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Theater Review: Not everyone will be 'Fallin' over Alicia Keys' Broadway musical 'Hell's Kitchen'

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Theater Review: Not everyone will be 'Fallin' over Alicia Keys' Broadway musical 'Hell's Kitchen'
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Theater Review: Not everyone will be 'Fallin' over Alicia Keys' Broadway musical 'Hell's Kitchen'

2024-04-21 13:06 Last Updated At:14:41

If you were to close Alicia Keys ’ big semi-autobiographical musical on Broadway with any of her hit songs, which would it be? Of course, it has to be “Empire State of Mind.” That’s the natural one, right? It’s also as predictable as the R train being delayed with signal problems.

“Hell’s Kitchen,” the coming-of-age musical about a 17-year-old piano prodigy named Ali, has wonderful new and old tunes by the 16-time Grammy Award winner and a talented cast, but only a sliver of a very safe story that tries to seem more consequential than it is.

It wants to be authentic and gritty — a remarkable number of swear words are used, including 19 f-bombs — for what ultimately is a portrait of a young, talented woman living on the 42nd floor of a doorman building in Manhattan who relearns to love her protective mom.

The musical that opened Saturday at the Shubert Theatre features reworks of Keys’ best-known hits: “Fallin’,” “No One,” “Girl on Fire,” “If I Ain’t Got You,” as well as several new songs, including the terrific “Kaleidoscope.”

That Keys is a knockout songwriter, there is no doubt. That playwright Kristoffer Diaz is able to make a convincing, relatable rom-com that's also socially conscious is very much in doubt.

This is, appropriately, a woman-led show, with Maleah Joi Moon completely stunning in the lead role — a jaw-dropping vocalist who is funny, giggly, passionate and strident, a star turn. Shoshana Bean, who plays her single, spiky mom, makes her songs soar, while Kecia Lewis as a soulful piano teacher is the show's astounding MVP.

When we meet Ali, she's a frustrated teen who knows there's more to life and “something's calling me,” as she sings in the new song, “The River.” At first that's a boy: the sweet Chris Lee, playing a house painter. There's also reconnecting with her unreliable dad, a nicely slippery Brandon Victor Dixon. But the thing calling Ali is, of course, the grand piano in her building's multipurpose room.

Outside this apartment building in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood — we get a clue the time is the early 1990s — are “roaches and the rats/heroin in the cracks.” But no criminality is shown — at worst some illegal krumping? — and the cops don’t actually brutalize those citizens deemed undesirable. They sort of just shoo them away. This is a sanitized New York for the M&M store tourists, despite the lyrics in Keys’ songs.

Another reason the musical fails to fully connect is that a lot of the music played onstage is fake — it's actually the orchestra tucked into the sides making those piano scales and funky percussion. (Even the three bucket drummers onstage are mostly just pretending, which is a shame.) For a musical about a singular artist and how important music is, this feels a bit like a cheat.

Choreography by Camille A. Brown is muscular and fun using a hip-hop vocabulary, and director Michael Greif masterfully keeps things moving elegantly. But there's — forgive me — everything but the kitchen sink thrown in here: A supposed-to-be-funny chorus of two mom friends and two Ali friends, a ghost, some mild parental abuse and a weird fixation with dinner.

The way the songs are integrated is inspired, with “Girl on Fire” hysterically interrupted by rap bars, “Fallin’” turned into a humorously seductive ballad and "No One” transformed from an achy love song to a mother-daughter anthem.

But everyone is waiting for that song about “concrete jungles” where “big lights will inspire you.” It comes right after we see a young woman snuggling on a couch, high over the city she will soon conquer. You can, too, if you just go past the doorman and follow your dreams.

Follow Mark Kennedy online.

This image released by Polk & Co shows the poster of "Hell's Kitchen" show on Broadway. (Marc J. Franklin/ Polk & Co via AP)

This image released by Polk & Co shows the poster of "Hell's Kitchen" show on Broadway. (Marc J. Franklin/ Polk & Co via AP)

This image released by Polk & Co shows the artists during a performance of "Hell's Kitchen" on Broadway. (Marc J. Franklin/ Polk & Co via AP)

This image released by Polk & Co shows the artists during a performance of "Hell's Kitchen" on Broadway. (Marc J. Franklin/ Polk & Co via AP)

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Ranger Suárez improves to 9-0, Harper homers in Phillies' 5-2 win over Rangers

2024-05-22 09:27 Last Updated At:09:31

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Ranger Suárez stuck out 10 over seven innings and improved to 9-0 to lead the Philadelphia Phillies to their MLB-best 35th win, a 5-2 victory over the defending World Series champion Texas Rangers on Tuesday night.

