In many cases, 2017 showed New York theater at its very best — and in other cases, at its worst. Below is my personal list of highs and lows for the year.
Best of the year:
1. ‘Hello, Dolly!’
Was anyone surprised that this turned out to be a match made in musical comedy heaven? As led by Bette Midler, this lavish revival is a celebration of life crafted in old-fashioned showmanship and pure euphoria. Bernadette Peters will take over as Dolly after Midler exits the show next month.
This original musical (which closed in September) about a group of World War II veterans who form a swing band was a high-powered and urgent testament to the restorative power of the arts, with an electrifying jazz score, fast-paced staging and dynamic performances.
3. ‘Once On This Island’
The Caribbean-flavored fairy tale musical has returned to Broadway in a stunning revival that combines joyful theatricality with an unexpected dose of gritty realism.
4. ‘The Band’s Visit’
After premiering Off-Broadway last season, this modest, mild-mannered but absorbing musical in which an Egyptian police band finds itself stranded in Israel’s Negev Desert has become an unlikely Broadway hit.
One of the lesser-known chapters of August Wilson’s 10-play Century Cycle played Broadway for the first time in a focused and penetrating production directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson.
6. ‘Sunday in the Park with George’
Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford gave extraordinary performances in this simple but focused revival of Stephen Sondheim’s rich, complex and rewarding masterpiece of modern musical theater.
An early 20th century Yiddish melodrama served as the unlikely source of inspiration for Paula Vogel’s haunting and poignant backstage drama. A filmed version recently aired on PBS.
Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama explored how the shutdown of factories in working-class communities can lead to a devastating cycle of poverty, drugs, violence and prejudice.
9. ‘The Hairy Ape’
Eugene O’Neill’s 1922 expressionist tragedy received a massive, thoroughly designed, movement intensive and technologically complex staging starring Bobby Cannavale at the Park Avenue Armory.
10. ‘The Government Inspector’
A rarely-seen 19th century Russian political satire received a big, brash and buoyant production from Red Bull Theater starring a game cast led by Michael Urie and Michael McGrath.
Honorable mention: “Big River,” “The Golden Apple,” “Brigadoon” and “Really Rosie” at City Center; “Oslo,” “Junk” and “How to Transcend a Happy Marriage” at Lincoln Center Theater; “Venus” and “The Red Letter Plays” at Signature Theatre.