It was hard narrowing 2015 down to only a top ten, but I did my best!
This year’s broadway list is very play-heavy, which is unusual since I prefer musicals. But lately there have been an awful lot of really good straight plays, especially on Broadway. 2015 also saw a lot of excellent historical shows, covering everything from the Tudor period to the modern era. So even though I sobbed through most of Finding Neverland, cringed through Hand to God but didn’t look away, aaawwwwed at Annaleigh Ashford in Sylvia, and cheered for the dancing of Dames at Sea, here are the top ten shows in NYC during the last year.
#10: ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride’ (off-Broadway)
Cross-dressing men have made ripe fodder for playwrights lately, and this year’s best entry was the MCC play starring Dave Thomas Brown. A struggling Elvis impersonator starts performing in drag to make ends meet, and eventually the play starts exploring themes of gender, prejudice, relationships, and responsibility.
#9: ‘Important Hats of the Twentieth Century’ (off-Broadway)
An MTC play that just closed, Important Hats deals with a rivalry between fashion designers in the 1930s that gets out of hand when one of the designers starts traveling through time to steal fashion ideas. It’s a madcap comedy that gets sillier and sillier as it goes on, ending with a side-splitting time-traveling adventure to fend off the apocalypse (yep, things escalated quickly).
#8: ‘Act of God’ (Broadway)
In a limited run during the summer, Jim Parsons essentially did a stand-up routine as God. God spends an hour and a half delivering ten new commandments to the audience. It’s irreverent, it’s really funny, and it manages to raise some really good points amid the laughter. While not for everyone, it was clearly for a lot of people; I went to see it in a large group spanning all demographics, and the play met with unanimous approval.
#7: ‘Wolf Hall’ (Broadway)
Any six-hour play that does not have audiences squirming in seats can be considered an accomplishment. Wolf Hall is technically two plays (yes, like Cursed Child will be), but I saw them in one day, with a much needed lunch break in between. It retells the well-known story of Henry VIII and his wives, but with an exciting new twist: it’s told from the perspective of Henry’s advisor, Thomas Cromwell, and presents much of what happened as driven by Cromwell’s personal vendetta. The play was based on Hilary Mantel’s books, and managed to captivate for the entirety of its prodigious runtime.
#6: ‘Single Wide’ (NYMF)
The NY Musical Theatre Festival always delivers one or two outstanding shows, but rarely the expected ones. A musical about a single mom in a trailer park was nowhere near the top of our most-anticipated NYMF shows list. But the show was a revelation, an incredibly sweet and sincere story. Smashing through the Bechdel test, Single Wide was really feminist, focused on family and friendship over romance – all accompanied by beautiful music. We really hope this musical finds a life after NYMF!
#5: ‘Something Rotten!’ (Broadway)
A wholly original musical that was fast-tracked to Broadway, featuring the comedic talents of Brian d’Arcy James and Christian Borle. It’s a comedy about Shakespear’s rival playwrights, the Bottom brothers, who happen on the idea for the world’s first musical. It manages to poke fun at just about every major musical on the modern era, most of it during the show-stopping “A Musical” number that results in mid-show standing ovations. A musical for true lovers of musical theatre, it demands to be seen again just to catch all the references – and it’s still running at the St. James.
#4: ‘On the Twentieth Century’ (Broadway)
This nearly forty-year-old screwball comedy was revived by Roundabout in the spring with Peter Gallagher, Andy Karl, and the inexhaustible Kristin Chenoweth. The audience could scarcely breathe for laughter, as the production made the most of witty dialogue, visual gags, and impressive physical comedy. The show holds up well despite its age, and “She’s a Nut!” was stuck in my head for days afterwards.
#3: ‘Puffs’ (Peoples Improv Theatre)
We already wrote an in-depth review of this wonderful play about the forgotten House – it’s Harry’s years at Hogwarts, but focused on the Hufflepuffs. There are few things as immensely satisfying as a well-done stage adaptation of a fandom. Puffs is currently running at the PIT through February, but the next month of shows is sold-out, because word is spreading about it being a must-see.
#2: ‘Clinton the Musical’ (off-Broadway)
Last year, the NYMF premiere of this made our Top 10 list. The show lost no time and premiered off-Broadway this spring – pared down to 90 minutes, and delightful as ever. It’s a farcical yet timely look at the (first?) Clinton Presidency, filtered through the comedic lens of there being two Bill Clintons, one sensible and one rascally, both of whom are kept in line by Kerry Butler as Hilary. And this production received a cast recording that I’ve not stopped listening to yet!
#1: ‘The Audience’ (Broadway)
Helen Mirren brought her incomparable portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II to the Broadway stage in the spring, and continued collecting awards for it. Upon winning the Tony, Mirren became the first thespian ever to win the Triple Crown of acting on both sides of the Atlantic. The play shows the Queen meeting with the various Prime Ministers during their weekly audiences. Peter Morgan’s play doubles as a fascinating trip through history and a character study, all while offering insights into the role Britain’s monarchy plays in government. This is probably the first year my favorite show was a straight play, but The Audience was the most thought-provoking and compelling show of 2015.