Review: ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ is a Coming of Age Musical That’s in All the Right (Alicia) Keys

Photo of the company of “Hell’s Kitchen” by Marc J. Franklin.

BY MICHAEL MUSTO | No, the Broadway musical Hell’s Kitchen isn’t about gay guys who live in affordable walkups and go to Empanada Mama. With songs by 16-Grammy-winner Alicia Keys, it loosely draws on the long-running music star’s experiences, using Keys’ own hits (and three new songs she wrote) to illustrate a 17-year-old girl’s relationships with her parents, her mentor, and her music. The show—with a book by Kristoffer Diaz—premiered at the Public Theater in ’23 and arrives with both emotion and stagecraft.

Thankfully, this is not another rise-to-stardom tale; we could get that with a more traditional jukebox show a la Cher, Tina Turner, and the Four Seasons. It’s also not the kind of jukebox musical that strings an artist’s songs together into a work of total fiction. It falls somewhere in between the two types, drawing on an artist’s life, but only in the early stages, and with plenty of creative license applied. It’s basically about how Alicia Keys got that way. The resulting mid-’90s story—narrated by the multiracial Ali, the young Keys character who lives with mom in Manhattan Plaza—might occasionally lean towards the familiar and maybe even corny, but at heart it’s more than just a musician’s coming of age tale; it’s a mother-daughter love story that works itself to a gratifying conclusion.

Ali’s single mother, Jersey, is so concerned about Ali’s doings—including hanging out with other kids outside the building and also getting involved with a bucket drummer she practically stalks—that she’s always cutting her daughter down and trying to correct her ways. In a fit, Jersey even gets the drummer arrested, an all-around awkward moment that she eventually comes to regret. No wonder Ali finds herself drawn more to a piano instructor neighbor, Miss Liza Jane, who fills her with purpose, history, and tough love.

Keys’ songs (like Girl on Fire and No One) are interestingly woven into this framework, and the production values are good too. A master of the youth musical, Michael Greif (Rent, Dear Evan Hansen) co-conceived and directed the show, filling it with life, angst, and hormones, with Camille A. Brown’s jangly choreography adding to the unadulterated spirit. Meanwhile, Robert Brill’s scenic design involves sliding and rolling platforms and screens that make NYC into a big playground-meets-construction site. The way the Manhattan Plaza elevator is suggested—giving Ali the chance to oversee and overhear all sorts of sights and sounds—is particularly clever.

And the cast couldn’t be better. Making her Broadway debut, Maleah Joi Moon is a find, with stunning vocals and just the right mixture of irritability and vulnerability. Without affect, she effortlessly lives the part up on that stage. Shoshana Bean (Mr. Saturday Night) is a marvel as her overprotective mother, rooting the show’s dramatic conflict and singing so amazingly, she turns Jersey’s pain into showstopping moments. As her seemingly good for nothing musician ex (and Ali’s dad), Brandon Victor Dixon is perfection, always trying to be less absent, including on an impressionistic version of Fallin’ that he deliciously sings to Jersey in a last-ditch effort to win her back. And Kecia Lewis is terrific as Miss Liza Jane, though she has to emit some dialogue people would normally never say. (“Your rage is real. Your rage is earned. But I will not let it defeat you.”) Still, she nails the character’s dignity and rivets with Perfect Way to Die, Keys’ 2020 song about anti-Black brutality, which, unfortunately, would feel relevant in any modern era.

If Hell’s Kitchen fans end up demanding a sequel, I’ll gladly work on the musical about the Happy Hour twinks. But I think this show is good enough.

“Hell’s Kichen” is at the Shubert Theatre (225 W.  44th St.). Tickets ($59-$199) are available at and and can also be purchased at the Shubert Theatre box office. Lottery tickets are available through a digital lottery the day before the performance at The digital lottery opens at at 12am one day before the performance with winners announced that same morning at 10am, with a second announcement of additional winners that afternoon at 3pm. Winners may purchase up to two tickets at $39 each (inclusive of $5 service fee), subject to availability. Seats may be partial view. A limited number of in-person rush tickets will be available on the day of each performance for $39 per ticket when the Shubert Theatre box office opens. Maximum of two tickets per person, subject to availability. Seats may be partial view. The box office opens Monday through Saturday at 10am and Sunday at 12pm.


Photo of Michael Musto by Andrew Werner.


Michael Musto is a columnist, pop cultural and political pundit, NYC nightlife chronicler, author, and the go-to gossip responsible for the long-running (1984-2013) Village Voice column, “La Dolce Musto.” His work appears on this website as well as and, and he is writing for the new Village Voice, which made its debut in April of 2021. Follow Musto on Instagram, via @michaelmusto.



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3 Responses to "Review: ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ is a Coming of Age Musical That’s in All the Right (Alicia) Keys"

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