Janice C. Simpson

About:  Janice C. Simpson is the main critic for Broadway & Me. She is a former arts editor for Time magazine and currently co-directs the Arts reporting program at CUNY's Graduate School of Journalism. Jan is a Tony voter and a member of the Outer Critics Circle.
Reviews (196)
Public Servant
Midtown W
Broadway & Me

"The entire play wants to do the right thing. But the strain of doing so shows in its improbable plot developments and its unrealistic denouement. It's not that people don't change their minds or find a place of compromise but it's not unrealistic to expect our playwrights to wrestle with how they get there. Here they just suddenly and inexplicably do...I expect more intellectual rigor from my theater and 'Public Servant' fails to deliver on that." Full Review

Dying City
Midtown W
Broadway & Me

“While its question is timeless, the treatment here makes ‘Dying City’ seem dated. Some of its dramaturgy is clunky...One might forgive all of that if the relationships between the characters seemed immediate and the performances made them seem genuine. But neither is the case...Both actors might have fared better if the originally scheduled director had stayed with the production...Shinn’s direction is plodding.” Full Review

Mac Beth
West Village
Broadway & Me

"I don’t know why it’s being done...'Mac Beth' clearly wants to say something meaningful about how horrid high-school girls can be to one another. But it comes off more like a drama club production of 'Macbeth' at the kind of all-girls high school I attended, where the tall girls played the most masculine roles and the darker-skinned girls played the funny sidekicks...Schmidt doesn’t provide any real context that explains who these girls are." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"Weariness seems to have gotten the best of the cast and there were stretches of overly-accented dialog that I couldn’t understand. It also took too long to figure out all the relationships between the characters. But, under the direction of the Rep’s artistic director Charlotte Moore, the show still manages to get across O’Casey’s disillusionment with all sides in the conflict." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"Neil Pepe, who has a day job as artistic director of the Atlantic Theater Company, helmed the Rep’s production with varying success...This second installment struck me as wobblier than the first. The humor in the first act seemed forced and the tragedy in the second rushed. The accents became more labored, too...The saving grace was the vanity-free performance by Maryann Plunkett." Full Review

Broadway & Me

“Controversial revival...Without changing the dialogue or the classic score...Fish has given the show a grittier makeover...But the most important change in this telling of the story is that all the show’s underlying class, gender and sexual tensions are made explicit...The direction struck me as too self-conscious and, in places, even gimmicky. Some of the singing fails to do justice to Rodger's glorious melodies.” Full Review

Broadway & Me

“Chavkin has created a hip and wholly inventive production that combines the contemporary and the timeless...She’s restaged it for a proscenium instead of it playing it in the round as she did downtown...She’s also added an ensemble of dancers to fill out her imaginary world and, most importantly, she’s recast some of the principal roles and allowed the new actors to bring their distinctive flavors to her still-savory stew...The show remains pretty close to perfect too.” Full Review

The Lehman Trilogy
Upper E Side
Broadway & Me

"I’m not sure when the show lost me...Not all is lost. Mendes’ direction keeps things moving along and Luke Hall's projections are acid-trip glorious...And the actors are flat-out terrific, adeptly modifying the inflection of their voices and the physicality of their movements as they slip into the roles of different characters. But there were simply too many people to keep track of and too little time to develop real feeling for any of them once the original siblings died...Its ambition seem... Full Review

The Mother
Chelsea
Broadway & Me

"I couldn’t have been more disappointed...We see her cross examining her American husband, stoically played by Chris Noth, about why he’s late. And then the scene plays out again. And again...I get that the disorientation is intentional but although the show only runs 90-minutes, it seemed interminable...It was also hard to tell what was supposed to be real and what was supposed to be only in Ann’s mind...Huppert’s French accent also made it hard for me to understand." Full Review

Boesman and Lena
Midtown W
Broadway & Me

"Jah is a joy to watch as she moves effortlessly from the puckishness of taunting Boesman...Ngaujah is given a more limited palette to work with but he digs deep...Farber, herself South African, emphasizes the bleakness of these character’s lives with an intentionally hermetic production...Some people I know have harrumphed that her approach is too unrelentingly grim but I think it perfectly captures the anguish that millions of refugees around the world continue to experience." Full Review

