New York, the hard-hitting Burke Keys and Jay-Z and others romanticized in 2009’s “Empire State of Mind” — and now the “Hell’s Kitchen” finale — is sure to find your own niche. A supportive community. Lots of dancing to the singer-songwriter’s set, which marks its official debut at Off-Broadway’s Public Theater on Sunday night.
So, to recap: Savvy and company have written a show about home that isn’t much to write home about. Using Keys’ blues-, jazz- and pop-infused compositions, director Michael Greif and librettist Christopher Diaz create a teenage-age musical that keeps two steps ahead with many of the characters we know: the restless 17-year-old, the protective mom, the handsome boyfriend, the demanding teacher. .
They and a spunky ensemble assembled on designer Robert Brill’s scaffolding set (which will remind you of other Greif-directed projects like the Pulitzer-winning “Next to Normal”). The 23 songs Keys co-wrote with other artists tell the tried-and-true story of a star and his roots. Other than that, the evidence for “Hell’s Kitchen” doesn’t have a very exciting story to tell.
What “Hell’s Kitchen” dish out in many parts are vocal and dance delights. Performances by Lee, Bean, Dixon and Keziah Lewis (Ali’s beloved stern piano instructor, Miss Lisa Jane) are sung with polished, sometimes dazzling conviction. Exuding street-smart charm, Moon makes a fine professional debut as Keys’ alter ego (though one hopes Moon’s voice would be appropriate in this octogenarian role). Camille A. is alive with the urban energy of hip-hop and house dance. Brown’s choreography provides a reliable source of electricity.
“She’s a girl, she’s on fire,” the lyrics to “Girl on Fire” from Keys’ 2012 album of the same title. Like many of the songs set in “Hell’s Kitchen,” the midtown Manhattan neighborhood where the singer-songwriter grew up, it satisfies the show’s autobiographical mandate. “Gramercy Park,” sweetly sung by Lee and Moon, set in a wealthy district where Kuck works as a house painter, “Pan It All,” delivered with blow-the-speakers-out power by Bean. , reveals all of Jersey’s frustrations with her chosen poor husband and father.
Sharp. Intelligence. Thoughtful. Sign up for the Style Memo newsletter.
You’ll never be allowed to forget that 2½ hours of “Hell’s Kitchen” has a certain toolbox of “found” music. Greif, Diaz and Brown line up the ensemble at the top of Act 2’s “Always the Authors of Forever”: “So let’s celebrate the dreamers/ We’ll embrace the space between us,” they sing — a sort of “Seasons” scene. The unforgettable Act 2 opening of “Rent” directed by Greif, Kaadhal. The ending, designed for Miss Lisa Jane, is gracefully embodied by Lewis, and feels like something taken from a guide to provocative roles.
Fans of Keys won’t mind these constant-issue elements, as Adam Blackstone and Tom Kidd’s bands, Blackstone and Keys’ arrangements, and Dominic Fallagaro’s musical direction so earnestly reproduce the tunes they love. All of this is in service of the wonderful. You know, good.
Hell’s Kitchen, music and lyrics by Alicia Keys, book by Christopher Diaz. Directed by Michael Greif. Choreography by Camille A. Brown; Music Supervision, Adam Blackstone; Seitz, Robert Brill; clothes, dede aite; Lighting, Natasha Katz; Sound, Gareth Owen; Predictions, Peter Nigrini; Bands, Adam Blackstone and Tom Kidd. With Chad Garstorpen, Crystal Moni Hall, Vanessa Ferguson. About 2½ hours. Through January 14th at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., New York. publictheatre.org.