Best of 2016

Before 2016 is officially in the books, I wanted to recap my non-Hamilton favorites from 2016 because I never have enough time to write posts after seeing shows!

Best Musical, Broadway: Shuffle Along

Unfortunately placed in the same season as a juggernaut, Shuffle Along was great for many of the same reasons as Hamilton. With a beautiful cast of superstars, the story of how forgotten stories and legacies provides an emotional journey. It’s upsetting that its run ended so soon, and will be just another footnote in the musical history books, just hoping to be remembered.

Best Musical Revival: She Loves Me

A charming throwback to the days of yesteryear, She Loves Me left me utterly enthralled with its fantastic cast from top to bottom (despite the fact that each and every one of them was white!). I still think it’s a travesty that Gavin Creel wasn’t nominated for his devilishly charming performance as Kodaly. The lush orchestrations were everything I would want from an old-school musical, and the jewel-box set was a revelation.

Best Off-Broadway Musical: Hadestown

Great original music with a beautiful diverse cast. An actual post lives here!

Best Off-Broadway Musical Revival: Sweet Charity

As Charity, Sutton Foster gets to do exactly everything you want Sutton Foster to be doing. She sings, she dances, she gets her leg extended way farther than should be humanly possible, all while in arms’ reach of the audience. It also lends a fantastic performance from Joel Perez, who gets to stretch all his acting muscles. Every dance sequence had me sitting there with a giant smile on my face. This show just made me smile, which is ironic, given the subject matter. I guess I’m just always rooting for Charity! Also dripping with diversity and an all-female band!

Best Broadway Play: Eclipsed

A total eclipse of the heart, this show and its history-making black creators and stars left an indelible impression. This show stayed with me for days afterwards and really made me think. I dismissed a comment from one of the actresses who thought all five actors could get nominated; then I saw the show and realized it was a distinct possibility. I jumped in my seat, I cried, I thought about the show the whole way home and then some. A brilliant Broadway debut from Lupita Nyong’o, who I have to commend for bringing huge star power (aka box office draw) to show that probably wouldn’t have made anywhere near as big of a splash without her.

Best Play Revival: A View from the Bridge

After finally seeing the show closing weekend, I was wondering what everyone was gushing about. And then it happened. A masterful use of a box set, the raves do it no justice. A brilliant concept from director Ivo van Hove, and great performances, lead by Mark Strong, this production completely invigorates the writings of Arthur Miller.

Best Off-Broadway Play: Aubergine

I literally started crying during the opening monologue of Aubergine and was practically weeping by the time the show ended. An extremely emotional play, Julia Cho’s play explored how our relationships with food are tied to the people and moments in our lives. Intensely emotional, intensely satisfying. One of the best nights in the theater for me this year (and also for Kleenex!).

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What Devotion Costs

I’ve often joked that my idea of a perfect Friday night is staying at home and watching PBS. This past Friday proved my point when Theater Close-Up played The Woodsman, an absolutely stunning off-Broadway show depicting the Tin Man’s origin story. In the midst of a busy spring season, I never got around to seeing The Woodsman live, and perhaps it was even better seeing the filmed version. In a show that’s so heavily movement-based, it was great to be able to have close-up on the brilliant performers and to get a better look at the gorgeous puppets. The puppetry and movement is dazzling, and there were quite a few moments when I was thankful to be able to rewind and rewatch the powerful images on my screen.

After the opening narration, a couple’s love story is shown without words. It reminded me of Up‘s opening montage of Carl and Ellie’s love story, a wordless look into the entirety of two lives, set to beautiful music. Then the show continues without dialogue and I wondered how long they could keep this up for. And the answer is the whole show. For being a series of grunts, whistles, hisses, and screams, along with a beautiful score by Edward W. Hardy, provided by a lone violin, the show is surprisingly engaging and completely captivating. The show, for all its simplicity in concept, is so full of heart (it is the Tin Man’s story, after all). It actually feels like an extended a capella piece. Each of the actors is utterly brilliant. I don’t know how many “names” would be able to give such a nuanced performance without any dialogue, but I found myself crying on the couch on a Friday night, completely transfixed by what was happening on the stage. It is rare that a collective breath taken on stage can completely enrapture an audience. It left me breathless. In turn, each word uttered is given even more power, and shout-out to Jen Loring for her beautiful lyrics. In particular, “Rusting Tin Man” kills me each and every time I listen to it.

While I’m disappointed to have missed this show live, I’m glad I can revisit it any time I want thanks to PBS. I’ve already watched it a second time, and I know it won’t be the last! I’d be remissed if I didn’t mention James Ortiz, creator extraordinaire, leading man, set and puppet designer, and co-director, who is unequivocally brilliant and masterful in all he does! The show as a whole is completely breathtaking, imaginative, innovative, and quite simply beautiful. For knowing how the story will end, the show itself completely captivating. Not a single movement is in excess, and I didn’t dare blink, afraid to miss a single moment of brilliance. This is what all theater should be. Bravo to the amazing  company and crew. I am in awe of their collective creative genius and I cannot wait to see what they do next!