of what it is to be mortal, with a limited time on this earth. An awareness also visible in the change of Prudencia’s outward appearance over the course of the show.
The production's intricate staging is wonderfully executed. The actors at times right next to, or on top of the tables where the audience is seated. They also sometimes use said audience members as props for the story. Including a motorcycle. By the second act, everyone is so totally invested in what's unfolding, they sing and clap with unbridled enthusiasm whenever prompted. The space itself also gives off a charming old world feel. 

                 Gavin Jon Wright and Charlene Boyd in "The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart". 
                                                     Photo Credit: Lena Nicholson
The cast, many who play multiple roles, feels like a well-oiled machine. Boyd is perfect as Prudencia and takes her character through a complete metamorphosis as she becomes more understanding of the world and those in it. Black projects a strong, if somewhat stereotypical macho air as Colin. Who proves to be far more dependable than first given credit. Wright is exceptionally good as Nick. An initially amicable sort with a quiet, smoldering aura, but a deadly foe when crossed. Charlie West works well as one of Nick’s other forms while Natali McCleary cuts a haunting figure as a mysterious woman Prudencia encounters in the snow. 
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart tells a stirring tale of love, loss, loneliness and tells it oh so very well.
Featuring: Ewan Black, Charlene Boyd, Natali McCleary, Charlie West, Gavin Jon Wright
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart
Co-created by David Greig writer & Wils Wilson (director)
Designer: Georgia McGuinness
Music Director and Composer: Alasdair Macrae
Movement Director: Janice Parker
Associate Movement Director: Jack Webb
Associate Director (Scotland): Andrea Cabrera Luna

Associate Director (U.S.): Hunter Bird

Producer for Double M Arts & Events: Neil Murray and Michael Mushalla

Casting Director: Laura Donnelly CDG

Production Manager: Craig Fleming

Costume Supervisor: Alisa Munro

Company Stage Manager: Millie Hannah Jones

Assistant Stage Manager: Scott Ringan
The Club Car at The McKittrick Hotel
542 West 27th Street
Running Time: Two hours, 30 minutes, one intermission
Closes: April 30. 2023 

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Grief: A One Man ShitShow

 Reviewed by Judd Hollander

The hard truth is that every one of us will someday be ripped apart by the unspeakable pain of losing someone near and dear. That is, if it hasn’t to you happened already. Be it by murder, disease, accident, overdose, suicide, or natural causes; eventually, “everybody dies.” Something writer/director Colin Campbell states at the beginning of his very personal work, "Grief: A One Man ShitShow, now at Theatre Row.

Mr. Campbell is quite intimately acquainted with the title subject. He has been since the time, nearly four years ago, when he, his wife Gail, their 14 year-old son Hart and 17 year-old daughter Ruby were in a car when it was struck by a drunk driver. Campbell, who was driving, survived. So did his wife. Their children did not.

While that tragedy serves as the catalyst for the show, the work itself is two-pronged. One tranche explores how Colin has learned to move through his pain since then, while the second looks at the issue of grief itself and the white elephant in the room that comes with it.

                Colin Campbell in "Grief: A One Man ShitShow".  Photo by Rebecca Asher.

Said elephant is actually a question. Specifically, what do you say when interacting with someone who is grieving? To the non-griever, it can feel as if trying to step through a virtual minefield. Where anything from "how are you feeling" to "nice day, isn't it" can be the wrong thing to say. Even such well-intentioned attempts as "what can I do to help" or "there are no words" – that last expression a particular anathema to Colin – can fall short. Coupled with this seeming inability to connect are the endless gifts (i.e., books on grieving, links to emotional support groups, or bottles of alcohol) from non-grievers that often do little to ease the pain. Colin, in a moment of particularly biting sarcasm, also points out how a gift of liquor is not really a good idea when the recipient's children have been murdered by a drunk driver.

As for Colin, he wants to talk about what happened. For by him continuing to relive the tragedy and acknowledge the resulting pain, it proves to him he is still alive inside - rather than drinking or drugging himself into oblivion. More importantly, his speaking about Hart and Ruby and the stories he tells about them allows his children to become more than just images in an onstage photograph. Plus, it reaffirms the fact that they existed. And still do for him.

                Colin Campbell in "Grief: A One Man ShitShow".  Photo by Rebecca Asher.

