Alicia keys

Alicia Keys’ ‘Hell’s Kitchen:’ A Musical Journey Set in the Heart of New York City

A review of the popular musical based on Alicia Keys' life and music catalog.

Alicia Keys’ Hell’s Kitchen has been setting The Public Theater ablaze since its world premiere on Nov. 19. After receiving rave reviews and selling out numerous shows, the popular musical loosely based on the life of the 15-time Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter is now headed to Broadway.

Set in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, where Keys was born and raised, the play is a coming-to-age story built on the global superstar’s personal experiences and catalog. Actress Maleah Joi Moon stars as Ali, a 17-year-old defiant, biracial teen who bumps heads with her white, overprotective single mother, Jersey (played by Broadway veteran Shoshana Bean), while struggling to find her identity and independence. The tension between Ali and Jersey culminates when Jersey calls the police after catching Ali getting intimate with an older Black man.

Another important storyline involves Ali’s development as an artist after meeting Miss Liza Jane (played by Kecia Lewis), a stern piano teacher who helps Ali cultivate her musical gifts and find her voice.

“My favorite line in the show — which applies to a lot of us — is, ‘You are here because the voices of your ancestors have requested your presence,’” Lewis told BLACK ENTERPRISE, referring to a scene in which Miss Liza Jane summons a reluctant Ali for piano lessons. This line, Lewis explained, “speaks to all of us as a people. The fact that our ancestors were the ones who survived the Middle Passage. So, we come from people that dug in and held on no matter what. They just rolled with it and fought when they needed to fight.”

Hell's Kitchen
Source: Chris Lee and Maleah Joi Moon in the world premiere production of “Hell’s Kitchen” at the Public Theater. (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

The songs featured in the musical – from “Girl on Fire” to “Fallin’” to deep Keys’ cuts like “Gramercy Park” — are artfully reimagined and reinterpreted for the play. Each performance brings the lyrics of her robust catalog to life while the story touches on complex issues like race, sex, and family relations. Not surprisingly, TheaterMania called Hell’s Kitchen ”easily the best new musical at the Public since Hamilton.” 

Though she doesn’t appear in the musical, Keys serves as the lead producer and composer. After conceptualizing the play more than a decade ago, she worked with Emmy and Grammy Award-winner Adam Blackstone, director Michael Greif (who directed Rent in 1996), Pulitzer Prize-finalist playwright Kristoffer Diaz, and Tony-nominated choreographer Camille A. Brown to bring the story to life.

Alicia Keys Hell's Kitchen Musical
Source: Maleah Joi Moon (foreground) and the company of the world premiere production of Hell’s Kitchen at The Public Theater (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

Following a successful run at The Public Theater, Keys announced on Dec. 4 that Hell’s Kitchen will debut on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre in the Theater District in the Spring, with previews starting March 28 and opening night on April 20. Until then, you can catch Hell’s Kitchen at The Public Theater until Jan. 14.