London theatre reviews from US entertainment publication Variety.
A round-up of reviews from US entertainment industry bible Variety, covering London theatre.
Variety’s chief theatre critic for London is David Benedict.
Matilda The Musical (2022)
"Kids Win the Day in This Perky Adaptation, but Emma Thompson’s Trunchbull Is the Real Triumph"
"The stage hit makes it to screen on a buoyant cloud of high spirits and witty songcraft, though it hasn't quite enough movie musical dynamism to be a classic."
"Already based on one of his kindlier stories, “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” further softens matters by pruning the presence of its funniest adult grotesques to accommodate more child’s-eye exuberance. The long-late author probably would have grumbled; young viewers will be delighted nonetheless."
"By the time it cannily hits Netflix on Christmas Day, “Matilda” could well grow into a phenomenon — especially in Britain, to which the film has been uncompromisingly tailored"
"... it feels churlish to carp too much about a lively, likable film that sincerely celebrates youthful imagination and joy, and is surely to spark those qualities in a large proportion of its audience — even if it’s most fun when it’s least inspirational."
Tammy Faye – A New Musical at the Almeida Theatre (2022)
"New Elton John Score Doesn’t Yet Live Up to a Terrifically Entertaining Production"
"... composer Elton John, lyricist Jake Shears and bookwriter James Graham... spotted the fact that using singing to tell the story of a passionate entertainer who traded on grand-scale emotions makes total theatrical sense. Their show doesn’t yet completely deliver on that extremely promising premise, but it’s already riotously entertaining."
"In Katrina Lindsay amusingly hideous 1970s suits, all-smiling Andrew Rannells is on winning form as Jim Bakker, charged up with unbreakable conviction"
"as in “Billy Elliot” and most of “The Lion King,” John’s theater writing is worryingly generic, despite the wide variety of forms it mimics. It lacks anchoring, memorable individuality. He supplies what’s needed, but without distinctive qualities the songs only really work because the performances transcend the material."
"As the effect of the performances fade away, you realize that although it’s terrific entertainment, it’s not yet a terrific musical."
Local Hero at the Chichester Festival Theatre (2022)
"A Sweetly Delightful New Musical, Despite Lackluster Songs"
"Charm, a sadly rare theatrical quality, is scarcely a fashionable theatrical virtue, but it’s nonetheless valuable. And, to audiences’ evident delight, it’s there in spades in director Daniel Evans’ wonderfully fluid farewell production"
"Grieg’s warmly witty book, mined for every detail by Evans’ immensely characterful cast, offers more to play with than many a contemporary musical (a vast improvement on his “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”), but the downside is that instead of further developing the story, Knopfler’s songs feel like illustration. The effect is often of a play interrupted."
"There’s a sweetness to the show that is sometimes whimsical but undeniably appealing. And, for the most part, it evokes sentiment rather than trading in sentimentality. It’s just a shame that the songs only occasionally enrich it, and more often shortchange it."
My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican Theatre (2022)
"Inventive, Visually Thrilling Adaptation of the Studio Ghibli Favorite"
"... adapting so revered an anime title posed a huge risk. Could such utterly filmic material transport a live audience? Happily, with the uniquely inventive director Phelim McDermott at the helm, almost all doubts evaporate."
"This production, and McDermott’s work as a whole, is the antithesis of what director Stephen Daldry once termed “burglar’s theater,” in which the lights periodically switch to a blackout and stagehands come on to steal and swap the furniture. This is a theatrical what-you-see-is-what-you-get. You can see the workings."
"... the design team let rip with pretty much every type of puppetry, plus giant set pieces, inflatables and more, all marshaled into grand-scale theatrical storytelling. As a feast for the eyes, it’s currently matchless"
"... Tom Morton-Smith’s adaptation is faithful and neat, but anyone coming new to the material in search of satisfying, well-paced plot is likely to be disappointed."
Funny Girl at the August Wilson Theatre, New York (2022)
"A Star Is Reborn With Lea Michele Headlining Broadway Musical"
"Take two, and not a moment too soon. Lea Michele steps into one of Broadway’s most iconic roles, which in her mind — or at least the mind of Rachel Berry, the character she played in TV’s “Glee” — she was destined to play. And dammit, she’s right. Not that suddenly this otherwise uninspired and underproduced revival of “Funny Girl” is transformed into a revelatory classic. Instead Michele gives it what the revival previously lacked: charisma, astonishing vocals and assuredness — not to mention a killer fan base."
