Photo by Don Kellogg

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


This is quite possibly the worst show to debut on Broadway that I have ever seen.  Let me be clear, it is not because the actors didn't know their lines - on the contrary - they were quite well rehearsed and executed.  It is not because the music or lyrics (Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard) were bad.  They may have been loud, but not bad. (As an aside, I'm still trying to figure out how that negro spiritual number made it into the show).  And please forgive me, but I've never seen the actual cast names omitted from the marquis page in the playbill.  Shameful!

What is possibly the most reprehensible aspect of this production is not the talent at all.  It is that the producers feel that an audience coming to the theatre is dumb, has no attention span, needs endless video, audio, and color stimulation, and is there to watch a movie, music video, and take part in an American Idol-styled extended TV performance special.  That is the schlock I witnessed at a recent performance.  Many non-tourist theatre-goers left at intermission - 4 people in my row of 6, as a matter of fact!  The show is not terrible because it is "just beginning previews".  Frankly it has played in London for quite some time - with the same two actors leading - so these folks are well-rehearsed and well adjusted to the performances.  It's terrible because of what it is at its core, not in any way because of early-preview flaws in the presentation.

Quite simply, this is not a Broadway show.  It's entertainment that would be better placed in Madison Square Garden or Radio City Music Hall.  Yes there are songs, yes there are sets and costumes.  But the constant over-stimulation, the constant lighting tricks, flashes, and concert-style lowering and raising of ultra-bright, ultra-colorful lighting above the stage is beyond necessary.   If that is not enough, the video projections are something out of an uber-sci-fi movie.  The entire stage is bathed in LED's creating much of the scenic backdrop of New York City and sometimes just flash - all overly saturated, overly sped-up, even sometimes inappropriately incorrect and inconsistent as to locations. The music was loud.  And by loud I mean decibel levels that rival a rock concert.  The reverb was turned up so high sometimes, it felt like you were under water. Many songs sounded Songify'd and Auto-Tuned.  Everything is electronic and twelve notches too high.  

Some people may be reading this thinking - "Wow".  And at times it was kinda, sorta, cool, i must admit.  But to pass this off as a Broadway musical is patently misleading.  If you sent me into this theatre and told me I was about to see a rehearsal for a live performance being taped for TV's "The Voice" I would have believed it wholeheartedly.

As for the story itself, it's what you would expect - with some minor modifications for the stage.  It's the movie - all over again, in over-bearing color and with a musical intensity never before imagined.  Make no mistake, there's certainly a great deal of talent and beauty on the stage - and I really mean that when I speak of DaVine Joy Randolph's Oda Mae Brown.  When the show brought itself back close to ground level (which happened so infrequently) - such as the bank scene near the end - all the actors' talents shone thru.  But I had a hard time at most other junctures discerning the talent from the incessant multi-media blasting.

Upon leaving the theatre it seemed that some were dazzled and others talked about this character or that one and there was much expected chatter comparing to the movie - but I didn't hear one single person say it was a great show.  Not one.  Everyone seemed to be impressed at the technology and disappointed at the inappropriate over-use of it on a Broadway stage.  To that I say, "Ditto".