‘In Residence on Broadway: Morrissey’ runs through May 11 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 W. 46th St., morrisseyofficial.com.
Generally speaking, Broadway is a place for pop-rock musicals, where singer-songwriters do not take the stage themselves, but their songs are heard via a never-ending supply of jukebox musicals and occasionally in musicals with original scores.
Things changed when Bruce Springsteen’s solo show rocked the Great White Way during its 14-month run, between October 2017 and December last year. Not a musical or a concert, Springsteen presented something undeniably special that integrated autobiographical storytelling with intimate musical performances. Its artistic and commercial success is probably unrepeatable — but that won’t stop other musicians from trying anyway.
This spring/summer, the 1,509-seat Lunt-Fontanne Theatre will host concerts by a variety of popular artists (plus a legendary comedian) as part of the “In Residence on Broadway” series, which is coproduced by Live Nation. Inaugurating the series is the 59-year-old English singer-songwriter Morrissey, who will be followed by Yanni, Mel Brooks, Regina Spektor and Criss Angel.
Morrissey gained fame more than three decades ago as the frontman of The Smiths and subsequently became a successful solo artist. He is known for his melancholy aura, baritone voice and cryptic lyrics, not to mention his combative political beliefs.
Thursday’s opening night show (the first of seven performances through Saturday) was unlike anything I’d experienced before on Broadway. I had originally assumed that Morrissey would try to imitate Springsteen by incorporating selections from his recent autobiography (titled simply “Autobiography”), but it turned out to be a genuine rock concert, consisting of 90 uninterrupted minutes of songs, save a few random quips.
Despite the listed 8 p.m. start time, Morrissey did not take the stage until 8:38 p.m. Video clips of David Bowie, Lenny Bruce, the Ramones and Edith Piaf served a kind of preshow. Once it formally began, the audience (comprised almost entirely of the artist’s dedicated fans) stood up and never sat down again.
Through a cloud of smoke and backed by a five-piece band, the singer furiously made his way through approximately 20 songs from throughout his career, including his time with The Smiths (“What She Said,” “Rubber Ring”), some of his biggest hits as a solo artist (“Suedehead,” “Hairdresser On Fire,” “Everyday Is Like Sunday”) and a selection from his upcoming album of cover songs (“Morning Starship”), which will be released on May 24. The set list is expected to vary at each performance. Colorful flashing lights and continuous video imagery (repeatedly depicting a dancing James Baldwin) added to the visual display. Full of spirit, Morrissey would occasionally reach out for the hands of front-row audience members.
The downside to Morrissey treating the Broadway engagement as just another concert gig is that only his existing fan base is likely to attend — unless word about the quality of his performance reaches theatergoers before the short run ends.