"Her well-seasoned acting chops (she’s been on Broadway stages since she was 9) allows her to calibrate Fanny’s mix of raw ambition, neediness, nerve and vulnerability. Some of Fanny’s insecurities, beneath her bravado, are rooted in her issues of class, education and looks. Michele is clearly a beauty that a period wig can’t hide, but we nevertheless sign on to the delusion."
"Lending solid support is another welcome addition, Tovah Feldshuh, who infuses the role of Fanny’s mother with authenticity, humor and kick"
"What transcends it all is the presence of a Fanny who can deliver the musical, emotional and comedic goods — and with a backstage story to boot. With Streisand, it was that of a star being born. With Michelle, it’s one being reborn."
Eureka Day at the The Old Vic (2022)
"Timing Is Almost Everything for This Vaccine Comedy Starring Helen Hunt in London"
"... in its sharp U.K. premiere starring Helen Hunt, this often very funny satire about parental attitudes to an outbreak of mumps has suddenly leapt into focus — since it’s really about fiercely personal, highly politicized responses to enforced vaccination"
"Katy Rudd’s clean, zesty, well-acted production occasionally feels as if the contrast has been turned up too high, not least in the costume design which does too much signaling: we know Suzanne by her Birkenstocks, and did the headteacher always have to be in shorts and sandals, with socks, and then an added scarf?"
The Mousetrap (2022)
"Saoirse Ronan and Sam Rockwell Team Up for a Snappy Retro-Kitsch Murder Comedy"
"A performance of Agatha Christie's long-running stage smash 'The Mousetrap' yields a backstage murder mystery of its own in this most enjoyable all-star comedy."
"Despite Rockwell and Ronan’s hilarious turns, they’re nearly outshone by a small cameo from Shirley Henderson playing the great Dame Agatha herself, who becomes tangled in this web of lies and fools. At last, Christie has an opening to prove she can save her own neck. But what she does, how she does it, and whether it works is a mystery best to discover on the screen."
The Devil Wears Prada at the James M. Nederlander Theatre, Chicago (2022)
"Broadway-Bound Musical Needs to Take a Cue From Miranda Priestly and Get Meaner"
"Taking an overly respectful and frankly miscalculated approach to its source materials — the 2003 roman à clef novel and the 2006 Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway-starring film — the new musical version of “The Devil Wears Prada,” now trying out in Chicago ahead of a projected Broadway run, provides some serviceable entertainment but needs a hefty dose of guilty, edgy fun to boost its mild pleasures."
"There’s a lot of work needed to replace the sincere and fairly dull songs about the importance of jobs that pay the rent, the sadness of losing friendships, or (from the nice-guy Nigel, played by Javier Muñoz) the trials of growing up gay in the Midwest with songs that express the naked ambition, social irresponsibility and joyful artifice of the fashion industry. The title song, which serves as the Act I finale, comments about those things but doesn’t actually express them, coming across more enervating than energizing."
"So the question here is a simple one. Can John, Shapiro, et al. — some of the most talented artists at work today — set niceness aside, and channel their inner Miranda Priestlys?"
Jack Absolute Flies Again at the National Theatre (2022)
"A Knockout New Comedy by the Writer of ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’"
"As his stakes rise, so does the already high level of ridiculousness powered by line-by-line laughs and the fiercely well-timed comedy of the entire company, not least Quentin’s much built-up role with ever-increasing levels of silly smut in her malapropisms. (Admiring her garden, she confuses clematis and clitoris.) And then there’s magnificently stuffed-shirted Peter Forbes — “Be quiet! I’m shouting!” — as Major General Sir Anthony Absolute who, awards judges take note, pulls off the astounding trick of being absolutely and perfectly furious while being astonishingly truthful."
"Like most theaters recovering from COVID, the National has been in serious need of a knockout hit. They now have one."
Patriots at the Almeida Theatre (2022)
"Tom Hollander, Will Keen Crackle in Story of Russian Oligarch Who Tangled With Putin"
"Revelling in his authority, Hollander has a permanent gleam in his eye, a malevolent hint at the power-hungry madness simmering beneath his fascinatingly maintained calm surface. It’s an alarming performance made all the more vicious by its element of suprise. And Hollander never hints at what’s coming, providing high-voltage shock via sudden switches of mood as when he slams a piano lid down on an official accompanist whose playing he has only just praised."
