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Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of ANGELS IN AMERICA on Broadway?

Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of ANGELS IN AMERICA on Broadway?

The stunning National Theatre production of Tony Kushner's Angels in America opened on Broadway last night at the Neil Simon Theater.

Returning to Broadway for the first time since its now-legendary original production opened in 1993, this spectacular new staging of Part One of Angels in America, Millennium Approaches, and of Part Two, Perestroika, directed by Marianne Elliott, had its world premiere earlier this year in a sold-out run at the National Theatre, where it became the fastest selling show in the organization's history.

A quarter-century after stunning the theater world, one of the greatest theatrical journeys of our time returns to Broadway in an acclaimed new production from the National Theatre. As politically incendiary as any play in the American canon, Angels in America also manages to be, at turns, hilariously irreverent and heartbreakingly humane. It is also astonishingly relevant, speaking every bit as urgently to our anxious times as it did when it first premiered. Tackling Reaganism, McCarthyism, immigration, religion, climate change, and AIDS against the backdrop of New York City in the mid-1980's, no contemporary drama has succeeded so indisputably with so ambitious a scope.

When it first premiered, Angels in America won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, seven Tony Awards, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and the Evening Standard Award for Best New Play. HBO's 2003 screen adaptation won both the Emmy® and the Golden Globe® Awards for Best Miniseries.

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

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Sometimes, just when you need it most, a play courses into your system like a transfusion of new blood. You feel freshly awakened to the infinite possibilities not only of theater but also of the teeming world beyond. And when you hit the streets afterward, every one of your senses is singing. Such is the effect of seeing the flat-out fabulous revival of Tony Kushner's "Angels in America," which opened on Sunday night at the Neil Simon Theater, with a top-flight cast led by Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane in career-high performances.

Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: While the AIDS epidemic has certainly not been completely conquered, it is no longer the automatic death sentence it was in ANGELS IN AMERICA's mid-1980s setting, so in that respect the play can be seen as a bit of a history lesson. But, as the full title indicates, Kushner uses the plague as means by which to address themes that are still with us today; perhaps most prominently the commercialization of health care, the hypocrisy hidden by elected leaders and the effort to guide the country by religious morals. Is eight hours really enough for all of that?

Matt Windman, amNY: Taking in the play is not easy. In addition to its length, many sequences are bizarre, didactic and choppy. But there is no denying its theatrical brilliance, literary ambition and cultural relevance. It is often just as romantic and hilarious as it is philosophic and intense.

Barbara Schuler, Newsday: "Angels" presents a complicated story that covers nearly eight hours in two parts, a major commitment requiring audiences to maintain deep concentration just to keep up. But it's time well spent, if only to revel in the glories of Ian MacNeil's futuristic set and the spectacular performances of each actor, all of whom play multiple characters. Lane reverts to his comedic roots, portraying one of Prior's deceased relatives. In one of her several roles, Susan Brown becomes a spectral vision of Ethel Rosenberg, whom Cohn prosecuted, and in a haunting scene says kaddish over his body. Everyone ends up as an angel at some point.

Joe Dziemianowicz, The Daily News: Twenty-five years after its Tony- and Pulitzer-winning first Broadway run, the scope and richness of the seven-hour, two-part saga - the taut "Millennium Approaches," followed by the somewhat messier "Perestroika" - remain as impressive as ever.

Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: Each character, so precisely played, is worthy of investment. This is seven and a half hours of luxurious dramatic immersion, and in no way arid or plodding.

Peter Marks, Washington Post: I'm here to tell you that your investment will come back to you in the capital gains of enlightenment and sublime entertainment. Director Marianne Elliott's riveting production, a transfer from London's National Theatre, which stars Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane and had its official opening Sunday at Broadway's Neil Simon Theatre, is the kind of bracing total immersion in fierce, funny drama that is nutrition for both intellect and soul.

Greg Evans, Deadline: Angels in America, that winged masterwork of Tony Kushner and the 20th Century, is back on Broadway in a revival weighed with expectations as heavy as the angel Bethesda in Central Park. With marquee-name stars - Andrew Garfield, Nathan Lane, Lee Pace - and the halo of approval from London audiences, the two-part, 7-hour-plus, gloriously subtitled "Gay Fantasia On National Themes" remains as rich a theatrical experience as when Kushner won the Pulitzer back in '93 and his eccentric, visionary fever dream first blessed the stage (and too many dying men to count) with "more life."

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: The National Theater production of Tony Kushner's phenomenal 1993 epic work doesn't feel like a historical artifact that won the Pulitzer Prize, two Tony Awards, an Olivier Award, an Emmy, and the National Medal of Arts for its author. In fact, experiencing this revival of the 25-year-old play feels more like picking up a scorching hot ember from a fire that won't burn out. The scribe's thoughts about religion, politics, sex, morality, mortality, civic corruption and environmental calamity - as viewed through the prism of the 1980s AIDS crisis - seem every bit as prescient as they did when all our friends were dying.

