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"Hell's Kitchen" musical (Photo: NNPA)
Stacy M. Brown NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
Published: 07 May 2024

In the heart of Manhattan, blocks from the 43rd Street and Ninth Avenue apartment on the 42nd floor where the story unfolds lies the Shubert Theater at 44th Street near Eighth Avenue, currently home to the captivating Broadway musical, “Hell’s Kitchen.” Developed over 12 years by the incomparable Alicia Keys, this jukebox musical is a touching journey through the soulful melodies that have defined her career.

At a recent midweek and matinee performance, attended by Keys’ own mother, “Hell’s Kitchen” was not just palpable, but electrifying. From the moment the lights dimmed to the final bow, the exceptional performances and the energy of the show were evident, even as Keys’ mother, Terria Joseph, could be heard enthusiastically cheering, laughing, and singing along throughout the performance.  The musical left little doubt as to why, in bustling New York, in the middle of the week, a sold-out crowd poured into the Shubert Theater. It also provided many clues as to why this production has earned an impressive 13 Tony Award nominations.

The narrative delves deep into the tumultuous relationship between 17-year-old Ali (the main character based on Keys), portrayed with profound depth and charisma by Gianna Harris (filling in for Tony-nominated lead actress Maleah Joi Moon), and her fiercely protective mother, Jersey, in an absolute powerhouse performance by Shoshana Bean. Set against the backdrop of late 1990s Times Square area, Ali’s quest for independence and love clashes with Jersey’s fears and desires for her daughter’s safety, all of which creates a story that likely resonates with the audience’s own experiences.

alicia keys midAli and her mom, Jersey/Photo by Marc J. Franklin with permission from Polk & Co.

Harris shines in her portrayal of Ali, seamlessly weaving Keys’ iconic hits such as “Girl on Fire” and “Fallin’” into the fabric of her character’s journey. Opposite her, Bean delivers a tour de force performance, capturing the raw emotion and maternal love that drive Jersey’s actions.

The supporting cast, including Brandon Victor Dixon as Ali’s father, Davis, and Kecia Lewis as the amazing Miss Liza Jane, Ali’s spiritual mentor, further elevating the production. Lewis’s rendition of “Authors of Forever” is exceptionally breathtaking, showcasing her remarkable vocal range and depth of emotion.

While “Hell’s Kitchen” may not be a strict retelling of Keys’ life story – it ostensibly covers just her life as a 17-year-old, it offers a glimpse into a pivotal moment in her adolescence. Kristoffer Diaz’s expertly crafted book ensures that the focus remained on Ali and her journey toward self-discovery, creating a narrative that sticks with audiences long after the final curtain falls.

With its electrifying performances and soul-stirring music, “Hell’s Kitchen” is a testament to Alicia Keys’ enduring legacy as a musical icon. It proved more than just a Broadway production; it’s a celebration of the power of music to inspire, uplift, and transform lives. It’s also a gift from Keys to New York, celebrated in the closing with the heart-thumping sound, lyrics, and performance of Keys’ hit with Jay-Z, “Empire State of Mind,” with the cast alternately crooning, “Ooh, New York; Ooh, New York. Even if it ain’t all it seems, I got a pocketful of dreams; Baby I’m from New York! Concrete jungle where dreams are made of There’s nothing you can’t do; Now you’re in New York! These streets will make you feel brand new; Big lights will inspire you; Hear it for New York, New York, New York!”

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