The Seagull at the Harold Pinter Theatre (2022)
"Emilia Clarke, Indira Varma Shine in a Production That Doesn’t Fly"
"an uneven production more willful than wonderful."
"On the upside, with everyone wearing visible head mics (shades of the troupe Complicite and beyond), they can — and do — whisper lines, making them almost closer to thoughts than speech"
"And Lloyd’s technique has the welcome effect of pulling the audience into the intensity of the drama and making audiences truly listen and do imaginative work.
"But the considerable downside is that all this robs the evening of the actors’ energy. At its weakest, it feels like a reading. And for audiences unfamiliar with the play, the stakes are likely to remain dangerously low because all the (over-emphasized) moments come at the expense of the drama coalescing into a whole. "
Mad House at the The Ambassadors Theatre (2022)
"David Harbour, Bill Pullman Make Theresa Rebeck’s Chaotic Melodrama Seem Better Than It Is"
"You can see why actors of the caliber of David Harbour and Bill Pullman — plus equally gifted British talents Akiya Henry and Sinéad Matthews — wanted to appear in this world premiere. Rebeck has barely been produced in the U.K., but it’s immediately clear she knows how to whip up bitterly comic set-pieces for actors to sink their teeth into. But she has come up with a clutch of juicy, smart-mouthed roles rather than making them cohere into anything with true resonance beyond the melodramatic twists and turns of a secondhand family plot."
The Southbury Child at the Chichester Festival Theatre (2022)
"‘Well-Meaning Production Can’t Cover a Schematic Script"
"Beresford is attempting to put new wine into old bottles. Nicholas Hytner’s deft production honors that, but cannot disguise the fact that this increasingly over-plotted play is two-and-a-half hours with scarcely a moment of subtext with which to reel in the audience. A play about knotty decisions is a loose, too-easy watch."
The Glass Menagerie at the Duke of York's Theatre (2022)
"Underpowered Amy Adams Leads a Slow-Burn Rethink of Tennessee Williams’ Classic"
"Director Jeremy Herrin is faithful to multiple elements of Williams’ stage directions — including a screen of accompanying images above the action — but he aims to deliver the play’s essence in unexpected ways."
"Constable’s strongly directional lighting, including everything from industrial size lamps set about the stage to a handheld flashlight, almost totally replaces the expected burnished gold of memory with a more soured sepia. This is demonstrably a past of difficulty and sadness as much as it is of lost, familiar happiness."
"With her trademark charm to the fore, Adams is a good fit for Amanda, the mother struggling to keep up appearances and secure her daughter’s future. She also (mercifully) holds back on the Southern belle cliché, which often leads to overly clotted interpretations."
"But with her voice querulous rather than grounded, Adams appears weightless. She’s nicely responsive to shifts of character, changing moods and the needs of a scene. But, robbed of the camera, she expresses but doesn’t radiate emotion to heat up the stage as Amanda needs to do."
Macbeth at the Longacre Theatre (2022)
"Daniel Craig, Ruth Negga Star in a Broadway Production That’s All Smoke"
"Craig has some strong moments but does not capture the transformation of Macbeth into a power-hungry tyrant. He and Gold make no attempt to draw any parallels between Macbeth and current political leaders — a lost opportunity, especially since, as we are told in the curtain speech, the play was commissioned by a king who had strong thoughts about usurpers and violent leaders. While Craig’s performance is imperfect, it is Negga who is the bigger disappointment. She falls flat, giving a generic performance. Lady Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s best characters, but Negga, far from the center of the play, barely leaves a mark."
Funny Girl at the August Wilson Theatre (2022)
"An Underpowered Revival Brings Fanny Brice Back to Broadway"
"The problem with this uninspired revival.. is the production’s inability to live up to its star-making potential that would have made us once again forgive the simplistic, sentimental and sanitized original book credited to Isobel Lennart."
"The script, revised by Harvey Fierstein for this production, still fails to come to terms to any great degree with the disconnect in the relationship of Fanny and gambler husband Nicky Arnstein, effortlessly played and stunningly sung by Ramin Karimloo."
