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"A blazingly entertaining new musical...'The Total Bent' can get a little fuzzy when it comes to the details of its story. Stew’s book is not always cogent, although it’s consistently funny...Even if you may scratch your head at a few points, 'The Total Bent' keeps you hooked through the surging power of its sensational score...At its best, 'The Total Bent' feels more like an ecstatic combination of revival meeting and rock concert." Full Review
"The terrific Vondie Curtis Hall plays the seductively slithering gospel singing preacher and faith healer Papa Joe Roy...The story gets fuzzy in this one, which, after establishing its themes, evolves into more of a concert with a thin narrative. As directed by Joanna Settle, this keenly-performed premiere production displays the piece as an enjoyable work in progress with high potential." Full Review
“A lofty jumble of a show that deals with God, the civil rights movement, the music industry, sexuality, and a haunted microphone, ‘The Total Bent’ only intermittently makes sense. But when the spitfire cast and outrageously phenomenal band burst into song, it's a religious experience of the highest caliber…A thrilling new score...Lyrically, the songs are sharp and often bitingly funny...At once messy and transportive, and thoroughly mesmerizing from start to finish.” Full Review
"As theater, the hopelessly muddled 'The Total Bent' makes a great concert...I was hard-pressed to figure out exactly what was going on in the narratively confused proceedings whose plot elements include a seemingly haunted microphone. Fortunately, the rousing score — played by a terrific seven-piece onstage band including Stew and Rodewald — provides ample compensation for the befuddling storyline." Full Review
"'Total Bent' is a daring and overreaching sophomore musical…It’s a shaggy, idiosyncratic patchwork…Director Joanna Settle’s great achievement is crafting a physical production that looks like it sprang organically from a jam session…At close to two intermission-free hours it has its repetitive and dull stretches. However, the music is funky, fierce and sticky-sweet and you might get burned from the heat coming off the performers." Full Review
"You could call 'The Total Bent' a mess of a musical — or you could look at it, as it evidently means to look at itself, as a different sort of entertainment. Certainly it is compelling as a performance piece; the songs are mostly terrific, and are sung with immense panache and authority. But then why does the director Joanna Settle attempt to place it in a physical reality? Why bother with the ridiculous gay subplot? Why juggle ten balls when seven of them always fall? " Full Review
“An uneven production...The new rock musical from Stew and Heidi Rodewald of ‘Passing Strange’ fame, starts out with a potentially strong premise...Vondie Curtis-Hall and Ato Blankson-Wood give thrilling vocal and dramatic limning of the combatants and the score is sizzling. But the plot becomes repetitious and feels drawn out at less than two hours.” Full Review
"'The Total Bent' is a concept album whose creators are besotted with its concepts…Much of the sharp wit feels thrown in, rather than part of an overall design…This larger point may be lost. The details of the plot may be vague and confusing. But every cast member sings wonderfully, the band is in top form, and the music provides all the momentum that the typical concert-goer (if not necessarily the typical theatergoer) would need." Full Review
"Somewhere around the halfway point, 'The Total Bent' becomes little more than a song cycle...Joanna Settle's direction emphasizes the star's scintillating vocal performances, otherwise maintaining a tight pace that allows Stew to step in and out of the action in rapid-fire fashion...If only the text were more intelligible. Stew remains a gifted musician with something to say, but, as of now, he is still looking for a totally coherent way of saying it." Full Review
"A mind-bending tale that grips you by the lapels from the first note...This production moves so swiftly that backstory is just not that important. Stew keeps our noses focused on the present, and that is such a circus we never look away...In spite of the fact that, once again, the direction has 90% of the action facing the center section of the audience, this is a spectacular production. Stew is a magician, and Rodewald is a brilliant partner for the road trip." Full Review
"Gold glistens most brightly in the galvanizing performance of star-in-the-making Ato Blankson-Wood, the top-notch company surrounding him, and the foot-stomping, finger-clicking gospel, blues, rock, funk, and jazz score. The book..., though, is dross...The storytelling is vague and the characters more shadows than substance. But the performances...are all terrific, most extraordinary being newcomer Blankson-Woods." Full Review
