Reviews

Hell’s Kitchen ****

New York. Broadway. Hells Kitchen.  Manhattan Plaza – it’s apocalyptic. 

By: Isa Goldberg

May 7, 2024: From The Public Theatre to Broadway, Alicia Keys’ new musical celebrates pop music, and the creative culture which breeds it.  A coming of age story about a singer-musician, Ali (short for Alicia), who lives in Manhattan Plaza with her mother, the show famously stars Maleah Joi Moon.

The cast of ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ on Broadway.

New York. Broadway. Hells Kitchen.  Manhattan Plaza – it’s apocalyptic. 

By: Isa Goldberg

May 7, 2024: From The Public Theatre to Broadway, Alicia Keys’ new musical celebrates pop music, and the creative culture which breeds it.  A coming of age story about a singer-musician, Ali (short for Alicia), who lives in Manhattan Plaza with her mother, the show famously stars Maleah Joi Moon.

While Moon’s gorgeous voice gets the show major buzz, the understudy who performed when I attended, nailed the songs, and they are big anthemic numbers for any singer to master. Charismatic and down-to-earth, Gianna Harris grasps the heartbeat of the story, and runs with it. Her performance also demonstrates what a fresh, invigorating show Kristoffer Diaz has written.

Kecia Lewis and Maleah Joi Moon.

And Ali is the kind of character that Diaz has explored, though more tragically in his Pulitzer Prize winning drama The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity. Like Hells Kitchen, this earlier play was developed and performed at The Public Theater.

But unlike Chad, a professional boxer who has it all – money, jewels, and the fan base, Ali’s earnest quest is sweet and innocent in its own way. Watching the ensemble numbers with Ali and her friends and neighbors at Manhattan Plaza, also brings the audience to an awareness of the social and racial stereotypes that prevail in entertainment today.

At the show’s opening, a diverse ensemble of struggling artists, Ali’s neighbors gather, chatting up a movie, talking about art, BLM, and New Yawk! That the story builds naturally, and through Ali’s stream of consciousness, makes the show fly by, because we believe in her, and we believe in her  quest.

Shoshana Bean and Maleah Joi Moon.

As her father, Brandon Victor Dixon, a brilliant jazz musician and singer – plays a smooth and obviously flawed character – stereotypically absent. More importantly, the female characters – both Ali’s mother (Shoshana Bean) and later Mizz Liza (Kecia Lewis) are loving role models who support and protect her interests.

As “one amazing single mom,” Shoshana Bean hits her mark. But when Ali meets Miss Liza playing the piano in the Ellington Room at Manhattan Plaza, it opens up her eyes in one of the show’s best songs, Kaleidoscope

Lewis is a searing presence with a rich deep voice. She gets to the heart of matters quickly, “My first piano teacher was a white woman. In exchange for showing me the scales, she had her lawn set aflame, three ribs fractured, her piano destroyed.” She tells her, insisting that Ali keep playing. 

Maleah Joi Moon and Chris Lee.

Chris Lee as Ali’s boyfriend is incredibly hot, and the two have magical chemistry.  For the audience, following Ali downtown to Alphabet City to be with him, it feels like we’re in a mini NYC travelogue.  

Robert Brill’s staging of life in and around subsidized housing units gets to the guts of city life. But that remains in the background. In the foreground, Natasha Katz lights the standalone songs most lusciously. As for Dede Ayite’s costumes it’s clear they did not have to go far to find them.

Masterful direction by Michael Grief makes Hells Kitchen feel like it was born for Broadway.It comes alive on the stage without feeling contrived. 

Mostly it’s Alicia Keys music, authentic urban swagger that is warm and pop friendly that carries the show. 

Hell’s Kitchen ****
Shubert Theatre
225 West 44th Street in NYC
Photography: Marc J Franklin.

Maleah Joi Moon and the cast of Hell’s Kitchen.