Colin also examines the many levels of grief  and how different grief experiences result in different reactions from others. For example, the response to one who has lost a family member to a drunk driver is different than if that person had died due to a drug overdose, or by suicide. Also explored is the fact that, despite any initial thoughts of how no one can understand the pain you’re going through, one eventually realizes there are a great many sufferers out there who have it far worse than you.

Other areas touched on include the myth that close to 90% of marriages fall apart after the sudden death of a child, as well as the "what if"/if only" scenario. In the latter case, Campbell describes how he imagines what he could have done differently to prevent the deadly crash. These mental gymnastics serve as another way for him to keep his children alive. A version of “survivor's guilt,” it also goes hand in hand with Colin wondering when and how he and his wife should resume their everyday lives in the wake of what happened. This process of attempting to do so, or even to broach the subject, serves as another grief white elephant and examines the importance of communicating one’s feelings to their significant other.

Colin pulls no punches in telling this story. The piece, a literal showcase for his rage, pain, and the love he feels for his children. Sprinkled with more than a bit of humor, there is no doubt the process of writing and performing the show is for him cathartic. Yet while Colin may have found a way to come to terms with his grief, his effort to translate all this to the audience at times falls short. While one can certainly connect with how he feels, the show sometimes has the air of a well-researched case study rather than a more intimate tragedy.

                         Colin Campbell in "Grief: A One Man ShitShow".  Photo by Rebecca Asher.

In addition, his suggestion of addressing the white elephant in the room when it comes to talking about grief doesn't really work, as each person's experience with the subject is different. As is each person's attempt at a solution. Even if every single person in the audience tried to have a one-on-one conversation with Campbell on the matter, each one would be different due to the multiple parties involved.

In the end, one learns about Colin Campbell’s story rather than actually feeling they’ve experienced it. As for all those who have been lucky enough not to experience any such sort of grief as this, they are profoundly grateful.

Grief: A One Man ShitShow

Written and performed by Colin Campbell

Directed by Michael Schlitt

Stage Manager: Sloane Fischer

Production Manager: Eric Nightengale

General Mangers: Form Theatricals: Antony Francavilla & Reed Ridgley

Song: Heroes

Music by David Bowie

Lyrics by David Bowie and Brian Eno

Translation and Additional Lyrics by Rubén Martínez

Performed by Rubén Martínez, Juan Perez and Rosalie Rodriguez


Presented at Theatre Row, Studio Theatre

410 West 42nd Street

Tickets & Information:

Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission

Closes: April 23, 2023

Friday, April 7, 2023

Bad Cinderella - Well, Yes It Is; But Only Mostly

Reviewed by Judd Hollander 

Bad Cinderella, the new musical at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre, is the latest effort from composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. While the show boasts a very appealing cast, it suffers from numerous problems which severely hobble the work.

In the kingdom of Belleville, most everyone is totally obsessed with beauty. This is chiefly because of the fixation their Queen (Grace McLean) has with the idea. The Queen is also marking the end of a one-year mourning period for her eldest son. The much loved by all Prince Charming (Cameron Loyal).

Just about the only person in the kingdom who does not believe in the necessity of being impeccably beautiful is Cinderella (Linedy Genao). A young woman who has gotten the nickname of the title due to her various protests over the matter. Her most recent effort being the defacement of a statue of the late Prince.

Linedy Genao as Cinderella in "Bad Cinderella".  Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Cinderella’s one true friend is her companion from childhood; the Queen’s second son, Prince Sebastian (Jordan Dobson). The so-called “spare” of the family line who, now that his older and more handsome brother is gone, will someday become King. Though he must first choose a bride. To that end, the Queen decides to hold a grand ball at the palace and invites all the eligible women of the kingdom.

Cinderella regards this wife selection process as disgusting and wants nothing to do with it. Though a large part of her anger is because she has romantic feelings for Sebastian. As does he for her. Though neither has yet broached the subject. Someone who does suspect the truth is Cinderella’s Stepmother (Carolee Carmello). An evil woman, she is determined that one of her two not-so-bright daughters (Sami Gayle, Morgan Higgins) marry Sebastian. The Stepmother is also apparently aware of a secret from the Queen’s past. A point referenced in the musical number “I Know You”.

