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Inspiring Musical Based on Alicia Keys’ Life Unveiled in Hell’s Kitchen

★★★☆☆ An endearing tale of transition to adulthood, featuring relatable characters and captivating music

Shoshana Bean and Maleah Joi Moon in Hell’s Kitchen. Photo by Marc J. FranklinShoshana Bean and Maleah Joi Moon in Hell’s Kitchen. Photo: Marc J. Franklin Hell’s Kitchen stands out as a superior addition to the jukebox musical genre, which has seen a surge in quantity but not necessarily in originality recently. Playwright Kristoffer Diaz, known for the compelling and theatrical production The Elaborate Entry of Chad Deity, skillfully adapts singer-songwriter Alicia Keys’ journey through adolescence into a poignant theatrical experience.

While incorporating common themes of coming-of-age such as challenging relationships with parents, identity crises, and youthful rebellion, the production maintains an emotional authenticity that resonates with audiences. Alicia Keys’ popular songs are seamlessly integrated into the narrative, brought to life by a talented creative team.

Despite its title, Hell’s Kitchen doesn’t solely focus on the gritty neighborhood between 34th and 59th Streets and 8th Avenue to the Hudson River. The setting primarily revolves around Manhattan Plaza, a renowned artistic community often referred to as “Broadway’s Bedroom.” The protagonist, Ali (played by newcomer Maleah Joi Moon), navigates the constraints imposed by her mother Jersey (portrayed by Shoshana Bean), a former performer keen on protecting her daughter. As Ali forms a bond with Knuck, a versatile street musician portrayed by Chris Lee, tensions escalate, leading to a pivotal moment at home.

The narrative avoids melodramatic twists, instead delving into the universal theme of youthful yearning for purpose and direction. Through Ali’s struggles, Jersey’s unwavering stance, and Keys’ poignant lyrics, the audience is drawn into Ali’s emotional journey, rooting for her every step of the way.

The pivotal moment in the play occurs when Ali, feeling dejected, encounters the wise and elegant Miss Liza Jane (played by the superb Kecia Lewis) at the piano in the building’s communal space. This encounter sparks Ali’s passion for music and sets her on a transformative path, guided by Miss Liza Jane’s wisdom. Director Michael Greif skillfully captures the essence of Manhattan, with the performances by Bean, Lee, and Brandon Victor Dixon (as Ali’s estranged father) adding depth and authenticity to the storyline.

Noteworthy is choreographer Camille A. Brown’s exceptional work, which goes beyond showcasing dance as mere spectacle to using movement to convey the characters’ emotions and progression. Brown’s choreography adds a layer of storytelling, enhancing the audience’s connection to the characters and their journeys. In a season marked by outstanding choreography, Brown’s contribution stands out as exemplary.