“Water for Elephants” Broadway Musical Review

Water for Elephants is an above average play that is both entertaining & well-staged.

As a storyteller, inclined to lean into the story above all else, there is a slight spectrum as to gauge this popular musical. The spectrum based on your personal tastes and inclinations.

The story is not original, as you probably know, it’s based on an old 2006 nonfiction bestseller by Canadian-American writer Sara Gruen. It was an incredibly popular book.

Set in a modern nursing home, the play tells the tale of Jacob Jankowski (Gregg Edelman) thinking back on his youth (Grant Gustin). We’re back in 1931, the golden era of American circuses and roadside attractions, Jankowski, a recently graduated veterinarian, joins the Benzini Brothers, the biggest show in town before Ringling, and also home to “the stampede” — a legendary tragedy that is revealed at the end.

A love triangle ensues between Jankowski, the ring-leader August Rackinger (Paul Alexander Nolan) and his wife and star of the show Rosie (Isabelle McCalla). On one hand, it’s a fine story, there’s a hot- headed villain in August and a dreamy eyed hero and a femme fatale love interest. There’s a smorgasbord of secondary characters, both good and evil, all engaging and investable. And of course, there’s the animals and acrobatics. It’s quality. And from a Directorial perspective, it’s quite a dazzling feat.

Water for Elephants Story

But on the other hand, the story is a little basic, especially with its two main themes: be nice to old people & animals have rights. Yeah. We know. These themes, although important, seem obvious in 2024, maybe they weren’t in 2006, but they are now, so it dilutes this play from achieving any true cathartic now this is important feeling (unlike Suffs, for example).

Water for Elephants, story-wise, feels a tad watered down, and not important today, and as a result, the show leans heavy on acrobatics and puppetry to induce wonderment into its audience. And there’s a place for puppets and acrobatics, but it’s not in the storyline of a solid, powerful script, so, as a result the play feels a little too much like a circus, gimmicky.

Just a little.

Sans a slightly weak script, and an overabundance of circus tricks (which most would love by the way), this play is filled with great acting, charismatic choreography, and more than enough story to keep you engaged. Plus, and this is always important, they nail the ending, from every angle, thematically, emotionally, production and story wise.

We recommend this play strongly. 

Water for Elephants is nominated for 7 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Scenic & Costume Design, and Directing.

The Jitney is in NY writing reviews of Tony nominated plays.

Water for Elephants is currently playing on Broadway.

For more info and tickets click here.

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J.J. Colagrande

Has written about Miami culture for twenty years, first with The Miami Herald, then Miami New Times and Huffington Post. He's the publisher of The Jitney and a full-time professor at Miami Dade College.