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Bella: An American Tall Tale

From 28 critic and 245 member reviews
Members say: Great singing, Entertaining, Funny, Clever, Quirky

About the show

Playwrights Horizons presents the New York premiere of this musical adventure about a wanted woman of mythic proportions who looks to begin life anew in the Wild West. More…

Bella takes us on the trip of a lifetime to escape her scandalous past and bounce into the arms of her awaiting Buffalo Soldier. Rowdy, wild, and hilarious, writer-composer Kirsten Childs infuses this tall tale with soulful tunes and madcap antics aplenty. Giddy-up to our get-down!

Act Three - The Reviews

“The music and songs (all Ms. Childs') are delightful—traditional old Broadway style, toe tappin' and fun. The dancing is strong despite the tiny stage…Bella has the vocal cords of a giant and a personality to match. One thing's for sure, Ms. Childs infuses the fun and frivolity with serious undertones of race and freedom and gender equality, so that even a play set in the late 1870s crackles with fresh perspectives. Playwrights was right to end their season with this gem.” Full Review


"Childs' joyfully old-fashioned, but sneakily subversive new musical...O'Hara's jaunty production, choreographed with lively period flavor, resembles a kind of saloon entertainment played out with picture postcard visuals...Kelley is an irresistible, moxie-filled charmer in the title role...‘Bella’ embraces the physical side of sexual attraction with a big, brash bear hug and playfully places the iconic African female physique on the pedestal where it belongs." Full Review


“‘Bella: An American Tall Tale,’ book, music and lyrics by Kirsten Childs, is a rambunctious, sexy new musical at Playwrights Horizons. Ms. Childs, whose ‘The Bubbly Brown Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin’ (2000) will be restaged this summer as part of the Encores! Off-Center series, has written an adventurous musical which occasionally sags a bit, but is always sassy and lively.” Full Review

Manhattan Digest

"Wild West stories are a dime a dozen, but I can guarantee that you’ve never seen anything fresher or more completely original as Kirsten Childs’ 'Bella'...Childs takes her piece even further with social, racial, and political commentary—and she does it in such a crafty way that leaves audiences both entertained and richly nourished...The show moves along at a solid pace and musically, it offers some terrific tunes...Childs could easily tighten her material with a few cuts." Full Review


“Kirsten Childs’ high spirits are infectious. ‘Bella’ is her irresistible invitation to kick up your heels…Although our heroine’s picaresque adventures are the heart and soul of the show, Childs doesn’t neglect the other characters…The fun of the show would seem to depend on the wild tales that Bella spins out of her fertile imagination. But when her journey finally comes to an end, Bella has made a great discovery about herself.” Full Review

Time Out New York

"The show is such a hoot that it never feels didactic. That’s not to say that it isn’t ungainly. The episodic nature of the first act grows tedious, and the musical’s heavier-handed second ambitious for a show so campy it features an 11-o'clock number sung by the spirit of Bella's rump. But for the most part it bounces along buoyantly, thanks to Robert O’Hara's smooth direction and go-for-broke actors who also reveal the humanity in their over-the-top characters." Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

“The story unfolds in a picaresque, somewhat rambling style that can be hard to follow, while the intertwining of song and exposition often feels a little loose. But Childs and director Robert O’Hara never cease to conjure an anarchic sense of freewheeling theatricality that blends irreverent pastiches of racist motifs with pungent doses of toilet humor…As Bella, Kelley combines a confident and witty playing style with a rich contralto that soars through Childs’s eclectic numbers.” Full Review

Musical Theater Review

"Childs has concocted a gloriously overstuffed fantasia...A festive but meaningful salute to the indomitable perseverance and strength of American black women...In director O’Hara, she has found an interpreter who seems to be unfailingly attuned to her wildest flights of imagination...The author is also blessed with a cast that virtually explodes with talent...There is at times almost too much incident to keep straight...But when there is too much, it is too much of a good thing." Full Review

