These are the 10 best shows of the year that ran in New York City

The Lehman Trilogy
The Lehman Trilogy New York, N.Y. September 24, 2021
Photo: Julieta Cervantes

It feels strange to try to compile a list of the best Broadway and Off-Broadway shows of the year this year. After all, with just a handful of exceptions, professional theater did not return to the city until the early fall. And more than that, the spread of the omicron variant has resulted in a wave of performance cancellations that could have long-lasting effects on an industry that was still in recovery mode. Nevertheless, great shows should be recognized.

  1. The Lehman Trilogy: Three and a half hours fly by quickly in this unlikely and thoroughly gripping epic drama about the evolution of Lehman Brothers from the 19th century to 2008, which is performed by a trio of English actors (Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley, and Ben Miles) under the direction of Sam Mendes.
  2. Company: The male Bobby becomes the female Bobbie in Marianne Elliott’s meticulously-reengineered, gender-reversed revival of the 1970 musical that established Stephen Sondheim (who died in November at age 91) as an innovative and groundbreaking composer-lyricist. With one notable exception, the cast is outstanding.
  3. Is This A Room: Based on a verbatim FBI transcript, Tina Satter’s dramatization of the real-life interrogation of 25-year-old former NSA contractor Reality Leigh Winner by FBI agents who showed up outside her home in Georgia made for a disturbing and unexpectedly compelling 65-minute docudrama.
  4. Kimberly Akimbo: 62-year-old Victoria Clark plays a teenage girl who suffers from a disease that causes her to age rapidly in a masterful musical adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire’s drama, which premiered Off-Broadway at the end of the year and deserves a longer run or a Broadway transfer.
  5. Six: Tudor royalty meets “The Real Housewives,” “The First Wives Club,” and the sounds and styles of major pop divas in this feel-good and frothy musical, which takes the form of an 80-minute electro-pop concert starring the notorious six wives of King Henry VIII.  It was originally scheduled to open on the night the shutdown began in March 2020.
  6. Sanctuary City: Martyna Majok’s compelling contemporary drama about how the close friendship of two young immigrants is imperiled by their different legal statuses, which was in previews at the time of the shutdown, finally opened Off-Broadway with the same three-actor cast.
  7. Lackawanna Blues: Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s finely-crafted memoir monologue pays tribute to the surrogate mother who raised him in the 1950s in an upstate industrial town and the eccentrics who resided in her boardinghouse. It is a dignified tribute to community, family, and African-American identity.
  8. What Happened? The Michaels Abroad: Director-playwright Richard Nelson brought his “Rhinebeck Panorama” (a cycle of 12 plays that are set in the present day and indirectly relate to politically significant milestones) to a finish with a naturalistic, kitchen sink drama depicting an upstate family grieving loss and processing current changes in the world.
  9. Clyde’s: The Devil comes in the unlikely form of Uzo Aduba in Lynn Nottage’s heartfelt workplace comedy about a roadside sandwich shop operated by ex-cons. The Broadway production will be made available for live streaming in January.
  10. Merry Wives: Shakespeare in the Park, a vital New York tradition, returned with a fresh adaptation of the domestic comedy “The Merry Wives of Windsor” by Ghanaian-American playwright Jocelyn Bioh set in contemporary Harlem with an all-Black cast. “Reopening Night,” a documentary about the production, just premiered on HBO.