(L-R) Grace McLean as the Queen and Carolee Carmello as the Stepmother in "Bad Cinderella".             Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Bad Cinderella speaks to the importance of staying true to who you are, along with never sacrificing your identity to conform to the demands of the masses. Something Cinderella herself forgets when she tries to crash the ball. The story also contains a warning on protesting against something without first trying to understand those on the other side. For as she belatedly learns, Cinderella’s crusade against always looking perfect may have cost her more than one ally over the years.

While the show offers an interesting twist on a classic fairy tale, it feels as if the members of the creative team are never on the same page. A problem Webber, lyricist David Zippel, Emerald Fennell (original story & book), Alexis Scheer (book adaptation), and director Laurence Connor must share equally.

Jordan Dobson as Prince Sebastian in "Bad Cinderella". Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

An important rule in musicals is never musicalize anything that doesn’t need it. As in an early scene between Cinderella and Sebastian. Hearing them sing the dialogue rather than speak it throws off the entire sequence, and also takes up far more time than if they had just spoken the words.

Another critical issue when creating a show is knowing when to stop. In Bad Cinderella there is one pivotal scene which serves as the show’s climax. By the time it concludes, there are only a few loose ends to tie up. Yet for some reason, we have several scenes and songs to go. All of which cause the entire production to drag. True, much of the material here is enjoyable, but for the sake of pacing, it would have been better to eliminate it, shorten it or place it earlier in the story.

(L-R) Morgan Higgins and Sami Gayle as Cinderella's stepsisters in "Bad Cinderella". Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

There are also several plot points which are never explained. Chief among them is the relationship between the Queen and Cinderella’s Stepmother. There’s clearly a history between these characters, but after teasing the audience about it for a good part of the show, the matter is dropped. Also never made clear is the reason for the Queen’s fixation with beauty in the first place or how Cinderella and Sebastian, people from two very different social classes, ever got together as children.

Genao makes a lovely Cinderella. Her performance imbues the character with both honesty and determination. She also has a nice singing voice and good chemistry with Dobson, who does well as the unhappy prince. Dobson also gets to show off some excellent dance moves in “The Village Square,” one of the numbers that belongs far earlier in the show.

McLean is fine as the Queen, while Carmello has some wonderful scenery-chewing moments as the Stepmother. Loyal projects a strong sense of fun as Prince Charming. Christina Acosta Robinson as the Godmother has a good time with the satirical song “Beauty Has a Price”.

Linedy Genao and Jordan Dobson in "Bad Cinderella." Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

The score, while pleasant, is not memorable. The music is also often over amplified, making it hard to hear the lyrics. This is particularly true in the opening sequence. Choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter is strong throughout. That and the costumes by Gabriela Tylesova are two of the few technical elements that work as they should.

Bad Cinderella is not bad throughout, but neither is it good.

Featuring:  Linedy Genao (Cinderella), Carolee Carmello (Stepmother), Grace McLean (Queen), Jordan Dobson (Prince Sebastian), Adele (Sami Gayle), Morgan Higgins (Marie), Christina Acosta Robinson (Godmother), Cameron Loyal (Prince Charming), Ben Lanham (Claude - Master of Ceremonies, Duc du Violette), Josh Drake (Arthur), J Savage (Gawain), Dave Schoonover (Dorian), Tregoney Shepherd (Vicar), Savy Jackson (Cinderella at Certain Performances).

Ensemble:  Mike Baerga, Raymond Baynard, Lauren Boyd, Tristen Buettel, Kaleigh Cronin, Josh Drake, Ben Lanham, Ángel Lozada, Mariah Lyttle, Sarah Meahl, Christian Probst, Larkin Reilly, Julio Rey, Lily Rose, J Savage, Dave Schoonover, Tregoney Shepherd, Paige Smallwood, Aléna Watters

Bad Cinderella 

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Lyrics by David Zippel

Original Story & Book by Emerald Fennell

Book Adaptation by Alexis Scheer

Scenic & Costume Design: Gabriela Tylesova

Lighting Design: Bruno Poet

Sound Design: Gareth Owen

Hair & Wig Design: Luc Verschueren

Orchestrations by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter

Directed by Laurence Connor

Imperial Theatre

249 West 45th Street

Tickets: 212-239-6200 or


Running Time: Two hours, 30 minutes, with one intermission

Open Run