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John Lithgow: Stories by Heart

From 52 critic and 266 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Disappointing, Slow, Entertaining, Indulgent

About the show

Roundabout Theatre Company presents the Broadway debut of Tony and Emmy Award winner John Lithgow's solo piece, an exploration of storytelling full of personal insights. More…

With equal measures of humor and heart, Lithgow conjures a cast of indelible characters from classic short stories by Ring Lardner and P. G. Wodehouse. 'Stories By Heart' first took shape in 2008 at Lincoln Center Theater in a special repertory presentation, with Lithgow telling one story each night. Since then he has evolved the play in theaters around the country. Directed by Tony winner Daniel Sullivan. the Broadway debut of 'John Lithgow: Stories By Heart' is the culmination of this artistic development.


“In 2008, John Lithgow ‘cooked up’ a pretty ‘slapdash affair’ of a one-man show which he appeared in for a number of Monday nights at Lincoln Center, before taking it on the road in the intervening years--to, he calculates in a story in the New York Times, about 35 different cities. In the process, he has honed it into a first-rate piece of theater that showcases his inestimable skills as an actor and performer, even as it comes to focus on two particular stories, told apparently in their ent... Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

“Lithgow is at home at the American Airlines Theatre, making the auditorium seem half its size with the sheer mastery of his art...There's no fireplace on John Lee Beatty's attractively paneled set, but there might as well be, so inviting is Lithgow's manner, so warm his wit...A tribute to the fundamental joy of storytelling...It's part memoir, part literary reading, and all entertainment...And what stories they are..Director Daniel Sullivan handles the proceedings with impeccable sensitivity." Full Review

The Washington Post

"In the delightful 'John Lithgow: Stories by Heart,' an actor known for great intelligence and range devotes two hours on a Broadway stage to advancing that reputation...Offers new vigor for a form that many actors would like to master but few manage to successfully conquer: the one-person show. Under Dan Sullivan’s adroit direction, Lithgow does...If I were to compare this evening with others in the genre, Lithgow’s would land somewhere in the top dozen." Full Review

Epoch Times

"Lithgow, in an absolutely sterling performance, uses the classic art of storytelling to take the audience on a journey through his own past, while also showing just how transformative the power of the spoken word can be...He throws himself full force into making the two stories come wonderfully, and, and at times, hysterically, to life...'Stories By Heart' shows the lasting emotional resonance a really good story can have." Full Review

Stage Buddy

"I’d have believed the man could fly if he told me so. He’s thrilling...It’s heavenly to see Lithgow work, primping and fluffing and chopping and snipping and, really, dancing his way through the murky tale...Lithgow blows them each a kiss; tears in our eyes, we hear the lovely refrain, 'I hope you feel better.' In that moment the entire audience gasps with recognition; Lithgow’s both at his parent’s bedside and directly in front of us. He’s family. He’s breathtaking. I’ve never felt better." Full Review

The New York Times

"To begin with, give Mr. Lithgow a sound effects award. And then give him one for spiritual effects, because 'Stories by Heart' is delightful: illuminating the stories, uplifting us...Though golden enough for any nostalgist, 'Stories by Heart' is neither soporific nor cute. For starters, the two stories that Mr. Lithgow recites are superb, outlandish and, in very different ways, hair-raising." Full Review

What Should We Do?

"Two delightful hours...He brings his whole bag of tricks to 'Stories by Heart,' delicately shaped and grounded by director Daniel Sullivan...The performer has a wonderfully light touch, garrulous and self-amused...Anyone who loves literature—consumed in silence or zestfully shouted aloud—will heartily agree: Stories are oxygen. Head over to the Roundabout Theatre Company and breathe deep." Full Review


"An extended look into the power and joy of listening to great writing -- especially when handled with true expertise by one of our foremost stage performers...I might have been just as content to hear Lithgow spend all two hours onstage regaling us with memories. But I can’t really quibble with the bulk of program...A tour-de-force that, among other things, makes you wish the actor was available for private reading of bedtime stories." Full Review

The Wall Street Journal

"John Lithgow reads two of his favorite short stories out loud and tells us how he came to know them. That’s all there is to 'Stories by Heart,' and it’s more than enough. Rarely have I spent so entertaining a night at the theater—or witnessed so touching a tribute to a departed parent...I rather wish that Daniel Sullivan, the director, had suggested that he tone down the comic effects a notch or three. On the other hand, Mr. Lithgow is so naturally funny that he gets his laughs anyway." Full Review

