Paradise Square Reviews
Chicago Tribune- Somewhat Recommended
"...But the show has yet to fully find its emotional or its dramatic through-line and, in the first half of Act 2, it wanders seriously adrift, succumbing to its own confusing history of multiple book writers (Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas and Larry Kirwan all share credit), an overcomplicated hierarchy of characters, a confused relationship with the music and character of Stephen Foster, lost visual bearings and a consequent dissipation of the requisite dramatic tension."
Chicago Sun Times- Highly Recommended
"...Conceived by Larry Kirwan, directed by Moises Kaufman and running only through Dec. 5 at the Loop's Nederlander Theatre, the new musical is shaped by visually lush, emotionally intricate storytelling largely created through Bill T. Jones' vivid choreography and Jason Howland's gripping score. Both music and movement effectively draw on influences from Africa to Ireland, including the U.S.A. of 1863 and 2021. The artistry spans the globe and plumbs the centuries in creating the world of Lower Manhattan's impoverished, racially mixed Five Points neighborhood in the thick of the Civil War."
Daily Herald- Recommended
"...Dominated by anthemic tunes and spectacular choreography from two-time Tony Award-winner Bill T. Jones, "Paradise Square" is inspired by the Black Americans and Irish immigrants who called New York City's Five Points neighborhood (described as "America's first slum") home, whose intermingled cultural traditions gave rise to such art forms as tap dance. But the show, directed by Moises Kaufman, also tackles thornier issues of class, race, power and cultural appropriation -- all of which are especially resonant today."
Chicago Reader- Highly Recommended
"...It would all be a bit pedantic if the performances weren't so spectacular and the reenactments of historic tragedies so painfully contemporary. And yet the singing is blockbuster, the dancing is dazzling, and the reckoning that anyone sitting through this fable must undergo is as sobering as it ought to be. Kalukango is a forceful presence with a powerhouse voice as Nelly, and the rapport with Kennedy as Annie, who can blitz right from a belt to a head voice, is on point, all supported by an ensemble that sometimes splits into factions but ultimately coalesces into a community."
Stage and Cinema- Highly Recommended
"...The featured star of the show is Joaquina Kalukango, who plays Nelly O’Brien, owner of the Paradise Square saloon. Near the end of the show, she sings a single sustained note of passion and defiance that went on and on, stimulating a frenzied audience reaction that literally stopped the opening night performance for minutes."
Splash Magazine- Highly Recommended
"...The original musical was conceived by Mr. Kirwan called Hard Times and performed in 2019 at the Berkeley Repertory Theater under the direction of Tony Taccone and Susan Medak. Paradise Square has evolved from Hard Times into a profound powerful grand production. The talent in this musical is truly amazing. The songs, dance, and acting are superb. The choreography ranges from intensive, energetic, percussive step dancing to creative lyrical emotive storytelling through movement."
Let's Play at ChicagoNow- Highly Recommended
"...With the music and dancing flourishing on stage, you could feel the energy led by Tony Award nominee Joaquina Kalukango, who played the lead role of Nelly O’Brien. Kalukango’s operatic voice brought the crowd to its feet as she sang, “Let It Burn.” Her presence on stage was electrifying, but it doesn’t overpower the many talented performers in this play. And there are too many to name."
Around The Town Chicago- Highly Recommended
"...The score is powerful for the most part and Director Moises Kaufman shows his skill in using the stage to its fullest, but the dance ( choreographed by Bill T. Jones) is where this production truly shines. After all, while this story is about the culture and people of the times, it is also about dance. Yes! Dance is the underlying theme to this marvelous show and the dancers in this production are amazingly talented. We all know Michael Flatley, "The Lord of the Dance", right? These dancers can do him one better. The African Juva and the Irish Step/jig merged into what we call "tap" dancing and as we all know every big Broadway production has a toe-tapping tap number to wow us- well, this baby has some numbers that will take the wind out of you and put a smile on your face."
