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Jonathan Mandell

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About:  Jonathan Mandell writes regularly about the arts. He is the sole New York drama critic (covering mostly Broadway) for DC Theatre Scene; writes a theater column the first Thursday of every month for Howlround.com; and focuses mostly on Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway for NewYorkTheater.me ... Read more Read less
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Reviews (270)
Preview kid victory key 800x1200
80
DC Theatre Scene

"'To the west of pain is a paradise.' It is an intriguing, provocative suggestion that may make theatergoers squirm, but it also invests the musical with an unusual compassion and psychological insight. 'Kid Victory' is aided by a universally impressive nine-member cast that director Liesl Tommy has assembled...Kander employs his arsenal of blues and hymns, ballads and dirges to tell a story that might work without any music, but stays with you all the more because of it." Full Review

Preview rsz 1rsz evening at the talkhouse
70
DC Theatre Scene

"'Talk House' is deliberately vague about the way the society it depicts differs from the one we currently inhabit. Yes, leaving the murdering sketchy adds to the terror–both for the characters and for us. But there are occasionally tantalizing morsels that suggest the 100-minute play might have felt more filling had Shawn cooked up some more aspects of his imagined world...Director Elliott is effective in creating an atmosphere of conventional conviviality...and then of growing dread." Full Review

Preview beardo
70
New York Theater

"Some of the elements familiar from 'Great Comet' are present, most notably Malloy’s classically tinged, eclectic score offering everything from rock ballads to hearty drinking songs, as well as a game and talented cast. But 'Beardo' feels in comparison like a work in progress. The book and lyrics are playful, sometimes clever, silly, ribald, deliberately anachronistic, joyfully shocking and in-your-face weird. They are too accomplished to be labeled juvenile but 'adolescent' might fit." Full Review

Preview img 0077
85
New York Theater

"There are moments, jerry-rigged with makeshift lighting and some surprise stagecraft, that are both funny and, quite improbably, beautiful. It feels like the kind of show designed to give bragging rights to aficionados of way-out theater such as myself. But it also inspires a contemplation of the meaning of objects in our lives, how an evocative old box of memorabilia–even if not your own–can provoke a swift stream of memories." Full Review

Preview img 0010
70
Yen
DC Theatre Scene

“What leavens 'Yen’s' sensationalism is the playwright’s precise observations of the moment-to-moment interactions…What makes these moments work above all are the performances by the four cast members…’Yen’ takes a turn towards violence that, in retrospect, feels inevitable – less for sound psychological or sociological reasons than because that’s the standard ending for these kinds of dramas...Director Trip Cullman can take credit for a production that is always watchable." Full Review

Preview tell hector i miss him
80
DC Theatre Scene

"Wonderfully acted...If the play itself sometimes puzzles, and shocks, it also marks a remarkable playwriting debut by 28-year-old Paola Lazaro...From the very first lines, the playwright establishes a tone that threads throughout the piece — in-your-face, unexpected, and amusing...May not sit well with many theatergoers, used to a more focused and orderly drama. But I found that I better understood and appreciated most of these characters’ eerie behavior by the end." Full Review

Preview made in china white
85
DC Theatre Scene

"The show is artful in avoiding a feeling of American smugness while criticizing the human rights record in China...With a tuneful score by Yan Li, 'Made in China' is so smart and entertaining in so many ways that one easily forgives the incoherent storyline upon which the satirical aspects are built...But what’s best about 'Made for China' is not the politics or the poignancy or the pornography, but the puppetry." Full Review

Preview blueprint white
80
New York Theater

"Could not be more deftly staged, from the creation of a pop-up theater on the hangar of an actual World War II aircraft carrier (the Intrepid, now a museum) to the casting of both bona fide Broadway stars and active duty military officers and Armed Forces veterans...Are these Blueprint Specials replicable now beyond the few performances of the theater festival? It would not surprise me at all if this soldiers show were given a promotion to Off-Broadway." Full Review

Preview lula del ray white
85
New York Theater

"The story is in places lovely and funny and touching, but it is not the reason 'Lula Del Ray' has traveled the festival circuit for five years...The essential charm of the show rests in the marvel of ingenuity on display, the rushing around of the actors and puppeteers and overhead projector operators, to reproduce manually, on a simple screen placed on stage, the catalog of modern film techniques...Somebody at Manual Cinema clearly went to film school." Full Review

