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best of 2016
Photograph: Courtesy Chad Batka Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

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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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

Underground Railroad Game
Photograph: Ben Arons

11. 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.

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Vietgone
Photograph: Carol Rosegg

13. Vietgone

The immigrant experience 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

Simon McBurney in The Encounter
Photograph: Robbie Jack

14. The Encounter

Theater

One of the year’s more daring and divisive Broadway offerings, this audio-intensive odyssey from Simon McBurney explores much territory: telepathy, civilization and the nature of time. It was kind of mind-blowing.

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The Harvest
Photograph: Jeremy Daniel

15. The Harvest

Set in a shabby church basement in rural Idaho, Samuel D. Hunter’s probing drama shone light into minds and motives of young Christian missionaries whose search for meaning drives them to extremes.

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Falsettos
Photograph: Joan Marcus

17. Falsettos

Theater Musicals

William Finn and James Lapine’s 1992 groundbreaking gay-themed musical about a Jewish family in crisis—divided by divorce and sexism, then united in pain by the AIDS epidemic—returned in all its deeply idiosyncratic glory.

Troilus and Cressida
Photograph: Joan Marcus

18. Troilus and Cressida

Corey Stoll was a magnetically creepy Ulysses in Daniel Sullivan’s insightful, action-packed Shakespeare in the Park production of the Bard’s pitch-dark Trojan War play, which punctures all notions of heroism and romance.

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Rancho Viejo
Photograph: Joan Marcus

19. Rancho Viejo

Theater Comedy

A bit like Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Flick, this suburban comedy-drama by Dan LeFranc moves at a patiently unhurried pace over three hours, telling the story of several neighbors’ intertwined lives. As with Baker, the organic, “slow theater” approach leads to unexpected depth and plenty of laughs.

Golem
Photograph: Stephanie Berger

20. Golem

Embedding actors in digital animations projected on a stage, the British multimedia troupe 1927 achieved astonishingly precise tableaux. The story was a grotesque and weirdly sweet variation on the Yiddish fable about a man-made puppet come to life.

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

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

Looking for more of the best Broadway shows?

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