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Best Theatrical Events of 2017: My Top 20

Best Theatrical Events of 2017: My Top 20

What a fun filled year this was.  Some of my favorite shows opened on and off Broadway all throughout this year.  In the spring before the awards, and now a few in the new season before Christmas.  Here is my list of the top 20, and I wouldn’t take the order all the seriously, as all are worthy.  There were a few that didn’t make the list, such as the shows I’m seeing this week in London (National Theatre’s Follies, Donmar Warehouse’s Belleville, and the West End’s The Ferryman) and a few that I struggled with, such as, Farinelli and the King, MTC’s The Children,  A Doll’s House, Part 2 and A Parallelogram,but such is the trouble of making a list of this sort.  So here goes nothing, and let me know what you think, or disagree with.

DESPERATE MEASURES Production Photo 15

20/ Desperate Measures

“It’s a smart and creative reimagining that works wonders on the plot points…A smartly directed and choreographed good time by Castellino, the musical giddily gallops forward, taking a convoluted Shakespearean text and improving on it. I never thought I’d say that, but ‘Measure for Measure’ mixed with Mel Brooks and a melodic musical score create one great time at the dance hall.” Full Review

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Linda Bassett; Deborah Findlay; Kika Markham, June Watson  PHOTO – Richard Termine

19/ Escaped Alone

“A captivating exploration of friendship, isolation and catastrophe and even with its short running time, it is indeed satisfying…The piece holds us tightly. In the lighter moments we join in their backyard reverie, but it is in the darker moments where the richness in their vulnerability, defenselessness, and ruination are the most thrilling to witness…When Mrs. Jarrett finally bids adieu, we also must say our goodbyes. It’s joyous in that moment, and we owe that to the delicious work of a… Full ReviewFull Review

Hundred DaysNew York Theatre Workshop
Shaun and Abigail Bengson Jo Lampert Colette Alexander Dani Markham Reggie D White

18/ Hundred Days 

“It’s glorious and spellbinding…This band, with soaring vocals, a foot stomping and hand clapping beat, entwined with brilliant songwriting will pull you in to their mythology as if in a dream. Not just with their musical excellence, but with their dedication to vulnerability, truth, and passion…Insanely theatrical while being simple and direct, they tell their story without much of anything else beyond their powerful drumming of the beat…Every moment feels authentic and spontaneous.” Full Review 

SpongeBob SquarePants The Broadway Musical for Everyone

17/ SpongeBob SquarePants

“Fun and smart and festive and joyful it is. In spades…It’s a colorful spectacle that feels intoxicating and exciting before the show even begins…Ethan Slater making his Broadway debut, gives about the best performance of a sponge that one could hope for…Every underwater creature is playing their part swimmingly…Time will tell if it is a success financially, but as an artistic endeavor, they have surprised the Broadway world and hit that pineapple out of the park.” Full Review

 

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16/ Describe the Night

“We are drawn in, bit by bit, never really able to see the grandness of this structurally solid play until the final scene. And then it all comes together, shockingly. Maybe a bit too tidy, but the play’s intricate and finely woven plot outweighs the contrivance of the intertwined relationships, leaving us fully enthralled until the elegant ending…It is no lie to say how funny and touching, smart and engrossing, and powerfully exciting and engaging ‘Describe the Night’ is.” Full Review 

05. Sabine

15/ The Rape of the Sabine Women, By Grace B. Matthias

“A wickedly dark comedy about the culture of rape in America…A brilliant production…Hundreds of shockingly relevant, emotional, and funny twists are so expertly tossed in our direction…Perkins gives a standing-ovation performance full of intelligence and bravery that is a must-see…What we end up with is a wildly funny, fearless, and smart exploration of the culture of rape, trauma, performed by an excellent group of actors.” Full Review

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14/ SojournersHer Portmanteau

“Directed with skill and focus by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar…The images are ripe with emotion…Abasiama is played with grace and maternal glory by the magnificent Chinasa Ogbuagu…A moving play…The last seconds unsettled my heart. I was not prepared for what happened, nor what it would mean for the rest of these characters’ lives, but that is the beauty of Udofia’s writing. The surprise that lives in the authentic-ness; a power that packs quite the punch.” Full Review

“Directed with skill and focus by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar…The images are ripe with emotion…Adiagha is amazingly portrayed by the almost unrecognizable Chinasa Ogbuagu. It’s a knock-down brilliant transformation that still astounds me… All are excellent and completely engaged in this one-act play. A true marvel that is only made better after watching the origin play, ‘Sojourners.’” Full Review

Drew Droege, photo credit - Russ Rowland (8)

13/ Bright Colors and Bold Patterns

“It’s one continuous show-stopping performance from beginning to the end that is just plain fabulous…It’s also a highly political discussion lead by a drugged out messy gay man, drunk on shame, anger, and tequila…The references come fast and furious, and partly because of the skillful direction of Michael Urie…He might not be the first person I’d invite to my poolside gathering, but he certainly would keep things lively and real, and very very funny.”Full Review 

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12/ Oslo

“A magnificent new play…The information flies at us rapidly but, as written by the astonishing J. T. Rogers, we follow every detail and every introduction. Meticulously constructed…What an amazing act of tightrope walking we are witness to as directed with the utmost skill and intelligence by Bartlett Sher…I didn’t know peace accords could be so thrilling, so much so that I found myself tearing up at moments when the future of the accord looked dark and foreboding.” Full Review 

Mary JaneBy Amy Herzog Directed By Anne Kaufman
Mary Jane By Amy Herzog Directed By Anne Kaufman New York Theatre Workshop Cast – Liza Col—n-Zayas, Carrie Coon, Danaya Esperanza, Susan Pourfar, and Brenda Wehle

