Review Roundup: DEATH OF A SALESMAN Opens on Broadway

Death of a Salesman is running on Broadway at the Hudson Theatre.

By: Oct. 09, 2022
Death of a Salesman Show Information
Get Show Info Info
Review Roundup: DEATH OF A SALESMAN Opens on Broadway
Enter Your Email to Unlock This Article

Plus, get the best of BroadwayWorld delivered to your inbox, and unlimited access to our editorial content across the globe.

Existing user? Just click login.

Following its critically acclaimed run at London's Young Vic Theatre and on the West End, Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is told - for the first time on Broadway - from the perspective of a Black family. This vibrant and timely production, directed by Miranda Cromwell, who co-directed the London production alongside Marianne Elliott, opened on Broadway Sunday, October 9 at the Hudson Theatre.

Olivier Award nominee Wendell Pierce and Olivier Award winner and 2022 Tony Award® nominee Sharon D Clarke reprise their roles as Willy and Linda Loman, and they are joined by Khris Davis as Biff, McKinley Belcher III as Happy, and Tony Award® winner Andreì De Shields as Willy's brother, Ben. Additional cast includes Blake DeLong as Howard/Stanley, Lynn Hawley as The Woman/Jenny, Grace Porter as Letta/Jazz Singer, Stephen Stocking as Bernard, Chelsea Lee Williams as Miss Forsythe, and The Wire's Delaney Williams as Charley.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Jesse Green, New York Times: Miranda Cromwell's revival, based on one she directed in London with Marianne Elliott in 2019, does more than give us Black Lomans - including Khris Davis as Biff and McKinley Belcher III as Happy. It also, crucially, puts them in a largely white world. Willy's employer (Blake DeLong), his neighbor (Delaney Williams) and his mistress (Lynn Hawley) are thus more than foils in the usual sense; like Willy, you can never untangle the personal, economic and now racial threads of their behavior. And even if they aren't bigots, they electrify moments - a card game with the neighbor, a negotiation with the "boss" - in which Willy's paranoia seems at the same time both fantastical and well founded.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: But as this production from the Young Vic Theatre in London reminds us, Arthur Miller's 1949 drama packs a mighty punch. Pierce portrays Willy as a hero for both his time and ours - a complex human being with grave character flaws, but "a good man" for all that. Under the careful direction of Miranda Cromwell, Pierce sensitively scrutinizes this deluded man's foolish worship of the American Dream, which he narrowly interprets as material success.

Matt Windham, AMNY: The performances are individualized and powerful, including Pierce's mercurial Willy (jovial and hammy, then innocently bewildered and shaking), Clarke's tough-as-nails, weathered Linda (whose handling of the "attention must be paid" monologue is superb), Khris Davis' soft and sensitive Biff, and McKinley Belcher III's oily and upbeat Happy.

Chris Jones, New York Daily News: In the present, though, the show is often superb: the scene between Willy and Howard, ruthlessly played by Blake DeLong, is riveting, amplified by unspoken racism as are the scenes with Stanley, played by the same fabulous actor, here taking what's usually a plot functionary and forging a blend of obsequiousness, kindness and racism, all at once. Clarke's monologues are potent, rooted and deeply touching and, as Happy, McKinley Belcher III brings far more to that role than we usually see; in this production, the relationship between Happy and Willy seems more central than between Biff and Willy. And Delaney Williams (also known for "The Wire") is an honest, earnest Charlie, a decent white guy holding up a Black family in crisis, understanding he's probably next for a cemetery that levels us all.

Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: Willy Loman should be the focus of Death of a Salesman. It is his flailing death spiral that forms the narrative heart of Arthur Miller's legendary play. But in the latest Broadway revival, starring The Wire and Treme star Wendell Pierce as Willy, which opens tonight (Hudson Theatre, through January 15, 2023)-with the Lomans played by an all-Black lead cast-the production's anchor is Willy's wife Linda, played by the simply stupendous Sharon D Clarke.

Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times: Cromwell, however, treats the play as though it were carved entirely in air. The scenic design by Anna Fleischle allows only the barest minimum of set pieces to swoop in from above and sketch the various settings. Incorporating live music as a theatrical emollient, the staging risks turning "Death of a Salesman" into a funhouse with an array of expressionistic effects that only the great De Shields is able to stylishly pull off.

Greg Evans, Deadline: Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller's classic tragedy of the American Dream gone sour, is revitalized and given room to encompass the Black experience in director Miranda Cromwell's intriguing production opening at the Hudson Theatre on Broadway tonight. Boasting flat-out terrific performances - Wendell Pierce as Willie Loman and the amazing Sharon D Clarke as his wife Linda - this Death of a Salesman doesn't so much reinvent Miller's masterpiece as open its doors to perspectives that enrich the material.

