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Bella: An American Tall Tale

Members say: Great singing, Entertaining, Funny, Clever, Quirky
75
Critics
65
28 reviews
Members
76
241 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.

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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!

 

Cast & Creatives (23)



Reviews (269)

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
65
Avg Score

40
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

40
Theatermania

"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

85
BroadwayWorld

"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

80
Variety

“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

80
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

45
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

60
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

65
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

60
CurtainUp

"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

45
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

70
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

40
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

80
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

85
TheaterScene.net

“‘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

90
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

80
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

85
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

75
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

65
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

75
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

70
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

60
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

60
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

55
ZEALnyc

“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

70
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

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
76
Avg Score

80
Funny, Clever, Delightful, Thought-provoking, Great singing

See it if you want to keep up with the new shows by our important musical theatre writers

Don't see it if you don't have an open mind and a illy sense of humor

Also The cast was great and I really liked the score. It wasn't a perfect s... Read more Read less

80
Funny, Delightful, Enchanting, Intelligent, Quirky

See it if You enjoy watching talented performers sing and dance in a fantasy world that draws you in and keeps you interested.

Don't see it if You need a play that takes itself seriously. The songs weren't always great and sometimes the jokes were corny. But just go with it.

81
Indulgent, Hilarious, Entertaining, Great singing

See it if you want to laugh, cringe, tear up - the show provokes a wide range of emotions. The vocal capabilities of the cast are exceptional.

Don't see it if you are easily offended and dislike body humor. There is an entire song devoted to what turns out to be a major motif- the "big booty girl."

92
Great acting, Fun!, Great direction, Great tech, Loved it!

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.

81
Entertaining, Fun, Great singing

See it if you want to see a show thats like a bizarre combination of Hamilton, Venus, Dreamgirls, and Ride the Cyclone.

Don't see it if You want to see something poignant and moving; the show is fun but not Life Changing

69
Ambitious, Quirky, Great singing

See it if you are looking for a unique show that's very well sung and acted but with a meandering narrative.

Don't see it if you want something quick and to the point. It was good but there were lots of songs I found myself thinking - why wasn't that cut?

76
Funny, Ambitious, Enchanting, Quirky, Entertaining

See it if you want to see a fun, new musical, with an incredible, diverse cast.

Don't see it if you don't like new works that clearly have some work to be done on them.

100
Funny, Delightful, Great acting, Must see, Great singing

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

86
Funny, Quirky, Entertaining, Great singing

See it if you enjoy interesting, quirky stories or stories about women of color and untold histories.

Don't see it if you're very conservative or intolerant.

85
Funny, Ambitious, Delightful, Refreshing, Great singing

See it if you want a highly entertaining, relevant, beautifully sung, moving romantic reminder that the history we're taught is an incomplete picture.

Don't see it if you're socially conservative, thin-skinned, and cannot handle white Americans occasionally being the butt of the joke -see what I did there?

Also This piece feels still slightly uneven and/or in development - there a... Read more Read less

60
Ambitious, Refreshing, Banal, Confusing, Slow

See it if you'd like to see -for a change, a big black ingenue take over the stage of an American musical. it's great, but the plot fell through

Don't see it if a strong plot with great staging is what you're looking for

20
Dizzying, Raunchy, Excruciating, Cliched, Grotesque

See it if you understand/feel African American female motifs/themes/humor/music/anger/low self-esteem/revenge vs. whites. 4 good numbers. Cute scenes.

Don't see it if you haven't and won't watch Beyonce, find jokes about overweight/large buttocks women/objectivism/rape vulgar or dislike musicals/long shows

93
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

95
Clever, Great writing, Hilarious, Entertaining, 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

66
Ambitious, Quirky, Overly long

See it if You want to see exceptional performers - great voices all around.

Don't see it if You want to see something cohesive.

Also A number of the songs and "tall tales" were great and every performer ... Read more Read less

75
Clever, Quirky, Entertaining, Fluffy, Silly

See it if Fun song and dance. Insight into minority and ethnic contribution to the post civil war western era.

Don't see it if The theme of the magic booty was taken too far. It went from funny to banal. The second act dragged compared to the first.

80
Delightful, Relevant, Entertaining, Great singing, Great staging

See it if You like musical theater performed by a fabulous cast. Songs remind us of black experience that resonates today. Bella is quite a character.

Don't see it if You don't like musicals. Show is a little long and uneven.

73
Delightful, Quirky, Entertaining, Fun

See it if You can enjoy a silly show that touches on real topics

Don't see it if You want something that will stay with you

75
Entertaining

See it if you enjoy pleasant little musicals with a charming leading lady.

Don't see it if Are offended by a good actor badly playing character as a "fag" for no apparent reason at all. Terrible directorial choice.. Made no sense.

80
Joyful, Clever, Enchanting, Quirky, Entertaining

See it if You want to see a joyous new show that's not quite bway ready but a wonderful night at the theater.

Don't see it if You want straight forward story telling and like heavier more heady material.

80
Funny, Ambitious, Clever, Delightful, Edgy

See it if a combination of fun and history set to music is your idea of a good time. Outrageous premise - great production with fantastic costumes

Don't see it if you think history can only be learned from text books -- maybe that's a reason you should see this show?

81
Funny, Delightful, Enchanting, Refreshing, Great singing

See it if You want to see an ensemble sing and dance their booties off. It's very outside the box.

Don't see it if You want a typical musical. This is purposefully all over the place which is most of its charm

50
Banal, Disappointing, Cliched, Dated, Loaded with borderline offensive stereotypes of every non-white group, designed i guess to amuse the texas country club types. here in nyc it was wtf??!!

See it if You think minstral shows were high art and should be brought back. The train porter (great acting aside) even had a Steppin' Fetchit drawl!

Don't see it if You think it's time for all of us to get woke and move on into the 21st century.

68
Quirky, Great singing, Great staging, Fluffy, Weird

See it if Amazing music and great voices. Very lively and entertaining, if taken as a concert.

Don't see it if A preposterous book. And here's something I never thought I'd say about a show: too much ass. For real.

88
Funny, Clever, Quirky, Entertaining, Great singing

See it if You want fun hilarity about a big bodacious black booty. Singing and dancing were fabulous. Clever staging. costumes were great. Kool story

Don't see it if You don't like long 2.45 shows. While very entertaining it was too long & did drag at times. Racial issues present. derogatory names used