1. Reasons to Be Pretty. May 13, 2009 @ the Lyceum Theatre. Never make an unfavorable comparison between your girlfriend and the new hottie at work. That was Greg’s, the hero of Neil LaBute’s play, big mistake. After the news gets back to his girlfriend, it opens up a maelstrom of life-changing and affirming moments for his character, who ultimately learns to man up. The four-hander was well cast, with Tom Sadoski standing out above the rest but overshadowed by the more mature four-hander down the street that seemed to show what how these characters would end up in about 15-20 years (God of Carnage).
2. Mary Stuart. May 19, 2009 @ the Broadhurst Theatre. There’s nothing like watching two of the most fascinating figures in British history duking it out live onstage. Imported from the Donmar in London, Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter dominated in a spare, riveting staging of the Schiller play (in a new adaptation by Peter Oswald) directed by Phyllida Lloyd. Yeah, there were men onstage (namely John Benjamin Hickey and Nicholas Woodeson) but this revival belonged to both leading ladies in superlative performances. The play also sparked six months of bliss as Sarah, Kari, Roxie and other bloggers participated in “The Summer of Harriet Walter.”
3. Hair. May 24, 2009 @ the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Well, I guess we all have dreams of making our Broadway debuts. I never actually thought I’d get to sing and dance onstage but lo and behold the revival of Hair captured me in ways I never thought possible. I’ve never really been a fan of the show – until I took in this performance where I was overwhelmed by Diane Paulus’ exceptionally organic staging. It’s a special experience, and one of a lifetime. If you see this revival, it’s imperative you make your way to the stage for the curtain call. You may never be the same.
4. The Royal Family. September 18, 2009 @ the Samuel Friedman. I have a soft spot for older comedies, particularly those set in NYC in the early half of the 20th century. Jan Maxwell led the cast with a superlative comic performance for the ages as the put-upon Julie Cavendish, a diva at wit’s end. Rosemary Harris supplied moments of hilarity and haunting poise as the family matriarch. The comic exploits of an eccentric, loving and larger-than-life theatrical dynasty were explored by Kaufman and Ferber in their 1927 comedy (a take-off on the Barrymore family) The revival was lovingly directed by Doug Hughes (and oh, what a set! And those costumes!) I’ve rarely wanted to become part of a fictional family onstage.
5. Superior Donuts. October 1, 2009 @ the Music Box Theatre. It’s not easy following up a Tony and Puliter Prize winning juggernaut, but Tracy Letts’ second Broadway outing was another import from Steppenwolf. This time, Tina Landau directed a tight ensemble in a much gentler comedy about the unlikely father-son relationship between disconnected former hippie Michael McKean and energetic, idealistic Jon Michael Hill. The story, which presents a more optimistic vision of America than August: Osage County is less ambitious and wholly different, offering an unexpectedly moving and often quite funny new play.
6. Finian’s Rainbow. October 8, 2009 @ the St. James Theatre. I thought the show was charming at Encores, but didn’t think it warranted a transfer to Broadway. Those thoughts were dashed when the show started previews in October. The cast was augmented by stellar replacements, including Christopher Fitzgerald’s winning turn as leprechaun Og. Warren Carlyle directed one a valentine to old-fashioned, Golden Age musicals. The production took on its reputation as a badly dated show and emerged one of the freshest and best reviewed experiences of the season. It also provided the luminescent Kate Baldwin her first leading lady turn on the Rialto.
7. Ragtime. October 23, 2009 @ the Neil Simon Theatre. I’ve waited ten years for the chance to see this musical, and in the first-ever Broadway revival I found myself inordinately moved by the staging, scenography and performances. Stripping away some of the excesses that are attached to the original lavish production, this import from the Kennedy Center (directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge) was actor-driven and a most memorable experience. Quentin Earl Darrington makes an auspicious debut as Coalhouse Walker Jr and Christiane Noll is a revelation as Mother.
8. The Norman Conquests. May 16, 2009 @ the Circle in the Square Theatre. I tend to make this list chronological, so as not to play favorites. But I can’t help but saving this best production for last. Of all the theatre I saw in the calendar year, this exceptional revival of the Alan Ayckbourn classic was the best. In fact, it may very well be the best I’ve seen in my life, but only time will tell. I took in two marathons of the show, and if time had permitted would have done it more. It was seven hours of hilariously heartbreaking theatre, and found myself sad that it was over by the end of the evening. The show was imported from the Old Vic and featured the brilliant six person ensemble, one of the best on stage this year. This production, directed by Matthew Warchus (and which trumps his Tony-winning work in God of Carnage), reminded me why I loved theatre in the first place and has inspired me to make certain changes in my life over the past six months. I only hope you were as lucky as I was to see such a magnanimous theatrical event.
Shows I want to see next year: The Addams Family, A View from the Bridge, La Cage Aux Folles, Promises Promises, Memphis, Race, Lend Me a Tenor, When the Rain Stops Falling, Sondheim on Sondheim, Enron, A Behanding in Spokane, The Miracle Worker, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, Next Fall, Present Laughter, Time Stands Still, Collected Stories, Fences, and Wishful Drinking.