Monday, May 27, 2024

Broadway: Alicia Keys’s Musical “Hell’s Kitchen” Is a High End Jukebox Musical with Soaring Voices


Alicia Keys’s musical, “Hell’s Kitchen” — opening tonight — could not have more entertaining performers. Does its story hold up? Not so much. But don’t think about it too hard. There’s a lot to enjoy.

Shoshanna Bean plays a version of Keys’s mother, raising her daughter, Allie, played by an astonished Maleah Joi Moon) in the artist’s building, Manhattan Plaza, in Hell’s Kitchen just west of the theater district.

The story is not about how Alicia Keys became a music superstar. Instead it’s just about the mother and daughter in a simple coming of age story. Allie gets an older boyfriend and eventually — by accident — a music teacher/mentor. At some point, her biological father, who’s also a musician, turns up.

Let’s concentrate on the positive: Alicia Keys’s hits, almost of all which are a collaboration with other pop writers, are unforgettable. Her biggest solo composition, “If I Ain’t Got You,” is highlighted, smartly, and is the centerpiece of the score. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 24 years, you’ll be nodding your head and singing along.

The performers are sensational. Bean and Moon are hardly alone. The great Grammy, Emmy, and Tony nominee Brandon Victor Dixon plays Allie’s dad, showing off his knockout R&B vocal skills. He is the real thing. You could listen to him sing this whole show, frankly.

The big surprise is Broadway veteran Kecia Lee. Where has she been? Everywhere. She’s an overnight sensation after four decades. Her vocal range is stunning == really, the audience is taken aback by her skills. She and the three principles are certainly destined for Tony nominations.

“Hell’s Kitchen” is a very high end jukebox musical, Direction (Michael Greif), Choreography (Camille A. Brown) plus costumes, sets, lighting — they’re all top notch. What would have made this show something extra? A real book, more than cardboard cut outs of characters. Allie wants is a boyfriend, which she gets. Big deal. She stumbles into music but there’s no drama. Nothing is in her way. Her mother is doing a good job. Her father is not a bad guy.

Will Allie become a superstar? She shows no sign of it in “Hell’s Kitchen,” although she does learn to play the piano. I started writing about Alicia Keys and her terrific mother in 2000, when I first them after she signed with Clive Davis. Believe me, there was a good story to tell here. For some reason book writer Kristoffer Diaz, just didn’t tell it.

That doesn’t mean “Hell’s Kitchen” isn’t worth seeing — it most certainly is, just to hear these fine artists and to see the work on stage. And when they get to Keys’s “Empire State of Mind (New York)” at the end, you’ll be up and swaying along.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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