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How do you get a new American play to Broadway? The best way—just about the only way, truth to tell—is to find a TV or movie star who wants to act in it. Witness “American Son,” which tells the grim tale of three black teenagers in a shiny new Lexus who get pulled over by a Miami patrol car one dark and stormy night. Written by Christopher Demos-Brown, a Florida playwright whose work is new to me, it has reached Broadway after just two regional productions, at Massachusetts’ Barrington Stage Company and New Jersey’s George Street Playhouse. Such a thing scarcely ever happens to straight plays nowadays, and the fact that it happened to “American Son” is owing to the interest of two of the show’s producers, Kerry Washington and Shonda Rhimes, the first of whom was the star of “Scandal” and the second of whom was its creator and showrunner. Ms. Washington is also the star of “American Son,” which means that it’s almost certainly going to do pretty well—maybe even very well—at the box office.
If so, though, it will also be in part because Mr. Demos-Brown’s eighth play, in addition to being topical, is unswervingly conventional in its dramaturgy. “American Son” is a one-set, small-cast, no-intermission real-time show that bears a distinct family resemblance to such issue-driven live-TV dramas of the ’50s as Reginald Rose’s “Twelve Angry Men.” The setting has been updated, but the method remains the same…
What we have here, in short, is an earnestly meant, soundly made commercial stage drama of the kind that used to play Broadway regularly, one that is overly inclined to TV-type clichés but proves to be unexpectedly good about not stacking the deck…
Have you been waiting for an Australian musical version of “King Kong” in which the story of the gorilla who loved and lost an actress is turned into a “42nd Street”-style backstage musical full of New Age uplift? Then wait no longer: The show of your wildest dreams has come to Broadway.
The title character is played by a giant puppet designed by Sonny Tilders and manipulated by a team of 10 stalwart operators. Between them, they give us a creature so expressive that he seems to have wandered into the theater from another, vastly better musical. He (if that’s the right word) is the best thing about “King Kong,” closely followed by Christiani Pitts, who is charming as the chorus girl who delivers King Kong into the clutches of the bad guys, then thinks better of her misdeed and resolves to help him.
Otherwise, it’s hard to know where to start pitching the tomatoes….
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To read my review of American Son, go here.
To read my review of King Kong, go here.
The trailer for American Son:
A music video of “Queen of New York,” one of the songs from King Kong, performed by Christiani Pitts and members of the Broadway cast: