Broadway Review: LIFE OF PI (Gerald Schoenfeld)

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by Tony Frankel on April 17, 2023

in Theater-New York


The eye-popping special effects of Life of Pi are reason enough to see this show, which opened this week at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. Yes, there are a plethora of perfect performances, but no one should miss the elegant, effective, energizing design elements. This is one of the most thrilling visual spectacles ever encountered in the commercial theater. The magnificence of the puppets is unquestioned, but it is in the magic created by the design team that transforms a clever conceit into truly thrilling theater. All of this happens not for the sheer spectacle of it all — which might very well have been enough — but because its spectacle is contained within a story of grieving that is universal in its appeal. This is the triumph of Life of Pi.

Hiran Abeysekera, Mahira Kakkar and company

The sets by Tim Hatley are richly evocative, portraying scenes as diverse as a busy marketplace in Pondicherry, India, and the interior of a huge cargo ship on the sea. The original music by Andrew T. Mackay adds emotion at crucial points in the story line. And when video, lighting, and sound designers Andrzej Goulding, Tim Lutkin, and Carolyn Downing transform the solid stage into a dewy liquid — a spontaneous applause sprung from the house. The life-size puppets by Nick Barnes & Finn Caldwell — a goat, an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena, a sea turtle, and most famously, a tiger — move and breathe, taking on a life of their own, especially as operated by a sterling ensemble.

Rajesh Bose, Hiran Abeysekera

Lolita Chakrabartis stage adaptation of Yann Martel’s 2001 Man Booker prize-winning novel won five Olivier awards in London. After playing A.R.T. in Boston, this gorgeous show, directed by the brilliant Max Webster, outshines the film adaptation in many ways. The stagecraft, aided by the tragic but uplifting story, should be a Broadway mainstay.

The CompanyRowan Magee, Celia Mei Rubin, Nikki Calonge

The play presents the story of Pi (an indefatigable Hiran Abeysekera) a young man who seeks the meaning of life in multiple religious traditions and who finds himself adrift on the ocean after a shipwreck, first threatened by and eventually learning to live with creatures once caged by his family in their Indian zoo. His effort to describe his travails to an insurance investigator is a tale of survival that draws on both practical skills and inner wisdom — until the very end of the story, when we learn that he might have told another, much darker, story. His choice of which story to tell — as well as his awareness that he has a choice — is indeed the meaning of life that Pi has been seeking and that this production offers.

Hiran Abeysekera, Richard Parker
(Fred Davis, Scarlet Wildernik, Andrew Wilson)
Sonya Venugopal, Celia Mei Rubin, Hiran Abeysekera

You should know that Chakrabarti hasn’t crafted the greatest script. It definitely tells a story from line to line as characters are revealed, and it moves swiftly enough, but there’s an absence of subtlety, nuance, and humor. Many characters are made up of tropes (religious, rebellious) and could use fleshing out, so some dialogue suffers. It may strut its stuff starkly and powerfully, but Life of Pi definitely seems more interested in the effect it will have on us as spectators than it is in moving us. We marvel at its theatricality and are stirred, from time to time, but it does seem more like a well-oiled machine than a throbbing drama. And yet, even though Life of Pi misses its chance to bring tears to the eye, the entire show will give you joy and chills from its ingenuity.

Hiran Abeysekera, Richard Parker
(Fred Davis, Scarlet Wildernik, Andrew Wilson)

photos by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
Tues & Thurs at 7; Wed and Fri at 7:30; Sat at 8; Wed & Sat at 2; Sun at 3
open run
for tickets ($49 – $199), call 212.239.6200 or visit Telecharge
day before the performance digital lottery tix ($45) at Rush Telecharge
limited number day-of rush tickets ($40) in-person at the box office
for more info, visit Life Of Pi Bway

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Lawrence May 1, 2023 at 3:01 pm

I enjoyed this in its first week of previews and agree wholeheartedly with this review. I found the doctors to be written and portrayed in an unrealistic and simplistic manner, especially at the play’s conclusion. Perhaps worth noting to playgoers, I was told the theater’s rush seats are very close to the elevated and raked stage, causing a very limited view of the visual effects. I sat in the rear orchestra and was very happy. Another review suggested this might well be a production where front mezzanine seating is ideal.


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