This Week on Stage: Denzel and Menzel add some Broadway star power

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Image Credit: Brigitte Lacombe

King Kong ain’t got s–t on superstar Denzel Washington (at least, not until the beast’s new musical declares a firm date next season), as the movie megastar touched down on Broadway for the first time since his Tony-winning turn in August Wilson’s Fences in 2010. And like that heralded revival, he once again got raves from most outlets. Also receiving raves this week was Wicked star Idina Menzel, who dazzles in If/Then, the new tuner by the Next to Normal team of Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt. And though the young fans who adore her voice in Frozen may, well, freeze at the prospect of their favorite snow queen Elsa singing a song called “What the F–k?”, her Tony buzz and emotion-rich work has assured her status in the Broadway diva pantheon. (And speaking of Frozen, EW posted video of Smash alum Jeremy Jordan nailing Menzel’s signature Disney tune “Let It Go.” Seriously, check it out.) 

In other news, senior editor Thom Geier checked out Cheyenne Jackson and Laura Benanti in the Encores! production of The Most Happy Fella, playing through Sunday at City Center, and we posted reviews of a bunch of new shows, including the long-awaited musical version of a beloved, dark 1989 teen flick, and the starry duo mentioned above (click on the links below for full reviews).

Heathers the Musical  Veronica, J.D., and the titular pastel-wearing ladies now have their very own musical Off Broadway, for all you Swatchdogs and Diet Cokeheads out there. However, senior writer Kyle Anderson found the results very far from “very,” citing that it “misses just about everything that made the film great, making it not only a colossally disappointing adaptation of a beloved property but also a generally unpleasant theater experience….Most of the show is delivered with an air of smugness, as though the audience is supposed to adore it simply because it exists.” EW grade: C-

If/Then  Idina Menzel does a pas de deux with herself in this original musical about a thirtyish woman balancing work and love in a dual storyline that (sort of) recalls the Gwyneth Paltrow flick Sliding Doors. Good as she is, Gwynnie never had these pipes, something agreed upon by Thom Geier’s praise for the Tony-winning star, though he is not as high on the production overall: “The real star here is Menzel, and she delivers a powerful bipolar performance that often masks the shallowness of the material. In her triumphant final ballad, ”Always Starting Over,” she proves she doesn’t need to defy gravity to win over fans. With her feet planted on terra firma, she can shake the rafters and pierce your heart all at once.” EW grade: B-

I Remember Mama  The always-inventive Transport Group repurposes John Van Druten’s 1944 weeper as a vehicle for older women (who assume all roles in the play, even men and children), and my review indicates one you’ll remember for some time:  “Watching these women in their twilight years play well below their age has a completely affirming effect….Even when the characters’ talk turns to subjects like the value of a pink dresser set and a brooch, the show’s dramatic impact is undulled. By play’s end, you may find yourself unexpectedly wiping away a tear.” EW grade: B+

A Raisin in the Sun  Oscar nominee Sophie Okonedo and Tony-winner Anika Noni Rose join the many-times-awarded Denzel Washington in a revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s benchmark family drama, last seen on Broadway in 2004 with none other than Sean Combs as the dissatisfied chauffeur at the play’s center. Did Lisa Schwarzbaum find it worth returning to a decade later? “Washington’s characteristic aura of forceful energy, as well as the 59-year-old actor’s middle-aged maturity, throws off the emotional balance of this smooth new production,” says Schwarzbaum, who was more taken with the matriarchal pull of this particular production (played by the wife of Samuel L. Jackson, no less): “[LaTanya] Richardson Jackson conveys complicated layers of emotion with a simplicity of presence.” EW grade: B+

Red Velvet  British stage vet Adrian Lester (best known as the presidential aide in Mike Nichols’ Primary Colors in 1998) makes an incredibly rare stateside appearance in this fact-based historical drama recounting legendary and controversial actor Ira Aldridge, a black thespian emigre who ended up portraying Othello in the 1830s. EW’s Joe McGovern claims Lester performs with “intensity and alacrity” but is less enthusiastic about the structure: “Poland, in fact, is the setting of the play’s pandering, unfortunate framing device, in which the elder Aldridge booms forth with expository statements to a starstruck young fan…but it does yield the play’s one moment of true theatrical danger, in the curtain call.” EW grade: B


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