Top Ten New York Theater 2011
I asked the Naked Cowboy in Times Square what was the best theater of 2011.
“Les Miz,” he replied, while he posed in the cold with tourists.
Since the revival of “Les Miserables” closed in 2008, he was not the right person to ask. But who is? There are only a few dozen shows that open on Broadway in any given year, but there are thousands of theatrical productions in New York City every year, too many for any one person to attend.
Can a collective guide work? Probably not: All that matters is what you respond to, based on your individual taste and sensibility, and even just passing mood.
Below are some of the shows in 2011 to which I responded most favorably, along with top ten lists of other critics and my fellow Tweeting theatergoers.
It had a unwieldy formal title — “Let Me Ascertain You: Occupy Wall Street, Stories From Liberty Square” — was performed only once, and had no production values to speak of; it was presented on the tiny stage of Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater. But the stories told and songs sung by performers playing the residents of Zuccotti Park, shaped from verbatim transcripts of interviews they conducted with them, were immediate and moving. They showed me what theater can do in a time of crisis.
Let both the show and the company, The Civilians — which calls itself an investigative theater troupe — stand in for all the powerful theater with limited runs, little exposure, tiny budgets.
2. War Horse
The opposite of the Occupy Wall Street show in almost every way; theater does not mean just one thing. This import is a triumph of inventive stage-craft so spectacular that it makes moot any accusations that this children’s story about a horse in World War I is manipulatively sentimental.
The Observationist (@ObsrvatnlstNYC): War Horse was a great reminder what theater can achieve by using “theatrical” in the best way possible
Indira Satyendra (@hudsonette): Theatrical magic
Equally parts hilarious and touching, this play about people on the margins of society reaching for love and stability featured a cast, especially Bobby Cannaval and Elizabeth Rodriguez, who combined an authentic-feeling energy and rhythm from the streets with a mastery of stage technique.
Brandon Rivera (@_BrandonRivera): It was refreshing to see such an “uncommercial” show thrive on Broadway.
Known best for its sometimes-obscene tweaking of organized religion and for its truly obscene ticket prices, “The Book of Mormon” could just as readily have been called “The Book of Broadway” — it deserves credit for making the traditional Broadway musical seem hip.
Emily Baden (@emilybad) The Book of Mormon is honest to eebowai the best musical I have ever seen. I got shushed BAD for laughing so loudly.
The members of the Belarus Free Theater have risked their lives to make theater in their repressive homeland, a former Soviet republic. Escaping into the United States, they presented three of their theatrically startling depictions of a police state, including “Being Harold Pinter” and “Zone of Silence.” My preference was for their most accessible “Discover Love,” based on one woman’s sweet, sad, jolting true story.
David Gordon (@MrDavidGordon) My #1 – Belarus Free Theater’s “Being Harold Pinter.” Most unsafe I’ve ever felt in a theater
Mike Daisey’s monologue about the exploitation of labor in China in the making of Apple products is another non-traditional work for the stage – Daisey is more of a storyteller than an actor – but through some kind of alchemy, it works not just as enlightenment but as theater.
Wendy Siegel (@webwendy): Sheds entertaining light on the dark side of tech and our gadget obsession
David Lawson @dtlawson Ultimate antidote to the 24-hour news cycle
Peter Marks (@PeterMarksdrama): It deserves a Pulitzer
The revival of Larry Kramer 25-year-old play about the AIDS crisis was miraculously transformed into something informative, unwieldy, thought-provoking, didactic, exasperating and, in the end, deeply moving.
Maxwell H (@MaxLHad) It was the best experience of the year for me.
Andrea Shockling (@andreashock) Still so powerful, so relevant, so important to see theater as advocacy. Amazing performances.
David Henry Hwang’s comedy about an American businessman trying to get a contract to make signs in a provincial city in China understands how cross-cultural misunderstandings are an endlessly rich source of humor. But at play here is also, as in his “M. Butterfly,” is sampling a deep well of not just linguistic but also cultural, historical, political and sexual miscommunication, mistrust and outright deception.
