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Review Roundup: THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES Opens Off-Broadway- See What The Critics Had To Say!

The Secret Life of Bees

Atlantic Theater Company' presents the world premiere of the new musical The Secret Life of Bees, book by Lynn Nottage, music by Duncan Sheik, lyrics by Susan Birkenhead, directed by Sam Gold, choreographed by Chris Walkerand based on the best-selling novel by Sue Monk Kidd.

The Secret Life of Bees features Romelda Teron Benjamin (Bare: A Pop Opera), Joe Cassidy (Waitress), Vita E. Cleveland (Off-Broadway debut), Obie Award winner Eisa Davis (Passing Strange, NBC's "Rise"), Matt DeAngelis(Waitress), Tony Award nominee Manoel Felciano (Sweeney Todd, Amélie, A New Musical), Brett Gray (Netflix's "On My Block"), Jai'Len Christine Li Josey (SpongeBob SquarePants - The Musical), Tony Award winner LaChanze (The Color Purple, Summer), Anastacia McCleskey (Waitress), Tony Award nominee Saycon Sengbloh (Eclipsed, In the Blood), Nathaniel Stampley(Superhero), and Elizabeth Teeter (The Crucible).

South Carolina, 1964. Lily Owens, a restless white teenager, struggles with her merciless father and the haunting memory of her mother's death. When Rosaleen, her black caregiver, is beaten and jailed for asserting her right to vote, Lily's rebellious spirit is ignited. She and Rosaleen escape on an adventure where they are taken in by a trio of black beekeeping sisters. While Lily tries to unlock the secrets of her past, she and Rosaleen find solace in the mesmerizing world of bees and spirituality in this extraordinary tale of awakening, fellowship and healing.

Jesse Green, The New York Times: The score, by Duncan Sheik and Susan Birkenhead, is in fact quite beautiful. Mr. Sheik's music is his best since "Spring Awakening": rich and plangent, with contextual nods to gospel, pop and R&B. Ms. Birkenhead's lyrics balance shimmering imagery with perfect prosody, so that ideas are underlined instead of obscured. What's more, the songs are sung gorgeously by a cast that's equally powerful in solo numbers and ensembles. (Jason Hart devised the stirring vocal arrangements.) The problem is what the songs are added to, and how much had to be cut to make room for them. I don't envy the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage the job of trimming the novel down to size (the musical still feels long at 2 hours 15 minutes) or the Tony Award-winning director Sam Gold the job of giving shape to what's left. Though the result doesn't yet cohere, it is a serious and honorable first draft.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Some of the most gorgeous female-forward musical storytelling seen on a New York stage in some time can be experienced in the premiere of The Secret Life of Bees. Which is not surprising, given the pedigree of talent involved. Adapted from novelist Sue Monk Kidd's 2001 bestseller about sisters, daughters and mothers biological, surrogate and Divine, the show features a book by two-time Pulitzer winner Lynn Nottage, a warm, expansively melodic score by Duncan Sheik, descriptive lyrics by Broadway veteran Susan Birkenhead and sensitive direction by Sam Gold, working on his first original musical since Fun Home.

Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: On paper, it sounds like a honey of a show: a new musical, adapted from Sue Monk Kidd's bestselling 2001 novel, with a book by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage and a score by Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) and Susan Birkenhead (Jelly's Last Jam). But The Secret Life of Bees turns out to be all buzz and no sting.

David Cote, Observer: Perhaps I'm overthinking it. Honey, hives and so forth-it's all just a relatable, not very airtight metaphor for a story meant to resonate less in the head and more in the heart. And while this handsomely produced and sensitively acted musical-with a book by Lynn Nottage, lyrics by Susan Birkenhead, and a rich, soulful score by Duncan Sheik-has flashes of religious ecstasy, young love and forgiveness, mostly it produces too much treacle and too little sting. Despite the serious talent arrayed on both sides of the footlights, one longs for the mystical rapture its characters seem to feel when baptizing the wooden icon of a black Madonna in fresh honey.

Elysa Gardner, New York Stage Review: The music Sheik has crafted to help propel this story-set in South Carolina in 1964, following a white teenager and her black caregiver as both flee oppressive circumstances to embark on what becomes an intensely spiritual journey-is in the same spirit; as such, it represents something of a stretch for an artist who began his career in indie rock, and has since written music for the theater that is soulful without delving deeply into African-American influences.

Jesse Oxfeld, New York Stage Review: When the action starts, announced by an African-American woman entering and banging a drum, suggesting that we're entering a somewhat ritualized storytelling space, the lights rise, bathing the players in an amber glow. The candles, the musicians' music lights, the stage lighting, they're coordinated, and warm. This, you realize, is a piece of theater bathed in honey.

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