The images created on stage by director Ivo van Hove are the kind that stay with — and haunt — you pretty much forever. More than a decade ago, he staged Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” at New York Theatre Workshop, and I can still see her with a staple gun violently attaching flowers to the drywall of an unfinished loft. He has done the same with his Broadway debut, Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge,” and if you see it — if you love theater, you really must — you will find the production thrilling, in all senses of the word, and breathtaking, or more accurately breath-holding, as the tension and stakes mount to a shattering climax.
Van Hove, however, is about much more than stage pictures that take your breath away. He has an uncanny ability to see into the heart of a play and its characters to give it contemporary resonance. While his 2004 “Hedda” was an exegesis of pathological solipsism, his “A View from the Bridge” examines the perceived threat immigrants pose to the American dream. Originally written in 1955 in the waning days of McCarthyism, the distrust of the foreigner is sadly resonant in today’s American political nightmare. All you have to do is substitute Muslim for Italian immigrants in Miller’s play, and it could be written today. That’s the power of this production; its tragedy is that in a putatively more enlightened time, fanning the fires of easy, ignorant hatred sells.
The plot concerns a Sicilian family in Brooklyn. Eddie Carbone works as a longshoreman. He lives with his wife Beatrice and his orphaned niece Catherine, whom he has taken in and raised. When two cousins, Marco and Rodolfo, arrive as illegal immigrants, the family tries to help them. Marco is hardworking and intends to return to Italy, but Rodolfo falls in love with Catherine. Eddie finds this highly threatening on many levels, and conflict and tragedy ensue.
Three very different but exciting evenings of theater
The story is simplistic, and it takes a backseat to the character study of Eddie, a deeply flawed man crippled by a belief system that closes off any chance of redemption. The play is narrated in the past tense by Alfieri, a lawyer, an approach that underscores the inevitability of Eddie’s tragedy. As staged on a white platform with no props or sets, the focus is on the language and character details.
Designer Jan Versweyveld has added one ingenious element. Eddie talks repeatedly about how the community is watching him, and there are two banks of audience seats on the stage creating that community. I was seated there, and it took on an immediacy and power that were profound. (The production has just announced that some stage seats will be sold for $20 on each performance day. That is the deal of the season.)
The cast is nothing short of magnificent. Every one gives a fearless, brilliantly realized performance. Michael Gould as Alfieri becomes the conscience of the piece, alternately understanding and outraged at the events. Michael Zegen is powerful as Marco, particularly when he accuses Eddie of killing his children. Russell Tovey is exceptional as Rodolfo, exuberant, loving, and truly incapable of understanding Eddie’s hatred. Phoebe Fox is compelling as Catherine, and Nicola Walker gives as master class in naturalism as Beatrice, who can’t help loving the flawed Eddie.
Mark Strong as Eddie gives a performance that is nothing short of dazzling. He attacks the role like a force of nature, and though Eddie is not a sympathetic character, one’s heart goes out to him. He makes the conflict and the tragedy palpable, and there is not a moment that isn’t perfectly conveyed.
Interestingly, van Hove has decided to restore the play to its original one-act structure, and that works. The accumulation of tension and emotion is so beautifully orchestrated as to be awe-inspiring. I expect I’ll still be talking about this one a decade from now, too.
Move over “Beautiful” and “Jersey Boys,” you have to make room for the new bio-musical, “On Your Feet: The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan.” It’s landed on Broadway in an explosion of music, dance, and talent, and it will likely stay a very long time.
Yes, it’s a formulaic story, but the book by Alexander Dinelaris is long on charm and has just the right amount of humor. And the music is, well, the music. This is a buoyant, vibrant, feel-good story of a fabulous career with its ups and downs that was almost cut short by a terrible accident. We’re not looking for a Pulitzer here; we’re looking for entertainment. And that’s what this show delivers. If you like the music of Gloria Estefan, it’s impossible not to have a good time.
It helps that this good time is able to rely on so much amazing talent. Choreographer Sergio Trujillo comes into his own with this show — not that he doesn’t already have an impressive résumé. The scope and intelligence of his choreography in marrying Broadway to Latin movement are consistently exciting. Director Jerry Mitchell, a Broadway stalwart, knows exactly what he’s doing and tells the story with fluidity and warmth. You may find yourself, literally, at the end of act one dancing in the aisles… or wanting to.
The entire cast is great. Ana Villafañe as Gloria and Josh Segarra as Emilio are both gifted performers who bring the music and the story alive in a vibrant and endearing way. Special note should be made of Alexandria Suarez as Little Gloria, who has an amazingly mature voice for someone so young. She’s delightful.
With colorful sets by David Rockwell, lighting by Kenneth Posner, and costumes by ESosa, every element in this show (including some cringe-inducing ‘80s memories) enhances the experience. This shows creators know how to put on a killer show. Go and have a blast.
A few brief words on Michael John LaChiusa’s “First Daughter Suite,” which unfortunately just closed at the Public. I’m always one to jump at a chance to see Mary Testa, Barbara Walsh, or Alison Fraser — three of the most gifted and accomplished women in musical theater today. To see them in one show was a gift of the theater gods. Structured as four movements, it is the sequel to LaChiusa’s “First Lady Suite,” both examining the interior lives of women in the White House straining for identity in a very public way.
The four stories begin with Pat Nixon (Walsh) negotiating a crisis on Tricia’s wedding day. The second is a fantasy about Amy Carter and Susan Ford trying to rescue the Iranian hostages, with Rosalynn Carter and Betty Ford (Fraser) involved as well. Nancy Reagan (Fraser again) confronts the neurosis of daughter Patti Davis in part three. Finally, Barbara Bush (Testa) muses on her family legacy as she’s being dragooned into campaigning for W’s re-election.
LaChiusa’s music is wonderfully rich and sophisticated, and as sung by the cast, which also included Betsy Morgan, Caissie Levy, Theresa McCarthy, Rachel Bay Jones, Carly Tamer, and Isabel Santiago, was consistently exciting.
The stories don’t delve any more deeply into the lives of these women than we already knew from media reports, but that’s not the point. This musical explores the absurdities and pressures of life in a fishbowl and suggests that for all of us there is really no such thing as “normal.” This show certainly wasn’t normal; it was exquisite.
A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE | Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St.; Through Feb. 21: Tue., Thu. at 7 p.m.; Wed., Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat. at 2 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. | $30-$135 at telecharge.com or 212-239-6200; Some same-day stage seats at $20 | Two hrs.
ON YOUR FEET | Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway at 46th St. | Tue. at 7 p.m.; Wed.-Sat . at 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat. at 2 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. | $55-$149 at ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000 | Two hrs., 30 mins., with intermission