Here are my Top 5 Shows of 2016:
5) Bright Star
|Carmen Cusack and Paul Alexander Nolan in Bright Star.|
Like American Psycho before it, Bright Star is another show from the spring of 2016 that just didn't have the kind of run it truly deserved. Unlike American Psycho, Bright Star actually had a fair number of critical champions, and word of mouth from those who actually saw it was quite strong. Steve Martin and Edie Brickell's bluegrass score was a true stunner, especially on repeated listening, and while the story was perhaps predictable it was never anything less than involving. In fact, it is a testament to the show's strength that audiences remained emotionally invested despite the big reveal being fairly obvious from the outset. And the cherry on top of this already wonderful cake was the star making performance of Carmen Cusack in the lead role of Alice Murphy, playing the spunky literary editor as both an exuberant youth and a stern adult. Cusack astounded with her big voice and even bigger emotions, and will hopefully become a much more regular fixture on the New York stage in the years to come.
|Jessie Mueller and the cast of Waitress.|
There was never any doubt that Hamilton would dominate the 2016 Tony Awards, leaving Sara Bareilles' positively delightful Waitress a perpetual runner up. In my opinion, this feel good musical confection (the first Broadway tuner to boast an entirely female creative team) was the second best new show of the 2015-2016 season, exceeding expectations thanks to an absolutely charming book, score, and cast. Bareilles, director Diane Paulus, and librettist Jessie Nelson have crafted a romantic drama with a ton of heart, one which hews close enough to tradition to remain comforting while packing just enough twists to hold your interest. And anchoring everything is Jessie Mueller's towering, Tony-nominated performance as Jenna, the small town waitress with big city aspirations. Mueller possesses a depth of feeling few actors have, and powerhouse vocals that make a mighty feast of Bareilles' soaring melodies. By the time Mueller finishes her 11 o'clock stunner "She Used to Be Mine" (one of the most gorgeous showtunes of the past several seasons), she has left absolutely everything on the stage, and the audience is all the better for it.
3) Noises Off
|The company of Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of Noises Off.|
Few plays have managed the sustained levels of hilarity found in Noises Off, the gold standard of farce written by playwright Michael Frayn in 1983. This season saw an absolutely sensational revival mounted by Roundabout Theatre Company (which had one of its best seasons in ages) which produced over two hours of near continuous laughter. Every member of the ensemble had multiple moments of gut busting hilarity, be it Megan Hilty looking for her missing contact, Andrea Martin struggling to remember where exactly to place the sardines, or Kate Jennings Grant literally rolling across the stage trying to remove an errant prop. There was such a dizzying array of comic genius on display that it was impossible to fully appreciate everything in a single viewing, and the nearly wordless second act was the most bravura example of comedic excellence I have perhaps ever witnessed. A true masterwork in every sense of the word.
2) Dear Evan Hansen
|Ben Platt (center) and the Broadway cast of Dear Evan Hansen.|
I have yet to see the show's much lauded Broadway transfer, but given the stellar shape Dear Evan Hansen was in when I saw it at Second Stage Theatre in the spring I have not qualms about naming it one of the best of the year. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have written a searing contemporary score, bursting at the seams with emotion and drive and delivering on all the promise they showed in the Tony-nominated A Christmas Story several years back. The wholly original narrative about an awkward teen's misguided attempt to capitalize on his unexpected internet fame speaks directly to our modern social media obsessed culture, while also touching upon universal concerns about belonging and our place in the world. Director Michael Mayer has crafted an energy-infused staging that owes no small debt to his brilliant work on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal, and in an ensemble of fine actors special mention must go to Ben Platt's jaw-dropping work as the title character. The young star's performance must be seen to be believed, and already has the town buzzing in a manner similar to the talk surrounding eventual Tony-winner Cynthia Erivo's work in The Color Purple. Tickets are not easy to come by, but definitely worth the investment, especially for those who enjoy supporting entirely original musicals.
1) She Loves Me
|Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi in She Loves Me.|
Perfection. It is not a term I use lightly, but it is wholly appropriate when describing Roundabout Theatre Company's transcendent revival of Bock and Harnick's classic musical romance She Loves Me. Every facet of the production, from the gorgeous set and costumes to the pitch perfect performances and direction, exuded such love for both the piece and the theatre in general that it was positively infectious. Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi were superbly cast as the feuding perfumerie clerks secretly made for one another, sharing an electric chemistry and a masterful understanding of how to act a song. The supporting cast was also excellent, including a deliciously smarmy and gloriously sung turn by Gavin Creel as the womanizing Kodaly. And words seem hardly adequate to describe the comedic perfection that was Jane Krakowski as the lovelorn Ilona, whether she was doing the splits or sharing the details of her life changing "Trip to the Library." Broadway musicals simply don't get any better than this.
And there you have it! Those are my Best Shows of 2016. For next year, I will have to make a resolution to be better about reviewing all the shows I see (it's a shame I didn't write down my thoughts about American Psycho, Bright Star, or Waitress while they were fresh). Be sure to keep checking this blog space for reviews of all the big spring shows, and don't be shy about sharing your favorites of the year in the comments.
Happy New Year!