"Feldstein’s performance — never goes far beyond the sentimental, tiresome and not-exactly-of-the-moment cliche of the woman who can’t stop loving her man, even after nearly every character on stage (not to mention the audience) knows it’s doomed. An end-of-show empowerment reprise of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” is too little, too late."
"Jane Lynch as Franny’s loving, wry mother is splendid and lands every laugh with the greatest of ease."
"The production, under Michael Mayer’s direction, gets little help from David Zinn’s unattractive set, dominated by what looks like a giant brick silo; Susan Hilferty’s sometimes garish and unflattering costumes does the leading lady no favors; nor does Ellenore Scott ever elevate the show’s choreography above standard fare."
The 47th at the The Old Vic (2022)
" Bertie Carvel’s Transformation Into Shakespearean Trump Is Hypnotic"
"Bartlett’s audacity — plus the fact that Tunie, Wilson and especially Carvel never relinquish their grip on the audience — makes “The 47th” rarely less than entertaining."
Straight Line Crazy at the Bridge Theatre (2022)
"‘Ralph Fiennes Plays Robert Moses in David Hare’s Talky New Play"
"Everything is elegantly staged by Hytner on Crowley’s expansive office set, and the play’s underlying themes are resonant of what was a fascinatingly changing world. But Hare’s structural choices have resulted in a play in which everyone earnestly says what they mean and means what they say. Subtext, the playwright’s device for gluing audiences to character, situation and a sense of dramatic sympathy, is almost entirely absent."
Cock at the Ambassadors Theatre (2022)
"Taron Egerton, Jonathan Bailey Lead a Blistering West End Production"
"Without dropping a moment of the play’s seriousness, laughter is the key element that differentiates and distinguishes Elliott’s revival from the original production, which, under the direction of James Macdonald, moved from the tiny Royal Court Upstairs to Off Broadway’s Duke Theater in 2012."
"This engrossing, visceral ride through desire and self-deceit has a limited run and tickets are vanishing. If the in-demand actors are available, future life here and on Broadway seem certain."
The Collaboration at the The Young Vic (2022)
"‘Paul Bettany and Jeremy Pope Can’t Make Drama Out of This Bio"
"From “The Theory of Everything” to “The Two Popes” via “The Darkest Hour” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” bio-dramas are McCarten’s stock-in-trade. He and the same cast and director are already at work on a movie of “The Collaboration,” in which the story might well work better: Being able to show the whole story on screen could bring this material to life."
The Music Man at the Winter Garden Theatre (2022)
"Hugh Jackman Shines in Smashing Broadway Revival"
"Hugh Jackman dazzles as Professor Harold Hill, the charismatic con man who fires up an entire Midwestern town, in this abso-tootin’-lutely smashing revival of Meredith Willson’s adorably corny 1957 musical “The Music Man.”
"It’s a role made for Jackman, a song-and-dance man who can also act up a storm and — wonder of wonders — play a convincing lover. This is also a heavy dance show (the huge cast is a big hint) and it’s great to see a leading man who can keep pace with the dance ensemble."
Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club (Playhouse Theatre) (2021)
"Eddie Redmayne Dazzles in Triumphant West End Revival"
"This is no directorial flourish. It’s typical of the production’s immense authority that the rising Nazi power is never brandished for effect. Like everything else in this genuinely extraordinary portrait of not just individual figures but the whole of Berlin, it has been subtly built in all night. Its inexorability makes it devastating."
Best of Enemies at the The Young Vic (2021)
"Behind the Scenes of 1968’s Revolutionary TV Debates"
"For so sophisticated a writer, there are surprising lapses in subtlety. He and Herrin entertainingly show how this audience-grabbing moment of TV gold brought a wrecking ball to television and to democracy. But a little too much is stated rather than suggested. In his stronger work — “Ink”, “This House” — his perspective is there to be gleaned. Here, it’s spelled out."
West Side Story (2021)
"West Side Story is a beautifully-mounted, impressive, emotion-ridden and violent musical which, in its stark approach to a raging social problem and realism of unfoldment, may set a pattern for future musical presentations. Screen takes on a new dimension in this powerful and sometimes fascinating translation of the Broadway musical to the greater scope of motion pictures. The Robert Wise production, said to cost $6,000,000, should pile up handsome returns, first on a roadshow basis and later in general runs."
