Review: CRIMINAL LIVE: TENTH ANNIVERSARY TOUR at United Theatre On Broadway

An evening of first-rate storytelling

By: Feb. 08, 2024
Review: CRIMINAL LIVE: TENTH ANNIVERSARY TOUR at United Theatre On Broadway

It is jarring to connect Phoebe Judge’s unerringly suave voice with a corporeal form. She sounds like she was born to be heard over the airwaves of NPR or urging commuters to ‘mind the gap’ on the train platform. But hundreds of fans filled the retro-fitted gothic United Theatre downtown to catch a glimpse of the popular podcast host in action. The live show, which celebrates ten years of Judge’s popular podcast Criminal,  was appropriately filled with stories whose hook introductions took many unexpected twists and turns before resolving in ways often contradictory to the well-trodden paths of narrative. True stories have the liberty to be messy and un-cliche in ways we might feel dissatisfied with in fiction, and the Criminal team has mined deeply the annals of internet gossip, pop culture, and news reports to unearth rare gems.

A married couple who met over a passion for pickpocketing and con jobs, a disbanded police branch that dealt in tricking criminals into arrest, and a lawyer who went viral for appearing in virtual court with a kitten filter over his face fill out the cast of characters for the evening. Yet, fans seem most excited to learn more about Judge herself. Her disembodied voice serves to bridge the gaps between interviews on her show, lending an air of mystery to this artful storyteller. One could compare the fascination with those of Dickens or Poe who successfully toured the country reciting their written works. We love to know more about the unknown, the figures behind the stories we love.

In addition to a quick powerpoint about our hostess for the evening, we learn a lot about Judge through the show. She is warmly gracious and humble. She shares about the homespun magic with which the podcast was originally conceived and produced. Without the clean cut to sponsors, and despite her decades of experience as a media figure, Judge awkwardly approaches the closing of each story. At first, she allows the final line to fizzle for a moment and then whispers “that’s it” sheepishly into the microphone. By the end of the evening, she was opted instead for a questionable “the end” accompanied by a sideways glance to co-creator, Lauren Spohrer.

The live show is otherwise meticulously planned and artfully constructed, perhaps indicating a genuine aversion to applause. Every attempt is made to allow the stories to be the star of the evening, a noble goal; to present oral histories devoid of frills and extraneous theatricality. The team has struck a perfect mix of surprise, humor, and warmth in the stories, and despite the cavernous venue lit in hues of purple and magenta, the entire effect is that of a familiar hug.