Preview bright colors
80
New York Theater

"Droege turns his modest, amusing solo turn into something of a bold argument for immodest behavior in an increasingly conventional society. 'Bright Colors and Bold Patterns' is too long...Perhaps as the run reaches its final week, the actor, like the character, is getting carried away. But the turn it eventually takes is worth the wait, helped along by the direction of Michael Urie...Gerry is fleshy, campy, catty, jokey, and, yes, bright and bold, and we’re better off for having met him." Full Review

Preview thebandsvisit
85
New York Theater

"A terrifically tuneful score that veers from witty to wistful, sweet to swinging. Writer Itamar Moses is faithful to the quirky story in the film...Moses, Yazbek and the show’s director David Cromer keep the deadpan drollery of the film, but also produce through the individual Israelis and Egyptians alike a collective portrait of yearning...This results in three principal stories, not of culture clashes, but of cultural exchange, often lighthearted but always laced with sadness." Full Review

Preview 8131c66a4609bda5bc44d3146e84e715
65
New York Theater

"The characters feel borrowed from 'Jersey Boys' and 'Guys and Dolls,' the plot in Act II from 'West Side Story.' And Alan Menken’s score, a pleasing if generic mix of doo-wop and Motown and Broadway ballads, manages to make 'A Bronx Tale' feel like an old jukebox musical...'A Bronx Tale' is unlikely to make anybody’s top 10 list. But the show is also unlikely to disappoint theatergoers nostalgic for the old neighborhood and the old-time Broadway show." Full Review

Preview rancho viejo white
70
New York Theater

"One feels tempted to compare 'Rancho Viejo' to 'The Flick'...Both plays take their time to offer small details about everyday life and emotions that feel well observed, both have moments of quiet amusement, and both, despite extraordinary casts and fine direction, are probably better reads than physical excursions for many theatergoers...There’s an absurdist and nihilist bent to ‘Rancho Viejo.’ It’s not surprising that LeFranc has expressed his admiration for Samuel Beckett." Full Review

Preview rsz dear evan hansen
90
DC Theatre Scene

"'Dear Evan Hansen' has changed now that it’s on Broadway, in ways that make it an even more affecting musical. Ben Platt’s performance, impressive from the get-go, is even better...The transfer feels seamless. The unchanged score holds up, comprised of the same tuneful and moving songs...All give superb performances. Platt has toned down his nervousness – he fidgets less – which makes his performance all the more credible, all the more heartbreaking." Full Review

Preview homos1
85
New York Theater

"It might seem as if the creative team has put up barriers between the audience and the story...But as it turns out, the experiments in form, language and design do not get in the way of appreciating what’s strongest about the play: The central relationship is believable, and engrossing. This is in large measure because Michael Urie and Robin De Jesús are terrific actors, and also because the playwright is bluntly honest in exploring the range of emotions involved in any relationship." Full Review

Preview sweet.charity.cropped
80
DC Theatre Scene

"Its book by Neil Simon is dated and improbable, with a series of comic set pieces that only occasionally land. But its score by Cy Coleman holds up. The choreographer Joshua Bergasse, the spot-on five-piece band, and the design team all work together to scale down this big Broadway musical appropriately. Best of all, the performances are terrific. Few regular theatergoers would be surprised by the charmingly daffy portrayal of Charity by Sutton Foster." Full Review

Preview othello remix white
65
New York Theater

"'The Remix' certainly works as a fast-paced rap concert, with dramatic lighting and a fine DJ spinning while four delightful performers spit out witty couplets and execute synchronized choreography...It is the Q Brothers' first foray into Shakespearean tragedy. And therein lies the rub...The weirdest choice is to cast Desdemona as a disembodied voice...It’s choices like this that rob us of the full force of Othello’s wrongful actions, and the full horror in his realization of what he’s done." Full Review

Preview download
90
DC Theatre Scene

"Extraordinary, the freshest, most inviting show on Broadway this season. 'Great Comet' is awesome in its stagecraft, in its music, and in its performances...Director Rachel Chavkin and set designer Mimi Lien in particular deserve kudos for staging on Broadway something very close to the kind of immersive theater that’s lately been intriguing theatergoers all over the world – everywhere but Broadway, until now." Full Review

Preview master harold white 2
90
DC Theatre Scene

"The 84-year-old playwright directs the Signature production himself, and he does it with a masterful attention to details...Casting is crucial to make these relationships plausible...Leon Addison Brown projects just the right mix of dignity, decency, warmth and compassion...Ngaujah has transformed himself into Willie...As Hally, Noah Robbins would be a revelation, if I hadn’t been following his career already." Full Review

