Morrissey Rocks Broadway (And Brightens It, Believe It Or Not): Review

Joan Marcus

Morrissey has never really been as gloomy as his reputation would suggest – no one is as gloomy as his reputation would suggest – but the former Smiths frontman seemed in especially good spirits – and powerfully strong voice – for last night’s first show of a seven-night Broadway residency. 

Transforming the lush, elegant 109-year-old Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (where the Donna Summer musical had tried so hard to resurrect disco) into a premiere, fine-sounding rock hall, Morrissey ripped into a 20-song set that surveyed his entire career. With a five-man band, this show is a loud, legitimate rocker – even the ballads cook – as Morrissey dives back to Smiths stuff (“Rubber Ring”, “What She Said”) through classic solo work (“Everyday Is Like Sunday”, “Suedehead”, “Hairdresser On Fire”) and right up to his forthcoming California Son album of covers (Jobriath’s “Morning Starship”). 

Without making any obvious modifications for the Broadway stage – no storytelling, no Springsteen On Broadway autobiography, certainly no jukebox musical narrative through lines – Morrissey presented a concert well-suited to the intimate (relatively speaking) venue. He shook hands with the front row, accepted a couple gifts from fans, cracked a joke or two and even started the show with a quickly abandoned “they say the neon lights are bright” snippet from “On Broadway.”

Performing in front of seven large, color-changing lights shaped like satellite dishes – judging from photos from other venues, no special Broadway designs here – Morrissey drew on no particularly special effects other than his old-fashioned microphone, cord and all. Wearing a bedazzled black tux jacket over a stretched and eventually torn t-shirt adorned with Robert Mitchum’s face, the singer kept the theatrics to an effective minimum.

During “Jack the Ripper”, a massive cloud of dry-ice fog, bathed in crimson light, all but smothered the singer. And while he sang the gleefully wicked “The Bullfighter Dies”, snickering over just what the title suggests, video projections displayed gruesome, graphic images of animal cruelty and matador comeuppance. By comparison, the show’s encore image – the haunting suicide scene from Cocteau’s avant garde 1930 film The Blood of a Poet – was tame (in any case, Morrissey didn’t stick around long enough to see that latter, leaving the clip on continuous replay as he slipped away, shirtless, without a final bow).

Before Morrissey even hit the stage, video projections set the mood with clips of what we can assume are heroes, influences and fellow travelers. No false modesty from Morrissey – he essentially turned Edit Piaf, Patti Smith, the Ramones, Lenny Bruce and “Rebel Rebel”-era Bowie (one hatchet buried, anyway) into his opening act, and then delivered a show that kept its promise.

Morrissey’s Broadway residency at the Lunt-Fontanne continues through May 11. (The show, incidentally, is not part of the “In Residence On Broadway” series – also at the Lunt-Fontanne – that begins May 28 with Yanni and continues into July with Mel Brooks, Regina Spektor and Criss Angel.)

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