Stage Buddy

"'Bella' succeeds as a delightfully imaginative, spirited story that fuses reality and fiction to such a degree that we're not entirely sure which is which—or if it even matters. Kelley leads a cast brimming with energy and enthusiasm...A wild, whimsical ride filled with moments of extreme silliness. Not that that's a bad thing—actually, I think we probably need more silly theatre. And this particular brand of endlessly clever, satisfying silliness strikes just the right chord." Full Review

Reflections in the Light

"If the premise sounds a bit bizarre, it is, but it is very absorbing, thanks to sharp direction by O'Hara...Childs reaches into American history and comes up with a whole new cast of characters...The playwright has created such a fascinating world...'Bella' evokes humor in the same kind of dark fairy tale dreamworld which I particularly enjoy...The musical starts to wander and drag toward the end. Some editing (and a trimming of the some 30 musical numbers) can fix this." Full Review

Reviewing The Drama

"Dramaturgically speaking there are some bumps, particularly in the second act. I saw the show early in its run, and there are a couple of numbers that stop the show in the wrong way; they seem out of place and/or aren't the full-fledged 11 o'clock numbers they aim to be. Still, I was taken with this celebration of a different take on beauty...'Bella' is telling another American story, not just by people who aren't usually in the story but about people who aren't usually part of the story." Full Review

Bob's Theater Blog

"The cast of twelve are all talented, with Kelley and Miller the standouts. The production is lavish...Childs’s music mixes many styles and occasionally seems derivative: there is a song near the end that sounds very similar to the disco anthem 'I Will Survive'...It all goes down easy, but seems muddled and overstuffed. It has already shed 20 minutes in previews but could profitably lose a few more, preferably in the first act." Full Review

Village Voice

"For all the reservations I have—and I have plenty—about Kirsten Childs’s 'Bella,' I can’t help admiring the piece, laughing and smiling over various bits of it, and applauding Childs’s undaunted, apparently borderless ambition. 'Bella' is way too much of a good thing...Robert O’Hara, a skilled and sensitive director, has carefully balanced the work’s vast number of competing elements. The problem simply lies in the fact that Childs has provided so many competing elements." Full Review

The Wrap

"Childs’ imaginative book is just as wild as her heroine’s—and her songs are often tuneful charmers boosted by witty lyrics...Under Robert O’Hara’s bouncy direction the 12-person cast embraces a show that kicks at some serious issues about the African American experience even as it indulges in scatological humor...But...Childs’ show is truly overstuffed. At two and a half hours, it just packs in too many characters who are introduced and just as quickly dispatched." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

"There is a lot to admire about Childs’ 'Bella'...The entire cast is vocally strong and a great deal of fun...The score is interesting....The script, however, is a mixed bag...The problem is 'Bella' is three shows, which is one too many...Robert O’Hara’s direction also seems a little over-the-top and, instead of grounding Ms. Child’s work, he has set it to flight...I would like to see this piece reworked and brought back. There is a gem inside all of this disorder." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"Kelley’s Bella is delightful. Wide-eyed with a high-pitched voice, she’s innocence personified, with a tee hee giggle that makes her seem like a child...'Tall Tale' gets a little unwieldy here and there, but for the most part director Robert O’Hara keeps it on track...'Bella, an American Tall Tale' is, for the most part, a study in frivolity that sometimes lights up the stage and sometimes doesn’t." Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

“Bouncy, bloated, and blithely bizarre…A musical paean to big, black, female bottoms, and the women they belong to…Whereas Act One's dramatic progression is weak, being essentially a series of adventures, Act Two provides a sharper narrative…Childs's music ranges from the melodically bland to the tunefully enjoyable…'Bella' is all over the place, unsure of its satirical purposes...It becomes difficult to tell just what it is we're watching.” Full Review


"It's not without strong assets, but takes its time, pretty much the entire first act, to get beyond a mish-mash of songs and characters piled on top of each other...Despite the excellent designers and energetic cast, the storytelling and musical numbers lack the polish of the big Broadway-ish musical this aims to be. The good news is that everything and everyone gets better after the intermission." Full Review