Preview notes from the field white
80
Howlround

"Smith comes out on stage and offers an inspiring performance, portraying 17 disparate characters with her usual dazzling virtuosity...She intends these monologues to help us see how those outwardly unrelated preshow facts about prisoners, school discipline, and police killings are all connected. It’s admittedly a struggle to connect some of these moments directly to Smith’s central thesis...Still, it has to do with race in America and hope for America, and besides, it’s a good story well told." Full Review

Preview keyart 01
45
New York Theater

"The ill-timed if stylish new Broadway revival...Liev Schreiber is either miscast or misdirected...The look of this production is certainly impeccable...But strip away the British locutions, the elegant costumes and the fancy fencing, and the (mostly) quality performances: Does Valmont’s 'seduction' of the child Cecile, in which he carries her onto the bed, and sticks his hand under her dress, in some way differ from a sexual assault?" Full Review

Preview sweat white
90
DC Theatre Scene

for a previous production "How did this solid town–and by extension, a significant swath of the working population in America—implode?...'Sweat' isn’t as concerned with answering as in bringing us into the world of her credible, engaging characters, embodied by a terrific cast...There is a feeling of general comity–until it is shattered when the company starts making clear its ominous plans for cost reductions. What might have been under the surface all along, explodes into envy, resentment and prejudice." Full Review

Preview life white
80
New York Theater

"I would have loved for 'A Life' to have been a play more worthy of attention leading up to the abrupt change in perspective...But all (or most) is forgiven by the end...Anne Kauffman's precise and pointed direction of 'A Life' is aided immeasurably by her design team...The supporting cast is spot-on. But it’s the charming, credible, comical and ultimately chilling performance of David Hyde Pierce that makes 'A Life' memorable." Full Review

Preview rsz plenty
30
DC Theatre Scene

"Of all the crazed, destructive, female characters that the stage has given us, Susan Traherne may be among the least interesting, at least as performed by Rachel Weisz...'Plenty' is far more oblique and disjointed than some of Hare’s other work; the scenes feel like shorthand, and are not all in chronological order...'Plenty' features a beautiful movie star, foul language, guns and gunshots, actual smoking, even both male and female nudity, and still ends up feeling dull." Full Review

Preview oh hello
25
DC Theatre Scene

"I was surprised at how little I laughed...Not quite a real play with a plot, but also not quite a series of comedy sketches. It’s reminiscent of 'Wayne’s World,' but without the narrative consistency, and 'The Pee-Wee Herman Show' but without the colorfully inventive design...It’s 100 anarchic minutes of shtick and weirdness and one-liners and scenes that mock the idea of scenes....Much of 'Oh Hello' struck me as inside jokes that everybody in the audience seemed to get except me." Full Review

Preview sunsetboulevard 2
65
New York Theater

"'Sunset Boulevard' is ersatz opera of the outsized and mostly overwrought kind that Broadway audiences have been eating up, on and off, since the 1980s. It’s noteworthy, then, that this production cast Glenn Close, whose voice is, to put it politely, far from operatic. Her power resides in her acting; her Norma manages, at its best, to be both steely and vulnerable, sinking into herself and dominating everything and everyone. Most of the other cast members hardly register by comparison." Full Review

Preview manfromnebraska
75
DC Theatre Scene

"Mild and slow-paced...'Man from Nebraska' is in no way a sitcom. Its humor is quieter, more indirect. Letts’ own Midwestern upbringing seems to come into play here, in his capturing of the culture of his characters, and the rhythm of their speech...If little is explained, this winds up not mattering as much as it might in the hands of lesser theater artists. These artists feel in full control. The nine-member cast is impeccable." Full Review

Preview big river
70
New York Theater

"A pleasant enough confection but with a bitter aftertaste...As rendered by a large, talented cast and a ten-piece orchestra of the usual Encores! caliber, Miller’s score holds up, a mix of honky tonk, bluegrass, rousing gospel and Miller’s signature novelty songs...This did not strike me as a weighty enough production...Lines should land harder than they do. Part of the problem may be Nicholas Barasch...His Huck is too bland, with little of the mischievous schemer in his eye." Full Review

Preview 299518
60
New York Theater

"'Fade' is well acted, and Saracho’s script touches on several worthwhile issues that seem based on her own experience...But by the end of the play, 'Fade' feels slighter and more obvious than it could have been...Her observations are nothing new, and, given what’s going on in the country now, it’s frankly hard to muster much outrage about the behind-the-scenes of television. If the TV industry is meant as a metaphor for the country as a whole, it feels an inadequate one." Full Review

