December 31, 2008

The Best Theater in 2008

Good art provokes a conversation between the person who makes it and the person who sees or hears it. Each dialog is unique and so I can’t really tell you what were the best shows of this past year but I can say that the following 10, listed in alphabetical order, really spoke to me.

Adding Machine
Because this adaptation of Elmer Rice’s 1923 play about an everyman accountant who snaps after being replaced by an adding machine not only taps into the zeitgeist of our own scary economic times but shows that chamber musicals can produce real show tunes and not just the ersatz arias that make so many of them a chore to sit through.

The Bacchae
Because the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Euripides’s tragedy provided flamboyant proof that a production of classic Greek drama can be simultaneously true to the play’s ancient text and thoroughly entertaining for modern audiences.

Billy Elliot
Because this adaptation of the movie about a British miner’s son who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer is one of the most out-and-out entertaining musicals to open on Broadway in years and because, in the tradition of the great Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals like the year's equally splendid revival of South Pacific, it also has something to say.

Black Watch
Because the National Theatre of Scotland’s meditation on the war in Iraq was a truly innovative production, superbly acted, marvelously staged and fully reproducible in no medium other than the theater.

A Body of Water
Because this mysterious little play about a couple who seem to suffer from joint amnesia ruminates on questions about life and death and love and redemption in such a compelling way that I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind.

Because newcomer Sahr Ngaujah is phenomenal as Fela Kuti, the Nigerian pop musician and political activist who challenged his country’s corrupt and repressive leaders, and because Afrobeat, the exuberant mix of jazz, funk and traditional African rhythms that Fela helped to create, is irresistible.

Because Patti LuPone’s performance as Mama Rose in this classic backstage musical is one of those once-in-a- lifetime performances that people will talk about for years to come and because not only LuPone but her terrific co-stars Laura Benanti and Boyd Gaines stayed with the show right through to the end.

In the Heights
Because although it’s not a great show, it’s a really great feel-good show that brings new energy and contemporary sounds to the musical and new audiences to Broadway.

The Seagull
Because this production of the Chekhov classic got the mix between the comic and the tragic just right and because the 22-year-old British actress Carey Mulligan gave the most heartbreaking performance of the season.

Top Girls
Because Caryl Churchill’s play about what it costs women to succeed was the most soul-nourishing night I had at the theater all year.


Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Great list B&M! Even though I may quibble with you on a couple, I expect you'd do the same with me.

Here's wishing you a happy and healthy 2009. Hope to even see a show or two with you in the New Year!

Esther said...

Hey B&M, I'd love to see a show you in 2009! Some of these, Gypsy, Black Watch, In the Heights, were definitely highlights for me and some of the others I wish I'd seen. And wow, I can't wait to see what the National Theatre of Scotland does next!