God Said This
West Village
Broadway & Me

“Specific and universal drama about a fractured family...It pulses with an authenticity and a generosity of spirit steeped in that lived experience. And although laced with wry humor, ‘God Said This’ also dares to ponder serious questions about what it means to live a good life or to have a good death...The play admirably manages to sidestep every conventional trope it encounters...A fresh riff on an old standard...A lovely showcase for the play, filled with entertaining performances.” Full Review

The Convent
Midtown W
Broadway & Me

“’The Convent’ is uninspiring...And that saddens me because I had been a great fan of Dickey’s debut play...Each of the women strikes the one note the play has assigned her...They’re not given much in the way of motivation or backstory but each gets the chance to chew the tapestry and...they gnaw away to varying effect...The one saving grace...is the set by...Abrego...and images created by Freer...Their work sparks a sense of wonder that the play itself only aspires to.” Full Review

Downstairs
West Village
Broadway & Me

“Rebeck has a fine ear for dialogue and a knack for coming up with intriguing situations...but she never seems to know quite what to do with them...That’s not the fault of the cast...The Dalys are both charming in their roles...Procaccino chips in with a chilling performance. All three make the show watchable. But not even their collective talents can make ‘Downstairs’ more than that because the playwright hasn’t given them enough to work with.” Full Review

The Ferryman (NYC)
Midtown W
Broadway & Me

"Amazingly, it surpassed my expectations...That’s a lot of plot and a lot of characters but Butterworth...weaves it altogether in thrillingly satisfying fashion. In fact the play serves as a master class in theatrical storytelling. Butterworth is superb with language...He’s equally adept with plotting. Not a word in this nearly three-and-a-half-hour play is wasted...His brilliant script is brought to life by an equally brilliant cast...I can’t remember the last time I walked out of a theater ... Full Review

Gloria: A Life
Gramercy
Broadway & Me

“Mann and Paulus clearly adore their subject and revere even more the kind of we’re-all-in-this-together activism that Steinem has long championed...While there are few personal revelations about Steinem in this show, you will learn about the debt she feels she owes to the women of color...There is a kind of preaching-to-the-choir quality about 'Gloria'...but, in these anxious times, sometimes the choir needs to sing—and to be listened to.” Full Review

On Beckett
Chelsea
Broadway & Me

"Bill Irwin is a genius...If you’re hesitating, you should put your worries aside and go. Irwin won me over within the first five minutes with his deep knowledge of Beckett’s work...For 80 minutes, he makes us almost believe that we can plumb the depths of Beckett’s recondite musings...It’s a master class in acting and as apt an encapsulation of Beckett’s mind as you’re likely to find outside a college classroom. Only it’s far, far more enjoyable. If you're a theater lover, you shouldn't miss... Full Review

Scraps
Soho/Tribeca
Broadway & Me

"The second half of this 90-minute drama skips ahead a few years and becomes surrealistic as Inoa plunges into the nightmares of Forest’s now eight-year-old son who is trying to understand the cause of his father's death and who is terrified that the same thing will happen to him...The boy is played by the adult actress Bryn Carter, who, under the finely-edged direction of Nigel Smith, gives a devastating performance as does the entire cast...I want to see all of them again." Full Review

Broadway & Me

“With so much of Chekhov, the true drama occurs in the subtext, in the silences between the lines and on the faces of the actors...And so the problems with this production began...with the idea to stage the play in the round, which meant that I often couldn't see the expressions on the actors' faces...It also doesn't help that Nelson has the actors speak without any attempt to project their voices...The one bright spot is Jay O. Sanders' sympathetic portrayal of Vanya." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"'Gettin' the Band Back Together' doesn't belong on Broadway. I’m not being snobbish. The show simply isn't good enough...Its book does a piss-poor job of telling the story...And the humor is puerile...Despite its other failings, there is an audience for this show...Fans of 'Gettin' the Band Back Together' might be better served if the show were playing off-Broadway in a venue where ticket prices are cheaper and alcoholic beverages widely available to everyone in the room." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"Some of 'This Ain't No Disco's' tunes are catchy but the overall score lacks cohesion...Their narrative totally fails to deliver. Its dialog, delivered in rhyming couplets, isn't nearly as clever as it wants to be. The multiple storylines are convoluted and ultimately make no sense...And the characters are so sketchy that it's hard to invest in what happens to any of them...The attempts at cinematic staging are clunky...The diverse and largely young cast is energetic but uneven." Full Review