Rob Weinert-Kendt, Vulture: Some of Cromwell's stylizations go a bit too hard, honestly. While Mikaal Sulaimanthat's sound design, Femi Tomowo's music, and Jen Schriever's lighting are often very appropriately and effectively disorienting, and a few transitions blossom beautifully into quasi-musical numbers (and why not, when you have Andre De Shields in your cast?), a few of the director's gambits play like just that, as gambits: A key flashback is segmented into bright-line subdivisions, as if clicking through a vintage slide carousel; one phone conversation has an offstage character's voice played, awkwardly, by a clarinet.

Steven Suskin, New York Stage Review: It is not until late in the three-hour ten-minute evening that this Salesman finally starts to crackle the way the entire performance did in London. Specifically, in the office scene in which Willy-on the final afternoon of his life-encounters neighbor Charley (Delaney Williams) and his lawyer-son Bernard (Stephen Stocking). But that's an especially long time to wait through otherwise intermittent high spots.

Frank Scheck, New York Stage Review: Everything in the production seems pitched over the top, including Willy's declining mental condition, which here feels more like full-blown dementia than merely a man defeated by life who is losing his grip. The flashback scene in which Willy is discovered by Biff (Khris Davis) to be in a hotel room with another woman (Lynn Hawley) is bizarrely played for laughs, with the woman loudly cackling in demented fashion. Throughout the evening, the actors frequently shout their lines, as if not trusting us to appreciate the dialogue.

Jonathan Mandell, New York Theatre: The "Death of a Salesman" that opens tonight on Broadway begins and ends with the people around Willy Loman literally singing the blues - the music that turned the bitterness and exhaustion of the African American experience into something powerful and beautiful. The hope for that same kind of vital transformation is surely what is behind the casting of Wendell Pierce as Willy Loman, Sharon D Clarke as his wife Linda, and other Black actors as Willy's family, in this sixth Broadway production of Arthur Miller's modern tragedy about an ordinary American.

Brian Scott Lipman, CitiTour: Whether it's the right casting, aside from the peerless Clarke in stand-by-your-man mode, is another matter entirely. Pierce overplays Willy's almost-constant anger - at life, at Linda, at his "disappointing" sons, Biff (Khris Davis) and Happy (an almost too-charismatic McKenley Belcher III) - making him less-than-sympathetic and, at times, almost insufferable. There's some subtext in his physical portrayal that suggests this Willy may be suffering from a brain tumor or dementia, which would explain a lot of his behavior. And one can certainly argue that a Black man in 1949 Brooklyn has a lot to be angry about. But all in all, Pierce's Willy seems to have far too much fighting spirit left for his ultimate decision to make sense.

Gillian Russo, New York Theatre Guide: But ultimately, it is Linda who bookends Salesman as the first and last character we see alone on stage. Sharon D Clarke, who won an Olivier Award for performing the role in London, plays the oft-demure character with ferocity and desperation. This is not a submissive wife coddling her husband and his delusions; this is a woman demanding respect and compassion for an unstable man. Even more crucially, this is also a woman at her breaking point. She knows of her husband's suicidal tendencies - a crushing load to bear - and, though she doesn't say so outright, appears to feel responsible for keeping him off the ledge.

Elysa Gardner, NY Sun: New shades of friction and menace also emerge between characters played by black and white actors. I have never found the scene in which Howard humiliates a desperate, pleading Willy, or the one where a teenage Biff discovers his father's infidelity, more excruciating than I did here. Even Loman's interaction with Charley, the mensch of a neighbor who repeatedly tries in vain to help him - movingly played by Delaney Williams, a white actor (and another "Wire" alum) - seems a little more fraught

Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post: "Salesman," always a long sit, settles on an even-keeled gear early on and stubbornly sticks to it - so the production feels endless. The climactic fight all the way to the inevitable conclusion is not affectingly tragic, and there is no build to speak of. Nice songs, but not enough attention was paid to the basics.

Lester Fabian Brathwiate, EW: Nearly 75 years after it first premiered, Death of a Salesman still says more than we care to admit about America, about how one can work their entire life and end up with nothing, how you're worth more dead than you are alive, how the system is rigged against the little guy. Maybe the enduring message of this production is that these themes are universal, that we all suffer the same under the yolk of The American Dream. And that, in spite of the odds, we all aspire to be great.

To read more reviews, click here!


To post a comment, you must register and login.