Reviews - A Bronx Tale, Cabin in the Sky, The Secret Garden

Capsule reviews of a new musical and two concert stagings

The cast of A Bronx Tale
The cast of A Bronx Tale. Matt Murphy

The mew musical A Bronx Tale, now playing at the Paper Mill Playhouse, clearly has ambitions to move beyond the provinces. The score is by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater. The production staff includes some of the biggest names on Broadway, including William Ivey Long on costumes, Beowulf Boritt on sets, Sergio Trujillo on choreography, and Jerry Zaks co-directing with none other than Robert De Niro. The cast comprises some of the most reliable folks on Broadway, including Nick Cordero, Richard Blake, and Jason Gotay. However, if the show is going to stand a chance of moving closer to the city, A Bronx Tale needs to decide what it wants to be when it grows up. As it stands, it feels a bit too much like a patchwork of elements from other shows: Jersey Boys, Memphis, In the Heights, Guys and Dolls, and even Wicked. There's a certain amiable charm to Menken's score, although Slater's lyrics seem more like his uninspired ballads from The Little Mermaid than the sharp, funny songs from School of Rock. Chazz Palminteri could probably use an assist in crafting the book into something more than just a retread of his one-man show and the subsequent movie.  More »

Michael Potts and LaChanze in Cabin in the Sky
Michael Potts and LaChanze in Cabin in the Sky. Joan Marcus

I've been teaching about Cabin in the Sky for years, although I had never had the chance to see the show live until the Encores! presentation. Well, this is one of those rare times when Hollywood took a Broadway musical, replaced most of the score, and actually wound up improving upon the original. I've seen over three dozen Encores! concerts, and Cabin in the Sky was easily the worst, both in terms of the raw material and the presentation. To be fair, the show is from 1940, before the Rodgers and Hammerstein revolution took hold. Cabin in the Sky is significant in my discussion of the portrayal of African Americans in the Broadway musical. However, the book to the show is actually fairly representative of pre-Oklahoma! musicals: a patchy, meandering story with scant justification for some rather generic songs. The Encores! staging had a terrific cast, including LaChanze, Norm Lewis, and Chuck Cooper. But the direction by Ruben Santiago-Hudson was static to the point of rigidity. The original production featured choreography by the great Katherine Dunham, but the dance here by Camille A. Brown made little impression and was instantly forgettable. Encores! does a great service to the theater community in resurrecting these long-forgotten pieces, reconstructing them, and presenting them with first class talent. But there are only so many undiscovered gems, of which Cabin in the Sky is sadly not one.  More »

The Secret Garden

Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Bogess in The Secret Garden
Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Bogess in The Secret Garden. Tricia Baron

I've been an ardent fan of The Secret Garden since it premiered on Broadway in 1991. It's an extremely moving show with a stunning score by Lucy Simon. (And we sort of needed a reminder of Ms. Simon's talent after the late and lamentable Doctor Zhivago.) So when I heard that Manhattan Concert Productions was staging a concert version, with Tony nominee Sydney Lucas in the central role of Mary Lenox, I knew I was in. But then we kept hearing about more and more fabulous folks who would appear alongside Ms. Lucas: Ramin Karimloo, Sierra Bogess, Cheyenne Jackson, Ben Platt, John Riddle, and Quentin Earl Darrington. The icing on the cake was Daisy Eagan, a Tony winner in the original production, being cast this time in the role of Martha, the scullery maid. Thankfully, the production did not disappoint. Some of the directorial touches from Stafford Arima were a tad inscrutable, but the score never sounded better, both in terms of the ministrations of the New York City Chamber Orchestra and the stunning vocals from the cast and 300-plus on-stage chorus. Highlights included Karimloo and Jackson bringing down the house with "Lily's Eyes," the glorious Ben Platt singing almost anything, and Karimloo and Bogess causing a massive case of ugly cry throughout David Geffen Hall with their positively stunning "How Could I Ever Know?" I simply can't count the number of times I was overcome by chills and sobbing uncontrollably. This is a night in the theater I will truly never forget. (And if any producers out there might see fit to bring the show back for an extended Broadway engagement, they'd hear no complaints from me.) 

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Caggiano, Chris. "Reviews - A Bronx Tale, Cabin in the Sky, The Secret Garden." ThoughtCo, Mar. 20, 2016, thoughtco.com/reviews-a-bronx-tale-cabin-in-the-sky-the-secret-garden-3955817. Caggiano, Chris. (2016, March 20). Reviews - A Bronx Tale, Cabin in the Sky, The Secret Garden. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/reviews-a-bronx-tale-cabin-in-the-sky-the-secret-garden-3955817 Caggiano, Chris. "Reviews - A Bronx Tale, Cabin in the Sky, The Secret Garden." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/reviews-a-bronx-tale-cabin-in-the-sky-the-secret-garden-3955817 (accessed November 22, 2017).