Alicia Keys Carole King Musical Michael Greif New York Jersey musicals theater reviews off-broadway 11/19/23 Alicia Keys Carole King Musical Michael Greif New York Jersey

‘Hell’s Kitchen’ review: Alicia Keys’ musical has fabulous songs, lacking story

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To watch “Hell’s Kitchen,” the new off-Broadway musical by Alicia Keys that opened Sunday night at the Public Theater, is to experience euphoria followed by enormous frustration over and over again.

How can we not feel elated being there for the star-is-born moment of actress Maleah Joi Moon, who makes an earth-shaking professional debut as 17-year-old Ali, a fictional stand-in for Keys?Two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.

At the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. Through Jan. 14.Moon’s sheer presence is a wow and her voice is sublime, as is that of everybody in the megawatt cast of “Hell’s Kitchen.” Keys’ hit R&B songs — as well as three original compositions — soar onstage and musically there is no better production in New York right now.It’s when the singing stops that this show with its sights set on Broadway is no longer on fire.Keys has said in interviews that she and book writer Kristoffer Diaz did not wish to create the usual sprawling, paint-by-numbers bio-musical about her career, a la “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” or “MJ.” That’s fine — she’s only 42 after all.Instead, “Hell’s Kitchen,” directed with 1990s edge by Michael Greif, is set during a few crucial weeks of Keys’ teen years living in the title Manhattan nabe where she caught the music bug, developed a crush on a (uncomfortably older) boy and fought with her hardworking mother, here called Jersey (Shoshana Bean).

Brilliant musicals have been built on far less sturdy ground than teenage rebellion and a hugely popular songbook. The key here was to make Ali’s personal triumphs and tragedies feel as gargantuan to us as they do to her.

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