The company of New York, New York
The company of ‘New York, New York.’ Photo by Emilio Madrid

The Rundown

Move over, Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro, a freshly conceived love interest anchors the big-budget musical adaptation of the 1977 film New York, New York. Packed with tap-dancing construction workers, the neon lights of Broadway (before they were replaced with digital billboards), and a jazz-era score, the musical hits nearly all the right notes for a magical night at the theater.

Directed and choreographed by five-time Tony winner Susan Stroman, New York, New York, accomplishes the near impossible, delivering wide-eyed optimism with an American Dream reality check, all wrapped up in a beautiful package that will appeal to first-time visitors as well as jaded locals who wonder why they put up with the city that never sleeps.

No Tea, No Shade

Anna Uzele and Colton Ryan in New York New York
Anna Uzele and Colton Ryan in ‘New York, New York.’ Photo by Paul Kolnik

It’s summer 1946 — nearly a year after the end of World War II — and America is still reckoning with the more than 418,000 lives lost. Among them is Jimmy Doyle (Colton Ryan), a hot-tempered musician who gets fired or walks out on nearly every gig he books. Jimmy meets aspiring singer Francine Evans (Anna Uzele) while playing piano for auditions at a downtown polka club.

With Jimmy’s pursuit, the pair becomes an item and eventually marry. They face an uphill battle, though, both artistically as each tries to break into an unrelenting industry and culturally as a biracial couple navigating a discriminatory world.

But it’s New York, after all, and everyone has a story. Book writers David Thompson and Sharon Washington weave together three additional narratives, including first-generation Cuban American Mateo Diaz (Angel Sigala), a queer-coded passionate percussionist struggling to find his creative outlet and escape his abusive home; Abramek Dodje Klonowska Manikowski — Americanized to Alex Mann (Oliver Prose) — a soft-spoken immigrant war survivor seeking the pedagogy from violin virtuoso Madame Veltri (Emily Skinner); and Jesse Webb (John Clay III), a Black veteran facing discrimination despite risking his life to defend his country.

It’s a lot to pack in, but Stroman, who helmed the long-running hit The Producers, pulls out all the stops, aided by a fantastic score by John Kander, the late Fred Ebb, and additional lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Lesser-known songs from the Kander and Ebb canon supplement the title number and provide a gorgeously crafted blueprint for Stroman’s legendary dance sequences as well as more intimate moments of discovery.

Scenic designer Beowulf Boritt captures New York City’s magic and mayhem with architectural detail and occasional whimsy (interior walls are purposefully cropped as if the city’s notoriously expensive square footage couldn’t accommodate), while projection design by Boritt and Christopher Ash and lighting design by Ken Billington flood the St. James Theatre with a dreamlike quality. The production even honors Manhattanhenge, the coveted day when the sunset aligns with Manhattan’s east-west-oriented streets.

Let’s Have a Moment

The cast of Broadway's New York, New York
The company of ‘New York, New York.’ Photo by Paul Kolnik

Audiences can expect a Stroman production at her very best. The veteran director-choreographer has assembled many longtime collaborators, including a multi-talented ensemble that understands character as much as dance technique. And as the central couple, Eddie and Francine, Ryan and Uzele’s chemistry sparks as he slowly chips away at Francine’s necessary defenses. After he suggests she reconsider what kinds of gigs she accepts, Francine delivers it plain and simple: “You still don’t get it. I have to work twice as hard to get half as far.”

While battling his own demons, Jimmy remains optimistic, eventually convincing a Harlem club owner to allow him to manage the venue and bring in his band. With the possibility looming, he sings “Quiet Thing,” originally written for Kander and Ebb’s 1965 musical Flora the Red Menace starring Liza Minnelli.

Ryan, in nearly a whisper, delivers an anthem of hope and possibility. His voice echoes the period vibrato of Bing Crosby with an understated fearlessness that forgoes the pingy, hard-vowel vocal coaching that permeates Broadway. Music director Alvin Hough, Jr. and music supervisor/arranger Sam Davis embrace Ryan’s unique quality, resulting in one of the most original performances of the season.

The Last Word

The cast of New York New York
The company of ‘New York, New York.’ Photo by Paul Kolnik

Stroman understands the impact of undertaking a story in which the city itself is a central character.

“New York is resilient. It has to be — we live our lives in the extremes,” Stroman told Playbill. “We have the greatest people — the greatest characters. And we’re the most tolerant of all the cities. We fight to live on top of each other, to live. It sounds crazy to people who live in the Midwest, but we do. We just love it so much. We love the energy of it. We love the people that we meet. And that the people that we meet are from everywhere.”

In a season of retrofitted musicals like Some Like It Hot and Camelot, New York, New York captures the magic and the mayhem of its source material. And if it can make it here — which I’m sure it will — it can make it anywhere.

New York, New York plays on Broadway at the St. James Theatre.

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