Preview the liar white
75
DC Theatre Scene

"Its main strength lies not in its timeliness or plot but the subversive whimsy of its language...In bouts of meta-theatrical playfulness, Ives ropes in his characters to grapple with the challenge of the versifying, which is sometimes cringe-worthy, sometimes hilarious–most often, both...Director Michael Kahn has assembled a competent eight-member cast and puts them through a fast farcical pace, with well-placed slapstick and comic bits." Full Review

Preview 800x1200 jitney
90
New York Theater

"A superbly acted and directed production...Each character has a story to tell, and a full life of faults and wisdom and talents that Wilson presents with humor and empathy...Director Ruben Santiago-Hudson makes the play as lively and funny as it should be...The plot of 'Jitney' does not conclude as artfully as those in Wilson’s later work...But Wilson’s strengths as a portraitist, and his ear for dialogue, are evident from the get-go...'Jitney' feels not just rewarding, but necessary." Full Review

Preview mata hari white
60
New York Theater

"The non-singing ‘Mata Hari’ is part of the composer’s eclectic approach, combining traditional arias both forceful and tender by classically trained singers with contemporary melodies, with a repertoire of avant-garde sounds from punk-rock to modern dissonance...I wish I could say all of this struck me as refreshingly innovative, but it would be easier to feel that way if Mata Hari hadn’t already been the subject of everything from Garbo’s 1931 film to Coelho’s 2016 novel." Full Review

Preview 82707 9
45
DC Theatre Scene

"It is difficult to be in thrall of the 13 actors...The characters are of unequal weight and interest, yet we are forced to sort them all out, which takes at least the first half of the play...There are those who are fans of the Oscar winner who will find her performance entertaining enough to obliterate any other concerns, or who have the patience and curiosity to appreciate the production’s complex texture and thought-provoking themes...Then there are the rest of us, who wish it were shorter." Full Review

Preview rsz god of vengeance
60
New York Theater

for a previous production "There is much that is fascinating around, and underneath, this play, a glimpse at a different time, place and set of values...This is another way of saying that 'God of Vengeance' is full of historical, cultural, political, even anthropological interest, but has less to recommend it theatrically...There are some lovely moments, such as when the two women kiss; and several performers who stand out...But the cast is uneven, and the show has a healthy quota of beating of brow and of breast." Full Review

Preview nytw othelloshowpage 4641x2616 1280x721  1
75
DC Theatre Scene

"While this 'Othello' can be uncomfortable and even annoying, it is impossible for me to dismiss Sam Gold’s often startlingly effective production...Beneath Sam Gold’s attention-grabbing choices, in the last of its three hours, we are left with Shakespeare’s words performed by a first-rate cast...It’s natural to focus on the two movie stars, and they deserve the attention. But part of what makes the performances impressive is the way they blend in with the supporting cast." Full Review

Preview in transit
55
DC Theatre Scene

"Unfortunately, the freshness of the voice-only orchestra doesn’t completely compensate for the flat familiarity of much else in the musical...Little that happens to these commonplace characters is surprising or all that engaging...Luckily, 'In Transit' has several assets that help us try to put aside its bland stories and rarely memorable lyrics or melodies. Director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall injects excitement and energy into many of the musical numbers." Full Review

Preview tbt white
85
New York Theater

"Unbearably moving…’Tiny Beautiful Things’ inspires such strong emotional reactions that the awkward set-up winds up not mattering much…What’s most startling and rewarding about her stories is not just that they are told well, but that they are applied to advice-seeker’s dilemmas to which they don’t on the surface seem relevant…Is it too schmaltzy to call this play a tiny beautiful thing?" Full Review

Preview the illusionists white
40
The Stage (UK)

"Feels like an attempt to spin overly familiar acts as vintage classics...These are pros who travel the world, but the Palace hasn’t been a vaudeville house since 1929...Neil Dorward’s production sits awkwardly in the space...Goodwin makes a point of saying he’s not an illusionist, and that everything he does is real, but even he doesn't have the magical power to make the 150 minutes go faster." Full Review

Preview rsz ride the cyclone
80
New York Theater

"If the musical feels largely derivative, it features an appealing, talented cast, a dozen witty, energetic songs in a variety of popular styles, and a spectacular design for such a small-scale show. Although the characters are dead, that doesn’t stop them from being fun and funny, albeit in a familiar way…The premise winds up being little more than the frame for a series of entertaining musical numbers. But the cast makes the most of them." Full Review

Preview fwd key 800x1200
65
New York Theater

"Similar characters have appeared frequently in Silver’s work, most notably in 'The Lyons'...If 'This Day Forward' is not as strong, the playwright once more creates a play that deftly mixes funny and dark...Silver has a talent for comic dialogue that carries us through even an aimless-seeming play like this one. But then, at the very end, it suddenly, subtly, quietly becomes clear — it’d be easy to miss – that 'This Day Forward' has something to say about love and commitment." Full Review

