Rhapsody and Discord: Alicia Keys’s ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ at the Shubert Theatre

New York City has long been immortalised in music, but not all tributes capture its essence with equal clarity. Alicia Keys’s musical, ‘Hell’s Kitchen,’ staged at the Shubert Theatre, endeavours to embody the city’s dynamic spirit but encounters challenges in its execution.

The musical’s climax features Keys’s anthem, ‘Empire State of Mind,’ sung by Ali, portrayed by Maleah Joi Moon. This rendition should resonate deeply, considering the song’s enduring popularity and its adoption by the current mayor as motivational music. However, within the context of the musical, it struggles to transcend the generalities that often plague city odes.

‘Hell’s Kitchen’ employs the song ‘Empire State of Mind, Part II (Broken Down)’ rather than the more vibrant duet version featuring Jay-Z, missing an opportunity to capture the city’s multifaceted nature. Director Michael Greif and choreographer Camille A. Brown inject the finale with as much vigour as possible, yet the production’s core remains somewhat elusive.

The narrative juggles three versions of its setting: the tale of Ali’s coming-of-age, a subdued romance, and a profound journey into artistic maturity. Ali, a rebellious teenager living in Manhattan Plaza’s subsidised artists’ housing, navigates her complex family dynamics and discovers her musical talent under the tutelage of Miss Liza Jane (Kecia Lewis), who delivers captivating lessons on the legacy of Black women pianists.

This semi-biographical story reflects Keys’s own upbringing, albeit with creative liberties. The scenes between Ali and Miss Liza Jane are particularly poignant, offering a more nuanced exploration of artistic development than typical musical biopics. Their interactions highlight the transformative power of art and mentorship.

Yet, the production’s broader strokes tend to overshadow these finer points. The musical includes several of Keys’s hits and new songs that sometimes feel shoehorned into the storyline, aiming more for vocal spectacle than narrative coherence. Particularly, the use of ‘Perfect Way to Die’—a song about police violence from 2020—in a 1990s setting, blurs the thematic lines, adding emotional weight that the musical does not fully address.

The ensemble cast brings notable energy and talent to the stage. Maleah Joi Moon shines in her role, bringing authenticity and a unique vocal texture that stands out amidst the production’s polished performances. Her portrayal of Ali is both compelling and relatable, grounded in her youthful exuberance and naivety.

Despite its ambitious scope and standout moments, ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ struggles to maintain a consistent tone. The narrative pivots around its musical numbers, with some scenes feeling more like concert performances than integral parts of a cohesive story.

In conclusion, while ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ dazzles with its musical sequences and captures some authentic New York stories, it does so with an uneven hand. The spectacle often overshadows the subtleties that could have made this musical a more profound love letter to New York City. As it stands, the production is a mixed bag—a vibrant yet fragmented portrayal of urban life and artistic aspiration.

Photo Credit: DepositPhotos.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *