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Now in the second year of its blockbuster run, Hamilton continued to dominate Broadway news in 2016, not least after President-elect Donald Trump ripped into the cast for daring to voice concerns about the incoming government directly to Vice President-elect Mike Pence when he attended the show Nov. 18.
"The theater must always be a safe and special place," fumed Trump on Twitter, calling the respectful curtain-call speech made by actor Brandon Victor Dixon harassment and demanding an apology.
But "safe" in the theater generally means unchallenging, and the best of this year's Broadway and off-Broadway shows were anything but passive entertainment. Even the 19th-century Russian romp that tops my list is audacious in the way it shakes up conventional musical theater form and language, pulling the audience into its giddily immersive storytelling.
Race, politics, wealth inequality, downward mobility, sexuality, cultural collisions, intolerance, fear mongering, detente and death were among subjects that found eloquent, non-didactic theatrical expression on New York stages, achieving startling resonance at times through their restraint and elsewhere through their scorching power.
Some favorite theatergoing experiences from early in the year inevitably got nudged out of my final ten.
The current Fiddler on the Roof revival is a powerful rethink of a classic show, its poignancy magnified by a frame connecting the story of persecution and forced emigration to the refugee crisis of today. And another cherished musical by the composing team of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, She Loves Me, returned in a production that was sheer romantic rapture — performed, designed and directed with consummate artistry.
Sixty years after it was first staged (and 75 years after it was written), Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night demonstrated once again why it remains the towering mother of all American dysfunctional family dramas in a searing revival led with haunted intensity by Jessica Lange. And there arguably was no more nail-biting faceoff than the harrowing confrontation that took place onstage every night between Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams in Blackbird.
Not all the New York critics were convinced by Richard Greenberg's The Babylon Line. But after the dramatist had disappointed earlier in the year with the arid and unsatisfying Our Mother's Brief Affair, I found his latest ruminative memory play intoxicating in its language, its rich character detail and its transporting evocation of a time and place.
Top of the list of shows I regret missing this year is Paula Vogel's Indecent, which explores the history of a scandalous Yiddish drama, shut down in 1923 after a single New York performance. So I look forward to catching the production when it transfers in the spring, marking the long-overdue Broadway debut of one of the country's most esteemed playwrights.
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