NewCity Chicago- Highly Recommended
"...It's far too early to know if this is one for the ages, but no doubt this is the most important musical of our times, drawing from American history to depict the kind of racial harmony we still call aspirational, as well as the path to its destruction."
"...Directed by Moises Kaufman (with musical staging by Alex Sanchez), it is fueled by a fervent (and at moments semi-operatic) score, with music by Jason Howland and fiery lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Masi Asare. Its book, by Christina Anderson, Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas and Kirwan, could use some tightening."
Chicago Theatre Review- Highly Recommended
"...This is a musical for audiences who enjoy great music and majestic choreography, but who also prefer a show that makes them think and feel. With a bit of trimming this extraordinary piece could easily stand beside such moving musical classics as "Les Miserables" and "Spring Awakening," and historical pieces, such as "Hamilton" and "Ragtime." This is a wonderful piece of theatre that's well worth seeing in its pre-Broadway debut."
Buzznews.net- Highly Recommended
"...But this is even more a show about dance. Featuring choreography by Bill T. Jones, it shows off many dance styles, emphasizing Irish step-dancing and Black American Juba, as well as tap dancing, believed to have originated in Five Points. Jones's choreography greets us as soon as the curtain rises in an opening scene in which the preacher blesses departing soldiers, two wraiths do what might be described as a liturgical dance."
The Fourth Walsh- Highly Recommended
"...From the very first to the very last note, Joaquina Kalukango (Nellie) owns the bar, the stage, and the show. The phenomenal Kalukango welcomes the audience and patrons to her tavern with a rebel-rousing "Paradise Square." Much later in the show, Kalukango belts out, literally and figuratively, the show-stopping "Let It Burn." Her unforgettable delivery blazes with a fierce intensity. She. Crushes. It! The perfection of the moment is met with an impromptu standing ovation. Bravo, Kalukango!"
Chicagoland Musical Theatre- Recommended
"...Perhaps the most notable memory of this production from three-time Tony Award-winning producer Garth H. Drabinsky is the jaw-dropping talent of its stars. The strong female lead, Tony Award nominee Kalukango (Slave Play, One Night in Miami) earned a mid-production standing ovation opening night for her impeccable vocals on "Let It Burn." Her stage sister-in-law Kennedy (more than 1,200 performances in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on Broadway; International tour of The Band's Visit) is every bit her strong equal. Their gorgeous duet, "Someone to Love" is an absolute highlight, and their lead presence as two unabashedly powerful women in interracial marriages is poignant."
Third Coast Review- Somewhat Recommended
"...Every now and then, catching a show locally during its pre-Broadway run is like catching lightning in a bottle; it’s obvious you’re seeing something quite special, and that you’re among the first to get to witness it. In the case of Paradise Square, all that’s obvious is that this show won’t make much of a splash when it opens in New York, at least not in its current form. With no driving motivation at its center, there’s no way to pinpoint exactly who would be the ideal audience for this ambiguous, toothless tale. And with Broadway more reliant than ever on audience-driven content (Disney IP or critical smashes seems to be all that can succeed), that doesn’t bode well for Paradise Square."
PicksInSix- Highly Recommended
"...The fiercely defiant performance of Joaquina Kalukango in the role of Nelly O’Brien electrifies the ambitious new Garth H. Drabinsky produced musical “Paradise Square” directed by Moisés Kaufman that opened its pre-Broadway run on Wednesday at Chicago’s James M. Nederlander Theatre. Throttling up in the face of adversity through the clash of cultures story during the Civil War, Kalukango stunned the opening night audience with the epic and emotional Act II anthem “Let It Burn” that resonates with such strength as to cross generational lines and echo the issues of our time. It is a powerful coda to a complex musical about social inequality and unrest whose score splendidly weaves together 19th century Irish immigrant and African American dance styles."
Picture This Post- Highly Recommended
"...Bill T. Jones' choreography alone is a reason to see this musical, in this writer's view. If you who enjoy flashy, over the top numbers that consume the stage - showcasing a range of talents performing traditional Irish dancing to acrobatic feats, you will find that Paradise Square does not disappoint."