David Rooney: The Best New York Theater of 2017

The Hollywood Reporter
David Rooney: The Best New York Theater of 2017
12/13/2017 by David Rooney

  1. Jitney

    Joan Marcus

    Every major production of an August Wilson work is a stinging reminder of the loss of one of American drama’s most uniquely resonant voices. But this belated Broadway debut of the play that launched his magnificent 10-part chronicle of African-American experience in the 20th century — directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson with penetrating emotional depth and irrepressible humor — was something extraordinary. Gritty and lyrical, joyful and sorrowful, the play examines black struggle through the prism of a Pittsburgh gypsy-cab company in 1977, its denizens portrayed here by a peerless ensemble that found music in every note.

    From left: Michael Potts, John Douglas Thompson, Anthony Chisholm, Keith Randolph Smith and Andre Holland in 'Jitney'
  2. The Wolves

    Courtesy of Julieta Cervantes

    Vibrant ensemble work also is key in Sarah DeLappe’s subtly crafted study of young women navigating the tricky precipice of adulthood. Lila Neugebauer directs the nine fearless performers playing members of a girls soccer team with a palpable connection to their deeply felt experiences — good and bad — providing unfiltered access to the raw volatility and fear of adolescence. Deceptively loose in structure and yet skillfully shaped, the play’s observations shift with uncommon grace from funny to heartbreaking, forming both a group portrait and a highly individualized series of revealing snapshots.

    A scene from 'The Wolves'


  3. Springsteen on Broadway

    Rob DeMartin

    The solo stage memoir is perhaps the most over-trafficked subgenre in the contemporary theatrical landscape — far too often by writer-performers whose stories fail to justify the self-scrutiny. But with his unerring instinct for illuminating detail and ability to reframe his superstar experience as that of an everyday, working-man American, Bruce Springsteen combines spoken excerpts adapted from his autobiography, Born to Run, with corresponding song selections in a narratively robust concert-confessional notable both for its thrilling intimacy and its sense of communal celebration.

  4. 4

    Sunday in the Park With George

    Courtesy of O&M Co.

    No musical delves deeper into the painful difficulties of the creative process than this 1984 dramatic diptych by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, which leaps from the clubby art world of 1880s Paris to the corresponding scene in America a century later to explore the transcendent birth of harmony out of chaos. Expanding on their work in an earlier concert staging, Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford led a superlative cast, bringing startling emotional candor to Sarna Lapine’s exquisitely sung production.

    Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Sunday in the Park With George'


  5. A Doll’s House, Part 2

    Courtesy of Brigitte Lacombe

    What could have been merely a deconstructionist gimmick turned out instead to be a wickedly spiky consideration of marriage and gender roles across the centuries in Lucas Hnath’s playful “sequel” to the classic Ibsen drama. In Sam Gold’s bracingly lithe production, from the moment the incomparable Laurie Metcalf walked through the door that Nora Helmer had slammed shut behind her, this was timeless sociocultural debate elevated to the championship theatrical leagues. Quite unexpectedly, it was also one of the funniest plays of the year.

    Chris Cooper and Laurie Metcalf in 'A Doll's House, Part 2'


  6. Sweeney Todd

    Joan Marcus

    How do you extract fresh chills from a musical masterwork that has been produced in seemingly every possible size and shape from Industrial Age epic to stripped-down spookhouse chamber piece? Originally staged in a traditional South London pie shop, faithfully recreated off-Broadway, this immersive production of the obsessive revenge tale by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler stuck us smack in the middle of the throat-slashing action with a Grand Guignol glee that made us feel the cold steel of the razor and smell the blood.

    Siobhan McCarthy and Jeremy Secomb in 'Sweeney Todd'
  7. Mary Jane

    Joan Marcus

    Carrie Coon followed her breakout TV work on The Leftovers and Fargo with a riveting return to the stage in this infinitely moving yet rigorously unsentimental portrait by Amy Herzog of a mother caring for a chronically ill child while struggling to remain a vital individual beyond that all-consuming role. Anne Kauffman’s lucid, unfussy production gracefully sidestepped the conventions of the medical drama to explore questions of life, death and sacrifice with rare humanism and gentle spirituality.

    Liza Colon-Zayas (left) and Carrie Coon in 'Mary Jane'
  8. Hello, Dolly!

    Courtesy of Julieta Cervantes

    Who would have guessed that the old girl still had so much life in her? I’m talking about the 1964 musical warhorse, adapted by composer-lyricist Jerry Herman and writer Michael Stewart from Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker. As a triumphant vehicle for Bette Midler’s return to the musical-theater stage after a half-century’s absence, this was sheer perfection, flanking the indomitable star with a top-drawer cast that includes a never-funnier David Hyde Pierce. Jerry Zaks’ lovingly revitalized restoration was no less delightful with Midler’s divine alternate, Donna Murphy. The show rejoices in the uplifting values of popular Golden-Age Broadway entertainment, and will no doubt continue to do so in January, when Bernadette Peters and Victor Garber step into the lead roles.

    David Hyde Pierce and Bette Midler in 'Hello, Dolly!'
  9. Once on This Island

    Courtesy of Joan Marcus

    In his second Broadway production, actor-turned-director Michael Arden works magic with his environmental staging of the 1990 musical fairy tale by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Enhanced by visual suggestions of real-world natural disasters from Haiti to Puerto Rico, this rousing hymn to community and resilience is performed by a superb cast of 20, all equally invested in the transformative power of storytelling and the healing energy of song. It also announces an instant star in enchanting discovery Hailey Kilgore.

    From left: Mia Williamson, Alex Newell, Hailey Kilgore and cast in 'Once on This Island'
  10. Pacific Overtures

    Courtesy of Joan Marcus

    Perhaps the most adventurous work in the Sondheim canon, this 1976 musical about the Westernization of Japan, written with John Weidman, unfolded with haunting narrative simplicity in John Doyle’s elegantly streamlined, modern-dress production, featuring a statesmanlike George Takei as the narrator figure known as The Reciter. The staging’s calligraphic delicacy revealed new emotional shades in one of the composer’s most idiosyncratic scores, drawing out both ongoing relevance and understated poignancy in themes of globalization, cultural isolationism and bullying foreign policy.

    From left, Steven Eng, Megan Masako Haley and Ann Harada in 'Pacific Overtures'
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