In a New York fall theater season bulging with the Bard, this Elizabethan-style all-male staging from Shakespeare’s Globe stands as the undisputed high point. The incomparable Mark Rylance (right) leads the company as Olivia, the terribly earnest noblewoman rendered giddy by love, ably flanked by a peerless ensemble that includes Samuel Barnett (left) and the marvelous Stephen Fry. Paired in repertory with a wickedly entertaining Richard III, this was the year’s most delicious Broadway banquet.
Take the art-rock wizardry of David Byrne and the big-beat funkadelics of Fatboy Slim, then hitch those to the unlikely concept of an immersive dance-club biomusical about disgraced Filipina first lady Imelda Marcos (Ruthie Ann Miles), and you have hands down the year’s most inventive and infectious new musical.
Kids in Broadway shows often pour on so much artificial sweetener they should come with a warning to diabetics. But not the rebellious downtrodden urchins in this brilliant musical. Director Matthew Warchus, writer Dennis Kelly and the master of tongue-twisting wit, composer-lyricist Tim Minchin, perfectly capture the malevolent mischief of Roald Dahl’s brainiac fairytale.
Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto shed new light on Tennessee Williams’ irreconcilably conflicted mother and son in director John Tiffany’s exquisite revival, which accessed the extraordinary intimacy of the classic 1944 memory play in ways that made you feel you were seeing it for the first time.
The transition to digital projection in a shabby Massachusetts movie house serves as an eloquent metaphor for vanished possibility in Annie Baker’s beautiful play, directed with acute sensitivity by her regular collaborator Sam Gold. The theatrical equivalent of contemplative minimalist cinema, this audacious three-hour comedy-drama, featuring Louisa Krause and Aaron Clifton Moten, explores the untidy spaces in messed-up lives as the theater staffers clean up popcorn and puke between screenings.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
Jefferson Mays (left) multitasks as eight doomed English aristocrats separating Bryce Pinkham’s homicidal commoner from his noble birthright in this deliriously dark new musical based on the same novel that spawned the classic British screen comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets.
Bette Midler showed that a single-character play could be full-bodied entertainment in John Logan’s ode to superagent Sue Mengers, I’ll Eat You Last. But for sheer originality in a solo work it was hard to beat Jonathan Tolins’ inspired riff on our chronic fascination with celebrity, showcasing a virtuoso comic performance by Michael Urie (pictured) as an out-of-work actor hired to toil in Barbra Streisand’s Malibu basement.
Fantasia Barrino is the first in a series of guest headliners in an exhilarating song-and-dance salute to the Cotton Club and other legendary nightspots of Jazz Age Harlem, featuring scene-stealing work from Tony winner Adriane Lenox and superb musicianship from Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars Orchestra.
While the 1972 musical will perhaps forever be schizophrenically torn between the discordant sensibilities of composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz and original director Bob Fosse, Diane Paulus’ circus-themed revival makes a spectacular case for the show as razzle-dazzle entertainment with heart. It also whets the appetite for the long-gestating screen adaptation.
Attention to the Broadway repertory double headlined by Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart focused largely on the X-Men antagonists’ vaudevillian duet in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. But for my money, watching those distinguished stage veterans (along with Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley) sink their fangs into one of Harold Pinter’s most cryptic works was the riveting surprise.