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What shows on Broadway and Off made David Cote's best (and worst) theater of 2016?

Othello
Photograph: Chad Batka

End-of-the-year lists are dropping faster than the temperature, so I've been sorting through my 2016 clips to see which shows deserve extra laurels and a few more adjectives. The picture that emerges is encouraging: After the raging success of Hamilton, Broadway musicals are still capable of surprising us. New American drama is alive and well and engaging politics. And it was a good year for Shakespeare—both by the book and with a contemporary frame. Scroll down to find the best, the worst and 10 honorable mentions. For Deputy Theater Editor's Adam Feldman's personalized list, click here, and for our combined, slightly different list, click here

THE BEST OF 2016

1. Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Intimate yet epic, ironic yet deeply felt, cosmic yet down to earth, Dave Malloy’s eclectic and electrifying Tolstoy-based musical lights up the sky and our hearts. Josh Groban also wowed us with a deeply felt Pierre.

2. A Life
Adam Bock’s weird and quietly shocking look at mortality, destiny and the human impulse to map the unmappable evoked Thornton Wilder, but went to even stranger places, with a dryly brilliant David Hyde Pierce in the (vanishing) lead.

3. Sweat
Opening five days before the 2016 Presidential election, Lynn Nottage’s gritty, big-hearted portrait of factory workers in rural Pennsylvania was a wake-up call about class, poverty and rage. It explained so much about where we are now.

4. The Front Page
Print journalism may be waning, but this sharp-elbowed, fast-talking satire from 1928 won’t go gentle into any good night. Exquisitely cast (Nathan Lane! John Slattery! Jefferson Mays!) Jack O’Brien’s revival gleefully broke the news.

5. Othello
Daniel Craig’s vicious Iago and David Oyelowo’s all-too-human Othello (pictured above) were the main reason Sam Gold’s production sold out, but the modern-day military staging is a thing of brutal beauty.

6. The Band’s Visit
Egyptians and small-town Israelis meet cute in this gentle, humane and very touching musical with a sinuous score by David Yazbek (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels). For those tired of Broadway’s hard sell, it’s a delightful detour.

7. King and Country: Shakespeare’s Great Cycle of Kings
The Royal Shakespeare Company brought about 12 hours of ultra-traditional, uncut history play—Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 and Henry V—to BAM for top-shelf Bard-binging. Antony Sher’s Falstaff was perhaps the greatest we’ll ever see.

8. The Encounter
One of the year’s more daring and divisive Broadway events, this audio-intensive odyssey from Simon McBurney explores a lot: reality, telepathy, civilization, the nature of time and narrative. It was kind of mindblowing.

9. Vietgone
The immigrant experience in America never seemed so cool or full of kickass fights as in Qui Nguyen’s culture-jamming comedy-drama about South Vietnamese fleeing the war at home: rap battles, ninjas and plenty of sex and drugs.

10. Long Day’s Journey Into Night
The Roundabout’s outstanding revival was finely directed by Jonathan Kent and in an overall excellent cast, Jessica Lange gave a harrowingly good Mary Tyrone, scarred from the past and self-medicating with morphine.

…AND THE WORST


Cats
I don’t care if you loved it when you were 12. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s craptastic hit is a headache-inducing ’80s flashback.

The Birds
Sensing an animal theme? Hard to believe Conor McPherson penned this adaptation of the Daphne Du Maurier story. But he had nothing to do with the cheap, amateurish staging.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Dear Evan HansenFamiliar, Golem, Hold on to Me Darling, Prodigal Son, Rancho Viejo, Signature Plays, Spamilton, Taylor Mac: A 24-Decade History of Popular Song, The Wolves  

Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote       


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Comments

1 comments
John B

The Front Page? Boring, tedious, poorly directed! The Encounter -- a play about a photographer without any photographs...a journey that I didn't need to take! Sweat on the other hand was brilliant and I didn't need to see Cats again to know it would be one of the worst!