There were other plays in 2011 I thought better written or more important (The Lyons and Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, to mention two), but “Other Desert Cities” is still playing and worth seeing. Jon Robin Baitz’s look at a Ronald Reagan-like California family earns its place on the list of my favorites because of the extraordinary acting by the five members of its cast.
Norman Buckley (@norbuck): Sharp writing, great performances.
Sometimes you just want to see other people jumping through hoops. Three shows in New York explicitly describe themselves as both theater pieces and as circus acts: “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark,” Cirque de Soleil’s “Zarkana,” and “Traces.” I’d put my money on the third, less bloated, more intimate, sexy, lithe, athletic, with a sense of humor and a sense of perspective.
Other Critics’ Top-10 Lists:
Mark Kennedy from the Associated Press: 1.The Book Of Mormon. 2. War Horse, 3. Anything Goes 4. Other Desert Cities, 5. Venus in Fur, 6. Mark Rylance in both “Jerusalem” and “La Bete” 7. Sleep No More, 8. Seminar 9. Good People. 10. Gatz
Richard Zoglin of Time Magazine: 1. War Horse, 2. Porgy and Bess, 3. Chinglish, 4. Death Takes A Holiday, 5. Sleep No More, 6. Silence The Musical, 7. The Normal Heart, 8. Book of Mormon, 9. Traces, 10. Anything Goes
Ben Brantley of The New York Times: 1. The Book of Mormon. 2. Jerusalem. 3. Other Desert Cities. 4. Belarus Free Theater’s “Being Harold Pinter” 5. The Motherfucker With The Hat. 6. The Normal Heart. 7.Good People. 8. Follies. 9. The Cherry Orchard. 10. Sweet and Sad.
Charles Isherwood of the New York Times: 1. Belleville. 2. 4000 Miles. 3. Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. 4. Blood and Gifts. 5. Jerusalem. 6. Kin. 7. The Motherfucker With The Hat. 8. Sons of the Prophet. 9. Venus in Fur. 10. Walk Across America For Mother Earth (at LaMama).
Scott Brown of New York Magazine:
1. Sweet and Sad. 2. Sleep No More. 3. The Book of Mormon. 4. Follies. 5. Jerusalem. 6. Cymbeline. 7. Sons of the Prophet. 8. Arcadia. 9. Schools for Lies. 10. Other Desert Cities and The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures
Time Out‘s David Cote: 1. Jerusalem. 2 The Book of Mormon. 3. Good People. 4. 4000 Miles. 5. The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism with a Key to the Scriptures. 6. Blood and Gifts. 7. Seminar. 8. The Cherry Orchard. 9. War Horse. 10. Effective Affinities.
Time Out’s Adam Feldman: 1. Good People. 2. The Normal Heart. 3. Follies. 4. The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism with a Key to the Scriptures. 5. The Method Gun. 6. The Book of Mormon. 7. Jerusalem. 8. Hand to God. 9. om Ryan Thinks He’s James Mason Starring in a Movie By Nicholas Ray in which a Man’s Illness Provides an Escape from the Pain, Pressure and Loneliness of Trying to be the Ultimate American Father, Only to Drive Him Further Into the More Thrilling Though Possibly Lonelier Roles of Addict and Misunderstood Visionary. 10. Once
Jeremy Gerard of Bloomberg in alphabetical order: Blood and Gifts, Chinglish, Completeness, Jerusalem, Other Desert Cities, Stick Fly, Sweet and Sad, The Blue Flower, The Book of Mormon, Venus in Fur.
Linda Winer of Newsday: 1. War Horse, 2. Book of Mormon, 3. Other Desert Cities, 4. Follies, 5. The Motherfucker With The Hat, 6. The Normal Heart, 7. Sons of the Prophet, 8. Good People, 9. Bengal Tiger At Baghdad Zoo, 10. Jerusalem, 11. An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin
Sampling of Tweeters’ favorites for 2011
Daniel Bourque (@Danfrmbourque): Jerusalem. Full of power, majesty and mystery. ran chills up my spine like little else. Mark Rylance was ten feet tall.