Bryce Harper hit his 11th homer of the season to help the Phillies win for the ninth time in 11 games and continue one of the best starts in franchise history.

This season, no pitcher in baseball has been better than Suárez.

The 28-year-old lefty walked off to a standing ovation in the seventh after he caught Leody Taveras looking on a 91.6 mph sinker to end the inning. Suárez took a no-decision in his first start of the season before he reeled of wins in nine straight starts.

José Alvarado worked a scoreless ninth for his ninth save.

Ranger bested the Rangers, and continued his reign as Philadelphia's top pitcher this season — no small feat for a rotation that already boasts Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. Suárez walked two, gave up a run and lowered his ERA to 1.36 before he yielded to Jeff Hoffman in the eighth inning.

Corey Seager hit a solo shot off Hoffman in the eighth to make it 3-2.

Hoffman got only two outs before Matt Strahm retired Nathaniel Lowe on a sharp line drive to left field with two runners on to end the inning.

This three-game series comes oh-so-close to serving as a World Series rematch. The Rangers needed only five games to beat Arizona and win the franchise's first World Series — after Arizona won Games 6 and 7 in Philadelphia to rally and knock out the Phillies in the NL Championship Series.

Suárez fell into a rare early deficit after he gave up Marcus Semien's RBI single to left in the third.

The Phillies went ahead 2-1 off Jon Gray (2-2) on Kyle Schwarber's run-scoring single in the third and Alec Bohm's RBI single in the fourth. Harper connected off Rangers reliever Jacob Latz in the sixth for a 3-1 lead.

Bohm knocked in his NL-best 44th RBI on a double in the eighth and Bryson Stott followed with a sacrifice fly for a 5-2 lead.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Phillies shortstop Trea Turner took batting practice as part of his recovery from a left hamstring injury. Turner was hitting .343 with two homers, 10 doubles, nine RBIs and 10 stolen bases before he was hurt earlier this month.

UP NEXT

The Phillies send RHP Taijuan Walker (3-0, 4.91 ERA) to the mound in the second game of a three-game series. The Rangers did not name a starter.

AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb

Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper, center, reacts after hitting a home run against Texas Rangers pitcher Jacob Latz during the sixth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper, center, reacts after hitting a home run against Texas Rangers pitcher Jacob Latz during the sixth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Texas Rangers left fielder Ezequiel Duran catches a fly out by Philadelphia Phillies' Nick Castellanos during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Texas Rangers left fielder Ezequiel Duran catches a fly out by Philadelphia Phillies' Nick Castellanos during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia Phillies' Alec Bohm hits a run-scoring single against Texas Rangers pitcher Jon Gray during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia Phillies' Alec Bohm hits a run-scoring single against Texas Rangers pitcher Jon Gray during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia Phillies' J.T. Realmuto, right, reacts after striking out against Texas Rangers pitcher Jon Gray during the third inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia Phillies' J.T. Realmuto, right, reacts after striking out against Texas Rangers pitcher Jon Gray during the third inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia Phillies' Kyle Schwarber follows through after hitting a run-scoring single against Texas Rangers pitcher Jon Gray during the third inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia Phillies' Kyle Schwarber follows through after hitting a run-scoring single against Texas Rangers pitcher Jon Gray during the third inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia Phillies' Brandon Marsh, left, is tagged out by Texas Rangers catcher Jonah Heim after trying to score on a single by J.T. Realmuto during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia Phillies' Brandon Marsh, left, is tagged out by Texas Rangers catcher Jonah Heim after trying to score on a single by J.T. Realmuto during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia Phillies' Brandon Marsh, left, is tagged out by Texas Rangers catcher Jonah Heim after trying to score on a single by J.T. Realmuto during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia Phillies' Brandon Marsh, left, is tagged out by Texas Rangers catcher Jonah Heim after trying to score on a single by J.T. Realmuto during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper watches after hitting a home run against Texas Rangers pitcher Jacob Latz during the sixth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper watches after hitting a home run against Texas Rangers pitcher Jacob Latz during the sixth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper, right, rounds the bases past Texas Rangers third baseman Josh Smith after hitting a home run against pitcher Jacob Latz during the sixth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper, right, rounds the bases past Texas Rangers third baseman Josh Smith after hitting a home run against pitcher Jacob Latz during the sixth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper, right, reacts past Texas Rangers catcher Jonah Heim after hitting a home run against pitcher Jacob Latz during the sixth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper, right, reacts past Texas Rangers catcher Jonah Heim after hitting a home run against pitcher Jacob Latz during the sixth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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