11/ Mary Jane

“Mary Jane is exquisitely portrayed by Carrie Coon….It’s a beautiful crafted construction…It’s clear the playwright understands this topic from a deep emotional and raw place, that causes the anguish to echo throughout the theatre. We give our heart over to Mary Jane, completely without question. The ending is complex, surprising, yet authentic, and we embrace a sense of clarity that comes from the unclear connection to peace and understanding. “Full Review

OEDIPUS EL REYShiva Theater
OEDIPUS EL REY Shiva Theater Written by Luis Alfaro Directed by Chay Yew in collaboration with The Sol Project Featuring Juan Castano (Oedipus, Coro); Sandra Delgado (Jocasta);Julio Monge (Tiresias, Coro); Joel Perez (Creon, Coro); Brian Quijada (Coro); Reza Salazar (Coro); and Juan Francisco Villa (Laius, Coro).

10/ Oedipus El Rey

“Thrilling…The play pulses with a rhythm much like a drive down a south central LA street…The Jocasta-Oedipus love story has always existed but only by implication with the text, and here in this deeper examination, we find the electricity…The look and feel of this production is as simple as it is powerful…No one is going to get out unscathed in ‘Oedipus el Rey,’ except for maybe all these wonderfully talented artists involved in this powerful and electrifying production.” Full Review

Little Foxes

9/ Lillian Hellman’s Little Foxes

“What fun this play is. The 2 1/2 hours flies by without a thought to the time. Regardless of who is playing the fox, and who is the bird…Linney’s Regina is a formidable force to be reckoned with and, as expertly directed by David Sullivan, Birdie is no match, nor does she even try. Nixon embodies her to perfection…Do yourself a favor, and try both on for size…That black gown seems to fit these two women equally well.” Full Review 

Soulpepper, Of Human Design

8/ Of Human Bondage

“A deeply rewarding piece of theatrical art making…An ingenious retelling of Maugham’s classic tale, one that is far removed from other interpretations…The company of artists at Soulpepper have created a unique and thrilling production that has only expanded the relatable by stripping the narrative down to its essentials by using every theatrical trick at their disposal. It’s a strikingly modern affair that is unforgettable and exactly what theatre should be.” Full Review 

Sweeney Todd OFF-BROADWAYDRAMA BARROW STREET THEATRE 27 BARROW STREET SYNOPSIS: A barber who was unjustly imprisoned for years by a corrupt judge returns to England bent on revenge — a revenge that turns indiscriminately murderous, leading his resourcef

7/ Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Tooting Arts Club)

“Piping hot and tasty is this inventive revival…Once the lights go out, the show kicks in with full force. From the first note sung, we know we are in for a solid fantastic meal here…This production is filled to the brim with great voices, creativity, and a perfectly cast group of actors. Not one bad ingredient in the lot…The whole production is more fun and startling, rather than dark and moody which works so well in the environmental set-up.” Full Review

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6/ Sunday in the Park with George

“It’s hard to fathom but this Sondheim masterpiece has only gotten better…First and foremost, Jake Gyllenhaal is spectacular in the role. Once again, he is devastatingly good right from the beginning…Ashford, just like in the fall, still took a bit more convincing. I still struggled a bit with her too modern and American tone, but at moments it felt more appropriate for the part than either Bernadette Peters or Russell…The rest of the cast is also creating something spectacular.” Full Review 

People Places Things-52-PhotoTeddyWolff

5/ People, Places and Things

“Denise Gough is getting it all perfectly right in the phenomenal ‘People, Places & Things.’ It’s a whirlwind performance…In no way is this production, directed by Jeremy Herrin, standard in the slightest. It flies high, above any expectations that could exist, and then excels beyond even that…Every word and moment has intense meaning in Emma’s life and great importance in the overall arc of this fascinating tale…Gough is transfixing, and to miss her in this would be a crime.” Full Review

TST0706r_Mercedes Ruehl

4/ Torch Song

“Ruehl matches Urie’s Arnold as if they were truly related. Their entanglement is beyond explanation…The play’s true vulnerability lies in the honest depiction of its characters and their struggles with those others that hold that special place in their heart, courtesy of the exacting direction by Moisés Kaufman…It remains, most definitely and defiantly, a profound, hilarious, and deeply affecting experience. One that will be remembered for a lifetime.” Full Review 

Lenk

3/ Indecent

“A must-see, and maybe the best play I’ve seen this year…A magnificently powerful piece of theatre. To call it a play within a play seems to belittle what transpires in this 90-minute creation. Thanks to the impeccable direction of Taichman, it’s a much grander and yet, simple and meaningful engagement of all our senses…It’s meaningful and poetic, while heart-wrenchingly sad and disturbing, in a style and structure that can only be achieved live on a theatre stage.” Full Review

[2]_The cast of COME FROM AWAY

2/ Come From Away

“It is a refreshing, warm, and very humane tale that attends to the lump that will be in your throat, and the tears of love and compassion that will run down your cheeks, by also putting a big grin on your face…This writing team does create the most musically lovely story about that day in the most humanly way possible…Beautifully staged by the creative team, ‘Come From Away’ is one of the most singularly engaging new musicals to come to Broadway this spring.” Full Review 

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1/ The Band’s Visit

“Absolutely and quietly devastating in its magnificence. It has a beauty to its sadness, and a sense of goodness and hope in its desire. Not much has changed with this perfectly constructed piece…’The Band’s Visit’ has become more solid and in some way, sits more squarely and securely on stage…The cast is exceptional…What stood out for me on this visit to Bet Haatikva is the slow build of sadness and longing that settles on every surface in town.” Full Review 

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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