Reynaldi Lolong (@Reynaldi): Blue Flower. A musical that dared to be different, and did it beautifully.
John Fredeking (@jcfredeking): Anything Goes, because it’s what an old fashioned musical should be, and Follies for brilliant acting
Natalie (@ER_nat): Hands down Anything Goes — classic American Broadway show, great actors, production, set, all perfection
Alex Jensen (@JensenUs11): Hands down “Once” and “Peter and the Starcatcher” both at the New York Theater Workshop
Tyler Martins (@mrtylermartins): Follies is a beautiful production of my favorite Sondheim show, with a 28-piece orchestra, fantastic performances and Jan Maxwell.
Jeff Kyler (@JKsTheatreScene) I can’t believe I’m typing this ,but I LOVED Bonnie & Clyde. Excellent performances is why.
Nelle (@nelldrik): Tie between “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures”and “The Submission.” Both beautifully written, brutally honest, and struck deeply personal chords with me.
Rebel Red (@rebelredms): Chix 6 I saw it at Queens Theater in the Park and and can’t wait for it to hit Broadway. Girl power
Barbara J. Chin (@unagi47): Transport Group’s “Queen of the Mist.” Mary Testa was phenomenal.
Linda Buchwald (@PataphysicalSci): Play-Sons of the Prophet. Musical-The Book of Mormon.
Andrea Diaz (@Drea7886): I only saw one this year but it was heavenly joyous fun: “Sister Act”
Kristen Hamill (@KristenHamill) “Venus in Fur,” brilliant production!
J.C. Vazquez (@keatonorchaplin): My favorite this year has been “Sons of the Prophet.”
Janet Somerville (@janetsomerville): Daniel Radcliffe is adorably nebbish in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” and Rob Ashford’s choreography is character-driven. Incandescent.
Monday, December 5, 2011
Mabou Mines founder Lee Breuer, Elevator Repair Service artistic director John Collins, Tony-nominated choreographer Donald Byrd and playwright Annie Baker have received $50,000 each as part of the 2011 USA Fellowship grants.
MCC Theater is getting its own theater at 52nd Street on 10th for 2013-14 season. Meanwhile, it continues at the Lucille Lortel Theater.Next up: Carrie
Reading Shakespeare aloud, with Shakespeare Allowed, got him through unemployment & depression
Kris Vire (@krisvire): Theaters should require patrons to check cell phones in the lobby. Offer it up as a charging station.
For five months, performers have occupied (lived in) Rome’s oldest theater, to protect it.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Just opened Off-Broadway, Once the Musical announces transfer to Broadway starting February 28th, Bernard Jacobs Theater. Opens March 18
John Hurt, whose roles ranged from Elephant Man to Harry Potter, makes New York stage debut at age 71, in Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape.”
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Entertainment Weekly proclaims Daniel Radcliffe Entertainer of the Year both for Harry Potter and How to Succeed
Joel Grey has announced he is sticking with Anything Goes until the end of its run in April.
Eli Wallach turns 96 today! Known for his movie career, he’s been on Broadway 27 times:
Zero Mostel by Broadway photographer Leo Friedman (1919-2011)
For 40th year in a row, Bread and Puppet Theater performs, one show for adults, another for families, through December 18, at Theater for the New City
“Try to think of the last musical that’s risky and big that you got to see…I’m trying to resurrect that form”~ Bobby Lopez, co-creator of The Book of Mormon, who is working with his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez on “Up Here”, stage musical, and new Disney film” Bob the Musical”
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Aiming for Broadway 2012-13: revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, with new book by Douglas Carter Beane (@LyssieJones etc)
Mad Fashionista (@madfashionista): Now if Cinderella had a new book by Paul Rudnick, I would so be there.
