New York, New York – Almost
The good news is the show looks terrific: Beowulf Boritt – imaginative scenic design, including a wonderful manifestation of Central Park’s “Bow Bridge”; Christopher Ash/Beowulf Boritt – sweeping, icon-filled projection design; Donna Zakowska – zippy, attractive costumes; Ken Billington – evocative lighting. Casting is a marvel of talent and variety. Choreography is fun. One outstanding number, a tap dance on two girders ostensibly high up, salutes the famous Charles C. Ebbets’ photo Lunch Atop a Skyscraper. Another, though extraneous, concocts an enchanting umbrellas-in-a-rainstorm visual. Director Susan Stroman creates whole characters and excels at bustle. Now the bad news:
Clyde Alves (Tommy), Colton Ryan (Jimmy), Anna Uzele (Francine)
Martin Scorsese’s 1977 film New York, New York was not very good except for its songs, but it had teeth. This book musical, sharing only main character names (not personalities) and period, is so homogenized you’d think the streets were, in fact, paved with gold. Everything works out swell with barely a ripple of difficulty. (A single mob shooting is not what it seems.) New York, New York has a welcome BIG heart but blinders.
The Kander and Ebb songs hold up beautifully, but blatantly outshine new material by Lin-Manuel Miranda which arrives surprisingly similar and pedestrian. Nor are arrangements as swing oriented as one might hope. (Sam Davis)
Oliver Prose (Alex), Emily Skinner (Madame Veltri)
Neither of these call-outs is as affecting, however, as the overstuffed nature of the piece which could successfully be cut by half an hour. In an effort to showcase the proverbial melting pot, there are multiple converging plotlines. Jesse Webb (John Clay III) is a returning veteran with dreams of professionally wielding his trumpet. Mateo Diaz (Angel Sigala), a Cuban immigrant, aspires to play indigenous music on his bongos. Effeminate, the young man is spurned by his father. Alex Mann (Oliver Prose), a young Pole, fled Europe in hopes of becoming a violin student of the retired Madame Veltri (Emily Skinner) and then at Julliard. She organically becomes his surrogate mother.
Clay is a fine singer with decided presence. His Jesse emanates pride and frustration. Sigala moves infectiously, sings well and plays drums. He’s fresh and entertaining. As Alex, Prose is credibly damaged, vulnerable, appealing. Skinner appears, as always, grounded and believable; her fine voice a pleasure.
Gabriele Enriques and Clyde Alves (Tommy) Background: Colton Ryan (Jimmy), John Clay III (Jesse Webb), Angel Sigala (Mateo Diaz)
Though the original star crossed couple offer an axis, stories revolving around it and ancillary characters (a few might be dropped) are given too many numbers/too much stage time. That hotheaded Jimmy (Colton Ryan) and ambitious Francine (Anna Uzele) have become a biracial couple (the film featured Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro) is deftly written. Also effectively featured are ultimately lecherous producer Gordon who helps Francine’s career (Ben Davis, here elegant, jaded, and seemingly a gentleman which adds interest) and Jimmy’s best friend (and voice of reason) Tommy (Clyde Alves). Alves reminds one of Gene Kelly. The triple threat – sings, athletically dances, and acts – with a good New York accent. He’s a notable asset.
Colton Ryan has upstart street charm as Jimmy. Loosey goosey physicality reflects the character’s temperament. We believe his volatility and emotional arc, especially segments referring to a brother killed in the war and the splendid scene on building girders when fear of heights kicks in. An engaging actor.
Anna Uzele (Francine) has a impressive and powerfully controlled voice but brings less nuance to the role than one might wish. She seems to turn on and off by switch where Jimmy’s concerned. We see nothing between. Hard exterior makes the actress unsympathetic.
Colton Ryan (Jimmy), Anna Uzele (Francine)
One should leave an “up” musical replete with happy endings and New York’s adopted anthem buoyant. Granted the last number is an unexpected grin, but we’re worn out by then.
Photos by Paul Kolnik
New York, New York
Inspired by the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film New York, New York by Earl M. Rauch
Music and Lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb
Additional Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Written by David Thompson and Sharon Washington
Directed by Susan Stroman
St. James Theatre
246 West 44th Street