Broadway Review: NEW YORK, NEW YORK — A NEW MUSICAL (St. James Theatre)

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by Kevin Vavasseur on May 3, 2023

in Theater-New York


So apparently it’s still up to you New York — with a healthy assist from Susan Stroman and Lin-Manuel Miranda – to bring Martin Scorsese’s underrated 1977 film New York, New York to Broadway. But this new production, New York, New York – A New Musical, currently running at the St. James Theater, is not an adaptation of the movie but is merely “inspired by” Scorsese’s cinematic opus, whichstarred Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro.

Colton Ryan, Anna Uzele (Paul Kolnik)
Jim Borstelmann (Paul Kolnik)

Writers David Thompson and Sharon Washington keep only the most basic of the film’s plot points and expand the focus from the romance between girl band singer Francine Evans (Minnelli) and saxophonist/band leader Jimmy Doyle (De Niro) to a larger romance between New York City itself and the dreamers who fall under it’s spell. It’s a story that’s part rags to riches, part boy meets girl, part American Dream mythology, part “believe in yourself” exercise and all ensconced within the fabulous Kander and Ebb songbook. It even directly confronts post-war era racism and homophobia, albeit in a fairly Disneyfied way.

The Company (Paul Kolnik)

Add brilliantly talented performers, Sam Davis and Daryl Waters‘ lush orchestrations, Beowulf Boritt‘s impressive sets, Donna Zakowska‘s gorgeous costuming, Ken Billington’s exquisite lighting, and Stroman’s expert staging and choreography and — start spreadin’ the news — New York, New York is an over-written but heartfelt love letter to the idea of a place where dreams come true: New York City.

Anna Uzele & Colton Ryan (Paul Kolnik)

It’s summer 1946 in Manhattan. As a multitude of New Yorkers of all shapes, sizes, ages and races hustle and bustle through their day, we soon meet exuberant Irish-American Jimmy Doyle (break-out Colton Ryan) and African-American singer Francine Evans (mesmerizing Anna Uzele). After a chance meeting at an audition, continued conversation between these two wannabes leads to Jimmy crooning “Major Chord.” As Jimmy explains it, “…a major chord is when everything in your life works out perfectly. When you have everything in the right order. One is music. Two is money. And three is love.”

Angel Sigala & Oliver Prose (AKA)

And Jimmy’s dream of a major-chord life somehow encompasses not only his hopes but those of Francine and three others: a young Puerto Rican percussionist named Mateo Diaz (charming Angel Sigala); a young Polish immigrant violinist named Alex Mann (moving Oliver Prose); and a fresh-from-the-battlefield African-American saxophonist named Jesse Webb (strong John Clay III). While the specifics of what constitutes a major chord may differ in their own respective visions, the tumultuous journeys of these five strangers somehow intertwine under Jimmy’s efforts to create the life he’s always wanted. But do they all eventually wake up in the city that never sleeps? To find they are kings of their hills? Tops of their heaps?

John Clay III (AKA)

There’s a lot of story in this show, which is both its strength and challenge. In an effort to create a canvas that is worthy of the dream of New York City, the writers borrow heavily from familiar story tropes such as: one star performer rises while the other descends; the hopeful mother (luminous Emily Skinner) awaiting her son’s return from war; the ups and downs of young love; the bit player rising from the chorus; the oppressed person fighting racism solely through personal dignity; the alcoholic hitting bottom — the list goes on.

Janet Dacal, Angel Sigala
The Company (Paul Kolnick)

But the contrivance of these plot points, which were the stock and trade of 1940s movies, oddly works because this show is so firmly set in the Post-War era. There’s an optimism and belief in the myth of American meritocracy that underwrites the entire production and can eventually win over a contemporary, cynical, over-saturated mindset. The show is a fiction after all and, due to the excellent across the board production values and the enormous talents of the people onstage, turns out to be a very good time indeed.

 Clyde Alves, Colton Ryan, Anna Uzele (Paul Kolnik)

Contributing to that good time is a huge tap number on top of a skyscraper girder; Ms. Uzele’s show-stopping rendition of “But the World Goes ‘Round” while standing center-stage in a sumptuous rust-colored gown; Colton Ryan delivering a tour-de-force performance as Jimmy that would make De Niro proud; hilarious comic relief by Clyde Alves playing Jimmy’s best friend Tommy; and the revolving ensemble of secondary characters that are beautifully created solely from movement, dance and attitude. Truly great is Ms. Stroman’s genius staging that has New Yorkers constantly present in the background without undercutting the primary action. And that old chestnut of a theme song, “New York, New York”? Ms. Uzele boldly makes it her own and delivers a rousing, star-making rendition — with strong support from “Jimmy Doyle and his Orchestra” — that had the (actual) audience on their feet, applauding wildly.

The Company (Paul Kolnick)

New York, New York — A New Musical is not a perfect show but New York, NY is not a perfect city. And, like the city, the show can be too much. But, like the city, the show is also beautiful, exciting, moving, disappointing and full of dreams. So c’mon, come through – and see New York, New York.

The Company (Paul Kolnick)

New York, New York
St. James Theatre, 246 W 44th St.
closed Sunday, July 30, 2023 (33 preview and 110 regular performances)
2 hours and 45 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
for tickets, visit NYNY

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