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The 20 best Broadway and Off Broadway shows of 2016

Our theater critics rank the best Broadway shows and Off Broadway plays and musicals of the year, from uptown to downtown

By David Cote and Adam Feldman |
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best of 2016
Photograph: Courtesy Chad Batka Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

Last year at this time everyone knew that 2015 had been the year of Hamilton. Now the wealth is spread a bit more evenly. Broadway musicals continue to evolve and experiment: Witness the thrilling success of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 (starring Josh Groban and Denée Benton) and Dear Evan Hansen (with a star-making turn by Ben Platt). Those shows will surely do battle at the Tony Awards next June. As for the rest of the list, it’s an excitingly diverse group: all-too-timely dramas about disgruntled factory workers (Sweat); Shakespeare in traditional form (King and Country) and radically re-imagined (Othello); fresh new playwrights (Sarah DeLappe with The Wolves); and great work from writers we’ve loved for years (Adam Bock with A Life). Below is our consolidated and ranked list, followed by honorable mentions. For David Cote's individual top-ten list, click here; for Adam Feldman's individual list, click here.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to best of 2016

Best theater of 2016

1
Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Photograph: Chad Batka
Theater, Musicals

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.

2
A Life
Photograph: Joan Marcus

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.

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3
Othello
Photograph: Chad Batka
Theater, Shakespeare

Othello

Daniel Craig’s reptilian Iago and David Oyelowo’s heroic but traumatized Othello were the main reasons Sam Gold’s production sold out, but the modern-day military staging is a thing of brutal beauty.

4
Sweat, Lynn Nottage, Public Theater
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Theater, Drama

Sweat

Opening five days before the election, Lynn Nottage’s gritty, big-hearted portrait of factory workers in rural Pennsylvania was a wake-up call about class, poverty and rage. Now the message goes to Broadway.

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5
The Wolves
Photograph: Daniel J. Vasquez
Theater, Drama

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, assisted by a terrific young ensemble cast.

6
Dear Evan Hansen
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Theater, Musicals

Dear Evan Hansen

Music Box Theatre, Midtown West Open run

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.

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7
Long Day's Journey Into Night
Photograph: Joan Marcus

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.

8
The Front Page
Photograph: Julieta Cervantes
Theater, Drama

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—into pieces.

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9
The Band's Visit
Photograph: Ahron R. Foster
Theater, Musicals

The Band’s Visit

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

10
Indecent
Photograph: Carol Rosegg

Indecent

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.

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David Cote’s best (and worst) theater of 2016

Adam Feldman’s best (and worst) theater of 2016

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