Ben Stiller Leaves Play
Credit: Joan Marcus

The final week of Tony eligibility brought with it five major openings, four big-named Broadway debuts, and one major misfire. Our critics saw them all — read below for the highlights. (And don’t forget to return to PopWatch on Tuesday, May 3, following the Tony nominations, for our on-the-scene commentary and reactions.)

The Normal Heart: Larry Kramer’s 1985 drama about the early years of the AIDS crisis is emotional but imperfect, according to EW stage editor Thom Geier. He gives the revival a B+, and praises lead Joe Mantello and the strong supporting cast — including Lee Pace, Jim Parsons, and Ellen Barkin in their Broadway debuts — but adds, “there is too much speechifying by characters who are too easily interchangeable.”

Baby It’s You!: This jukebox musical about the New Jersey housewife who discovered the Shirelles, earns a B- from senior writer Clark Collis. “The subjects of race, female empowerment, and the fleeting nature of fame are all touched upon, but often glancingly,” he writes, “there is never any doubt that the main attractions are the hits.”

The House of Blue Leaves: Ben Stiller’s return to Broadway in the same play he made his 1986 debut — this time as his original character’s father — scored a B from Geier, who notes that the disparate acting styles of Stiller, as a zookeeper with big time musical aspirations, and Edie Falco and Jennifer Jason Leigh as his wife and mistress, respectively, hurt the play. “This production of The House of Blue Leaves,” Geier opines, “is not unlike one of Artie’s wannabe hit tunes: The notes are there, and the enthusiasm, but it never quite finds its rhythm.”

Born Yesterday: Supporting actress Nina Arianda “shines so brightly that everyone else looks a little dull by comparison,” writes Melissa Rose Bernardo. Robert Sean Leonard “makes the most of what he’s given,” but Jim Belushi “always just seams a bit behind” in the dated revival of Garson Kanin’s 1946 comedy, which she grades a B.

The People in the Picture: EW film critic Lisa Schwarzbaum gives a D+ to this cloying, time-hopping yarn starring Tony winner Donna Murphy (with book and lyrics by Beaches novelist Iris Rainer Dart). “If Ned Flanders and his fellow amateur thespians on The Simpsons staged a Springfield community musical about Jewish grandmothers and Yiddish theater in prewar Poland,” she states, “they could do no worse than The People in the Picture.