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 (176)
90
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

45
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

65
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

95
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

55
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

90
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

75
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

45
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

35
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

40
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

50
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

90
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

75
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

80
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

60
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

60
Broadway & Me

"Race has long been a divisive issue in this country...So Joshua Harmon deserves credit for jumping into the thicket of it...And I'm going to applaud his chutzpah even though I can't totally champion his play...Before the play ends, all kinds of uncomfortable confessions will be made...I just wish 'Admissions' had dealt with it all better...The second show I've seen over the past month that danced up to a hot-button topic and then danced away just as quickly before it got burned." Full Review

90
Broadway & Me

"The cast, under Lila Neugebauer's pitch-perfect direction, is superb. Paul Sparks brings a finely-calibrated mix of peevishness and unpredictability to the role of Jerry. And Katie Finneran, most familiar to me as a master comedienne, shows that she is equally deft at the drama stuff with her poignant portrayal of Ann. But the MVP is Robert Sean Leonard, whose role is the least flashy but the most essential and, in Leonard's fearless performance, the most devastating." Full Review

40
Broadway & Me

"I'm sorry that Ensler had to go through such a harrowing experience but I'm also sorry that her show dragged me through it...A show about Ensler's efforts to help women in the Congo...But the body that gets the most attention is Ensler's own...What I resented most was Ensler's attempt to draw parallels between her experience and that of the Congolese women...Equating the ordeal comes off as the kind of cultural imperialism that Ensler herself usually abhors." Full Review

40
Broadway & Me

"'Fire and Air' isn't a good show...Under the direction of the notorious minimalist John Doyle, the show has been trimmed to just six actors who trudge through Diaghilev's life on a nearly bare set...Bits and pieces of Diaghilev's biography are cited, but they pass by in a stream of scenes that are no more involving than reading an excerpt from Diaghilev's Wikipedia bio would be. There's no sense of why we should care about this man and no real conflict to pull us into his story." Full Review

60
Broadway & Me

"I barely made it through 'Stories by Heart'...Lithgow performs both with gusto...Despite Lithgow's ebullient performance, these old-fashioned tales failed to hold my attention. I found my mind drifting off, particularly during the Wodehouse story, whose loopy characters and their bon mots proved too slight and slippery for me to grasp...Despite my disappointment in 'Stories by Heart,' its underlying story got to me." Full Review

45
Broadway & Me

The idea of a poor dark-skinned woman sacrificing herself so that a wealthy light-skinned guy can live annoyed me so much that I sat there during the entire 90-minute running time asking myself the words of a famous lyric from the show 'why do we tell this story?'...Things only got worse for me when the production indulged itself in another of my bugaboos: the rousing gospel aria delivered by a large black woman...I can't complain about the performances, which were all very good." Full Review

90
Broadway & Me

"The brilliant way in which this tale about a woman's struggles with alcoholism and addiction is told deserves all the accolades that the production has been getting...A demanding role that requires the actress playing Emma to be simultaneously funny and poignant...Gough totally delivers...I'm saving my loudest hurrahs for the totally imaginative staging by Jeremy Herrin that includes dance-club music and choreographed segments." Full Review

40
Broadway & Me

"All the comments I overhead seemed to be about the set...It was hard to think of anything as complimentary to say about the rest of the production...This rendering seems unfocused...Too few of those actors are up to the task of walking the fine line between grit and whimsy that defines so much of Friel's work...Under Moore's shaky direction, several of the male actors make eccentric choices that undercut not only their characters but the narrative of the play." Full Review

55
Broadway & Me

"There's no narrative...Kail moves everyone nicely around Rachel Hauck's homey set, but I got antsy after the first 15-minutes. That’s partly because I’m not big on the pop psychology that gets peddled in most advice columns. But it’s also because most of the show's dialog sounds like the kind of aphorisms you might find on posters at your local yoga studio...But that’s just me. Most of the folks seemed enraptured...So the decision about whether you should see it is up to you." Full Review

70
Broadway & Me

"These are familiar themes and there's a thrown-back quality to director Discher's production too...And the dramaturgy—dependent on anguished soliloquies about unrequited dreams and not-so-surprising revelations about the past—is a little timeworn too. But despite all this, I had a good time. And that's largely due to the committed performances from Bradbury, Isola and most especially Robert LuPone...They all chomp a bit on the scenery but it's fun to watch them do it." Full Review

