Although this is an annual article on the best Broadway and Off-Broadway shows of the year, I could easily spend it talking just about “Into the Woods,” which began in May as a starry, short-term, concert-style revival at the Encores! series at City Center. Due to universal acclaim and popular demand, it transferred to Broadway for what was supposed to be a summertime run. However, in light of surprisingly strong ticket sales, the production extended through the beginning of January and has undergone regular cast changes. Although lean in form, this is a sharp, joyous, altogether triumphant rendering of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s fairy tale musical.
Other exceptional musical revivals of the year included “A Man of No Importance” starring Jim Parsons at Classic Stage Company, “Parade” starring Ben Platt at City Center, and “Merrily We Roll Along” at New York Theatre Workshop (which will transfer to Broadway in the fall). And while the Broadway revival of “Funny Girl” is kind of a drag, Lea Michele (who took over the role of Fanny Brice from the woefully miscast Beanie Feldstein) is sensational, knocking each song out of the park.
The most noteworthy new musicals of the year were the raw and relentless “A Strange Loop” (which won the Tony Award for Best Musical and will run through January), the small and off-kilter “Kimberly Akimbo” (in which Victoria Clark plays a 16-year-old girl with the body of a 72-year-old woman), and the newly-opened “Some Like It Hot” (which unexpectedly combines old-fashioned musical comedy razzle dazzle with a diverse and inclusive sensibility). Another favorite of mine was “The Bedwetter,” a quirky and hilarious musical based on Sarah Silverman’s childhood memoir.
The most acclaimed and successful new play of the year has become “Leopoldstadt,” Tom Stoppard’s semi-autobiographical drama about exploring Jewish identity, cultural assimilation, and anti-Semitism in 20th century Europe.
Other great new plays included Samuel D. Hunter’s “A Case for the Existence of God” (in which a two-person business meeting became a deeply felt meditation on friendship and loss), Martyna Majok’s “Cost of Living” (an empathetic and absorbing drama about living with serious physical disabilities and otherwise struggling to survive), Bruce Norris’s “Downstate” (which explores society’s punishment of sex offenders), Martin McDonagh’s “Hangmen” (a brilliant black comedy that unfortunately got lost during its Broadway run), and Ana Nogueira’s “Which Way to the Stage” (a critical-minded comedy about musical theater fandom and the art of performance).
In a class by himself, quite literally, is storyteller Mike Birbiglia, who recently returned to Broadway with “The Old Man & The Pool,” another masterfully-executed comic monologue.
The best play revivals involved Black artists, including Adrienne Kennedy’s absorbing and chilling “Ohio State Murders” (starring Audra McDonald as an author who relives her past while giving a college lecture), Suzan-Lori Parks’ “Topdog/Underdog” (starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Corey Hawkins as rival brothers), and Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” (which cast Black actors, including Wendell Pierce and Sharon D. Clarke, as the Loman family). It is worth noting that Kenny Leon directed both “Ohio State Murders” and “Topdog/Underdog.”