'Here We Are' review — a star-packed slice of surrealism

Read our four-star review of Here We Are, the final musical with songs by Stephen Sondheim, currently playing off Broadway at The Shed through January 21.

Joe Dziemianowicz
Joe Dziemianowicz

Considering that it’s the final musical by the renowned composer-lyricist who died in 2021, Stephen Sondheim’s Here We Are was guaranteed to jolt. Although the show emerges as modestly engaging, it adds a zap of electricity to the theatre season, thanks to inspired work by a dream cast and ace designers who serve up a slim slice of surrealism under Joe Mantello's (Wicked) direction.

In development for a decade and written with David Ives (Venus in Fur), the two-hour two-act is inspired by two movies by Spanish Mexican filmmaker Luis Buñuel: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Exterminating Angel. The movies present spiky send-ups of the rich and privileged whose dining plans go awry.

Rachel Bay Jones and Bobby Cannavale play Marianne and Leo Brink, a posh, pampered pair. Claudia and Paul Zimmer (Amber Gray and Jeremy Shamos) arrive at Brinks’ home mistakenly thinking they have a brunch date there.

Accompanied by Marianne’s street-smart sister, Fritz (Micaela Diamond), and Raffael (Steven Pasquale), an oversexed ambassador, they head out and look for a place to eat. Subplots about infidelity, a sexy soldier (Jin Ha), an aimless bishop (David Hyde Pierce), a cocaine cartel, and a revolution bubble up. Lending ace support are Francois Battiste as a colonel and the multitasking Denis O’Hare and Tracie Bennett.

Sondheim and Ives follow the bones of the movies and make detours in their gentle adaptation. Act 1 takes a traditional musical approach to the story. Act 2, in which everybody ends up in a room they can’t leave, is largely absent of music, save for a song at the start and a later reprise or two. Even a piano on stage goes silent.

David Zinn’s minimal first-act set is all about clean, polished white surfaces and colorful set pieces that represent various restaurants, while Act 2 conjures an ornate room. It’s all good enough to eat. Zinn’s costumes – from a silky peignoir to combat boots – are character-defining. Natasha Katz bathes it all in dramatic lighting.

In both halves of the theatrical hybrid, Ives’s script packs the verbal dexterity that’s become his hallmark. “We do expect a little latte later, but we haven’t got a lotta latte now,” says a waiter.

Sondheim, meanwhile, doesn’t offer up his signature tongue-twisting lyrics, but in just a note or two, melodies announce themselves as hailing from the same creator of Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods. Incidental songs pop up about a perfect day, the end of the world, and a rudderless priest. The score is pretty and moody — no more, no less.

So what does it all mean? Here We Are doubles down on a message. “Life’s a tit! Suck it up!” says Raffael early on. Later, the Bishop puts it in other words: “Be here. Until we’re not.” Groundbreaking? No. But it’s food for thought.

Here We Are is at The Shed through January 21. Get Here We Are tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

Photo credit: Tracie Bennett, Denis O'Hare, Steven Pasquale, Amber Gray, Jeremy Shamos, Bobby Cannavale, Rachel Bay Jones, Francois Battiste, Micaela Diamond, Jin Ha, and David Hyde Pierce in Here We Are. (Photo by Emilio Madrid)

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