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The best Broadway and Off Broadway plays and musicals of 2015 so far

From Broadway to Off-Off, New York theater has already offered an impressive range of worthy new plays, musicals and revivals

By David Cote
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New York theater doesn’t follow the regular calendar. Its season—as followed by Broadway and some Off Broadway companies—ends in late April as shows rush to be eligible for the Tony Awards in June. That’s why April brings an insane crush of shows. Summer tends to be slow (relatively speaking; there are lots of festivals), and the season picks up again in September. But now is a good time, pre-autumn, for us to pause and rank our favorites shows (including revivals) of the year so far.

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Wolf Hall: Parts 1 & 2
Photograph: Johan Persson

10. Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two

A cunning and cipher-like Ben Miles played Tudor fixer Thomas Cromwell in this two-play version of the novels by Hilary Mantel. Though Mike Poulton's swift and dense script could have used more poetry, it was a totally engrossing pageant of gossip, backstabbing and morally dubious scheming. The Royal Shakespeare Company made historic drama in every sense.

An Octoroon
Photograph: Gerry Goodstein

9. An Octoroon

News Theater & Performance

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins's adaptation of Irish playwright Dion Boucicault's once-popular 1859 racial melodrama felt brisk and angry; having whisked the cobwebs off his troubling source, Jacobs-Jenkins spanked us with the same broom. Sarah Benson staged a tremendously exciting production, moving and chilling and surprising at once.

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10 Out of 12
Photograph: Julieta Cervantes

8. 10 Out of 12

Anyone who has endured a tech rehearsal knows how painstakingly dull it can be. But genius playwright Anne Washburn used this limbo-like onstage-backstage world as a locus of humor, complexity and even menace. Immersing you in illusion—and illusion-breaking—the densely layered Les Waters–directed production was a deconstructed love letter to playmakers.

The Evening
Photograph: Paula Court

7. The Evening

Writer-director Richard Maxwell specializes in stripping drama down to its bones, using forms of deliberately awkward stagecraft to cut through the conventions of naturalism. His latest work, the first part of a trilogy inspired by The Divine Comedy, focused on a fighter, his manager and a prostitute seeking redemption at a dive bar.

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The Iceman Cometh
Photograph: Richard Termine

6. The Iceman Cometh

Eugene O'Neill's 1946 masterwork about varieties of delusion in a crummy saloon is nearly five hours long, and you feel it. But Robert Falls's gorgeously designed and acted revival (transferred from Chicago's Goodman Theatre) made it worth the bender. Anchored by a splendid Nathan Lane and the volcanic Brian Dennehy, this production got you drunk on O'Neill's punchy, jagged lyricism before slapping you sober.

Hamilton
Photograph: Joan Marcus

5. Hamilton

Theater Musicals
Open run

The Broadway transfer hasn't even opened yet (it will on August 6), but already this show has been praised to the heavens—and rightly so. Prodigiously talented composer-lyricist-star Lin-Manuel Miranda tells the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton through hip-hop grooves and lyrical pyrotechnics. More than an anachronistic stunt with a multiethnic cast, this complex, moving and jubilant musical reminds us that American history is a track that can be endlessly remixed.

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