Given that I recently named the best Broadway and Off-Broadway shows of the year, it seems only fitting that I should also address the worst shows.
However, this year, it seems more appropriate to instead focus on the most disappointing shows, namely the ones that were not necessarily bad but which did not live up to high expectations and hopes and ambitious attempts at artistic and cultural reinvention.
1.) The Music Man: This Broadway revival starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster was definitely not the worst show of 2022, but it was the most disappointing due to the significant amount of hype and hope that preceded it. In spite of its very capable cast, lavish production values, and unbeatable original script and score, the revival turned out to be a bloated, boring, uninspired letdown. That being said, one can’t help but admire how it became a genuine hit in spite of the difficulties being experienced by Broadway as it continues to recover from the pandemic shutdown.
2.) 1776: A considerable amount of thought and enterprise went into this gender-reversed Broadway revival. But in the end, it proved to be overwhelmingly heavy-handed, problematic, and frustrating, especially in the over-the-top manner that many of the songs and characters were reconceived. It may end up being best remembered for an unbelievable New York magazine interview in which co-star Sara Porkalob candidly criticized the show and its directors.
3.) Richard III: As with “1776,” Robert O’Hara built diverse and inclusive casting (including actors with physical disabilities in prominent supporting roles) into his Shakespeare in the Park production of the Bard’s choppy and difficult political thriller. Unfortunately, it was an unwieldy and dramatically inert production that resembled the rough results of an exploratory workshop.
4.) Harmony: After a quarter of a century of development and regional productions, Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman’s World War II-era musical about an all-male German musical group made up of both Jews and gentiles finally premiered in New York. It was extremely uneven, with generic pop ballads and comedy bits juxtaposed against historical exposition and downbeat drama.
5.) Paradise Square: In an ideal world, this original musical would have lived up to its fascinating historical source material: the 19th century Lower Manhattan slum of Five Points, where free Blacks and immigrants lived together up until the Civil War. Although well-meaning and filled with some striking visuals and a powerhouse lead performance by Joaquina Kalukango “Paradise Square” was sappy, overstuffed, overlong, and tiresome. Since closing, the show has become the subject of unsettling accusations of hostile work conditions and lawsuits alleging lack of payment and defamation.
6.) The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe: “Saturday Night Live” performer Cecily Strong deserved credit for making her New York stage debut in a rare revival of Jane Wagner’s 1985 solo piece, which is firmly identified with the original performance of Lily Tomlin. The unapologetically sentimental text proved to be dated, the production was skimpy, and Strong did not possess the heightened individuality, whimsicality, and physicality to pull off the monologue.