Off Off Online

"The tone of 'Bella' veers from cheerfully tongue-in-cheek to just plain vulgar, from wildly inventive to hackneyed...Director Robert O’Hara has not imposed an overarching tone on Childs’ material. The first act is sluggish...It’s a hodgepodge of tropes, stereotypes, and flights of fancy...Act II benefits from some bouncier songs in the score…Happily, Kelley and Gill have excellent chemistry, as well as strong second-act numbers, so one eventually becomes invested in their working things out." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"Childs leaves loose ends flapping all over the place, and you'll stop counting the number of times the narrative just halts dead in its tracks to make room for another diversion. But those diversions are, let's admit, frequently diverting, and even as we're shaking our heads at the looseness of Childs's conception and the illogic of what little story there is, we're entertained...The cast is splendid...Fun and celebratory as much of it is, 'Bella' is one sloppy American tall tale." Full Review


"There’s so much to like! The cast for one thing...Some of the songs are simply wonderful...Story and character and craft and skill and meaning add up to crap...Director O’Hara has to work a damn hard to make this 'tall tale' make some kind of sense. He only partway succeeds...A show that can’t make up its mind whether it’s serious or comic...But it’s fun and it’s tuneful and silly, and if you don’t mind not being able to figure it all out, it’s worth seeing just for the splendid performances." Full Review


“The show never sets on a consistent tone, nor does it successfully bring all the disparate strands of the story together. The result is episodic, sprawling, and wan…The whimsy of Childs’ story falls a bit flaccid in O’Hara’s static treatment of the material. The second act is especially loose, and could easily have been trimmed by 20 to 30 minutes…Child’s lyrics show considerable craft…There’s enough here in 'Bella' to make me hope that Childs keeps writing." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

“For most of the first act, it's barely a tale at all, so crammed is it with numbers that go nowhere and characters who quickly vanish from the narrative…There is a very good point wandering around inside ‘Bella,’ but it is obscured by an excess of silliness and vulgarity…Under the fast-paced and often inventive direction of Robert O'Hara, an appealing cast works hard to maintain an engaging mood, even during the more embarrassing episodes." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"This show leaves us scratching our heads...I’m not sure I understand the directorial choice of having so many characters be so campy and over-the-top, but it certainly didn’t help keep me engaged in this meandering concoction or care about the outcome...Kelley, as Bella, is the shining star in this circus of a show...It’s just a shame she is centered in the swirl of a musical that is having an identity crisis, saddled with some of the silliest scenarios I’ve seen." Full Review

Exeunt Magazine

"The collection of ambitions and forms and storytelling devices can’t sustain a consistent position on this particular juxtaposition between depicting a powerful black female in the 1870s who is battling to reclaim her ancestry versus the action-hero 21st century satirical version of the same female who effortlessly fights off the bad guys by booty-smacking them...The prevailing tone is one of antic silliness, one that straddles the line between the absurd and the asinine." Full Review

Absorbing, Entertaining, Great acting

See it if You love great singing.

Don't see it if You have no sense of humor.

Delightful, Great acting, Funny, Great singing, Must see

See it if You want to see something charming, lighthearted, and incredibly entertaining - that still has its meaningful, poignant moments.

Don't see it if You're racist/will whine about the (accurate) historical portrayal of white people mistreating people of color.

Also This show was pure magic. A "tall tale" about being true to yourself a... Read more Read less

Clever, Entertaining, Funny, Great singing, Masterful

See it if You love great singing and character acting and an ingenious story. Great costumes and imaginary and creative set.

Don't see it if You don't enjoy magnificent theatre.

Great acting, Entertaining, Delightful, Great singing, Masterful

See it if You like original musicals with great music and casting

Don't see it if Dislike musucals

Absorbing, Delightful, Funny, Great acting, Clever

See it if you are a lover of history and comedy. As a history fan, I was so thrilled by the writing and performance.

Don't see it if you don't like history, and you are offended by references to racism and slavery in America

Clever, Delightful, Enchanting, Entertaining, Funny

See it if You love great singing and dancing and want to be thoroughly entertained. The voices were magnificent and so was the acting .

Don't see it if If you like serious drama and are easily offended.

Clever, Entertaining, Hilarious, Great writing, Great singing

See it if you want to see a talented cast perform a clever funny show. Some awesome voices!!!!