The Book of Dust at the Bridge Theatre (2021)
"‘His Dark Materials’ Prequel Is a Triumph of Theatrical Storytelling"
"For such an episodic story, the surprise of the night is the level of emotion the production ultimately engenders. It’s a tribute as much to Lavery and Hytner’s glowing work as it is to Pullman’s tale that after the excitements of the epic life-and-death journey, the ending, which could risk sentimentality, turns out to be redolent of the best classic work built around young characters: It’s as satisfying for parents as it is for children."
Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre (2021)
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That, largely speaking, appears to be the mantra behind the London production of Broadway's celebrated record-breaker "Wicked." There have been tiny tweaks to Winnie Holzman's book, but the only people likely to notice are the show's devoted fans."
Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) at the Criterion Theatre (2021)
"A Smashingly Smart Austen Adaptation"
"Adding karaoke to the 19th century’s blueprint rom-com may sound like a translation too far but the shocking truth of Isobel McArthur’s smart, riotously funny five-woman adaptation, now playing on the West End, is how faithful it is to Austen while being gloriously entertaining."
"As sharp-eyed as it is seemingly silly, McArthur’s play-with-songs mirrors Austen by maintaining a shrewd 21st century perspective on the well-told tale of Elizabeth, Jane, Lydia and the other two who, face it, no one properly remembers."
Back to the Future at the Adelphi Theatre (2021)
"West End Musical Is Lots of Fun Despite Flaws"
"The pastiche songs work best, as when Lorraine falls for “Calvin” and a girl group trio pops up from behind the curtains to accompany her. But otherwise, the songs are more pop than theater. Instead of deepening or driving forward, they state and re-state a case, with anodyne and/or mis-stressed lyrics: “I can’t wait to be/ In the twenty-first cent-u-ry” — which is a number of knowing nonsense put there solely to open the second act.
"Yet all those problems disappear beneath the determination of the production team to deliver a good time to its audience."
Jagged Little Pill at the Broadhurst Theatre (2019)
"This is a show you want to shout about"
"Morissette’s youthful perspective and the rocking-good score make “Jagged Little Pill” feel very much of the moment — this moment."
"What makes this musical so seriously smart is the way that some of the most beloved songs from Morissette’s iconic album come right out of the dramatic content, rather than being slapped on top of a wobbly book scene."
& Juliet at the Shaftesbury Theatre (2019)
"Knockout vocals drive a camp revamp of “Romeo and Juliet," featuring the songs of Max Martin"
"Silly and serious, “& Juliet” wants to have its cake and to eat it too. Yet for all its many flaws, it’s hard not to cave in to its determination to add some thought to its undeniably feel-good factor."
Moulin Rouge! The Musical at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre (2019)
"The luscious 2001 movie hit makes it successfully to the stage — elephant and all — in this gorgeously flashy version."
"Derek McLane’s pulsating red set invites us into the bohemian artists’ quarter of Montmartre'"
"Everyone is resplendent in Catherine Zuber’s colorful, divinely decadent costumes as they whirl through Sonya Tayeh’s frenzied dances"
"Thanks to Tayeh’s inventive choreography, the well-drilled dance corps carries off these exhausting maneuvers with Broadway pizazz."
The Cher Show at the Neil Simon Theatre (2018)
"Despite an icon with attitude, an armful of pop tunes and a can-do cast, the script never quite finds a satisfying style — or a genuine heart — as a winning stage musical."
"What “The Cher Show” rarely does is get real, despite the tell-it-like-it-is attitude of its subject. It only takes itself semi-seriously, keeping genuine emotion at arm’s length."
"The pleasures in the show come from individual performances, including Jarrod Spector, spot-on as Sonny Bono and capturing the man’s charm, calculation and nasal twang."
Clueless - The Musical at the The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (2018)
'Its lightweight narrative keeps it at the enjoyable-fluff level, even if its two-hour-plus length wears out its welcome just a tad, and the once-freshness of its comedy of ‘90s modes and manners is lessened by what have since become stereotypes.'
'Like the movie’s breakout performance by Alicia Silverstone, the Cher of Dove Cameron (Disney’s “Liv and Maddie”) also wins you over with her true belief in the power of positive shopping and her magical thinking that it can do good.'
'The supporting cast is equally impressive, especially Dave Thomas Brown as Josh — played in the film by Paul Rudd — and echoing that irresistible sweet-smart awkwardness that eventually makes Cher see the value of life beyond a Barney’s sale. Plus, he sings like a dream.'