Review: American Son, Booth Theatre

Kerry Washington, Steven Pasquale, and Jeremy Jordan in American Son
RATING: ★★★★

It's hard to imagine a play more relevant to today's political and social circumstances than American Son. This show, written by Christopher Demos-Brown and deftly directed by Kenny Leon, examines what it means to be the mother of a black son in modern America. Kerry Washington leads the cast brilliantly, but each member is perfect for their role. The show isn't easy to watch -- and it shouldn't be -- as it causes every audience member to actually reflect on life in America today.

The show opens onto a Florida police station in the early hours of the morning as Kendra (Kerry Washington) tries to get information from Officer Paul Larkin (Jeremy Jordan) about what they know about her missing eighteen-year-old son. Larkin's questioning soon reveals his racial bias, but it's laid plain when he proves much more helpful to Kendra's white husband Scott (Steven Pasquale). However, little information is available and Kendra and Scott's frustration escalates as they deal with Lieutenant John Stokes (Eugene Lee).

Kendra and Scott begin to argue not just over how they've raised their son but also about what caused their own separation as things start to unravel. The question of whether or not their son is in police custody or injured hangs in the air for almost the entirety of the show. The show is a succinct eighty-five minutes long but doesn't feel short. In fact, by the time it ended, I felt like I couldn't handle any more stress.

Steven Pasquale and Kerry Washington in American Son
Kerry Washington is stunning as the concerned mother Kendra who is eager to demand answers about her son's whereabouts. Unlike Kerry's character on Scandal, Kendra has little tact or patience in dealing with the men. She spends the show in one outfit with her hair slicked back into a ponytail. It's not a glamorous role -- and all the more powerful for it. It's a powerful portrayal and feels heartbreakingly authentic especially as Kendra starts to fall apart towards the end.

Steven Pasquale is equally well cast as Kendra's husband Scott. He perfectly portrays a charisma that covers his true personality until he begins to criticize Kendra for the way she has raised their son since their separation. This duality makes him feel all the more real.

Kerry Washington, Steven Pasquale, and Eugene Lee in American Son
Officer Paul Larkin is a very different role than the ones we're used to seeing Jeremy Jordan in, showing off his versatility as an actor. Though it's not a large role (Kerry Washington is very obviously the lead of this cast), he manages to make it very memorable. Similarly, Eugene Lee does a splendid job as Lieutenant John Stokes and the conversation between him and Kendra is one of the parts that has stuck with me most since I saw the show.

The show's set, by Derek McLane, is so realistic and thorough it almost seems more like a movie or television set. The whole show takes place on the one set with continual action but they make great use of the rather large space. 

Kerry Washington and Steven Pasquale in American Son
The show has a chilling message about the truth of raising a black son in America. It's impressive how the character of the son permeates the show despite never appearing onstage. I would recommend that everyone who can should go see this play, but especially anyone who liked the recent film The Hate U Give as it deals with some of the same issues of racism and police violence. It's a powerful piece that demands attention -- and that I wouldn't be surprised to see at this year's Tony Awards. 

American Son is playing at the Booth Theatre until January 27. 
Photo Credit: Peter Cunningham 

Review: Anastasia, Broadhurst Theatre

Christy Altomare and Zach Adkins in Anastasia the Musical
RATING: ★★★★

When my family moved me to New York a few weeks ago, there was only one show that we all really wanted to see on Broadway: Anastasia. The animated film was actually the first one that I ever saw in a cinema and I've adored it ever since. When the cast album released last year, I was thrilled to find that they'd managed to capture the essence of the original while making some changes that thrilled my history-major heart. (Thank you, thank you, thank you for acknowledging that St Petersburg was Leningrad at the time this musical is set.)

I'm pleased to report that the show is absolutely gorgeous. The cast are brilliant and while the book is not perfect, the design is lovely. Under Darko Tresnjak's direction, the worlds of Soviet Russia and 1920s Paris take shape. The musical retained the charm of the film while also developing its darker side, by replacing Rasputin with the Soviet officer Gleb. New songs have been added to the show including some gorgeous solos for Anya that I actually prefer to the original ones.

Christy Altomare is perfectly cast. She captures the fairytale princess Anastasia and the scrappy street urchin Anya equally well. She has lovely chemistry with every person in the cast somehow and is able to portray Anya's struggle to remember who she is with surprising nuance. I feel so lucky that I got to see the show with her still a part of it.

Zach Adkins and John Bolton in Anastasia the Musical 
Sadly I didn't get to see Zach Adkins as Dmitry, but I did get to see the incredible understudy Kyle Brown. He absolutely never missed a beat. I have high standards for Dmitry, as the character was probably my first crush as a little girl, but Kyle actually exceeded them. His "My Petersburg" was definitely one of the highlights of the show.

My favorite member of the cast was definitely John Bolton as Vlad, Dmitry's accomplice. It's rare to see a performer with that much energy through his whole performance. He's one of those actors that's a joy to watch simply because he seems like he's having a great time. I love that the musical fleshed out the role of a Vlad a bit more from the film and John makes the most of it.

I was curious what I would think of Max Von Essen as the new antagonist Gleb. While I adore Ramin Karimloo's voice on the cast album, I wasn't sure that his interpretation of the character made sense to me within the plot. Max's Gleb is very different and worked much better for me within the context of the show. His voice is gorgeous (making "The Neva Flows" and "Still" splendid) and watching his internal struggle throughout the show was fascinating. He reminded me quite a bit of one of my favorite screen actors, Jeremy Northam.

Max Von Essen and Christy Altomare in Anastasia the Musical
I was so excited to see Judy Kaye as the Dowager Empress and her voice is still so gorgeous. Vicki Lewis is delightful as the Countess Lily and the physical comedy she and John Bolton have in "The Countess and the Common Man" is hilarious. The whole ensemble were lovely, especially the ballet dancers.

One of the things that I loved the most was actually the design of the show. It's the best use of projections (designed by Aaron Rhyne) that I've seen in a theatre in a long time as they create many different backdrops. I love how they staged the scenes on the train and I thought that Anya's flashbacks were done very well. The costumes, designed by Linda Cho, are stunning especially in the pre-revolution Russian scenes and the Paris section of the show.

Christy Altomare in Anastasia the Musical
It's no secret that I cry in a lot of musicals, but not many can make me cry multiple times in the first act. (If anyone else misses their grandmother, ready.) Getting to see one of my favorite childhood films come to life on stage with a great cast and beautiful design, with added elements of historical accuracy and a darker undertone, honestly felt like a dream come true. This is definitely a show that I'll be returning to, as soon as possible.

Anastasia the Musical is selling tickets on Broadway through June 2019. 
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy 
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