Although Jonathan Brielle does a neat job of compressing the action into two hours onstage, he fails to capitalize on the terrible implications of falling from grace into a hell beyond the reaches of spirituality or religion, and neither his lyrics nor music is memorable.
Laurence Vittes – Hollywood Reporter
But mystery and tension are in short supply in this promising yet unfocused world premiere. A strong premise, solid cast and often-appealing score don’t quite come together to make “Nightmare” the satisfying, dark entertainment it wants to be.
Charlotte Stoudt – LA Times
One of America’s deepest, darkest, dirtiest noir fictions, William Lindsay Gresham’s “Nightmare Alley,” is bowdlerized and sanitized for your protection in Jonathan Brielle’s musicalization at the Geffen Playhouse. While the novel still shocks today as it exposes the nexus of religion, spiritualism and sensuality underlying the American dream, here it’s reduced to a humdrum showbiz-as-life decadence metaphor, and a morality play whose message would have been well received in the popular theater of 1912.
Bob Verini – Variety
The play is an unsettling parallel between the Depression and today. It also draws an eerie paradigm between the ancient Tarot cards and today’s desperate con men. The script develops Stan’s character. Perhaps it’s his father’s influence that leads him to fake spiritulism. With bewildered anguish, his final line queries why we make mistakes. Brielle’s ominous chords echo that disaster. “Nightmare Alley” and “I Surrender”> are the songs that will go home from the theatre with you. Bravo to the Geffen for throwing fresh light on this dark American classic!
Laura Hitchcock – CurtainUp
It needs work and some serious rethinking in order to reconcile the cynical first act with the overripe second, but with some effort, Nightmare Alley could go places.
Trevor Thomas – EdgeLosAngeles
But those voices are so powerful, the cast so excellent, the staging effective. The alcoholic “geek” (Larry Cedar) in the second act becomes a prissy old lady, McCarthy the rich old man. All well done. This excellent cast deserves a revision of the book. I saw the performance second night and it may be that, as a new piece, it’s still in transition. I look forward to some version where the storyline can support the level of performance.
Clare Elfman – Buzzine
Where’s the nightmare? Not nearly as dark as it needs to be or musically enticing enough, Nightmare Alley at the Geffen, by its very nature should be diabolically thrilling like a Kander and Ebb musical but it doesn’t cut the mustard, even with its exceptional cast including James Barbour, Larry Cedar and Mary GorDon Murray.
Don Grigware – BroadwayWorld
The fascinating themes of the divide between faith and church are handled so generically as to be stupendously uninvolving. John Arnone’s intriguing set of platforms and curtains places little twinkly lights throughout the theater, and there are allusions to chicken heads being bitten off backstage. There’s promise in that, at least. Carny Trash’s Jay had a joke about interviewing a geek for that assignment, “You bite off seven chicken heads a week for all the wine you can handle.” The applicant thought about it for a moment before replying, “So what’s the catch?” That’s the kind of edge this musical needs. That, and a clearer purpose.
Steven Leigh Morris – LA Weekly
In the world premiere of Jonathan Brielle’s musical, “Nightmare Alley,” at the Geffen Playhouse, we have powerful voices trumpeting the triumphs and mourning the tragedies of such a place, created in a sanitized but colorful version by set designer John Arnone. This isn’t a great musical, but it tells an entertaining story and features magnetic presence of James Barbour as the main character who could have had it all and Larry Cedar as the likable loser Pete.
Jana J. Monji – LA Examiner
Unfortunately, Brielle’s production (he wrote the book, music and lyrics) does not come across as successfully as did the movie; something seems to be missing, despite a leading man with a magnificent voice (James Barbour).
Carol Kaufman Segal – Stagehappenings
In the 21st century, disgusting acts are much more plentiful, I’m sorry to say, which blunts the shock value that might be had in the musical Nightmare Alley now onstage at the Geffen Playhouse. Yet the combination composer-librettist and playwright, Jonathan Brielle has fashioned an enjoyable side show punctuated with pleasant music that includes a haunting title song that, for the most part, makes up for our more blasé reception. He is aided in his effort by a virtuoso, if romantic, performance from the incomparable James Barbour and great support from the likes of Larry Cedar, Michael McCarty and Mary Gordon Murray. Barbour’s counterpart, Sarah Glendening, provides a sweet counterpoint to his portrayal as Stan the doomed Carney.
Leigh Kennicott – Stagehappenings
If Gilbert Cates, who directed, had the courage of his convictions, he could have turned the theater into a carnival, thrusting us and shoving our noses into its world of strange sounds and images. That some critics thought he did just that says as much about our critical timidity as it does about the theater’s. But, of course, as it turns out, the musical version itself doesn’t really support that approach. From the outset, it keeps us at a distance, softens the outlines of the story, until it has virtually no story to tell.
Harvey Perr – Stage and Cinema
Directed by Gilbert Cates, the musical Nightmare Alley, on stage at The Geffen Playhouse, is a production that succeeds, despite being somewhat derivative. This is largely due to the spellbinding performance of James Barbour and an outstanding cast.
Beverly Cohn – Santa Monica Mirror
Jonathan Brielle’s original musical, “Nightmare Alley,” which has its world premier at The Geffen Playhouse disappoints. A nightmare conjures up a horrifically bad dream, with sweating, writhing, tossing and turning until the dreamer wakes up, sometimes thinking if he had not woken up, he might have faced death. At best, “Nightmare Alley” is a darkly dramatic musical. It is seedy and seamy, but it misses. Brielle’s original musical has the flavor of Kurt Weil and Bertold Brecht, but the spices and intensity are lacking. Gil Cates direction does not flow.
Audrey Linden – LA Examiner
Directed by the Geffen’s producing director Gil Cates, choreographed by Kay Cole, and featuring precision musical direction by Gerald Sternbach, the debut of Brielle’s Nightmare features a world-class cast led by Broadway veterans James Barbour and Mary Gordon Murray, as well as spectacular design work by John Arnone, Daniel Ionazzi, Brian Hsieh and, especially, striking costuming by Christina Haatainen Jones.
Travis Michael Holder – Entertainment Today
“Nightmare Alley” Geffen Playhouse, 10886 LeConte Avenue, Westwood. 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 23. $45-$75. Contact 310-208-5454. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.
Filed Under: LemonMeter
About the Author: We don’t “review” shows here at the Lemon, rather we "review" reviews by gathering them from a variety of local review sites around the internet, judging them to be positive or negative, then forming an aggregate score that we call a LEMONMETER RATING, showing how well that show has been reviewed in total. For more detail on how the LemonMeter works visit here.