Alicia Keys’ Story Comes Alive

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By Calvin S. Nelson

“Hell’s Kitchen,” playwright Kristoffer Diaz‘s new musical with songs by Alicia Keys, begins at a dinner desk. 17-year-old Ali (a magnetic Maleah Joi Moon, making her skilled debut) has dinner together with her mother, Jersey (Shoshana Bean), of their Hell’s Kitchen condominium each evening on the similar time. It’s a routine that Jersey insists on to maintain Ali secure from the perils of New York Metropolis within the Nineteen Nineties. However for Ali, their one-bedroom condominium on the forty second ground looks like a cage. She longs to hang around together with her mates, hearken to music and flirt with an older drummer named Knuck (Chris Lee), who makes use of the courtyard of their Manhattan Plaza constructing as his stage.

Styled in baggie denims, Timberland boots, Tommy Hilfiger crop tops and gold chains, Ali speaks on to the viewers about her emotions, goals and wishes. She welcomes viewers into her superbly chaotic teenage world as if opening up her diary. With out an outlet to precise herself, she feedback on her growing frustrations with Jersey’s overbearing angle whereas gathering the braveness to method Knuck.

It’s troublesome to unlock the expertise of being a 17-year-old woman, however beneath Michael Greif’s route, “Hell’s Kitchen” does simply that. Loosely based mostly on Grammy Award winner Keys’ private experiences, the musical, now premiering on the Public Theater, captures Ali’s ever-evolving feelings and her quest for freedom. Regardless of her mom’s guidelines, Ali rebels in opposition to them, staying out late, attending to know Knuck intimately and preventing Jersey at each flip.

As a result of her estranged father, Davis (Brandon Victor Dixon), is an expert musician, Ali solely begrudgingly learns to play the piano from her stern neighbor, Miss Lisa Jane (Kecia Lewis). However quickly she discovers that music is perhaps one of the best ways to convey her emotions.

With absolute powerhouse vocals from the solid and songs written by Keys with orchestrations and preparations by Emmy and Grammy winner Adam Blackstone, “Hell’s Kitchen” strikes past Ali’s teenage experiences. The play additionally showcases Jersey’s perspective as a single mom decided to get her daughter to make totally different decisions from her personal. Although Keys’ iconic music is used all through, Diaz and Blackstone don’t haphazardly sprinkle the tunes throughout two acts. As an alternative, tracks like “You Don’t Know My Identify” and “Fallin” come thundering ahead from stunning characters at sudden instances.

The set design, although easy, captures the essence of New York Metropolis. Designer Robert Brill makes use of black metal rectangles to showcase the town’s vertical constructions and linear traces. Picture projection is used within the background to orient the viewers in a particular neighborhood or place. The minimalism of the stage and Ali’s earnest narration make the viewers really feel part of the manufacturing relatively than simply spectators.

Along with Moon and Bean’s sensational vocal vary, “Hell’s Kitchen” illustrates how tender mom/daughter relationships may be. It additionally displays the problems underlying New York Metropolis within the ’90s whereas demonstrating the affect of loss, absentee fathers and over-policing in communities of colour. Because the play runs at a prolonged 2 hours and half-hour (together with an intermission), these themes are sometimes drawn out and generally really feel cliché, bordering on corny. Nonetheless, absolutely the dynamism of the solid retains the present from falling into pure melodrama.

Nonetheless, “Hell’s Kitchen” is a quintessential musical. A number of the dancing is over-elaborate at instances, particularly throughout tender numbers like “Hallelujah/Like Water” or sensual moments together with “Un-thinkable (I’m Prepared).” Whereas these segments may have shined with the singing alone, the ensemble’s expertise is plain. With gorgeous harmonies and the infusion of on-stage pianists, guitarists and drummers, the present looks like watching a wonderful tapestry come collectively.

When it’s all mentioned and accomplished, “Hell’s Kitchen” is greater than a narrative a few younger lady’s past love affair. Ali’s involvement with Knuck is a central part, however as one among her homegirls factors out, having a person isn’t the only real all-important component of the narrative. As an alternative, “Hell’s Kitchen” is a glowing story paying homage to New York, to that lovely and heartbreaking transition between girlhood and womanhood and to the ladies who maintain our palms via all of it.

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