"'The Total Bent' suffers from the limited dramatic abilities of its writers…There's nowhere unexpected for it to go or grow, and a cursory knowledge of recent American and musical history is enough to know how all this is likely to end up…No number stands out—and not in a good way. Though, to be fair, not in a bad way, either...This is exactly the kind of show that needs a galvanizing star performance to tie everything together. As it is, you get that only in limited quantities." Full Review
"Joanna Settle's direction keeps the show moving and brings out phenomenal performances but does not flesh out the show's story or meaning. It takes a village to build a show and Stew and Settle fail at telling a story that doesn’t leave the audience confused. The intoxicating score played by a superb seven-piece onstage band is the reason you will walk out of this show wanting to see it again and again. It is intoxicating and will draw you back despite the flaws in its structure." Full Review
"Stew and Heidi Rodewald’s new musical is sometimes thrilling. It’s also sometimes snoozy, without much to say — or at least to say clearly...At the dawn of the Civil Rights movement, sexually adventuresome Marty (Ato Blankson-Wood, magnetic) must break away from his gospel-singing father (Vondie Curtis-Hall, supercool) to make his own mark. That’s pretty much it. But when there’s music, 'Total Bent' grooves with bluesy, funky urgency." Full Review
"The newest great musical to launch at the Public Theater...A bit more ramshackle than 'Passing Strange,' 'The Total Bent' is no less thrilling...If you’re at all familiar with the Stew/Rodewald collaboration, you know it produces wildly pleasing music across pretty much every contemporary genre. 'The Total Bent' is no exception and, as always, this one is just packed with heart." Full Review
"I didn’t understand the ending, or else the creators and director Joanna Settle didn’t know where they wanted us to end up. Still, even without a clear destination, the intoxicating music with the sly lyrics, the take-no-prisoners performances and the laid-back hipster unpredictability make a heady journey...The new piece is part indie concert, part performance-art cabaret and a big part coming-of-age black-identity musical...Stew is a gifted, funny, sardonic lyricist." Full Review
"Utterly original. Just like Blankson-Wood’s breakthrough performance…'The Total Bent' is a very pared-down all-male 'Dreamgirls,' with all of the emotional impact under Joanna Settle’s compelling direction...Most musical-history shows offer up ersatz versions of classics. Stew and Rodewald write songs that are the real thing and destined to be classics in their own right." Full Review
"Blankson-Wood and Hall are dynamic performers, and they’re particularly powerful in the intimate performance space. But the generational conflict is only fitfully involving, in a production, directed by Joanna Settle, that tends to meander, and slows at the end despite the decibel level being ratcheted up. Ultimately, 'The Total Bent' impresses with its cleverness while never quite becoming satisfying." Full Review
"What fatally undermines the show is Stew’s meandering and frequently baffling book...The story unfolds via such leaden pieces of exposition as 'It’s back-story time' while, under Joanna Settle’s ponderous direction, the dialogue invariably sounds stilted. There are also numerous allusions to the supposedly ongoing Montgomery bus boycott, which happened in the mid-1950s, yet everything else suggests the action is happening 10 or more years later. It’s a frustrating hodgepodge." Full Review
"Much of this show is about the music and the band - it seems the plot is secondary - with Stew leaving much up to your imagination to connect dots. It seems that it is really about ideas and themes rather than linear story...The concert-stage ready actors never fail to dazzle and blow the roof off the joint. I don't think this one is destined for Broadway given the holes in the storyline. But an enjoyable evening at the Public Theater is nothing to rattle your tambourine at." Full Review
"It's a show with ambition and talent to spare, but also a frustratingly muddled story…The musical numbers by Stew and Rodewald move fluidly from gospel to James Brown-flavored funk to Prince-ified pop, and Blankson-Wood is a wonder…But the text by Stew lacks focus and refinement. The central conflict between Joe Roy and Marty is undercooked…There's a great musical buried somewhere inside 'The Total Bent,' but it will take some further excavating to draw it out." Full Review
"These themes resonate with me. The show, however, didn't quite work...The last 20 minutes of the show is mostly a concert. A ridiculously good concert, but a concert nonetheless…It's exhilarating to watch. But the father–son storyline is still largely unresolved…Had 'The Total Bent' been presented as a song-cycle in Joe's Pub, Stew's comments would have felt appropriate. In the context of a theatrical production, they seemed out of place and aggressive." Full Review
