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Review Roundup: CHICKEN & BISCUITS Opens on Broadway; What Did the Critics Think?

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Chickan & Biscuits is now open at the Circle in the Square Theatre.

Chicken and Biscuits

CHICKEN & BISCUITS, the new comedy written by Douglas Lyons and directed by Zhailon Levingston, makes its Broadway premiere tonight, October 10, at the Circle in the Square Theatre (235 West 50th Street.) The limited engagement runs through Sunday, January 2, 2022.

This dynamic ensemble cast leads a raucous family comedy so full of laughter and love, it'll leave you begging for seconds. The Jenkins family is coming together to celebrate the life of their father-hopefully without killing each other! But any hopes for a peaceful reunion unravel when a family secret shows up at the funeral. CHICKEN & BISCUITS had its world premiere on February 28, 2020 at Queens Theatre, but the engagement was cut short less than two weeks later, when the theater industry suspended operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lets see what the critics had to say...


Jesse Green, The New York Times: Representation matters. I see many great and necessary new works about the problem of Blackness in a racist society - or rather, the problem of whiteness. They are filled with anguish and unfunny funerals. What I rarely get to see are works about Black American life that are defiantly not problem plays. Their sunniness is just as necessary, however garish the aquamarine and pimped-out the corpse.

Frank Scheck, New York Stage Review: The performers, several of them new to Broadway, strive mightily to mine the broad humor for all its worth and generally succeed. The standouts are Mizzelle, a hoot as the precocious teen, and Urie, who gets laughs with every nervous twitch, although he's playing the sort of role from which he should have graduated by now. For more than a few, Chicken & Biscuits will live up to its name by being enjoyable theatrical comfort food. But you can't ignore the fact that it simply isn't very nutritious.

David Finkle, New York Stage Review: We all know-don't we?-the phrase Goin' to Church, which means letting religious fervor flow no matter what the context. Dramatist Lyons has written a play about literally goin' to church. He's gotten the church bells reverberantly chiming. If theater lovers are smart, they'll heed the call and go straight to Chicken & Biscuits church.

Adam Feldman, TimeOut: Chicken & Biscuits clearly has its heart in the right place, and the cast and creative team include more than two dozen people making their Broadway debuts. But their lack of seasoning shows: the writing is blobby, much of the design is unpolished, and young director Zhailon Levingston sometimes seems lost in dealing with the challenging three-quarters thrust stage at Circle in the Square.

Ayanna Prescod, Variety: The cast is dynamic together, making it nearly impossible to single out any one of them. Mizzelle, however, does an extraordinary job at playing the going-on-16-year-old La'Trice Franklin, a character that could easily be portrayed as a Black female caricature. She's loud, she's bold and she says whatever is on her mind; Mizzelle's performance gives nuance to the young Black woman screaming to be seen, included and understood. Urie, who plays Kenny Mabry's white Jewish boyfriend, also does a phenomenal job of conveying how out of place his character feels. At no point does his performance feel forced.   

Chris Jones, Daily News: A fun night out reminding us of the importance of familial love, tolerance and forgiveness. Lyons' play, which stars Cleo King, Norm Lewis and Michael Urie, and features Alana Raquel Bowers, Ebony Marshall-Oliver, Aigner Mizzelle, Devere Rogers and Natasha Yvette Williams, is filled with warm-centered performances and broad but entertaining characters.

Matt Windman, amNY: The production (staged by Zhailon Levingston, who is now the youngest Black director in Broadway history) relies heavily on mugging from the actors, especially Urie, who does his standard shtick of exaggerated facial expressions and manic reactions. It works best during the funeral sequence, at which point theatergoers are made to feel as if they are part of the church service. At my performance, quite a few people responded to the funeral speeches in a call and response style.

Helen Shaw, Vulture: Going to Chicken & Biscuits does feel like being fed by loving but overweening relatives. There's a bit too much of it - the published running time notwithstanding, this show lasts more than two hours with no intermission - but it's a meal full of comfort dishes, difficulties resolved, and love requited. It turns the nearly in-the-round space at Circle in the Square into a church with stained-glass windows behind the audience and the great Norm Lewis in the pulpit.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: The forced hilarity is never given a chance to build before Lyons hits us with some terribly sincere moment of reflection, whether its comes between two sisters (Cleo King and Ebony Marshall-Oliver), who can't stand each other, or two same-sex lovers (Michael Urie and Devere Rogers), one of whom prefers the word "friend" to "partner," much to the other guy's dismay.

Charles Isherwood, Broadway News: Having the biggest ball up there is probably Marshall-Oliver as the heedless troublemaker Beverly, who clearly loves to get under her sister's skin. But as deliciously tangy as her performance is, Marshall-Oliver also exudes a life-giving warmth; Beverly may be reckless and feckless, but her heart is full. As La'Trice, who has clearly inherited not just her mother's dress sense but also her impish personality, Mizzelle is also a vivid presence, not least when she's slyly blackmailing Logan to "puff, puff, pass" when she finds him escaping from the service to calm his nerves by vaping weed.

Greg Evans, Deadline: Lifting every last detail from Tyler Perry's recipe book, this family comedy is brimming with stock characters, creaky jokes, tired references and easy, feel-good sermonizing. Bickering relatives speechifying with exposition and put-downs? Family secrets guessable even by the most distant outsider? Characters that can be summed up in one-word signifiers? Check, check and check.

Toussaint Jeanlouis, Did They Like It?: What left a bad taste in my mouth does not negate the gift that Lyons has for writing what might not be a play, but rather a performance of Black culture for white audiences. If Chicken & Biscuits is a social commentary on how Black productions and Black people shape themselves to fit into white spaces like Broadway, everyone is welcome to the repass.

Juan A. Ramirez, Theatrely: Lyons' play is nothing new, but it feels joyful and pure. I do wonder if the familiar bit about a relative's latent homophobia being framed as a pesky character trait and not a damnable offense has any place in 2021, but it skirts the offensive here by quickly reframing it as more of a race than a sexuality issue, in the case of Kenny and Logan. Still, with the cast having this much fun onstage, it's hard not to feel like part of the family, and Chicken & Biscuits is comfort food worth reheating.

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