The tree is up at Rockefeller Center, the number of tourists in Times Square is steadily multiplying, and every store in the city seems to be playing holiday music. Yes, we are fast approaching the end of 2012, and just like last year I’m going to use the upcoming month to look back at the best and worst shows of the past 12 months. Which show will succeed The Book of Mormon as the best show of the year? And what show will follow in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark’s dubious footsteps and be crowned the absolute worst the New York theatre scene has to offer?
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be counting down to my top picks, and I hope you’ll join me for this look back at the year on Broadway and beyond. This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive or definitive list of the best and worst shows of the year. I simply don’t have the time or money to go see everything, and so this list will be confined to productions I have actually attended, be they on Broadway or beyond. If you disagree with me, I welcome you to make your case in the comments. And now, without further ado, let the Best of 2012 Countdown begin!
Best of 2012
#10 – Into the Woods
Stephen Sondheim’s deconstructed fairy tale is one of the composer’s most beloved works, leading to a nearly unprecedented level of anticipation for last summer’s star-studded Shakespeare in the Park production. The open-air staging by director Timothy Sheader proved to be especially divisive, with audiences loving and loathing it in equal measure. While far from perfect, I personally loved this new take on the familiar musical, and appreciated the fact that Sheader and company dared to try something different with the piece.
The contemporary update of the show, coupled with the addition of a framing device involving a child Narrator who tells the tale to keep himself entertained after running away from home, made this staging feel fresh and unexpected. While some complained the sprawling, multi-tiered set made the action hard to follow, I felt it added a layer of visual interest the show sorely needed, while simultaneously providing a sense of continual movement to this musical quest. The reimagined Witch and the marauding Giant are two of the more vivid images from the past twelve months, and whether or not you agreed with all the directorial choices it was nice to see such bold ones being made on such a high-profile production.
Even more divisive than the staging was the cast, which admittedly was something a mixed bag, although in my opinion the good outweighed the bad. Seeing Donna Murphy tackle the Witch proved to be one of the most thrilling performances of the year, and her show-stopping “Last Midnight” was a transcendent example of musical theatre acting at its finest. The naysayers who complain Murphy’s performance hewed too close to Bernadette Peters’ original would have been equally offended if she had strayed too far from her predecessor’s blueprint. Far more deserving of scorn would be the horribly miscast Dennis O’Hare as the Baker or the slightly awkward Baker’s Wife of Amy Adams.
Ultimately, it’s probably for the best that this production’s rumored Broadway transfer has yet to materialize. Although the show would have benefited from some tweaking and more rehearsal time, moving the production indoors would have robbed it of a vital component of what made this Into the Woods special. As an entertaining diversion for a balmy summer’s night, the production was hard to fault, and that is why I’ve named it one of the Best Shows of 2012.
For my full review of Into the Woods, click here.