By: Paulanne Simmons
May 4, 2023: Although the Playbill for Broadway’s new musical, New York, New York, says the show is based on the 1977 Metro-Goldywn-Mayer film, it is really far more reminiscent of MGM musicals of the 40s and 50s. This was the era of song, dance and happy endings. A false euphoria was perhaps necessary in the turbulent mid-twentieth century. But let’s get back to New York, New York.
Set shortly after WWII, the film, directed by Martin Scorsese, is about two musicians, pop singer Francine Evans (Liza Minelli) and saxophonist Jimmy Doyle (Robert De Niro), who fall in love, marry, have a baby and separate after their marriage falls apart. It features jazz standards such as George and Ira Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” and Rodgers and Hart’s “Blue Moon,” and of course, Kander and Ebb’s iconic title song, “New York, New York.”
In the musical, Jimmy (Colton Ryan) is an Irish bandleader and sometime alcoholic (talk about stereotypes!) who falls for Francine (Anna Uzele), an African American singer. This provides the obligatory lesson on the country’s historical and ever-present original sin. It takes quite a while before the two get together, but they have no baby, and happily, no separation.
There are several subplots. Mateo Diaz (Angel Sigala) is a Cuban percussionist coming to terms with his music, his mother, his father and his sexuality. Alex Mann is a Jewish violinist who fled Europe during the Holocaust. Madame Veltri (Emily Skinner) is a music teacher anxiously awaiting her son’s return from the war in the Pacific. Jesse (John Clay III) is an African American soldier, back home after the war, who plays the trumpet and gives the show one more opportunity to give us a lesson.
It takes book writer David Thompson the entire first act to get the story going. Fortunately, director and choreographer Susan Stroman keeps the show rolling with a series of impeccable production numbers: “Cheering for Me Now,” “My Own Music,” “Happy Endings/Let’s Hear it For Me.” But it’s not until the second act that we really become involved with the show’s principals. As for the secondary characters, sometimes it’s hard to understand why they have been included at all in the storyline.
Beowulf Boritt’s set, with its skyscrapers, fire escapes and iconic image of the Chrysler building, and Donna Zakowska’s jazzy period costumes, give New York, New York plenty of glitz. The score, featuring new and old tunes by Kander, and lyrics by Ebb and Lin-Manuel Miranda, is pleasant and mostly upbeat, with a few ballads thrown in. Unfortunately, most of the songs sound disturbingly like other, better ones. Kander, Miranda and Ebb (who had no say in the matter) have created a bunch of wannabe standards for a wannabe smash show.
New York, New York has lots of pizzazz, but it doesn’t have the passion of a hit.
New York, New York ***1/2
St. James Theatre
246 West 44 Street, NYC
Photography: Paul Kolnik