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter: Lane brings yet another kind of volatility to Roy's spiky scenes with Belize (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), a nurse at St. Vincent's Hospital and Prior's former drag sister. Stewart-Jarrett nails every laugh with his imperious attitude, bouncing Cohn's abuse right back at him. But his swishy attitude doesn't hide his wounded indignation over the disease that's ravaging the gay community, finding a worthy target in defensive Louis in one particularly memorable encounter.

Allison Adato, Entertainment Weekly: This new production, a transplant from London's National Theatre, should appeal to two audiences: Those who fell for the play's humor and wonder the first time around (they are unlikely to be disappointed in director Marianne Elliott's take), and those who come to the show with no history. As a member of the first group, I have some envy for those in the second. Because while there may be bragging rights in being able to compare the Angel then (looking as if she flew off a Roman edifice) with the Angel now (more wild, broken-down and bird-like), the play's text and imagery deliver an ecstatic jolt the first time you see it.

Robert Hofler, TheWrap: "Angels in America" returns to Broadway to help remind us why Tony Kushner was the Lin-Manuel Miranda of the 1990s. It's the second Broadway revival for this 1993 marathon AIDS drama, and Marianne Elliott's staging enthralls by putting the fantasy of Kushner's play front and center. Her much-praised National Theatre production opened Sunday at the Neil Simon Theatre.

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: Kushner's two-part play is massive: To see it in a single day, with multiple intermissions and a long dinner break, takes 10 hours. Yet every moment is so rich, so rewarding, so engrossing that it flies by in a rush. It is hard to do justice to the multitudes that Angels in America contains: its synthesis of the intellectual and the lyrical, the comic and the tragic, the intimate and the epic, the engaged and the transcendent. This is a play that breaks and fills your heart; it inspires you as it takes your breath away.

Sara Holdren. Vulture: Elliott, who's become known for her ability to coordinate vast, complex productions (she's the only woman with two directing Tonys, for War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), knows how to embrace the scope of Kushner's play while still keeping it about the ensemble who powers it. She and her top-notch design team are taking full advantage of the resources afforded by a huge, commercial show like this one, but they're doing so with purpose and even restraint, to the full support of the actors.

Christopher Kelly, At nearly eight hours, unfolding over two parts, the Broadway revival of Tony Kushner's "Angels in America" is a significant commitment, temporal and financial. But one of the countless wonders of this instant-classic production is the way it energizes, instead of enervates, as it goes along, expanding in scale and scope, spinning out one surprise after another. By the time the stage literally cracks open near the end of the second part, and the main character Prior Walter (Andrew Garfield) ascends a neon staircase to heaven, this "Angels in America" has placed its audience in a sustained state of exhilaration.

Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: I've written more than once in this space about the flaws of "Angels." It's too long, too sentimental, too inclined to demonize at the expense of comprehension, too rigid in its Marx-flavored politics ("Angels" would be a richer play if Mr. Kushner had had the wit, not to mention the honesty, to portray Ethel Rosenberg as shamelessly guilty). Yet all these things notwithstanding, it remains a fixed star in the firmament of American drama, a testament to Mr. Kushner's willingness to take huge chances instead of playing it safe, and I expect it will continue to hold the stage, both for its genuinely visionary moments and for the character of Cohn, one of the 20th century's great stage villains. Mike Nichols's 2003 TV version was also highly impressive and largely successful, but "Angels" works best in the theater, and if you've never seen it there, this revival, imperfect though it is, will show you much of what you've been missing.

Joe Westerfield, Newsweek: The Angel's introduction is as grand as the come, and that's fitting for such a grand revival of Angels in America. Twenty-five years ago, the play was important and relevant-and in the age of Trump, it might be moreso, on both counts, today. But the reason it persists, the reason companies will stage this work for decades to come, is that it's first and foremost great, riveting drama. And its time has come-again.

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: Andrew Garfield, the other excellent American star in a mostly British cast, takes theatrical command of Prior in a way that initially jars, but ultimately elevates the character, away from bitterness and immediate disappointment, more toward narrative omnipotence. By "Perestroika," it actually feels like Prior has stepped away from his own body and time. Lane may have the most dominant performance, but Garfield's revisionist and ennobling work is perhaps the most conceptually successful element of this new production.

Mark Shenton, The Stage: This is a bit like taking coals to Newcastle - the equivalent of an American company bringing a David Hare state-of-the-nation play to the West End - but this is a production of Broadway-style scale and ambition. "Very Steven Spielberg!", says a dying young man at the end of the first part, as an angel arrives in his dreams.

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