Ends Jul 02

Bella: An American Tall Tale

Members say: Entertaining, Great singing, Funny, Clever, Ambitious
26 reviews
117 reviews

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.

... Read 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!

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Cast & Creatives (23)

Reviews (143)

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
Avg Score

The New York Times

"Sprawls in so many directions—with changes in tone to match (or mismatch)—that it collapses into inertia...The idea of a woman who leads unabashedly with her rear has both comic and heroic appeal. The conceit never quite lands. What should be an anarchic life force often feels more like an anchor...The score lacks a steady musical signature to reconcile the abrupt shifts in tone. And as staged by Mr. O’Hara, this story of action-packed adventures feels strangely static." Full Review


"In its most coherent moments, 'Bella' looks and sounds like a dubiously dramaturged educational musical for kids. This is disappointing because Childs sets her story in a time of rich dramatic potential...At least the cast works hard to sell this muddled material...Director Robert O'Hara does little through staging and design to clarify Childs's winding script...Rather than feeling inspired, challenged, or even amused, audiences are most likely to leave 'Bella' feeling baffled." 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

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

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 half...is 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

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

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


"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

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

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

Front Row Center

"Attempts to tell the forgotten tales of the haunted and the hunted, and all those who came from far off lands to build, populate and protect this country’s frontiers…The sad part is, there is so much talent on the stage. But the staging is static, and the book and the plot are confusing, juvenile, and don’t accomplish Childs’ lofty ideas. She’s not offering empowering alternative archetypes, she’s regurgitating stereotypes.” 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“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

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

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


"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

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
Avg Score

Funny, Ambitious, Clever, Thought-provoking, Great singing

See it if you enjoy musicals, linear plots, stock characters used for satiric purposes, powerful singing, learning about neglected part of US history

Don't see it if you don't like fanciful, exaggerated musicals, straightforward plots that just progress ahead, resent having history thrust at you


See it if You love musicals, any musical. It's packed with tepid songs and dancing with some good singing, but the first act was just busy.

Don't see it if Like me, you need more (and to be fair, I really am not a fan of musicals). We hurried away at intermission.

Funny, Quirky, Great singing

See it if You want to see a funny musical...Great singing and even though the first act was too long, it was well worth the trip.

Don't see it if If you don't like silly comedies or you want to see something serious

Funny, Disappointing, Cliched, Fluffy

See it if you like new musicals and don't mind some stereotyping in service of jokes.

Don't see it if you're looking for a great storytelling, thought-provoking social commentary or depths in characters.

Funny, Delightful, Entertaining, Great singing, Thoughtful

See it if fun new musical celebrating the incredible power of a wild imagination. A Wild West tale that leans into stereotypes to ultimately empower.

Don't see it if you want a clear narrative arc (the story rambled at times) or a traditional musical (though the music and the voices were incredible).

Funny, Quirky, Dated, Great singing

See it if You are interested in black and other cultures and enjoy good singing and unusual quirky stories.

Don't see it if You need a well developed solid story line and are bothered by apparently irrelevant tangent deviations.

Funny, Clever, Quirky, Entertaining, Great singing

See it if You like fun, clever musicals with incredible singing and catchy songs but also with a deep heart and meaningful message.

Don't see it if You do not appreciate lightheartedness around serious topics and a classy fart joke song.

Banal, Confusing, Disappointing, Slow, Dated

See it if The music is catchy and a great cast.

Don't see it if If you don't like stories that make no sense, have mismatched time themes, undeveloped and dumb characters, and lots of bad stereotypes.

Edgy, Uneven, Rambunctious

See it if Don't mind sitting through some ill-considered songs to enjoy some rollicking fun tunes, beautifully realized set, game cast

Don't see it if Would like a little more cohesion in plot and tone, frankly borderline offensive tokenism

Funny, Clever, Enchanting, Entertaining, Great singing

See it if Well if you told I would adore a zanie musical about a girl with a big bootie .you might call me a Kardashian!

Don't see it if If silly musicals are not your thing. The African American Experiance is the shape wear that creates the plays interesting foundation .

Also Yes puns intended! Ashley D. Kelley Is mesmerizing !!! You fall in lov... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Delightful, Dizzying, Great acting, Great singing

See it if you want a rollicking good time watching a truly perfect cast present a musical that feels like a crazy amusement-park ride!