Preview last black man white
80
New York Theater

"'Last Black Man' offers searing imagery mixed with repetitive auditory gibberish, words that exist far more for their effect as sounds than for their meaning — words as jazz...For most of us, the appeal of 'Last Black Man' rests largely with the production values. Director Blain-Cruz has assembled a first-rate design team...There is an impressive level of commitment from the cast...Some of these moments from a play written in 1990 feel alarming in their continuing relevance." Full Review

Preview party23
70
New York Theater

"Powerful and intelligent documentary theater—although the documentary theater part struggles for attention amidst all the other elements of this lively, sprawling, overlong play/musical/multi-media hip-hop performance art piece...'Party People' is full of intriguing historical tidbits, exciting choreography, rhythmic singing, galvanizing fist-pumping, suspenseful encounters and poignant moments–too full, actually. It’s overstuffed and unfocused." Full Review

Preview falsettos temp 285x375.jpeg  284x50000 q85 subsampling 2
55
New York Theater

"There is much I enjoyed about it, especially the performances of its exceptional seven-member cast...But ultimately I found 'Falsettos' neither terrible nor terrific...For all its willingness to present ambivalent, bickering characters in complicated relationships, 'Falsettos' feels dated in many ways...The melodies produce no earworms, and the lyrics sometimes spin word pictures with the delicacy of a sledgehammer...There are moments...when I’m nothing but glad they brought it back." Full Review

Preview women of a certain age white
60
DC Theatre Scene

"Most of the time I listened with impatience to this supposedly socially engaged family...I left feeling that the promise and process in which the plays were put together wound up at best a gimmick to market them. This is unfortunate because, if it weren’t taking place (and being written) on Election Day, I could better appreciate 'Women of a Certain Age' as a well-acted, gentle and insightful look at a family facing many struggles, emotionally and financially." Full Review

Preview finian s rainbow white
85
New York Theater

"A four-piece orchestra and a 13-member cast led by the glorious Melissa Errico do delicious justice to the show’s terrific tuneful melodies...Given the music, we should be grateful that Irish Rep artistic director Charlotte Moore was willing (as both director and adapter) to wrestle with a book, by Harburg and Fred Saidy, that could hardly be more problematic or unwieldy...What’s most memorable are the melodies." Full Review

Preview heisenberg
10
New York Theater

"The mystery is how a team with such track records and talents–playwright Simon Stephens, director Mark Brokaw, Parker—could produce such gibberish...The problem is that, in the six short scenes of this 80-minute play, there is scarcely a line that comes out of the woman’s mouth that sounds like anything anybody would actually say, except for a character contrived for the stage...Everything about 'Heisenberg,' in short, is fake." Full Review

Preview vietgone
90
New York Theater

"Nguyen and director May Adrales find such richly inventive and entertaining ways to tell the story of these two refugees that the play feels wiped clean of the clichés of both the 'immigrant experience' and 'the hell of war'...For all the pop-culture silliness, the playfulness with language, and the clever stagecraft, 'Vietgone' paints complex and credible portraits of the two main characters...'Vietgone' is comic and compassionate; overlong—and overdue." Full Review

Preview frontpage
55
DC Theatre Scene

"The show’s appeal rest largely in its star turns, which often feel like cameos. Most performers get no more than a few minutes to strut their stuff, although some make the most of it...It is surprising how much of a slog this nearly three-hour production can be at times until Lane’s entrance, despite the presence of a battalion of talented character actors. Director Jack O’Brien is presenting a somewhat tamped down and cleaned up version of the script." Full Review

Preview cherry orchard
60
DC Theatre Scene

"The most adventurous directorial move is the hiring of black actors to play the serfs and ex-serfs, and the substitution of the word 'slave'...If the analogy ultimately didn’t quite work for me, I appreciated the way it forced me to consider the differences in the two histories...There are just too many fine, nuanced productions in memory for theatergoers to feel the need for an updated version, or to tolerate one that, to put it charitably, could use more time to find the proper balance." Full Review

Preview 82854 2
75
DC Theatre Scene

"Relying on sounds and downplaying the visual struck me as an odd way to tell the story of a professional photographer...The final phase of Loren McIntyre’s journey is a payoff for patience, when attention is drawn to the stage, as the performer takes off his shirt to reenact a shamanistic ritual, and the lighting, set and projection designers go to town, Simon McBurney’s well-honed theatricality–visual at last–matching the mystical, mesmerizing real-life fever dream he has been voicing." Full Review