We round up the reviews for Noah Haidle’s play starring Debra Messing, which has just had its official opening night on Broadway.

Variety: ” This play feels like an offering, a true gift, a lesson on survival and a bold reminder to live each day with zest and adventure. Certainly, the icing on the cake is that we survived all the challenges of 2020 (and beyond) to enjoy this scrumptious production.”

The New York Times: “Debra Messing expounds on the preciousness of life in a production that aspires to convey eloquent whimsy, but too often feels methodically sentimental.”

Deadline: “Despite whatever missteps, though, Messing and the rest of the cast nicely convey the spectrum of emotions that a life’s sweep encompasses, from happy times to sad (at the reviewed performance, audience sobs and sniffles were as audible as the laughter). Not even a tacked-on final birthday scene that strains credulity can sour the simple, icing-sweet pleasures of Birthday Candles.”

New York Theatre Guide: *** “But as the play progressed, I kept waiting for Birthday Candles to provide me with a greater insight into humanity’s place in the cosmos or even just living. Or to even explode out like a supernova. But the play fails to deliver anything of greater substance — it is just dessert, all sugar. And like sugar, it’ll dissolve from your mind after you’ve seen it.”

Talkinbroadway.com: “Still, much of the play consists of a ticking off of biographical events. By necessity or by design, it is incumbent on members of the audience to find a personal connection to the ups and downs of Ernestine’s life. Debra Messing generally has too little to work with, only coming into her own as Ernestine herself comes into her own. The rest of the cast, playing multiple roles, all do what they can with their parts, but mostly they are stuck with one-dimensional attributes, and neither they nor director Vivienne Benesch are able bring them fully to life.”

Enterainment Weekly: “If only the play gave Messing time to settle, we might have been allowed to experience more of the actress’ range. The action moves so fast that emotional moments pop up out of nowhere, and Ernestine’s responses ring hollow. When she’s betrayed by her husband, the bell tolls to the next year before the audience has had enough time to grasp onto what just happened to our heroine and how she feels.”

Time Out: ** “Messing knows how to make the sentimental bits work—the play elicits sympathetic “awwwww”s from the audience at several junctures—and she gets capable support from a cast that also includes Enrico Colantoni as her patiently lovestruck neighbor, John Earl Jelks as her husband, and Crystal Finn, Susannah Flood and Christopher Livingston as various descendents and others. (Finn brings a welcome breath of humor to her role as a high-strung daughter-in-law.)”

The Wrap: “Otherwise, the whole theme of “Birthday Candles” dates way before bad cable TV. It goes back to weepie movies in which the lead female character claims to be a “rebel,” wants to see the world and make a difference. Instead, she gets stuck baking cakes and popping out babies. She doesn’t much like her life until the final reel when it dawns on our heroine that self-sacrifice is noble.”

Theater Mania: ” Birthday Candles as a play feels much like this overly-hyped cake, which in reality is just a run of the mill vanilla cake made up of a single, unfrosted layer. Sure it may smell nice for a minute or two when it comes out of the oven but it is hard to not feel underwhelmed by its lack of complex flavors, its missing layers, and its absent decorations. This production certainly won’t be getting Star Baker anytime soon.”

Chicago Tribune: “a truly must-see show that is fully successful when it comes to everything that really matters. Messing didn’t pick some revival or obvious showcase for her comedic chops: she strives mightily and beautifully to find her way through a wise and sad drama, just like the character she plays.”


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