A Marilyn Monroe musical? Premise of Smash, which begins on NBC February 6. Harvey Weinstein says film “My Week With Marilyn” could become Broadway musical
There’s actually been a Marilyn Monroe Broadway musical. “Marilyn: An American Fable” ran in 1983 for about two weeks
Jordan Paige (@jordanc): Don’t Marilyn Monroe musicals have about the same track record as vampire musicals on Broadway?
The Drama Book Shop (@dramabookshop): Wednesday 12/14 at 5 pm, Theresa Rebeck & Seminar cast. Thur 12/15 at 6 pm, David Henry Hwang of Chinglish
Caffe Cino, birthplace of Off-Off Broadway, gave many their start. Bernadette Peters starred in “Dames at Sea” in 1966 at age 18. New memorabilia donated to New York Public Library at Lincoln Center gives excuse for article on history of Caffe Cino
Robert Carreon (@ahrmi): Thanks for posting the article on Caffe Cino. Those were the days! We were young, fearless & creative. So was theatre.
Jonathan Mandell: Is it old, fearful and dull now?
“Casting is a game of gut instinct”~Marion Dougherty (1923-2011), who first cast Pacino,Dustin Hoffman,Warren Beatty,Bette Midler…
Bonnie & Clyde: RIP?
No official announcement yet, but Telecharge sent patrons word Bonnie & Clyde to close Dec 30.
Jeremy Jordan: (@JeremyMJordan) There is no truth to @BonnieClydeBway closing on Dec 30. We’re still fighting. It ain’t over til its over,folks
David Gordon: Nada has come from press office to address rumors, leaving it up to cast
The New York Times tries to sort out Bonnie & Clyde question. Yes, not selling tickets past Dec 30, but no not closing…maybe
A proven crowd-pleaser, “Stick Fly” has been given nearly a dozen full productions in regional theaters throughout the country …The Broadway production features Alicia Keys as both producer and composer of the music in-between the scenes. Director Kenny Leon, who had such success on Broadway with the star-laced “Fences” and “A Raisin in the Sun,” here has cast a few familiar faces…Whether or not this Broadway-buffering is necessary – or sufficient – to fill the Cort Theater is not clear. But the secret to “Stick Fly”s successful track record despite some nagging flaws may be that the play can be seen in three different ways – as a guilty-pleasure soap opera, as an entertaining comedy, and as an insightful discussion of the interplay between race, class and gender in America.
Friday, December 9, 2011
“My plays work best… when populated by actors of beautifully contrasting sizes,shapes,colors,& biographies~Stephen Adly Guirgis on his objection to the casting of two white actors in the role of the Puerto Rican characters in the Hartford production of “The Motherfucker With The Hat”
Saturday, December 10, 2011
Three shows on Broadway all involve characters who are novelists: Other Desert Cities, Seminar, and now Stick Fly. A trend?
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Rita Moreno, winner of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony, veteran of eight Broadway shows, today turns 80. H
Reason to love 2012: Signature Theater’s new theater complex, first one in Manhatan since Lincoln Center, opens January 31 http://bit.ly/usfy69
“I have no signature. I never repeat steps from one show to the next.” choreography Sergio Trujillo
It is difficult to call the new Broadway production of “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever” a complete disappointment. That is because even its director, Michael Mayer, has said the original 1965 Broadway show was unsuccessful, and its plot “extremely problematic.” (A reviewer in 1965 called it “labored and creaky.”) So how can you be completely disappointed when expectations are so low? Long in love with Burton Lane’s score, Mayer decided he would revamp everything else, hiring playwright Peter Parnell to rewrite Alan Jay Lerner’s book. The director’s efforts have yielded any number of satisfactions: The songs are tuneful, the singers know what they are doing, there are some amusing moments; as a bonus, there is even something of a gay twist that already has disturbed a troglodyte or two. But none of these satisfactions are enough to make “On A Clear Day” much more than an intermittently entertaining oddity.
This is the 87th edition of The Week in New York Theater Tweets. The week in New York Theater Tweets is a selection and enhancement of Jonathan Mandell’s Twitter feed, and is posted every week, usually on Monday.
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