Aisle View: The 2016 Ten Best List

2016: The Best New York Theatre

Once again, the New York theatre world has had a banner year, with exciting plays, musicals and revivals on Broadway and off. In a continuing trend, many of the selections are transfers from non-profits or new productions from Broadway non-profits. Little matter; the productions below for the most part transported their audiences.

Let it be added that two top flight musicals which are likely to appear on most or all of this year's Ten Best Lists -- Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 and Falsettos -- have been omitted herein due to conflicts of interest. (I recently coauthored, with Dave Malloy, "The Great Comet: The Journey of a New Musical to Broadway"; and in 1990 coproduced the original production of William Finn's Falsettoland.) Thus, both are officially unlisted but highly recommended -- and you only have until January 8 to see Falsettos, so what are you waiting for?

DEAR EVAN HANSEN

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Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen
Photo: Matthew Murphy

Word spread like wildfire once Dear Evan Hansen opened at Second Stage in May: here was an excellent musical along the lines of the equally exemplary Fun Home. But how would it translate to the bigger confines of the Music Box? It's even better on Broadway, and it's extremely satisfying to see 'em fighting to get in. Songwriters Benj Pask and Justin Paul have the hit they deserve, Steven Levenson matches them with his emotionally strong book, and overnight-star Ben Platt is joined by seven excellent actors. Go see it! [reviewed here]

THE GABRIELS: ELECTION YEAR IN THE LIFE OF ONE FAMILY

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Maryann Plunkett, Jay O. Sanders, Lynn Hawley
and Meg Gibson in
Women of a Certain Age
Photo: Joan Marcus

Author/director Richard Nelson deserves three slots on our list for his Gabriel trilogy (which followed his equally celebrated four-part The Apple Family), but that would be hogging the kitchen table as it were. There was no audience participation component in Hungry, What Did You Expect? and Women of a Certain Age, but theatergoers lucky enough to spend three evenings at the Public with Maryann Plunkett, Jay O. Sanders and the rest experienced the true meaning of emotionally and intellectually interactive theatre that packs a wallop. [reviewed here]

OSLO

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Jennifer Ehle and Jefferson Mays in Oslo
Photo: T. Charles Erickson

It's too early to talk about the best American play of the season, but Oslo--which played an off-Broadway run at the Newhouse last summer--is a clear contender. Lincoln Center Theater is reopening the J.T. Rogers play at their Broadway-eligible Vivian Beaumont in April, and we look forward to savoring the play (led by Jefferson Mays, directed by Bartlett Sher) once more. [reviewed here]

THE BAND'S VISIT

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Katrina Lenk and Tony Shalhoub in The Band's Visit
Photo: Ahron R. Foster

Coming on the heels of three startlingly good fall musicals (namely Dear Evan Hansen, The Great Comet and Falsettos), who would have expected a fourth of equivalent promise? Yet David Yazbek and Itamar Moses' The Band's Visit appeared last week for a short run at the Atlantic. One expects, and hopes, that this musical--with Yazbek's jasmine-&-honey scented score--will reappear uptown within the year. [reviewed here]

THE CRUCIBLE

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Saoirse Ronan and Ben Whishaw in Arthur Miller's The Crucible
Photo: Jan Versweyveld

Arthur Miller and Ivo van Hove were on last year's list for their A View from the Bridge (in a production originated by the Young Vic). They returned just three months later with an equally stunning production of the 1953 drama The Crucible, starring Ben Whishaw and Sophie Okonedo. With designer Jan Versweyveld placing the action (which takes place in 1692) in what looked like a mid-century America classroom, the play gained startling relevance for today's audience.

THE FATHER

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Frank Langella in The Father
Photo:
Joan Marcus

Frank Langella, in yet another "performance of his career," was astounding as a patient descending into deep dementia in Florian Zeller's play, translated from the French by Christopher Hampton. The Father has been consistently successful in other productions in other countries, in other languages with other stars; but it's hard to imagine anyone having the impact of Langella at the Manhattan Theatre Club. [reviewed here]

SHUFFLE ALONG

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Audra McDonald in Shuffle Along
Photo: Julieta Cervantes

George C. Wolfe and Savion Glover assembled a stunning array of talent--from performers, designers, et al--into a bountiful musical telling the story of the making and undoing of the legendary 1921 revue. The show itself, starring Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Brandon Victor Dixon and Joshua Henry, did not enjoy a financially successful run, but no matter; Shuffle Along was a gift for us all, and likely to remain unforgettable. [reviewed here]

SHE LOVES ME

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Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi in She Loves Me
Photo:
Joan Marcus

Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's candy box of a musical was given a magical revival by the Roundabout, with a delectable Laura Benanti leading a cast that included Zachary Levi, Jane Krakowski and Gavin Creel. She Loves Me--which, according to the record books, failed when initially produced in 1963--has deservedly established itself as one of the jewels of the 20th century Broadway musical. [reviewed here]

SWEAT

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Johanna Day and Michelle Wilson in Sweat
Photo: Joan Marcus

Pulitzer-winner Lynn Nottage probes the lives of struggling Union workers in a dying Pennsylvania steel town as their jobs are outsourced, in a play which has not-quite-expected resonance in the here-and-now. A fine cast led by Johanna Day brings urgency to these blue-collar lives in this Public Theater production,
which is moving uptown to Studio 54 in April. [reviewed here]

THE FRONT PAGE

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Nathan Lane in The Front Page
Photo: Julieta Cervantes

It's comedy tonight at the Broadhurst, with director Jack O'Brien and an expert cast taking the Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur classic and showing us how it's done. Chicago, 1928: here's Nathan Lane, at his tip-top best. Here's John Slattery, Jefferson Mays, Lewis J. Stadlen, Dylan Baker, Holland Taylor, Bobby Morse, and more and more. Laughter cascades like lead lightning from one of Al Capone's Tommy guns. [reviewed here]
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Honorable Mention goes to: Sarah DeLappe's The Wolves (Playwrights Realm), Kate Hamill's Sense & Sensibility (Bedlam), Lucas Hnath's Red Speedo (NYTW), Phyllida Lloyd's Taming of the Shrew (The Public's Shakespeare in the Park), Samuel D. Hunter's The Harvest (Lincoln Center Theater), Colman Domingo's Dot (Vineyard), Robert Waldman & Alfred Uhry's The Robber Bridegroom (Roundabout), and Marco Ramirez' The Royale (Lincoln Center Theater).