I started my blog in May, committed to recording my thoughts and opinions on the pieces I have seen but without giving away too much information should you decide to invest your time and money. In the process, I have found that this exercise has greatly improved my recall of those theatergoing experiences. So why not summarize and highlight my favorites for my year (not necessarily aligned with actual opening dates for the sticklers out there)….
In 2017, I attended 134 productions, 29 of which were on Broadway and the rest were largely in New York. I did see 7 productions in other cities including Berkeley (CA), Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis and San Francisco.
Best of the “Not Broadway“ Category
Company of the Year – Mint Theater
Three exceptionally good productions from this troupe that specialize in reviving lost plays. This year, we were treated to Yours Unfaithfully (Miles Malleson), The Lucky Ones (A.A. Milne) and The Suitcase Under the Bed (Teresa Deevy). Very few misfires from this company and I have been a loyal follower for about ten years. A great opportunity to see what issues and ideas playwrights brought to the table often nearly a century ago.
The Top Ten Best of 2017
In the arbitrary group of off, off-off and out-of-town plays and musicals, these were my favorites this year. They are listed in the order in which I saw them. Comments are included only for those whose viewing predates this blog (the rest are linked to the original post).
Picnic (Transport Group)
William Inge’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1953 potboiler of a young, virile drifter who happens onto a small Kansas town. Exceptional staging and superb acting adding to the immediacy of 85 audience members sitting right in front of the action at the Judson Gym.
The Skin of Our Teeth (Theater for a New Audience)
A revival of another Pulitzer Prize winning play from 1942 by Thornton Wilder (Our Town). Over three acts we meet a New Jersey family faced with an impending Ice Age, a trip to the Atlantic City boardwalk and the aftermath of war. Mesmerizing production of a crazy, entertaining play which must have blown audiences away back in the day.
Sundown, Yellow Moon (Ars Nova, WP Theater)
In a small southern college town, the kids come to visit their cranky father in this evocative study of family communication and the lack thereof by Rachel Bonds. With original songs by the Bengsons (Hundred Days), this was easily one of the best stage designs of the year.
Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Stephen Sondheim’s macabre musical masterpiece, still running downtown. I saw this three times, including taking lucky out-of-town visitors. My comments on the third visit:
The View Upstairs (Culture Project)
Based on a true, but largely forgotten event, this musical was about a gay bar in 1973 New Orleans. 32 people were killed by an arsonist. A celebration of love and a meditation on hate, this one was oddly funny and irredeemably sad. And still relevant, even more sadly.
Oh My Sweet Land (The Play Company)
Tiny Beautiful Things (Public Theater)
People, Places & Things (St. Ann’s Warehouse)
The Wolves (Lincoln Center)
The Royale (Aurora Theater Company, Berkeley, CA)
Rachael Lily Rosenbloom … and don’t you ever forget it! (54 Below)
54 Below staged a one night mini-concert of this famed 1973 Broadway musical flop which closed before it opened. In a nutshell: this was written for Bette Midler who passed on it. Plot: Rachael’s journey from a Brooklyn fishmonger to fame as a Hollywood gossip columnist to an Oscar nomination followed by a nervous breakdown. A mixture of disco and Broadway show tunes, this was a fantastically hilarious and entertaining evening. Trivia buffs: book, music and lyrics by Paul Jabara (later famous for Donna Summer’s Last Dance, Barbra Streisand’s The Main Event and The Weather Girls’ It’s Raining Men. And in the Bette Midler part: Ellen Greene who later landed the role of a lifetime in Little Shop of Horrors.
Georama: An American Panorama Told on Three Miles of Canvas (New York Musical Festival)
Worst of the Year
Winner(?) – Peter Pan (Bedlam)
Joan of Arc: Into the Fire (Public Theater)
After seeing Talking Heads front man David Byrne’s awesome musical Here Lies Love about Imelda Marcos, I made sure I had tickets to his next effort. A colossal fail, both idiotic and boring.
Her Portmanteau (New York Theater Workshop)
A double bill with the play Sojourners by Mfoniso Udofia, this was an exploration of Nigerian traditions clashing with American life. Two chapters of a nine part saga that I will never see.
Refugia (Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis)
Measure for Measure (Elevator Repair Service, Public Theater)
Best of the Broadway Category
Winner – Indecent
Pulitzer Prize winning play by Lynn Nottage about the collapse of industry jobs in Reading, PA and its effects on the citizens of the town.
One of the ten American century cycle plays by August Wilson and a beauty of a story which takes place in an early 1970s unlicensed cab dispatch office. I am not finished seeing all ten yet and look forward to finishing the list.
A Doll’s House, Part 2
The Glass Menagerie
A hugely controversial Sally Field led production which frankly had more haters than admirers. Laura was played by Madison Ferris, a visably disabled actress, which threw the play’s words into a much harsher context. The scene with Finn Wittrock as the Gentleman Caller was riveting and perhaps my favorite pairing I’ve ever seen. I cannot explain how both were not nominated for Tony Awards. Yes it deconstructed a classic and yes it was a bit of a mess but we were talking about this production for months afterward. Isn’t that vital theater? I think so.
Winner: The Band’s Visit
Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
The Ars Nova hit I first saw in its original incarnation back in 2012 finally made it to Broadway with Josh Groban in a sumptuous, beautifully sung version.
Come From Away
Ridiculously well-directed by Christopher Ashley who won a Tony for his efforts, this tale of strangers whose planes were diverted to a tiny town in Newfoundland on 9/11 is a master class in storytelling. Twelve people playing multitudes of characters on a grim day in American history based on original interviews.
Sunday in the Park with George
Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford as Seurat and Dot. Both excelled in another extraordinary revival of this Sondheim musical from 1984. In this outing, the Chromolume has finally been decoded and we get what the big deal was all about ! Following the superb Daniel Evans/Jenna Russell version from 2008, I believe Sunday is a confirmed masterpiece in which technology has finally caught up with the show.
Worst of the Year
Play: Marvin’s Room
Musical: A Bronx Tale
And, finally, yes I did see Hamilton in Chicago this year. I pulled it from contention on this list because it’s my blog and the show does not need any more accolades!
Next up in 2018: Farinelli and the King with Mark Rylance followed by the revival of Once on This Island and 54 Below’s concert staging of The Drowsy Chaperone. Happy New Year!