“A fascinating piece of work, ‘The Total Bent’ unfortunately falls somewhat apart toward the end. Characters drop in and out of the narrative abruptly, without the chance to give the audience the sense of closure the situation calls for...The score, on the other hand, is simply amazing. The various tunes and styles—ranging from gospel to hard driving rock—perfectly capture the spirit of the show’s era, as well as the temperaments of the characters." Full Review
"'The Total Bent' is well worth seeing for its dynamic music, the star-making performance of Ato Blankson-Wood, who is filled to the brim with talent, and the great band. Everyone in this all-male cast is excellent. The production is more staged concert than full production, which doesn't help the muddle of the ending. Stew's attempt at rhymed dialogue and his lyrics are best when they are taking a humorous view toward a very serious topic." Full Review
"Musically, it excels, but the surrounding narrative, which is at times awkward or chaotic, lacks the fine polish of the songs and performances. One of the show's strongest assets is its skillfully assembled cast...All of this gives 'The Total Bent' plenty of substance to underlie its style, and all the more reason that clarifying the show's confusing aspects would be worthwhile...It's already a very strong piece, but there's still some fine-tuning to be done before 'Bent' becomes total." Full Review
See it if You don't need a firm plot arc, you love the composers and love their sound regardless of story
Don't see it if You didn't see Passing Strange and are not already fans of the composers/performers
See it if you want to hear one of the best scores outstandingly performed in the theater today.
Don't see it if you want a conventional musical. Except for a confusing book, everything else is exceptional.
See it if you want astonishing performances in a thrilling, outspoken, playful, and wild musical about Black music and Black stories
Don't see it if you're going to get overly antsy when the plot goes a little haywire (the fabulous music will get you through)
See it if You want to hear original music that combines many different music genres. You want issues about identity, race & family.
Don't see it if You want a more traditional Broadway or rock score. You don't want a story that deals with big issues.
See it if you like off-beat shows; like STEW; like gospel-ey, blues-ey, jazz=ey music; like shows with a religious theme; like to tap your toes.
Don't see it if don't like religious themed shows; don't like live band music in a show; like shows with linear clear stories (this is mostly music)
See it if you loved Passing Strange and really want some excellent Stew & Heidi Rodewald music in your life
Don't see it if you want a fully developed story - the music is beautiful but the plot is severely lacking
See it if you enjoy shows that address issues with race and religion. A few great musical numbers and some stellar acting scenes. Still some work tho.
Don't see it if you don't want to see an in-progress musical about race and religion and family feuds.
See it if if you want to hear an amazing and refreshing score. Stew and Heidi bring back hope to the musical theater genre.
Don't see it if If you want a linear narrative. The book can be very confusing and could use some work. Not for everyone.
See it if you like gospel type rock music and great singing, and small, all male casts.
Don't see it if you want to see a linear production plot wise - it was all over the place and confusing. Needed a serious edit.
See it if you like Stu & Hedi's shows/music and Stu's song styles; you like an energetic cast with strong voices especially the lead & excellent band
Don't see it if the story/social message can be confusing and you don't like shows with race relations/religious themes
See it if You are interested in a fictional rise of a great Black musician and the son who follows in his wake. A story with dense family dynamic.
Don't see it if You want a straight narrative, if you get a headache from too much busy work or if you want consistency in performance.
See it if you enjoy Stew - his imprint is very present even though he has a minor on stage role. You enjoy incredible performances and fabulous music
Don't see it if A coherent book is important to you. The story seems secondary to the music here- which is satisfying but we all left confused
See it if you are a fan of Stew & Heidi, want to hear a great musical score, great singing, love gospel and blues, don't care about a strong book
Don't see it if you want a strong coherent story. Touches on several themes without fully exploring any. It frequently seemed more like a great concert.
See it if The music is great. The book is not. The performers are incredibly talented. There's just not much there when the music stops.
Don't see it if You want a show with a strong book.