Don't see it if you don't like raunchy humor

Also So glad I got to see this show on it's closing night. I could have mis... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Enchanting, Epic

See it if You love amazing new musical theatre!

Don't see it if you think Ben Brantley's opinion of anything matters.

Clever, Funny, Great singing, Hilarious, Great writing

See it if You want A hilarious funny show with great singing, acting & a fantastic fun troop of talented people including a fabulous lighting director

Don't see it if Your looking for a comedy musical.

Also We had smiles from ear to ear air the whole entire show. It is long bu... Read more Read less

Delightful, Refreshing, Great singing

See it if Blindsided by something joyous. Subtlety in the delicious lack of subtlety. Entertaining and smart.

Don't see it if No reason not to see

Hilarious, Edgy, Refreshing, Great singing, Great acting

See it if You want something different

Don't see it if You hate musicals

Delightful, Funny, Great acting, Enchanting

See it if A delightful wonderful show

Don't see it if It is a must-see very entertaining

Great acting, Great direction, Great tech, Loved it!, Fun!

See it if Wonderful show with a tongue-in-cheek book that is great fun! Cast and tech, especially costumes, are fabulous!

Don't see it if you don't want to have a good time. It's a well-done evening. Second act could be trimmed just a little.

Entertaining, Great singing, Great acting, Masterful, Refreshing

See it if Like a wild wild western, done by an all black cast. Wonderfully done, absolutely entertaining. Will go back to see AGAIN.

Don't see it if Don't like women in a western play.

Also This is truly Broadway material. Loved it.

Clever, Entertaining, Funny, Great singing, Great staging

See it if You want to see a show that felt like an event. You want to laugh. A superb cast; both acting and singing we're excellent.

Don't see it if You can't sit for a long performance.

Hilarious, Great singing, Quirky

See it if You enjoy tall tales, great music and an enjoyable evening.

Don't see it if You are looking for so.ething more conventional.

Funny, Delightful, Entertaining, Great singing, Quirky

See it if you're looking to see a fun show that can laugh at itself and isn't too deep. If you want to see a talented cast who can sing very well!!!!

Don't see it if you want to see a serious show, can't suspend disbelief, expect to see a perfectly developed show. You get frustrated with silly shows.

Also I really enjoyed Bella! The lead actress is superb and the rest of the... Read more Read less

Delightful, Entertaining, Great singing, Great staging, Quirky

See it if you like fun musicals based on tall tales and legends rather than historical fact, along with superb singing.

Don't see it if if you prefer a more serious and dramatic theater experience.

Delightful, Entertaining, Funny, Epic, Refreshing

See it if you like silly, imaginative stories, with quality performing

Don't see it if you have no imagination, sense of humor, or care for music

Clever, Great singing, Hilarious, Entertaining, Quirky

See it if You want something different that looks at history through a unique lens

Don't see it if You are set in your views about history or what a highly logical story

Absorbing, Entertaining, Funny, Great acting, Great singing

See it if You love hilarious stories with a great message and a powerful and diverse cast. Whimsical tall tales that keep you wanting to hear more

Don't see it if You're not into funny story lines.If you don't like musicals.If you're not into an out there storyline....

Clever, Delightful, Entertaining

See it if You like energetic fun musicals

Don't see it if Don't appreciate musical theatre art form for what it is

Also It's not one for everyone. But as fD as the art form and off Broadway ... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Entertaining, Great singing, Hilarious, Clever

See it if You like musicals . You love great singing and want to be entertained

Don't see it if You are not into musicals and do not have an imagination or easily offended

Also Main actress was perfect . Great concept

Entertaining, Great singing, Great writing, Thought-provoking, Clever

See it if you love great singing and dancing but overall interesting in History. The story and references are cleverly expressed.

Don't see it if you don't enjoy story through song, or dance. History is not your interest.

Clever, Confusing, Quirky, Great singing, Great staging

See it if you like to be challenged by a quirky musical that is very different than anything else.

Don't see it if you only like traditional musicals.

Cast & Creatives (23)