Don't see it if you hate long shows (2.5 hours) even if it's well-presented and fascinatingly new

Also Truly this cast is perfectly constructed, all with amazing voices plus... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Indulgent, Fun, Fluffy, Needlessly long

See it if you enjoy a talented lead, a likeable, energetic cast, shananiganns, visions of "Venus" but more fun, hardships, family and love.

Don't see it if you are looking for a tight script and memorable songs. Both serious and fun topics, but the play needs massive editing and song cuts.

Funny, Clever, Enchanting, Entertaining, Great staging

See it if You want a rowdy, funny, entertaining show, the things that make a musical -a musical. Great singing & staging. I had a blast!

Don't see it if You want drama, a serious show or a thought provoking-question the meaning of life show. There is too much fun here to find that.

Ambitious, Quirky, Fun

See it if you want to see a happier version of VENUS with great voices & quirky talent.

Don't see it if you aren't interested in a potential "freak show" about big bootied gals. Or something conventional. Or HAMILTON.

Ambitious, Quirky, Cliched, Entertaining, Often clever

See it if you love musicals and want to try something unusual. Well acted by a diverse cast.

Don't see it if you do not like off-Broadway or if you may not appreciate diversity.

Quirky, Raunchy, Overrated, Great singing, Great staging

See it if Good attempt to capture the gap after the Civil War re: Blacks in the US. Some good singing talent. Nice sets.

Don't see it if Attempt to say too much in less than 3 hours.. Divergent tales and back and forth time capsules break the story line.

Ambitious, Romantic, Disappointing, Slow, Doesn't gel

See it if You like whimsical musicals with fun costumes, set, and energetic (if not terrific) performances. Are a fan of the old wild West.

Don't see it if You need your theatre to be fully baked and sharp.

Also I really had high hopes, but ended up being bored. There are a few fun... Read more Read less

Clever, Quirky, Entertaining, Great singing, Great characters

See it if you enjoy musical fables about the Wild West. Bella,a black woman with a famous booty, becomes an entertainer with many adventures.

Don't see it if you expect a conventional musical and reality; are offended by off-color remarks; are under the age of 14;dislike the circus

Also Go to this show with a big imagination, and enjoy the wonderful singin... Read more Read less

Clever, Delightful, Entertaining, Great singing, Great staging

See it if you enjoy a witty tale that supposedly took place some time ago in our history about a young girl of African decent with a big booty.

Don't see it if you've seen one two many musical tales of girls of African decent with big booties. This is the second one I've seen this season.

Funny, Ambitious, Quirky, Confusing, Great singing

See it if you want to support Kirsten Childs and the general production of new musicals.

Don't see it if you are looking for something deep or well polished. Each act seems like a completely different play. Act 2 is FAR superior to the first.

Ambitious, Great acting, Quirky, Indulgent, Great singing

See it if you are prepared to deal with some fluff and nonsense to enjoy fabulous acting and singing (B'way talent off-B'way); entire cast outstanding

Don't see it if Author has written two plays - an epic tall-tale musical on black Americans in the Wild West, and a full-on farce. Tone changes are dizzying

Also Never have I seen a play I would more like to attack with a pair of sc... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Entertaining, Great singing, Unfocused, Overly long

See it if Probably the most ambitious or elaborate show I've seen at Playwrights Horizons. Great staging. Fun story w/ a great cast.

Don't see it if It's way too long. The first act is lots of vignettes w/ minor characters. Many could be cut to streamline & focus show.

Intelligent, Entertaining, Great singing

See it if you want to sit back and be entertained by talented, powerful voices, good acting and a new take on the south.

Don't see it if you don't like musicals that are fluffy and slightly silly.

Also I tend to judge plays by the seat of my pants. I found it hard to sit ... Read more Read less

Clever, Delightful, Great acting, Intelligent, Great staging

See it if you want to see some unexpected.

Don't see it if you want sg less then almost 3 hours.

Funny, Great acting, Quirky, Refreshing, Slow

See it if You want to see a fantastic new lead who is adorable, in a quirky and weird musical that happens to take place in the Wils West.

Don't see it if You like realism, dislike black stories, or like your musicals short. This runs a little longer than it needs.