Cyprus Avenue
East Village
Broadway & Me

“I gasped right along with everyone else in the audience as Eric committed one horrific act after another. And the great actor Stephen Rea's characteristically committed portrayal of Eric had me straining to understand how such a seeming everyman could end up so tragically wrong...We're supposed to see this play as a cautionary tale...But Eric is presented as so deeply delusional that there's no real connection between his story and those of the real-life people who commit terrifying acts." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"It's a smart idea, playing directly to the Gen Y-ers, who grew up reading and loving the Potter books...It's hard even for Potterheads, who cheer loudly whenever a familiar name or place is mentioned, to follow what's going on. But plot is just a Maguffin for Rowling who has always been far more interested in the atmospheric setting of the world she created and the emotional connections between the people who populate it. Thorne and Tiffany remain true to that spirit." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"I'm not sure it's the best introduction to this play because director Jack Cummings III has created such a minimalist production...But what the play does have is yet another glorious performance by Marin Ireland...The play's success rests on Alma's shoulders....Ireland's Alma is simultaneously aware of her beauty and frightened of it...This take on the role, the acquiescent undoing of an intelligent and sensual woman, deepens its poignancy." Full Review

Lobby Hero
Midtown W
Broadway & Me

"There are reasons to cheer on this comic tragedy's deep dive into the complexities of power, morality and loyalty...Lonergan has an ear for dialogue and a taste for the ribald...His characters are laugh-out-loud funny...I actually squirmed in my seat as the characters made their choices...Much of the credit for that must go to Cullman who remains surefooted as he walks the tricky path Lonergan has laid out. Cullman is aided by Rockwell's revolving set and by a crackerjack cast." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"A hard-working 20-member ensemble. Most of the action, including a threatened volcano eruption, is dictated by titles and lyrics to Buffet's most popular songs...They're mainly the kind of catchy tunes that get people swaying in their seats and director Christopher Ashley does everything he can to keep the party mood going. But your enjoyment of the show is probably going to be determined by how big a fan you are of Buffet's music." Full Review

Broadway & Me

“The tasty stew I’d been anticipating turned out to be just soupy...This is yet another standard-issue tale about Magical Negroes whose primary purpose is to help a white protagonist learn about the true meaning of life...Gold’s direction is misguided...The actors try their best to make it all work...But the characters they’re playing are thinly drawn and their actions hard to believe...Nottage tries to inject notes of optimism...But that undercuts some of the drama that the show so badly nee... Full Review

Broadway & Me

“Even though six-time Tony winner McDonald is unsurprisingly winning as the love-averse waitress Frankie...Its MVP is Shannon who brings his own prodigious charm to the role...The play is somewhat dated and it’s a stretch of the imagination to think of McDonald or Shannon as sad-sack losers. Plus the play goes on far too long...But with big-hearted support from McDonald, Shannon makes you fall in love with him and with the possibility that love truly can heal all wounds.” Full Review

BLKS
Midtown W
Broadway & Me

“An African-American riff on the TV shows ‘Girls’ and ‘Sex and the City’...O’Hara paints with broad strokes that underscore how potty-mouthed and raunchy the women are. And that undermines what Barnes is trying to say about the extra burdens so many young black women bear...O’Hara hits so hard on the humor that the challenges the women face get overshadowed and the intended epiphanies fall flat.” Full Review

Broadway & Me

"Perhaps it was because I saw it first back in February but 'Shadow,' directed by the Rep’s co-founder Ciarán O’Reilly, turned out to be my favorite. The story was compelling, the performances were convincing and, importantly, the faux Irish accents the actors adopted were easy to understand. Despite years of theatergoing, it was my first encounter with an O’Casey play and I left eager to see the next one." Full Review

Entangled
Midtown W
Broadway & Me

“A truly moving meditation on grief and guilt...Directed with elegant simplicity by Kate Moore Heaney, the story is told in a series of interlocking monologues...Simpson wrote the dialog for the mother Greta...While Dean created the speeches for Bradley...This is far from the first show to confront mass shootings but it’s one of the most effective —and least exploitive—of the dozen or so I’ve seen over the last 10 years. And I wish there were time for more of you to see it.” Full Review

