In retrospect, 2019 was a pretty great year at the theater – so much so that deciding upon the 10 best shows proved to be unusually challenging, and I felt the need to add an “honorable mentions” section.
I also name the worst shows of the year and the biggest disappointments.
Matthew Lopez’ two-part, seven-hour drama brings together the 1980s AIDS crisis, gay men in contemporary New York and the 1910 novel “Howard’s End.” By the end, if offered the chance, I would have happily sat through all seven hours again without so much as leaving my seat.
Based on a 2010 concept album modernizing the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, this year’s Tony Winner for Best Musical has a unique score mixing New Orleans jazz, opera, pop and folk; sharp political undertones; stunning visuals; and poignant romantic tragedy.
Little Shop of Horrors
Following innumerable professional and amateur productions, the 1982 sci-fi musical satire has returned to its Off-Broadway roots and is as tuneful, hilarious and endlessly fun as ever.
James Graham’s fast-paced and provocative thriller drama followed Rupert Murdoch’s rise to power 50 years ago in London as a tabloid newspaper publisher.
The Lehman Trilogy
Three and a half hours of American economic history go by pretty quickly in this unlikely epic drama about the rise and fall of Lehman Brothers from the mid-19th century through 2008. It will transfer to Broadway in the spring.
The Secret Life of Bees
Monk Kidd’s 2001 coming-of-age novel about an emotionally-scarred girl in the 1960s South received a captivating and beautiful musical adaptation. Unfortunately, it did not receive the recognition it deserved when it premiered Off-Broadway over the summer.
Tarell Alvin McCraney’s (“Moonlight”) high school drama combined lyrical language, complex young characters and gloriously harmonized, aggressive choreographed choral sequences. Here’s hoping it returns for a longer run.
Although it is hard to categorize or even make sense of, David Byrne’s sleek, experimental and vaguely political ensemble concert is pretty damn spectacular.
I am hard pressed to think of a better revival of a Harold Pinter drama than this sharp and absorbing production of Pinter’s uncharacteristically accessible 1978 relationship drama.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s divisive 1979 rock opera returned in a stylish, smart and musically outstanding concert-style production at City Center.
Honorable Mentions: “Jagged Little Pill,” “Be More Chill,” Adam Rapp’s “The Sound Inside,” Bess Wohl’s “Make Believe,” Fiasco Theater’s revival of “Merrily We Roll Along,” “ the Shakespeare in the Park production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” the Off-Broadway remount of “Rock of Ages,” Elevator Repair Service’s remount of “Gatz,” Laura Benanti as Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady.”
Worst Shows of the Year: “The Lightning Thief,” “Norma Jeane Baker of Troy,” “Alice By Heart,” “Beetlejuice,” “High Button Shoes,” Moulin Rouge!”
Most Disappointing Shows of the Year: “King Lear” with Glenda Jackson, “Clueless,” “Sing Street,” “The Wrong Man.”