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The best shows on Broadway and beyond in 2016 (so far)

Halfway through 2016 we salute the best musicals, plays, revivals and other theater on Broadway and Off

Photograph: Julieta Cervantes

The dog days are upon us and we’re searching for NYC events in August to distract and delight us. No one wants to think about summer being over; we want our vacations (or the best New York staycations) to go on forever. But now is a good time to look back on the first half of the year and take stock. Which titles entered the pantheon of best Broadway shows? Which Tony Award nominees do we still fondly remember? Theater is such an ephemeral art, and none of the shows below are still open (Dear Evan Hansen returns this fall and may well qualify as a best Broadway musical). What would be your pick for best show (so far) in 2016?

Recommended: Full guide to best of 2016

Best Broadway shows of 2016 (so far)

1

King and Country

For a limited run at BAM, the world-class Royal Shakespeare Company presented Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 and Henry V in rep in Brooklyn. Sir Antony Sher’s impish Falstaff may be the greatest we’ll ever see, and David Tennant’s doomed Richard II was a lyrical feast of passionate verse. All 12 hours constituted a glorious, once-in-a-lifetime feast of comedy, tragedy and adventure.—David Cote

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2

Shuffle Along

The cast was stuffed with talent (Audra McDonald, Billy Porter, Brandon Victor Dixon and more), Savion Glover’s tap dances were sublime, and George C. Wolfe directed with breathless élan. You could forgive the second-act weaknesses in this masterful docu-spectacle about the making of a color-barrier-smashing African-American hit.—David Cote

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3

Dear Evan Hansen

In this captivating original musical (transferring to Broadway this fall), Ben Platt gives an extraordinary performance—funny, sweet, beautifully sung and exquisitely worked-out in its physical details—as a high school student thrust into social relevance after a classmate’s suicide. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s score combines well-crafted lyrics with an exciting pop sound, and Steven Levenson’s book gives all the characters shaded motives, including Evan’s guilt-ridden single mother (the superb Rachel Bay Jones).—Adam Feldman

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4

She Loves Me

Where has this musical been all our lives? The Roundabout presented its second revival of this 1963 classic, with heavenly songs by the composer-lyricist team behind Fiddler on the Roof. Two clerks at a Budapest parfumerie bicker themselves into romance. Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi had us all aswoon in Scott Ellis's stylish staging.—David Cote

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5

Long Day’s Journey Into Night

As the morphine-addicted Mary Tyrone in Eugene O’Neill’s bitter masterwork, the mesmeric Jessica Lange brought stunning colors to the role of a woman clawing her way through fog. In Jonathan Kent’s beautiful production, the other actors (Gabriel Byrne, Michael Shannon and John Gallagher Jr.) orbited around Lange’s blazing star turn in painfully believable patterns of resignation.—Adam Feldman

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6

Familiar

The latest play by blazingly talented Danai Gurira (Eclipsed) was still concerned with the lives and identities of African women, but she lightened the tone and relocated the action to Minnesota just before a daughter’s wedding. Familiar was a smart, often rollicking comedy-drama that still mined deep anxieties about immigration and assimilation.—David Cote

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7

Signature Plays

Director Lila Neugebauer and clever set designer Mimi Lien crafted gorgeous revivals of early, experimental work by Edward Albee (The Sandbox), María Irene Fornés (Drowning) and Adrienne Kennedy (Funnyhouse of a Negro). The casts were excellent and the plays themselves—absurdist, grotesque and surreal—are refreshingly, defiantly weird.—David Cote

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8

Prodigal Son

John Patrick Shanley’s 11th collaboration with MTC—a memory play about troubled school days—was a portrait of the author as a poetry-spouting romantic punk torn between literary dreams and his roots in the Bronx. Breakout star Timothée Chalamet shone in a cozy yet emotionally punchy production directed by Shanley himself.—David Cote

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9

Antlia Pneumatica

This dreamy, elliptical and ghostly play by Anne Washburn began in straightforward fashion: A group of friends reunite at a Texas ranch after one of them has died. But soon, the boundaries between past and present, living and dead blurred in fascinating ways. Ken Rus Schmoll staged it for maximum weirdness and pathos.—David Cote

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10

Men on Boats

Equally thrilling and goofy, Jaclyn Backhaus’s satirical history play recounts an 1869 expedition down the Colorado River using an all-female cast. Male egotism and weakness are ruthlessly skewered, but there’s also tenderness and heroism. Will Davis’s bravura staging features a smashing ensemble.—David Cote

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Take a look back on the Tony’s!

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