Broadway reviews | American Buffalo, if you can stand David Mamet, is damn good; Harmony Offers Sincerity to Barry Manilow
Once upon a time, David Mamet was the highly respected and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of “American Buffalo,” “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “Speed-the-Plow,” all muscle-bound, male-dominated dramas that expose the darkness side of free enterprise.
Today, Mamet is a potentially dangerous buffoonish ideologue who, for example, claimed in a recent television interview that “teachers are prone, especially men, because men are predators, to pedophilia.”
Still, if you can still bring yourself to see one of Mamet’s plays, you’re unlikely to do better than the excellent Broadway revival of “American Buffalo” starring Lawrence Fishburne, Sam Rockwell and Darren Criss.
Set in a low thrift store, Donny (Fishburne) plans to steal a valuable coin with the help of his gofer Bobby (Criss) and brash pal Teach (Rockwell), resulting in misunderstandings and violence. .
With rhythmic dialogue, multi-faceted performances and intimate environmental staging, Neil Pepe’s expert production is like a cauldron of suspension and insecurity that eventually bursts into brutality.
For what it’s worth, there’s also a life-size replica of an American buffalo in the theater lobby.
Circle in the Square, 235 W. 50th St., americanbuffalonyc.com. Until July 10.
Harmony: Weak but sincere
After a quarter century of development and a handful of regional productions, Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman’s bio-musical “Harmony” is finally getting its New York premiere, in an Off-Broadway staging produced by the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.
“Harmony” celebrates the real-life story of the Comedian Harmonists, an all-male German musical group, made up of three Jews and three Gentiles, who enjoyed international fame until Hitler came to power. It often sounds like an attempt to combine the narratives of “Cabaret”, “The Sound of Music” and “Jersey Boys”.
The show is beautifully directed by Warren Carlyle (choreographer of “The Music Man”) but wildly uneven, with generic pop ballads and comedy bits juxtaposed with historical exposition and up-tempo drama. This tension is best exemplified by Chip Zien (“Into the Woods”), who narrates the show in a flashback format while making comedic cameos as characters such as Marlene Dietrich and Albert Einstein.
One wonders if the musical has benefited from countless rounds of revisions over the years. Frankly, I wish I could have seen the original 1997 production in La Jolla, California, starring Patrick Wilson, Danny Burstein and the late Rebecca Luker.
Either way, let’s give credit to Manilow and Sussman for sustaining their show despite numerous delays and setbacks — and for making an original work rather than a musical jukebox built around their pre-existing pop hits.
Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Place, nytf.org, through May 8.