Rocking 'n' Rolling… And Stalling

Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, and Lin-Manuel Miranda in Miranda’s “Hamilton.” | JOAN MARCUS

Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, and Lin-Manuel Miranda in Miranda’s “Hamilton.” | JOAN MARCUS

Hamilton” has moved to Broadway with all the attendant buzz and fireworks (literally, over the Hudson on opening night). It is every bit as good as you’ve heard.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, in adapting Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, has created vibrant theater and pushed the musical as a form to an important new level. His lyrics are consistently brilliant, his ability to synthesize diverse musical styles and topics into a coherent whole is thrilling, and the book is beautifully crafted. In short, like “Fun Home” and “Here Lies Love,” “Hamilton” is what is making the musical relevant and exciting in 2015.

In contrast to the Golden Age of Broadway musicals following World War II that pushed music into the culture and, to an extent, defined popular taste, “Hamilton” draws diverse styles from the culture, using them to draw in an intrigued and, from all one can tell, adoring audience.

“Hamilton” conquers Broadway, Everett Quinton revives classic camp, “John” is just long

I reviewed “Hamilton” in detail back in March when it played at the Public. In making the move to Broadway, the show has only gotten stronger. Across the board, the actors are more grounded and precise in their performances –– and they seem genuine in their joy at being on stage –– and that has tightened the narrative and underscored the plot’s political machinations. The show, as a result, seems more immediate.

Miranda is even more confident and nuanced as Hamilton than he was previously, as is Leslie Odom, Jr. as his nemesis, Aaron Burr. Renee Elise Goldsberry as Angelica Schuyler and Phillipa Soo as Eliza Schuyler Hamilton are also reprising their roles from the Public, and both are sublime — classical singers completely at home with the score’s varied demand. There are moments when Soo in particular takes your breath away. Also returning is Daveed Diggs, who, doubling as Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, moves seamlessly among rap, funk, and music hall-style performances.

In the earlier production, Jonathan Groff played King George as a stereotypical gay fop, which to me seemed “discordant” with the other performances. Happily, under the direction of Thomas Kail, Groff is making other, subtler choices and the result is a smart, intelligent, and thoroughly engaging performance.

The rest of Kail’s work in mounting the show is inspired. Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography is a blend of traditional styles accented with contemporary athleticism that is consistently fresh and vibrant. The production looks spectacular. Paul Tazewell’s costumes are very smart. I’m a huge fan of set designer David Korins, and he has outdone himself here with a gorgeous, understated, and timeless scaffolding. Howell Binkley’s lighting is sharp and dramatic.

What you will have to resign yourself to, however, is waiting for tickets. Unless you want to buy resale tickets that go as high as $1,200 each or win the daily lottery for seats in the first two rows, you’re going to have to wait until March. Hamilton himself would likely have been intrigued to learn of this level of profiteering, since he championed the notion that, legally and morally, individuals have the right to profit or lose by the transactions they make. But if you love the theater, whatever you choose to pay, you will profit handsomely from seeing “Hamilton.”

Everett Quinton and Jason Cruz in “Drop Dead Perfect.” | ED MCCARTHY

Everett Quinton and Jason Cruz in “Drop Dead Perfect.” | ED MCCARTHY

“Drop Dead Perfect” starring Everett Quinton is back in a Penguin Rep Theater production at Theatre at St. Clement's for a limited eight-week run. This camp comedy –– a mash-up of pulp fiction, overwrought horror films, and, yes, “I Love Lucy” –– is madcap, antic, and thoroughly entertaining.

Quinton plays Idris Seabright, a woman of a certain age who lives in the Keys with her ward Vivien, a would-be artist. Her lawyer, who stays in the guesthouse, plies her with pills, and then her long-lost half-Cuban nephew shows up. It all ends in hilarious disaster for everyone, except the audience, of course.

I once completed a project ” for the recently defunct Columbia House writing the synopses for every episode of “I Love Lucy, so I got even the most obscure references in “Drop Dead Perfect.” I’m not sure everyone will. Many, if not most, of the pop culture allusions in Erasmus Finn’s play may be lost on a contemporary audience. Camp, cross-dressing, and sly cribbing from noir movies and tropes were once more subversive and dangerous. Much of that seems lost now, and as diverting as “Drop Dead Perfect” is –– particularly with fine performances by Jason Cruz, Jason Edward Cook, and Timothy C. Goodwin rounding out the company –– it’s missing that poke in the eye of convention and norms that once upon a time gave the genre a far sharper edge.

At three-and-one-half hours running time, Annie Baker’s “John” requires a time commitment not often asked in the contemporary theater. It also requires a bit of patience because virtually nothing happens in all that time.

The plot concerns a couple who arrive at a Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, bed-and-breakfast during the holiday season. The house may be haunted. The couple, Elias and Jenny, may be breaking up. The proprietress, Mertis, may be a little intrusive, and her blind friend, Genevieve, is without question cantankerous.

As Elias goes off to the battlefields, Jenny chats with Mertis and Genevieve, in rambling and disjointed ways about “love, live, anguish, angst,” as the dismissive lyric from “Nine” goes, finishing with, “Thanks to him, we have boredom at the movies.”

It is nonetheless to the credit of Baker, director Sam Gold, and the cast that “John” is as engaging as it is, but given the sketchy nature of the writing, it’s hard to care about any of the characters. It’s clear that Baker is going for the kind of studied naturalism that worked so beautifully in “Circle Mirror Transformation,” but here just seems lugubrious.

Georgia Engel is charming as Mertis, but her entire performance is based in the idiosyncratic delivery she bring to everything. The play demeans Mertis somewhat, and laughing at her for her age, infirmities, and tchotchkes feels like a cheap trick. Christopher Abbott as Elias and Hong Chau as Jenny are virtually without affect, which is obviously a choice but one that wears thin. It’s always wonderful to see Lois Smith, but here she gives a one-note, cranky-person performance that is more grating than anything else.

Ultimately, “John” feels unfinished and unfocused, as bland as Elias and Jenny and with a predictable ending that could have been reached in less than half the time –– before the characters wore out their welcome.

HAMILTON | Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 W. 46th St. | Tue., Thu. at 7 p.m.; Wed., Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat. at 2 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. | $65-$180 at or 800-745-3000 | Two hrs., 45 mins., one intermission

DROP DEAD PERFECT | Theatre at St. Clement's, 423 W. 46th St. | Through Oct. 11: Mon., Wed.-Thu. at 7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. at 3 p.m. | $69; or 845-786-2873 | Ninety mins., no intermission

JOHN | Pershing Square Signature Center | 480 W. 42nd St. | Sept. 4 & 6 at 7:30 p.m.; Sep. 5 at 8 p.m. |$25 at or 212-244-7529 | Three hrs., 30 mins., with two intermissions