Closed 1h 50m
The Total Bent
East Village
74

The Total Bent NYC Reviews and Tickets

74%
(103 Reviews)
Positive
74%
Mixed
21%
Negative
5%
Members say
Great singing, Confusing, Original, Entertaining, Ambitious

About the Show

The Public Theater presents a new musical by Stew and Heidi Rodewald (creators of 'Passing Strange') set at the intersection of the sacred and profane, survival and liberation, gospel and rock ‘n’ roll.

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Member Reviews (103)

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90
Original, Intense, Entertaining, Ambitious, Great singing

See it if You like creative blues, gospel, rock, and R&B music with electrifying performers.

Don't see it if You don't like a fragmented story (but I enjoyed piecing together the changing relationship between father and son, God, race and music).

87
Original, Great writing, Thought-provoking, Riveting, Great singing

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.

Critic Reviews (28)

May 25th, 2016

"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."
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May 25th, 2016

"'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."
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May 25th, 2016

"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? "
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May 25th, 2016

"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."
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May 25th, 2016

"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."
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May 28th, 2016

"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."
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May 25th, 2016

“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.”
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May 29th, 2016

"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."
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May 27th, 2016

"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."
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May 25th, 2016

"'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."
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May 25th, 2016

"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."
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May 27th, 2016

"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."
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May 25th, 2016

"'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."
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June 5th, 2016

"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."
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May 29th, 2016

"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."
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May 25th, 2016

"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."
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T
June 21st, 2016

“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.”
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May 27th, 2016

"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."
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May 27th, 2016

"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."
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May 25th, 2016

"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."
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May 25th, 2016

"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."
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June 2nd, 2016

“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."
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June 16th, 2016

"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."
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May 31st, 2016

"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."
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June 5th, 2016

"'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."
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P
May 30th, 2016

"Director Joanna Settle keeps up the pace and holds things together as much as possible in this soulful, nonlinear, and humorously serious work. But the music-driven trajectory with scattered story fragments floating in and out seems more like separate bents than a total bent...Toward the end the convoluted narrative arc bends, and the musical becomes a rock concert. The music is so entertaining that you almost don’t care that the text is a bit of a rambling mess."
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May 25th, 2016

"'The Total Bent' has left us rocking and rolling to just about every genre of music including gospel, jazz, rock, blues, and rap...In the midst of all the joke telling, at times it is a bit difficult to determine what is needed to propel the story...'The Total Bent' will leave you laughing uncontrollably, and with visions of yourself dancing on stage with the actors. This musical is an unapologetically honest portrayal of such heavy conflicts of race, gender, and politics in the most fun way."
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May 24th, 2016

"It's the classic and all too familiar 'forbidden fruit' story. However, it's rendered agreeably through a flavorsome mixture of rock ’n’ roll, show tunes and gospel that the play's creators have fused rhythmically into the narrative...'The Total Bent' takes us into familiar territory, but it does so with an artsy sensation and musical arrangements that not only had the audience in standing ovation mode by the play's end, but demanding the release of the soundtrack before leaving the theater."
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