Theater Life

“An intimate celebration of the art of storytelling, the actor’s craft, and the love of literature and family...Transforming raw materials into theatrical gold...'Uncle Fred' is a riotous romp satirizing British middle-class snobbery...Daniel Sullivan’s subtle direction, John Lee Beatty’s handsome drawing-room set, and Kenneth Posner’s cozy lighting compliment Lithgow’s tour-de-force turn perfectly. This one-man show has artistry as well as 'Heart.'" Full Review

Woman Around Town

“The artist creates a comfort zone in which tension fades and spirits rise...You’ll be glad you came...This show, beautifully honed over a ten year period, is comprised of two short, enacted stories...Lithgow is warm, inventive, and utterly charming. He owns every moment of this potent pleasure from hokum to heartache. One can only hope there’s a sequel...This version of the presentation is directed by Sullivan whose talents here are both broad and nuanced. There’s never a dull moment.” Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"There’s a healthy helping of nostalgia in there, but 'Stories by Heart' is full of smart, good-natured charm. It’s like listening to the reminiscences of a favorite uncle...The stories themselves are, excitingly, not what you might expect...Lithgow has picked material that undeniably showcases his virtuosity. His accents are impeccable, his impressions side-splittingly absurd, and his physicality both playful and precise...Pure entertainment of the most ancient and appealing kind." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"What a gift!...It’s not just physical prowess that makes Lithgow’s performance beguiling. Pacing and emotional truth inform his creation of a small-minded barber chronicling the exploits of the town clown...Lithgow is hilarious as all four participants in the foray and as Fred, stirring the pot...All are uproariously exaggerated, and Lithgow has a ball savoring their rollicking reality. So do we." Full Review

Drama Queen NYC

"Lithgow’s love for his father is palpable in this piece, and I found that particularly moving...Lithgow is marvelously specific in the physicality he gives these short stories, realistically pantomiming an early 20th Century 'two bit' shave-and-a-haircut in the Lardner...This production is lively and vivacious, due in equal parts to Lithgow’s native theatrical intelligence and Daniel Sullivan’s canny direction. 'Stories by Heart' is thoroughly sincere and sentimental, which I find very refre... Full Review

Journal Inquirer

"Though these introductions are brief, they create an intimate atmosphere as the presence of Lithgow pulls us into his broad, loving embrace...Lithgow's performance is tender...His enactment of 'Haircut' gets a little dicey at times as the first half of the story tends to ramble a bit, making it about five to 10 minutes too long. His performance of 'Uncle Fred Flits By,' though, is one of the funniest things you’ll see all year." Full Review

City Cabaret

“A collection of colorful characters in his ebullient one-man show...With the buoyant charm of a favorite neighbor, the voice of an eloquent professor and an elastic physical prowess that has served him as a poignant leading man, a scintillating wit, a flat-out silly comic, Lithgow is masterful...Lithgow found a personal value in the healing power of story-telling...A charming reminiscence over some cold winter hours.” Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

“Lithgow's delectable performance deploys simple mannerisms, impeccable…accents and voices, and overt mugging...This is a character actor at the top of his form, his personal likeableness enhancing the appeal his long career has established...John Lithgow…doesn't always get the opportunity to use all the weapons in his arsenal. Even though the stories he tells in 'John Lithgow: Stories by Heart' are not precisely cream of the crop they serve ably to show what he's been hiding.” Full Review

Time Out New York

"It is hard to imagine who, aside from John Lithgow, could fashion a Broadway show from a pair of bedtime stories and not make everyone fall asleep. Yet there the actor is in 'Stories by Heart'...with nothing to keep us on the hook but his masterly cultivation, confidence, and warmth...It is a pleasant way to stay put on a winter’s night...Likable though the stories themselves may be, the heart of this show is in their telling." Full Review

The Huffington Post

“Lithgow’s someone who, it undeniably seems, would be great fun to have a cup of coffee and talk with...His irresistible affability that’s all but palpable throughout the two-act piece...Unmissably, he instantly wins hearts and minds because he arrives on John Lee Beatty’s simple wood-paneled set to chat about his upbringing...Lithgow’s movements—he makes sounds to duplicate scissors snipping—are clippingly directed by Sullivan...His masculine charm prevails throughout." Full Review

