First performed 150 years ago, 'The Black Crook' is widely considered the first piece of musical theater. It returns to the stage with new text and songs, performed by an ensemble of eight actor/musician/dancers. More…
When 'The Black Crook' premiered in 1866, it was a five-hour, 100-performer melodrama about a painter who sold his soul to a Sorcerer, combined with dance numbers by a Parisian ballet troupe set to popular music of the period. Now director/adapter Joshua William Gelb is debuting a streamlined, meta version of this historic show at the landmark Abrons Arts Center. Bonus: There will be special guest performers at each intermission.
"A delectable, sneakily intoxicating show, it’s very smartly adapted by Gelb...What Gelb and his excellent company have made from it is a sort of redemptive love letter to theater history, faithful in a minimalist way to the promise of their subtitle: 'An Original Magical and Spectacular Musical Drama.' With live music that is often arrestingly lovely, it is fluent in the stage language of then and now...What’s stealthy about this 'Black Crook' is its beauty, and its emotional punch." Full Review
"A 100%-committed cast of physical performers stud the stage in this thoughtful reflection on the American musical...Gelb’s excellent modern production celebrating the show's sesquicentennial anniversary acknowledges and addresses the weaknesses of the original piece; it exists as half 'story of' and half modern interpretation...This 'Black Crook’s' clever combination of smarts and escapism treads these murky blame-filled waters just fine as a fun night out for theatre fans of all stripes." Full Review
"The real-world frame introduces some clever and illuminating mirroring between the dual plots...The musical numbers often sound quite modern...All of this is packaged with lots of comedy...Gelb and his team have created a thoroughly enjoyable postmodern take on a very significant piece of America's theatrical past. You will learn a little history while having a lot of fun at 'The Black Crook.'" Full Review
"A history lesson, a romp, and a reconstruction that attempts a lot and achieves quite a bit...Much competence and multidimensional dexterity is demonstrated by the eight-member cast, from dance flexibility to musicianship to facility with presentational stylistic acting...Whether this 'Black Crook' achieves the aspirations of 'Shuffle Along' and 'Indecent'...it is certainly true that this production frames and stages an essential part of American theater history that is worth a visit." Full Review
"To mount a work known for being bigger-than-life in such a small space was a gamble. But I was not surprised—having seen Gelb’s work before—that he has pulled the whole thing off. His use of imaginative staging, accomplished lighting and sound effects, silhouettes, stage smoke, convincing period costumes, and—most important—a game and talented cast of actors (who also sing and play musical instruments skillfully) makes 'Crook' well worth seeing." Full Review
"The production proceeded with often confusing speed with plot points rushing by. (A synopsis might have helped, although the in-depth comments on the many beautifully performed period musical numbers were enlightening.) Despite its silly plot, for theater buffs, this is a must see for historic reasons." Full Review
"There is a scrappy perversity to Gelb’s 150th-anniversary quasirevival...Performed by eight actor-musicians in a basement theater, 'The Black Crook' is stripped to humiliation...Gelb places scenes from the play in a biographical frame about Barras and his Mephistophelean producers. This promising conceit, however, lacks sharpness in execution; the intertwined narratives get smudgy. The vigorous cast is admirably multitalented...but the lack of compelling real-life characters grows dull." Full Review
"For a short while, this all seems to work relatively well. The actors’ considerable talent and impressive timing seem to overcome this demanding undertaking. Soon, however, the scheme comes undone...The plot completely unravels...The singing might best be described as pedestrian and muted, and the dancing did not seem particularly well choreographed. Costumes were lackluster, and the sound effects and music were amateurish. Once the plot was lost, little else remained." Full Review
See it if you like "the making of" type stories, like Shuffle Along, if you like quirky, inventively staged, comedic & touching blackbox productions.
Don't see it if you don't like musicals, or if you are easily confused or bored by story-within-stories.
See it if you are interested in the history of the American musical. Here is a taste of the show that has been called the "first" American musical.
Don't see it if theatrical history is not your thing
See it if want to see a group of actors in a farce that can sing , dance and play many different instruments. truly a bizarre story based on fact
Don't see it if you're not in to a weird super fast paced story that requires you really follow along. definitely not main stream
See it if Very talented actor-musicians tackle an 1866 musical melodrama. The ham is thick and delicious. Nothing like it.
Don't see it if The senescence of the script, acting and music may be too much for some. I ate it up.
See it if you want to know more about the show that is considered the first book musical in half the time of the original. Ambitious production.
Don't see it if you don't like dated shows that also provide a Broadway history lesson and you don't want to explore an interesting NYC neighborhood.
See it if you want to see what may have, in 1866, been B'Way's 1st Musical. It's really a melodrama, with some music. It's played for laughs.
Don't see it if you want an elaborate production with big orchestra; you don't like alot of book in a musical.
See it if you want to learn about a piece of musical theater history and have a few laughs!
Don't see it if you aren't interested in learning about what is considered to be the first American musical or you don't like plays/musicals about theater.
See it if you have an interest in theatrical history, told in a somewhat confusing manner by a talented cast.
Don't see it if you are expecting to see a musical as we know them today; have no interest in theatrical history; like fine singing and dancing.
See it if You've heard about it's legend. America's first musical?? I doubt it!
Don't see it if you don't enjoy watching some very talented actor/musicians being wasted on too much of a so-so thing.
See it if you want to get a taste of history and have the patience for dragged out old-fashioned dialogue.
Don't see it if you don't follow old language and dialogue well or want something modern and new.
See it if you enjoy a broad acting style done very well. Gets a little confusing at times with all the layers, but very well played. Well worth it.
Don't see it if you only enjoy naturalistic shows.
See it if You are a "Theater Nerd" with serious knowledge of and interest in theatrical history, 19th Century life and culture, New York area history;
Don't see it if You have no tolerance for convoluted plots or a small company doubling up on roles and "making do".
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