Review of reviews: Stage & Film
Springsteen on Broadway
Walter Kerr Theatre, New York City, (212) 239-6200
Maybe we’ve been selling Bruce Springsteen’s talents short all along, said Madison Vain in Entertainment Weekly. In his new one-man show on Broadway, the 68-yearold rock legend proves to be “an ace dry comedian” who’s “even better when he’s breaking your heart.” He reveals both gifts, and many more, in a two-hour performance that’s essentially a bare-bones acoustic concert mixed with biographical recollections. But early on, a couple of his anecdotes about growing up in workingclass New Jersey spark “raucous laughter,” and when he later talks about the 2011 death of saxophonist Clarence Clemons and says, “Losing him was like losing the rain,” a powerful quiet “washes over the crowd.” Across 15 songs, Springsteen takes the crowd on a journey, and the result, said Andy Greene in RollingStone.com, is “one of the most compelling and profound shows by a rock musician in recent memory.”
The format works beautifully— for “a mesmerizing half hour or so,” said Mikael Wood in the Los Angeles Times. When he’s talking about his parents and drifting into intimate songs like “My Father’s House” and “The Wish,” you “almost forget you’re in a theater surrounded by other people, so evocative are his images.” He’s good, too, as he uses “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and “The Promised Land” to recall putting his band together and working to hit it big. But after a nice interlude during which his wife, Patti Scialfa, joins him for two duets, the show, on opening night, “kind of fell apart.” The adoring crowd wanted to sing along when the star launched into “Dancing in the Dark,” but he told them not to. At the moment when his fans wanted release and the joy of feeling united in song, he insisted on proceeding alone, with just his guitar, piano, and harmonica.
But a fun time is not the point, said Jesse Green in The New York Times. From start to finish, Springsteen “clearly knows where he’s headed”: He’s presenting himself as a guy who bet while young on rock’s ability to shape American culture, to celebrate what’s best in it while helping change it for the better. Because enormous professional success hasn’t erased disappointment over his unmet dreams, Springsteen on Broadway often feels “like a radio monodrama broadcast from the deepest interior of a troubled soul.” His fans are clearly ready for it, sometimes paying more than $1,000 a ticket, and creating sellouts for all performances through the show’s February close. Most won’t be disappointed. “Indeed, as portraits of artists go, there may never be anything as real—and beautiful—on Broadway.”
Directed by Reginald Hudlin (PG-13)
A young Thurgood Marshall flashes his courtroom talent.
“Is Chadwick Boseman the new Meryl Streep?” asked Colin Covert in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The actor who played James Brown in Get on Up and Jackie Robinson in 42 shares Streep’s talent for channeling historical figures, and here he excels again as a young Thurgood Marshall. The movie is set in 1941, years before Marshall became the nation’s first African- American Supreme Court justice. Instead, he’s a cocky young NAACP trial lawyer tapped to defend a black chauffeur, played by Sterling K. Brown, who’s been accused of raping a wealthy white woman in Greenwich, Conn. Fortunately, the courtroom thriller that follows is no “eat-your-spinach civics lesson.” Because Marshall isn’t licensed in Connecticut, he’s forced to lean on a less experienced Jewish lawyer, said Alan Zilberman in The Washington Post. The resulting friction makes Boseman and Josh Gad a compelling courtroom team. Kate Hudson does good work as the chauffeur’s accuser, and the trial sequences “have a distinctive, authentic tone,” said Joe Morgenstern in The Wall Street Journal. Marshall is irreverent, not worshipful, and it “surprises at every turn.”
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Directed by Angela Robinson (R)
A love triangle gives birth to a superheroine.
The sexy new period drama about the true origins of Wonder Woman turns out to be “escapist entertainment of the highest, most nourishing order,” said Emily Yoshida in NYMag.com. It’s no secret these days that the whip-toting comic-book heroine was created in the 1940s by a Harvard psychologist who had a taste for dominant women and had shared a long-term three-way love affair with his brilliant wife and their academic research assistant. The surprise here is that the movie doesn’t depend on its bedroom scenes. “Intelligence and empathy and the pursuit of beauty is what unites this trio,” and that proves “pretty hot.” The movie itself is actually a “fairly stodgy” biopic, said Ty Burr in The Boston Globe. And though Luke Evans is a good actor, his uncharismatic William Marston is “overshadowed to some degree” by Bella Heathcote’s Olive and “definitely” by Rebecca Hall’s Elizabeth. Though viewers may long for an edgier dramatization, said Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times, “there is something about this one’s sleek, streamlined conventionality that feels appropriate.” Professor Marston doesn’t break free of its genre shackles, but because the onscreen chemistry between the three leads is combustible, “this is one instance, at least, in which submission has its uses.”
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times/Redux, Barry Wetcher, Claire Folger ■