Theatre Reviews Limited

"The two short stories seem an odd choice: neither one seems appropriate for children; neither is particularly funny; and neither seems to capture the attention of the audience...What is spellbinding is Mr. Lithgow’s stories about his father (whom he adored) and how he influenced Lithgow’s life and career in the theatre. The craft of story-telling overshadows the choice of stories and the evening is enjoyable and memorable...John Lithgow is a joy to watch and a joy to listen to." Full Review

New York Theatre Guide

“An homage to his father and mother, to writing, and to storytelling itself...On this large stage a bit of nuance couldn’t hurt. I don’t know how much Sullivan was able to offer in the way of direction, but it seems as though he was outnumbered...Lithgow does his share of indicating rather than experiencing...In spite of the meandering performance in ‘Stories’, Lithgow himself is completely engaging." Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

"Lithgow first takes on the role of a gossipy Midwestern barber in Lardner’s 'Haircut'...Lithgow’s uncharacteristically subdued delivery, which befits Lardner’s dismal tone, further taxes our powers of concentration. What results is a scrupulous rendition that nonetheless seems to lack an extra theatrical dimension. No such quibbles pertain to Lithgow’s take on ‘Uncle Fred Flits By’...Wodehouse’s vaudevillian characters and winningly bizarre turns of phrase become ideal theatrical fodder." Full Review

Village Voice

“The clarity and precision of Lithgow’s acting suggests that Sullivan has been vigilant in focusing the actor’s capabilities...Some spectators may feel that ‘Stories by Heart’ is overlong and too modest in scale, there is no denying how well Lithgow commands its 740-seat auditorium. It is a pleasure to witness Lithgow demonstrate his proficiency as an actor while honoring both his father and the power of the spoken word.” Full Review


“Heartwarming...Lithgow honors his father and mother with this sentimental look at his family’s past...Lithgow performs two stories. The first, ‘Haircut’ by Lardner...Using impressive mime skills, Lithgow portrays a barber...Far funnier is Wodehouse’s ‘Uncle Fred Flits By.’ Lithgow makes full use of his theatrical repertoire...Precious, to anyone who sees ‘Stories by Heart,’ is the loving way son has chosen to pay tribute to father.” Full Review

The Observer

“An evening of erudition, magic, and joy...Staging by Sullivan is minimal, but it moves Lithgow in and out of superbly lit spaces that illuminate the spirit of the star’s imagination and accent the moods of his interpretative skills. The rest is up to the man who dominates the proceedings...leaving his spectators spellbound...The joy of the production is not really the stories, but the passion and gusto with which Lithgow tells them.” Full Review

Intelligent, Funny, Entertaining, Enchanting, Absorbing

See it if This was not exactly what I had expected. I had expected Lithgow to regale audiences with stories from his life. It was still phenomenal!

Don't see it if Lithgow shares stories from his past. These are older stories, so they may not be familiar to some audiences. He is a fantastic performer.

Refreshing, Masterful, Great acting, Funny, Clever

See it if You desire an intimate evening of storytelling. Lithgow smoothly transforms from one character to the next with expert skill and heart.

Don't see it if You want a large, splashy Broadway musical production. This is a unique, beautifully executed one-person show with a great talent.

Entertaining, Clever

See it if John Lithgowe presenting his fabulous acting talents

Don't see it if You want elaborate broadway sets

Resonant, Masterful, Great acting, Delightful

See it if you enjoy a masterful One-Man show. Lithgow weaves storytelling, nostalgia, smiles, surprises, imagination & emotion. Truly mesmerizing.

Don't see it if No set or costumes here...just one American theatre, TV, & film treasure taking us on a journey with his voice, characters, & kindness

Relevant, Funny, Intelligent, Entertaining, Absorbing

See it if you love John Lithgow's work, love stories, both written and spoken, and one-man shows.

Don't see it if you hate one-person shows with personal insights and recollections.

Intelligent, Entertaining, Delightful, Absorbing

See it if you appreciate story telling and humor and like John Lithgow.

Don't see it if you don't enjoy one-man shows.

Must see, Masterful, Great acting, Funny, Delightful

See it if You are a Lithgow fan and even if you're not. I'm thrilled at having been able to see him Last time was at the New Victory many years ago.

