FEATURE: Top 10 Favorite Shows of 2017

FEATURE: Top 10 Favorite Shows of 2017

By my count, I’ve attended some 188 performances of theatre, dance, music, opera, and cabaret in New York during 2017.  As the year comes to a close, here are my top ten favorites:

10. “946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips” (St. Ann’s Warehouse)
Set on the frontlines of World War II as experienced through the eyes of a young British girl in search of her missing cat, Tips, this beautiful play presented by the delightful and inventive Kneehigh Theater from Britain was full of whimsy, music, puppets, and imaginative storytelling.  Simultaneously sweet and moving, the 946 in the title refers to the 946 Americans killed during a bungled dress rehearsal drill for D-Day—a story not often told. (closed 4/9)

9. “Indecent” (Broadway)
Rebecca Taichman earned every ounce of her Tony Award for directing Paula Vogel’s “Indecent”, a remarkable new play about the true story of “God of Vengeance”, a largely forgotten, highly controversial play written by Polish-Jewish playwright Solem Asch in 1907 and featuring a lesbian love story.  Katrina Lenk was a standout in a haunting production that was both a love letter to the theatre and a solemn meditation on Jewish identity and persecution in Europe. (closed 8/6)

 8. “The Hairy Ape” (Park Avenue Armory)
This stunning revival of Eugene O’Neill’s expressionistic masterpiece from The Old Vic in London was an event to behold.  Staged on a massive scale at the expansive, cavernous Park Avenue Armory, Bobby Canavale gave a career-highlight performance as Yank, a brooding, brutish seaman set loose in a search for belonging amidst industrial New York of the 1920s.  I love big theatre.  The Park Avenue Armory delivers. (closed 4/22)

7. “Sunday in the Park with George” (Broadway) // “Sweeney Todd” (Barrow Street Theatre)
Ok, I’m cheating here, but New York received two fine Sondheim musical revivals in 2017, both of which were highlights of the season: 1)  “Sunday in the Park with George” with Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford (both fantastic), an expanded concert staging that christened the re-opening of the Hudson Theater, and 2) London’s Tooting Arts Club’s production of “Sweeney Todd”, set in a pie shop (read my review).  Both productions found fresh, new resonance in familiar works that have received repeated revivals, and proved why Sondheim and his collaborators remain the masters of musical theatre against which all others are measured. (“Sunday”: closed 4/23 // “Sweeney”: currently running, get tickets)

6. “SpongeBob SquarePants” (Broadway)
Yes, “SpongeBob SquarePants” the musical.  Take off your snob hat for a minute.  This new party of a musical is big-time silly and big-hearted, and was the most pleasant surprise on Broadway this fall.  Director Tina Landau conjures pure theatrical magic in her skillful, pitch-perfect adaption of the popular cartoon, featuring a physical production like no other and a brilliant, energetic Broadway debut by Ethan Slater as SpongeBob.  I smiled the whole time and even shed some tears.  Read my review(currently running, get tickets)

5. “Hello, Dolly!” (Broadway)
She’s back where she belongs, all right.  Icon Bette Midler ate the scenery and commanded the stage like no other in a Tony winning performance for the ages.  And as if that weren’t enough, Broadway legend Donna Murphy played Tuesdays and some extended engagements.  I preferred Murphy to Midler, but both were fabulous in their own ways.  Bernadette Peters steps into the role of Dolly Levi in 2018.  “Hello, Dolly!” is quite possibly the greatest musical, ever, and this superb, long-overdue production by Jerry Zaks is musical theatre heaven of the highest caliber—just the salve I needed to get me through 2017. (currently running, get tickets)

4. “A Doll’s House: Part 2” (Broadway)
Brilliant.  Simply brilliant.  One of the most exciting, captivating 90 minutes I’ve ever spent in a theatre, Laurie Metcalf gave a tour-de-force, Tony-winning performance in this genius, engrossing play by Lucas Hnath that cleverly picked up where Ibsen left off.  It was the best, non-musical surprise of the entire season, hands down.  Read more of my thoughts here(closed 9/24)

3. Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch (BAM)
Pina Basuch’s incomparable dance company returned to BAM performing the same double bill as their 1984 debut, Bausch’s most famous and enduring works “Café Müller” (1978) and “The Rite of Spring” (1975).  I have never seen a dance performance as precise, emotional, or frightening.  I now fear I never will again.  Read my review(closed 9/24)

2. “A Room In India” (Park Avenue Armory)
Another Park Avenue Armory presentation makes the list: Théâtre du Soleil’s “A Room In India” is a big play about everything.  Literally.  Inspired by the experience of this French theatre company's arrival in India to study and perform the Mahabharata at the same time as the Bataclan terrorist attack in Paris, over the course of nearly four, sprawling hours that felt like a fever dream, scenes tackling terrorism, war, refugees, feminism, climate change, ritual, and theatre were performed in an array of language and genre, featuring appearances by Ghandi, Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Chaplin, and all in an attempt to discover what the play should be about.  This was the most honest, brave, interesting, and important piece of theatre I saw all year. (closed 12/20)

1. “The Band’s Visit” (Broadway)
David Yazbek, Broadway’s most under-appreciated composer/lyricist, is finally getting the recognition he deserves.  This intimate, flawless musical adaptation of the 2007 Israeli film of the same name played a sold-out run at the Atlantic Theatre Company in 2016 but made the leap to Broadway this fall.  It is haunting, simple, and deeply moving, and its star, Katrina Lenk (making her second appearance on this list), is a revelation.  In a season of big, flashy musicals—amid an era of jukebox recycling—“The Band’s Visit” proves that there is still commercial space for small, smart shows that don’t come with a baked-in brand, and that musical theatre is still evolving and advancing as an art form.  It portends well for the future of a medium I love dearly.  Read my review.  (currently running, get tickets)

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order): Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater” (City Center) (thru 12/31, get tickets),Come from Away” (Broadway) (currently running, get tickets), “Hamlet” (Public Theater) (closed 9/3), “Harry Clarke” (Vineyard Theater) (closed 12/23), “Mary Jane” (New York Theater Workshop) (closed 10/29), “Measure for Measure” (Public Theater) (closed 11/12), “Once On This Island” (Broadway) (read my review) (currently running, get tickets), “Oslo” (Broadway) (closed 7/16), “School Girls; or the African Mean Girls Play” (MCC Theater) (read my review) (thru 12/31, get tickets), “The Skin of Our Teeth” (Theatre for a New Audience) (closed 3/19)

tl;dr for December 26th

tl;dr for December 18th