New York theater, both on Broadway and Off, yielded a bumper crop in its first full year since the fallow time of the pandemic shutdown. Creating this top-ten list gave me the chance to look back at the 130 shows I saw this year. Some of the best productions were welcome returns from past seasons (A Strange Loop and Kimberly Akimbo, for instance, were top-tenners in 2019 and 2021), but I was happily surprised at how many really good options there were to choose from—even if that made the selection process tougher. Here are my choices for the best new theater of 2022.
RECOMMENDED: The best Broadway shows right now
1. Downstate (Playwrights Horizons, through January 7)
Bruce Norris's provocative, needle-sharp look at a home for sex offenders uses the tools of theater—imagination, nuance, empathy, irony—to make space for a conversation that seems hardly possible anywhere else.
2. Oratorio for Living Things (Ars Nova, closed May 15)
Immaculate in its conception and execution, Heather Christian's unique immersive musical creation blended the cosmic and the quotidian, the scientific and the holy, and left you suspended in awe of its mysteries.
3. Topdog/Underdog (John Golden Theatre, through January 15)
The superb Corey Hawkins and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II give the full three-card monte as dueling brothers and small-time crooks in this deeply absorbing revival of Suzan-Lori Parks’s 2001 two-hander.
4. English (Atlantic Theatre Company, closed March 13)
With tender poignancy and humor, Sanaz Toossi's insightful play about an ESL class in Iran explored how we express ourselves through language—and how it expresses itself through us.
5. A Christmas Carol (Nederlander Theatre, through January 1)
Jefferson Mays plays dozens of characters in his splendid solo version of Dickens's holidays classic, which taps into the story's core of shared humanity; in breathing life into so many souls, he blesses every one.
6. Into the Woods (St. James Theatre, through January 8)
Director Lear deBessonet and her starry cast (originally led by Sara Bareilles) strike an expert balance between charming and sincere in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s dazzlingly fractured fairy-tale musical.
7. Merrily We Roll Along (New York Theatre Workshop, through January 22)
The sheer lovability of Jonathan Groff, Daniel Radcliffe and Lindsay Mendez finally turned Sondheim's 1981 cult flop into a palpable hit—and they'll all be back to front it again on Broadway next season.
9. Ain't No Mo' (Belasco Theatre, though December 23)
10. The Hang (HERE, closed March 6)
Honorable Mention: Funny Girl 2.0 (August Wilson Theatre, open run)
After months of offstage drama, a sensational Lea Michele took the wheel of this previously sputtering musical vehicle and gave it the full-throttle drive it needs.