Don't see it if If you don't enjoy on solo shows. But this one is worth it. John has such heart and one of the best storytellers around!

Funny, Great acting, Entertaining, Delightful, Absorbing

See it if You like to hear great story telling from a great actor.

Don't see it if You don’t like one man shows.

Resonant, Profound, Great acting, Delightful, Absorbing

See it if you love John Lithgow, or story-telling, acted out in each character's own voice and persona. For caregivers, TOTAL winner that zings.

Don't see it if you don't like one-man shows, can't stand humorous story-telling, or get upset by the thought that your parents, too, will one day pass on.

Riveting, Intelligent, Great acting, Clever, Absorbing

See it if you enjoy great storytelling by a master.

Don't see it if a one man show is unappealing.

Charming and moving

See it if You like John Lithgow and great story telling.

Don't see it if You don't like one-person shows.

Also John Lithgow is a treasure--and a great actor. He acts out two short s... Read more Read less

Must see, Intelligent, Great acting, Absorbing

See it if you want to see J. Lithgow, an actor's actor , give an amazing performance. His performance is worth the ticket price.

Don't see it if you are looking for a traditional drama or if you don't care for a one-man show.

Also It was a delight to have "a story telling" experience and some great i... Read more Read less

Great acting, Delightful, Clever, Absorbing

See it if you like stories--and why do you go to the theatre if you don't like stories?Lithgow gives a masterful performance. Set is perfect. Just go!

Don't see it if you want to see Jersey Boys or other pointless fluff.

Refreshing, Entertaining, Intelligent, Absorbing, Enchanting

See it if You enjoy storytelling, don’t need huge productions/cast, an use your imagination to fill in unseen elements

Don't see it if You don’t like solo shows, need all action visibly in front of you, need elaborate sets and costumes

Also This was an endearing evening getting a little insight into personal f... Read more Read less

Great acting, Funny, Entertaining, Delightful, Clever

See it if You want to see a master actor at work. The stories are very entertainig

Don't see it if You dislike one-man shows.

Must see, Masterful, Great acting, Entertaining, Enchanting

See it if You are lucky enough to see a master performer like John Lithgow at the top of his craft. I was mesmerized.

Don't see it if You don’t enjoy listening to interesting stories, with all the parts acted out by John Lithgow.

Great acting, Enchanting

See it if You love Lithgow. A real tour de force.

Don't see it if If you don't like complex, personal stories.

Entertaining, Great acting, Resonant

See it if you enjoy good storytelling

Don't see it if you do not enjoy one-person entertaining.

Funny, Great acting, Delightful, Clever, Absorbing

See it if youre a fan of John Lithgow, want to love him even more and adore heartwarming stories about family and the power of what love can achieve

Don't see it if you do not like one man shows or storytelling like fables

Resonant, Great acting, Enchanting

See it if you like to hear John Lithgow's commanding voice and especially if you like stories that are well written.

Don't see it if you want a play with lots of people. It's quite a sentimental reflection on what shapes us.

Intelligent, Must see, Touching,, Entertaining, Absorbing

See it if you love seeing stories come to life by a superb actor; can appreciate good story telling, don't mind a minimal set, you love John Lithgow!

Don't see it if you want flamboyance in costumes, set design, etc; you want a cast full of people; you don't appreciate Woodhouse short stories,

Refreshing, Intelligent, Funny, Entertaining, Clever

See it if You are a John Lithgow fan and enjoy storytelling done in a poignant yet funny way.

Don't see it if You are not into listening to stories.

Great acting, Delightful, Absorbing

See it if you love great musicals with the music of Carol King. You will leave the theater singing and humming the music all the way home. Great music

Don't see it if You don't love great musicals with music of your youth. Also learning about how great talents got their start from humble beginnings in NYC.

Masterful, Great acting, Delightful

See it if You love John Lithgow and enjoy watching an actor storytelling through character work.

Don't see it if You don't enjoy one-man shows.

Great acting, Entertaining, Enchanting, Delightful

See it if you want a gentle, humorous evening at the theatre. Also, if you enjoy brilliant storytelling & are a fan of pre-grabby Lake Woebegone Days.

Don't see it if you want a lot of action on the stage or to see a big musical with lots of bells & whistles.

Cast & Creatives (10)