Broadway & Me

“Brackett has smartly streamlined the storytelling, without sacrificing its wit or its underlying pathos. Iconis’ songs are still catchy and the performances of the show's multicultural cast have been sharpened too...You also can see where the producers spent the money...The costumes are funnier, the sets are flashier and yet neither go overboard...This feel-good show has always been aimed at young people but I saw a lot of 40-plus folks...having a good time too.” Full Review

Broadway & Me

"’Accidentally Brave’ is honestly good...Under Hanggi’s sharp direction, Corman’s storytelling is aided by projections...But mainly it’s just one small woman on a stage reliving the worst months of her life...Corman has the quirky charm of a Beta girl determined to be everybody’s best friend...Each performance seems to be cathartic for Corman...Corman also says she wants her story to serve as a morality tale. And it just might...It is a model of feminine perseverance." Full Review

White Noise
East Village
Broadway & Me

"Each character is given a soliloquy in which to examine his or her own psyche, with an emphasis on how race and sex have shaped it. And under the sure-handed direction of the Public’s artistic director Oskar Eustis, they’re all brilliantly performed by a sensational cast...Yet even these performances can’t mask the fact that these soliloquies—and even this three-hour play itself—aren’t really saying anything we haven’t heard before about race in this country." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"The problem is in the direction...At times the pacing is too fast and jokes fly by before they can register. Other moments drag on, particularly a few of the segments that use video. And some of the costume choices, especially the dress Vera wears in the second act, try too hard. My sister, who loves ‘30s movies, hadn’t seen the earlier production of the show and so I invited her to this one. She struggled to stay with it but eventually fell asleep." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"Brody's casting choices also have their plusses and minuses...on the up side, those actors, many of whom have been collaborating since their college days, put to good use the comfortable familiarity and knowing frustrations that come from their own long association. They're also clever at integrating into their stagecraft the Fiasco trademarks of inventive stage business...Here's a significient negative: their vocal strengths vary from impressive to not-all-that-great." Full Review

Eddie and Dave
Chelsea
Broadway & Me

"Why are the show makers telling me this story? I haven’t been able to figure out the answer to that question...Little more than a shallow 'Behind the Music'-style account of the drugs, sex and rock and roll that undid the partnership between Eddie Van Halen...and David Lee Roth...The thing that really sets 'Eddie and Dave' apart from the recent rash of rock biographies around is that all the male characters are portrayed by women...A comedy skit that had overstayed its welcome." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"The first and final pieces are character studies in which one actor addresses the audience directly...These bookend reveries...are well performed by Eric Dean White and Gia Crovatin but they’re slight works. And, if I’m going to be honest, they’re annoying too, striking me as the kind of weaselly...excuses kids give when they don’t want to take responsibility for their own actions...Taken together, they add up to a declaration that truth is merely the property of whoever is telling a tale." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"May turns in a performance that is heartbreaking in both its emotional and physical truthfulness...And yet the play failed to move me...Maybe it’s because of the distracting directorial and design choices that Lila Neugebauer, a usually deft director, has made in her Broadway debut. Long pauses between each scene to allow stagehands to change the sets broke the momentum of the storytelling and sucked the energy out of the whole enterprise." Full Review

Usual Girls
Midtown W
Broadway & Me

“What keeps this play from being a downer is Peiffer’s ear for dialogue, much of it laugh-out-loud funny and the performances lead by Francis’ portrayal of Kyeoung...The rest of the cast is terrific too...With the exception of the racist remarks, Kyeoung’s story could be that of any middle-class girl growing up in Middle America...And that’s the whole point. Korean-Americans aren’t exotic or obsessed with being other; they’re just people and it’s gratifying to see them portrayed that way onst... Full Review

Days of Rage
Midtown W
Broadway & Me

"It’s apparent that Levenson wants to look at the different kinds of people who were drawn to political activism in the Sixties. But he makes the ones here too one-dimensional...Adding insult to injury, Levenson can’t seem to resist making fun of them. The early scenes come off like a Spinal Tap-style spoof...Cullman's frenetic direction doesn't help...There are some enjoyable moments...The rest of the play moves less convincingly back and forth between slapstick and melodrama." Full Review

