Start spreading the news…about “Chicago,” not so much “New York, New York.”
Last week, after “The Phantom of the Opera” played its final performance, the Broadway revival of Kander and Freb Ebb’s “Chicago” (which opened in November 1996) took over the mantle as the longest-running show currently on Broadway. If it can keep running for another nine years, it will become the longest-running show in Broadway history (not counting the two-year run of the original production of “Chicago” in the 1970s).
While “Chicago” and “Cabaret” are clearly the most successful musicals by Kander (now 96 years old) and Ebb, the pair wrote also many other worthy musicals, including a few that finally came to Broadway after Ebb’s death in 2004, such as the musical comedy “Curtains” and “The Scottsboro Boys,” a vigorous and daring work that is on par with “Chicago” and “Cabaret.”
The latest “new” Kander and Ebb musical (which is mostly made up of various selections from the Kander and Ebb songbook and new songs with lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Kander himself) is “New York, New York,” a nostalgic love letter to New York City (not unlike “On the Town” and “Wonderful Town”) that is loosely based on Martin Scorcese’s problematic 1977 film of the same name, which is difficult to sit through but at least features Liza Minnelli introducing “But the World Goes ‘Round” and the well-known title song.
The basic premise is the same: a jazz musician (Colton Ryan) and singer (Anna Uzele) fall in love and try to make it big in postwar New York – but the tone has been overhauled to make it warm-hearted and sentimental and the storyline has been expanded to include a racially and ethnically diverse array of other aspiring artists.
As directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman (“The Producers”), “New York, New York” contains many busy and inventive moments of staging built around iconic New York settings (Times Square, Central Park, Grand Central, a high-rise construction site, tenement exterior, jazz nightclub) and high-powered vocal performances from Ryan and Uzele (who triumphantly concludes the show with the title song alongside the orchestra, which rises to the stage for the occasion).
In spite of the showmanship, “New York, “New York” is long-winded and undercooked. It has too many characters (which leads to sketchy characterizations and rushed scenes) and its attempt to explore racism of the period feels tacked on. On the whole, “New York, New York” seems overly concerned with trying to advertise itself as a show for tourists who want a feel-good, sanitized look at the city – a far cry from “Chicago” and “Cabaret.”
St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St., newyorknewyorkbroadway.com.