45
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

55
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

60
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

85
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

75
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

65
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

80
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

75
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

90
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

85
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

55
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

75
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

65
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

70
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

55
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

70
Broadway & Me

"An unapologetic sweetness...that won me over despite the many flaws...The book has the feel of something hammered out in a sitcom writers' room, complete with some wince-inducing one-liners...The score is pleasant but equally generic and unmemorable...Economically directed...Put together on a stingy budget...The performances are sincere and well sung...What most appeals to me is the fact that this show isn't trying to be anything but what it is." Full Review

85
Broadway & Me

"Director Dunster treats the play like an old-school farce and it's a luxury to watch 12 actors hitting every beat just right and without any of them burdened with the indignity of having to double. But the biggest kudos have to go to the sets and costumes by Fleischle that are so witty they deserve a curtain call of their own...The intentionally lower-class British accents can be difficult to understand, which caused some grumbling." Full Review

70
Broadway & Me

"A rom-com for millennials to love. And judging by the knowing laughter from the 20 and 30-somethings in the audience at the performance I attended, she's hit her intended mark...There's a tongue-in-check quality to most of the characters...The one exception to these one-note characters is Porto...Sirna-Frest makes her the anchor of this one. And she gives Porto (and [porto]) such sincere vulnerability that you almost don't need to be a millennial to appreciate it." Full Review

60
Broadway & Me

"A highly-stylized stage version of the event...However, the show has more on its mind...It seeks to work on a metaphorical level and to make points about the gender politics of the past four decades...None of the revelations are particularly fresh or insightful...Although, the diverse company of actors...is energetic, it's also uneven...Perhaps the problem may be that there were too many hands involved in the creation of so small a show." Full Review

45
Broadway & Me

"This time out, Rylance relies too heavily on his bag of established tics and on the tolerant affection of his audience...I ended up not caring what happened to the king he was supposed to be bringing to life. Part of the blame has to rest with the play itself...Van Kampen's version of their story lacks tension or even heart...The show is all tell and too little show...Instead, van Kampen, a trained musician, focuses on creating opportunities for songs...The result is kind of a high-class juk... Full Review

40
Broadway & Me

"It's an awfully disappointing show...Sexual hijinks are supposed to ensue but what we get are lame jokes that lean heavily on the low humor of ethnic and gender stereotyping, lots of yelling and a few Trump references thrown in for good, or not so good, measure...Even a cast that includes such comic heavyweights as Scott, Alexander and the redoubtable Testa as Barry's overbearing and overprotective mother can't get this one off the ground." Full Review

85
Broadway & Me

“Kazan’s in impressive command of both the text, which is smart and witty, and the subtext, which is heartwarming and inspirational. But credit also must be shared with the sensitive staging by Neugebauer...And still even more praise must go to the excellent cast...’After the Blast’ has its longeurs but they're leavened by its humor and by the play's resolute conviction that the sacrifices we make today are necessary...but also so that we can make life worth living for the people we love now.” Full Review

75
Broadway & Me

"'Time and the Conways' has some flaws, it's being done very well...Equal parts a family drama, a comedy of manners, and a metaphysical meditation...The play's underlying themes of dashed dreams and the compromises that life demands remain relevant...Director Taichman doesn't shy away from the sentimentality of what happens but she and—accents aside—her top-flight cast give each storyline a poignant clarity...The true star of this production is Patel's set.” Full Review

70
Broadway & Me

"Sentimental—but inspirational too...Dawkins mixes in jealousies and rivalries...Then he quickly whirls through resolutions to these problems as though they were plot points on a TV procedural. Yet, it's still great to see a story about transgender people that isn't unrelentingly depressing or sad but is instead upbeat and celebratory...'Charm' isn't a great play but, particularly in these tolerance-testing times, it's one worth seeing and cheering on." Full Review

80
Broadway & Me

"Ruhl's warmhearted meditation on mortality really hit my sweet spot...Waters has assembled a top-notch cast to spin this tale...This production had me from the moment I learned that Ann would be played by Kathleen Chalfant, an actor who seems incapable of giving less than a brilliant performance. Here she soars again...Ruhl's wry humor keeps 'For Peter Pan' from being depressing. Instead it's a reminder that the best way to face death may be with a defiant smile." Full Review