The Godfather star tackles the role of Shylock opposite actress Lily Rabe in the Shakespeare play.
The show officially launched at New York's Broadhurst Theatre earlier this month (Nov10) but the press opening was postponed until Saturday (13Nov10), after Rabe was forced to take a leave of absence following the death of her actress mother, Jill Clayburgh, days before the scheduled date.
But the delay has not affected the pair's chemistry on stage and critics have given The Merchant of Venice top marks.
The New York Times' Ben Brantley writes, "Giving what promises to be the performances of this season, Lily Rabe, as Portia the heiress, and Al Pacino, as Shylock the usurer, invest the much-parsed trial scene of this fascinating, irksome work with a passion and an anger that purge it of preconceptions."
He adds the play "feels utterly fluid and original."
The Wall Street Journal hails Pacino as "a galvanic Shylock", while the New York Post congratulates director Daniel Sullivan for producing a "fast-paced, engaging, accessible" play.
And the New York Daily News critic Joe Dziemianowicz admits he is in awe of Pacino: "He's an actor known for big whoo-ha-sized portraits, but Pacino is a study in control on stage. He makes his shaggy Shylock dynamic and believable. He's slightly eccentric, always compelling, right down to deliberate a singsongy cadence that seems intended to irritate."
It's the second time Pacino has wowed theatre critics this year (10) - he led the cast in a production of The Merchant of Venice in New York's Central Park this summer (10).