Looking back at the end of the theater year is always an interesting process: Some shows that made a strong first impression on me have faded somewhat with time; others have grown. Without further ado, here are my choices for the best of 2016. For the top-ten list of Theater Editor David Cote, click here. For a combined list of our top 20 choices, click here.
THE BEST OF 2016
1. Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Four years after its Off Broadway debut, Dave Malloy’s exuberant, elegant and tuneful Russian-themed pop opera expands to Broadway in a gorgeous production that brings caviar to general audiences.
Sam Gold’s trenchant modern-dress account of Shakespeare’s tragedy, starring the superb Daniel Craig and David Oyelowo, is a gimlet-eyed examination of monstrous jealousy. Green has rarely seemed so toxic.
3. Dear Evan Hansen
Ben Platt earns all the critical superlatives that have rained upon him for his stunning performance in this electrifying and thoughtful new musical, about a teenage outcast caught in his own web of lies.
4. A Life
David Hyde Pierce was poignantly lost in Adam Bock’s wise and shocking play, which began as a chamber piece and then pulled the floor out to offer a cosmic perspective on love, time and connection.
Playwright Paula Vogel and director Rebecca Taichman conjured the ghosts of Yiddish theater in an evocative look at the history of Sholem Asch’s controversial 1906 drama God of Vengeance.
6. The Wolves
Sarah DeLappe’s debut play, a deep-focus portrait of nine teenage girls on a soccer team, depicted aggression, insecurity, friendship and competition with remarkable freshness—and assists from a terrific young ensemble cast.
7. Underground Railroad Game
Jennifer Kidwell and Scott Sheppard enacted amusing and unsettling scenes from America’s divided past and present in a time-hopping, bruise-pressing two-hander on themes of racial guilt and role play.
8. The Harvest
Set in a shabby church basement in rural Idaho, Samuel D. Hunter’s probing drama shone light into the minds and motives of young Christian missionaries whose search for meaning drives them to extremes.
9. Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Jessica Lange brought billowing layers of manipulation, delusion and faded beauty to her role as a mother and dope fiend in this engrossing and heartbreaking revival of Eugene’s O’Neill’s great family drama.
10. Notes from the Field
Anna Deavere Smith’s latest solo documentary piece, based on interviews she conducted around the country, plumbed the school-to-prison pipeline with sensitive intelligence and protean virtuosity.
… AND THE WORST:
Himself and Nora
This insipid musical about James Joyce and Nora Barnacle was so gobsmackingly vulgar and square that you wanted to avert your eyes but couldn’t help gawking.