'The Outsiders' review — adaptation of the classic novel rumbles with talent

Read our review of The Outsiders on Broadway, a new musical adaptation of S. E. Hinton's classic 1967 novel now playing at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.

Joe Dziemianowicz
Joe Dziemianowicz

The Outsiders, an always earnest and intermittently gripping new musical at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, boasts elements that will make you sit up and take notice.

Director Danya Taymor’s energizing staging is one of them, while a choral moment so rousing it takes you by surprise is another. Brody Grant, a Broadway newcomer whose emotion-etched acting and vocals point to a bright star in the making, is another source of bragging rights.

Grant does the heavy lifting as Ponyboy Curtis, an orphaned 14-year-old who’s caught in a gang war between the working-class “Greasers” and well-off “Socs” (as in socialites) in 1967 Tulsa, Oklahoma. Can this smart, sensitive teen outrun a dead-end destiny and, to quote the script, “stay gold”?

S. E. Hinton’s 1967 novel and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 movie version asked the same question. The musical's book writers, Adam Rapp (The Sound Inside) and Justin Levine, stay close to those sources while reshaping some dramatic moments for their adaptation. One is the fate of Ponyboy’s elder pal. The storytelling earns applause for accessibility, but it can get mired in cliches.

The score by Jamestown Revival (Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance) and Levine is likewise uneven. Moody folk- and bluegrass-flavored songs fit the setting. “Great Expectations,” Ponyboy’s aspirational solo amplified by other voices, is a highlight, but many songs are too heavy with exposition. Limp lyrics like “the grass is always greener” stick out for the wrong reason.

Choreographers Rick and Jeff Kuperman put the show in gymnastic, muscular motion. The climactic gang war surges in such stylized, cinematic fashion that my audience actually cheered. Despite its flaws, The Outsiders is ready to rumble.

The Outsiders summary

The Outsiders explores class conflict, loyalty, and the search for identity among adolescents. The musical is based on Hinton’s young adult novel that’s a fixture on school reading lists, and Coppola’s film adaptation featuring C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe, and Diane Lane.

Amid the many Greasers and Socs in the story, the focus is on the exceptional Ponyboy, who gets by with his brothers Sodapop (Jason Schmidt) and Darrel (Brent Comer) and besties Johnny (Sky Lakota-Lynch) and Dallas (Joshua Boone). Ponyboy makes an unexpected connection with well-to-do Cherry (Emma Pittman).

What to expect at The Outsiders

As The Outsiders unfolds, you can’t help but recall the Sharks and Jets from the classic musical West Side Story. But the similarities are actually superficial. Unlike Tony and Maria, romance doesn’t spark between Ponyboy and Cherry – just a warm understanding of what it’s like to be broken. The Outsiders is about brotherhood – whether blood or choice — and protecting it at all costs.

The world of The Outsiders is a gritty one, and the Broadway production reflects that. The set (designed by AMP featuring Tatiana Kahvegian) is an abandoned lot strewn with old tires, blocks, and a beat-up car. The space transforms into a home, a drive-in movie, a church, a park with a fountain, a hospital through shifts in lighting and props.

Against that backdrop, Taymor’s fine cast delivers. Lakota-Lynch shines as Johnny Cade. As Ponyboy’s big brother, Comer casts a strong presence – one wishes his songs were more varied.

What audiences are saying about The Outsiders

Prior to opening night, The Outsiders had an overall 90% rating on Show-Score.

  • “See it if you like inspiring, socially relevant dramas with powerful scores and dynamic performance.” Show-Score user Stuontheaisle
  • “The voices sound phenomenal and the show captures everything the book is.” Show-Score user A Sky Full of Stars
  • “Don't see it if uncomfortable with violence (knifing, blood, murder), suicide, and dark themes thrust unceremoniously upon the shoulders of young people.” Show-Score user Girl Friday
  • “The music really didn’t add much. I would have rather seen this story as a play.” - Audience member overheard leaving the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre

Who should see The Outsiders

  • Fans of the novel and the movie will want to know how the work has been translated to the musical theatre stage.
  • Theatregoers who appreciate new faces and talents: Between principals and the ensemble, the production features 10 actors making their Broadway debuts.
  • Followers of Adam Rapp's work should see The Outsiders. He’s a Pulitzer finalist and Tony nominee known for non-musical plays like The Sound Inside and Red Light Winter. The Outsiders shows off his talents in a different medium.

Learn more about The Outsiders on Broadway

The Outsiders boasts terrific performances and imaginative staging. You’ll want to be inside the Jacobs Theatre to see it.

Learn more and get The Outsiders tickets on New York Theatre Guide. The Outsiders is at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.

Additional The Outsiders content

Photo credit: The cast of The Outsiders on Broadway. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Originally published on

Subscribe to our newsletter to unlock exclusive New York theatre updates!

Special offers, reviews and release dates for the best shows in town.

You can unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Policy