Broadway & Me

for a previous production “This is important stuff and Schreck is an amiable guide but there’s an amorphous quality to this show that struck me as making it less like a theatrical piece and more like a TED Talk, albeit an engaging one...Schreck pretty much keeps to the script she’s written but...she regularly strays into asides that add to the running time but don't add much to the message she’s trying to get across...There are some attempts to inject a little drama...But their connection to the constitution seems str... Full Review

Broadway & Me

"Taking more than a few pages from Brecht's playbook, Payne names the mortician Profit and blames the Oblong's woes on the ruthlessness of capitalism. He also breaks the fourth wall with direct interactions with the audience...It isn't the kind of theater I usually like but I was fascinated by the passionate intensity with which Payne...makes his case about the not-so benign neglect of these young people...The cast, most of them playing multiple roles, transforms his thesis into vivid life." Full Review

Heartbreak House
Midtown W
Broadway & Me

"Staller has added an anachronistic framing device that opens the evening in the basement of a London theater during WWII...This turns out to be a very smart idea. It excuses a mix of acting styles and some mismatched costumes since the framing device calls for the fictional theater's backstage staff to take on roles in Shaw's play...Perhaps most importantly, the device creates a we're-all-in-this-together spirit...The production isn't afraid to have fun." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"It took me awhile to establish the right rhythm of reading and watching. But once that kicked in, I was transported...I marveled at how perfect a musical 'Fiddler on the Roof' is...This revival's success is mainly due to the direction of Joel Grey. Having his production performed in Yiddish, the language that Fiddler's characters would have spoken, obviously helps. But Grey also walks the talk and he has brought out every ounce of the underlying melancholy in this story." Full Review

Broadway & Me

“Under the vibrant direction of Shapiro gave me an evening in the theater that was both thought-provoking and entertaining...Under Shapiro's steady hand, all three actors appear totally comfortable onstage and deliver performances that go far beyond cameo status...Shapiro finally tapped the show's understudy Stephen Payne to play Ed. Payne isn't a name like his co-stars but he is additional proof that this director really knows what her play needs." Full Review

Skintight
Midtown W
Broadway & Me

"The main draw for this production is the presence of Idina Menzel, who, in a rare non-singing role, has a great time playing Jodi...There may be a defense for Elliot's philosophy but 'Skintight,' filled with one-dimensional characters and specious arguments, makes a damn shallow case for it...Harmon has a way with snappy lines...Maybe it’s best, particularly for those of us over 40, to think of 'Skintight' as just mindless summer entertainment." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"Tends more toward rueful chuckles than the out-and-out guffaws that so many of Aykbourn's other plays elicit...Hasn't lost his knack for poking behind the stiff-upper-lip facade of Britain's middle and upper classes...It is Antony Eden's quietly understated performance as Spates that anchors the play and sent me away thinking back over the places I've lived and the people who filled those empty buildings and also my heart...Even generic Ayckbourn has what it takes to hit the spot." Full Review

King Lear (BAM)
Brooklyn
Broadway & Me

"The director has come up with staging innovations that uses supernumeraries to play the wretched residents of Lear's kingdom and a big Plexiglas box that's probably supposed to symbolize something but, in all honesty, I can't figure out what...Nearly everyone, from Sher to the actors playing the servants, speaks the Bard's lines beautifully...But none of the performances made me feel anything even though this is perhaps the saddest of Shakespeare's plays." Full Review

The Lucky Ones
East Village
Broadway & Me

"Weaned more on indie rock...The Bengsons create hard-charging shows hewn from their own life stories...Playwright Sarah Gancher helps shape the memories into the musical's book...But the narrative remains loose-limbed. It's more tell than actual show...'The Lucky Ones' has a lot of things going for it, particularly for adventurous theatergoers. And while its parts may not add up to a convincing whole, I still feel lucky to have seen it." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"Grandage and Oram have come up with simple but sometimes beautiful ways to recreate the snow storms but they don't inspire awe the way the movie's effects did. The new songs fit in with the original score but none of them is a standout...The story's edges have been softened and its feminist message has become muddier...'Frozen' is a show for people who were fans of it before they even bought their tickets. The rest of us should probably seek our entertainment elsewhere." Full Review