In Case You Missed It: Hand to God's a Hit But Critics Don't Thank Heaven for Gigi

News   In Case You Missed It: Hand to God's a Hit But Critics Don't Thank Heaven for Gigi
It’s that time of year, when a few shows open on Broadway every week, all vying to the same media attention and end-of-season awards. This week saw the openings of Hand to God, Gigi and Wolf Hall.

Hand to God came first. This little-play-that-could worked the hardest to get to New York’s biggest stage. The Robert Askins play debuted at the tiny Ensemble Studio Theatre Off-Off-Broadway. It was then remounted at Off-Broadway’s MCC Theatre. This week, with a couple members of its original cast intact — including Steven Boyer, as a boy possessed by a sock puppet named Tyrone — it finally made it to the Booth Theatre.

Hand to God has already passed the New York Critical Corps review test, so it’s no surprise that it was welcomed with open arms, with reviews applauded the audacity and hilarity of both the script and the central performance.

Steven Boyer
Steven Boyer Photo by Joan Marcus

"In a Broadway season dominated by the usual fodder — musicals new and old, and a healthy serving of Important British Dramas — Mr. Askins's black comedy about the divided human soul, previously seen in two separate Off Broadway runs, stands out as a misfit both merry and scary, and very welcome," said the New York Times.

"Don't let his big eyes, tuft of red hair and argyle sweater fool you: Tyrone is a profane, horny, violent little psycho — and funny as hell, too," wrote the New York Post. "He's found his match in actor Steven Boyer, who plays Tyrone, the star of Broadway's bonkers new comedy Hand to God, with manic, demented intensity."

"In this highly original and laudably fearless and politically incorrect piece," said the Chicago Tribune, "playwright Robert Askins has essentially taken this performance tradition further…[the] cast certainly goes everywhere this piece asks it to go, but the actors also convey a sense of ordinary folks struggling with the chaos that life can suddenly inflict on us all, whether it's in the form of troubled teenagers or bereavement or unfulfilled desire. That compassion is what takes Hand to God beyond the usual condescension you find on Broadway toward Texans or people of faith in general."

The Guardian added, wryly, "It's not a lot more irreverent than The Book of Mormon, but it is a lot dirtier and there are no dance numbers."

"Dirtier than Book of Mormon and no dance numbers!" I can see that in an ad.


Far more traditional fare arrived in the form of Gigi, the stage version of the Leslie Caron movie musical about a young Parisian woman being groomed to become a courtesan, and the older man who falls in love with her. The show, with a score by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe (the main reason the film has remained fixed fondly in the public’s imagination), stars Vanessa Hudgens.

Critics were unconvinced that the creative teams efforts to bring the property into the 21st century succeeded.

"In order to save the score," wrote AP, "the creators of a new Gigi...have done a gut renovation on the book by Colette. They've taken out the creepy factor, but they've taken out the zing, too."

"There's nothing to offend their tender sensibilities in this antiseptic version of Gigi," opined Variety. "Rather than empowering Gigi, putting more years on her makes this young adult seem dimwitted instead of innocently naive. In the same blundering way, drastically dropping the age of her jaded older suitor incongruously forces the boyish Corey Cott into the unconvincing guise of that sophisticated boulevardier Gaston Lachaille. Now that the kids are perfectly matched, there's no longer any intergenerational sexual tension between the principals."

"What the production's creators cannot do, unfortunately, is plump up the thin story or elevate the quality of the score, which doesn't rank among Lerner and Loewe's greatest," added the New York Times.

Summed up Hollywood Reporter: "A lazy eye roll is about the most extreme reaction likely to be provoked by this pretty but charm-deficient revival."


The final openings of the week were the London productions of Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up the Bodies, based on the Hilary Mantel history novels about the bloody reign of Henry VIII. They officially opened on Broadway April 9 at the Winter Garden Theatre. Titled Wolf Hall, Parts 1 and 2 for American audiences, the production features the entire original London cast.

Despite the length of the shows, and the familiar subject, critics were impressed by the massive undertaking.

"This was my third visit to Wolf Hall (after seeing it at Stratford-upon-Avon and London last year), and I found myself just as much in its thrall, and even more admiring of its accomplishment," the Times wrote. "Yet somehow, watching Wolf Hall, Parts 1 and 2, you still find yourself in a state of happy suspense, even if you’ve already seen 'Anne of the Thousand Days' or 'A Man for All Seasons' (about Thomas More, a supporting player here) or, for that matter, if you’ve read Ms. Mantel’s books. That’s partly because this production, like the novels that inspired them, puts an unlikely hero at its center: the manipulative statesman Thomas Cromwell (played by the quietly charismatic Ben Miles), altering the perspective on an oft-told tale."

"This prestige event of the Broadway season offers straightforward storytelling, finely wrought performances and yards upon yards of magnificent 16th century costumes," Newsday wrote, also adding, "It is hard not to wish for something deeper from all those hours onstage." The Hollywood Reporter called the production a "mighty undertaking... directed by Jeremy Herrin with propulsive energy; designed with commanding stagecraft by Christopher Oram and a superb team on lighting, music and sound; and performed with authority and an abundance of sly humor by a first-rate troupe of 23."


How do you dramatize a story in which the protagonist is bound to a wheelchair most of the time and doesn’t do anything more exciting than stare through a window through a pair of binoculars?

We will find out this coming season when Connecticut's Hartford Stage will present the world premiere of Rear Window, based on Cornell Woolrich's short story of the same name, the same one that inspired the classic 1954 Alfred Hitchcock film.

Keith Reddin had adapted the story, and Darko Tresnjak will direct.

At one point, a couple years ago, there were plans to bring the Reddin text to Broadway, but those did not pan out.

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