Bette Midler’s ‘Hello, Dolly!’ the best show on the NYC stage this year
By Matt Windman amNewYork Theater Critic December 28, 2017
In many cases, 2017 showed New York theater at its very best — and in other cases, at its worst. Below is my personal list of highs and lows for the year.
Best of the year:
1. ‘Hello, Dolly!’
Was anyone surprised that this turned out to be a match made in musical comedy heaven? As led by Bette Midler, this lavish revival is a celebration of life crafted in old-fashioned showmanship and pure euphoria. Bernadette Peters will take over as Dolly after Midler exits the show next month.
This original musical (which closed in September) about a group of World War II veterans who form a swing band was a high-powered and urgent testament to the restorative power of the arts, with an electrifying jazz score, fast-paced staging and dynamic performances.
3. ‘Once On This Island’
The Caribbean-flavored fairy tale musical has returned to Broadway in a stunning revival that combines joyful theatricality with an unexpected dose of gritty realism.
4. ‘The Band’s Visit’
After premiering Off-Broadway last season, this modest, mild-mannered but absorbing musical in which an Egyptian police band finds itself stranded in Israel’s Negev Desert has become an unlikely Broadway hit.
One of the lesser-known chapters of August Wilson’s 10-play Century Cycle played Broadway for the first time in a focused and penetrating production directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson.
6. ‘Sunday in the Park with George’
Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford gave extraordinary performances in this simple but focused revival of Stephen Sondheim’s rich, complex and rewarding masterpiece of modern musical theater.
An early 20th century Yiddish melodrama served as the unlikely source of inspiration for Paula Vogel’s haunting and poignant backstage drama. A filmed version recently aired on PBS.
Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama explored how the shutdown of factories in working-class communities can lead to a devastating cycle of poverty, drugs, violence and prejudice.
9. ‘The Hairy Ape’
Eugene O’Neill’s 1922 expressionist tragedy received a massive, thoroughly designed, movement intensive and technologically complex staging starring Bobby Cannavale at the Park Avenue Armory.
10. ‘The Government Inspector’
A rarely-seen 19th century Russian political satire received a big, brash and buoyant production from Red Bull Theater starring a game cast led by Michael Urie and Michael McGrath.
Honorable mention: “Big River,” “The Golden Apple,” “Brigadoon” and “Really Rosie” at City Center; “Oslo,” “Junk” and “How to Transcend a Happy Marriage” at Lincoln Center Theater; “Venus” and “The Red Letter Plays” at Signature Theatre.
Worst of the year
1. ‘The End of Longing’
As a once devoted fan of the sitcom “Friends,” I found it extremely painful to sit through Matthew Perry’s embarrassingly contrived substance abuse drama/star vehicle.
2. ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’
No amount of “pure imagination” could save this train wreck (which is set to close in January). An ultra-aggressive silliness turned a tender and fanciful story into a loud, brash and mindless affair.
3. ‘Meteor Shower’
Steve Martin’s absurdist comedy (which stars Amy Schumer, Keegan-Michael Key and Laura Benanti) is little more than a nonsensical, flimsy and tedious skit.
4. ‘M. Butterfly’
David Henry Hwang’s gripping and critical-minded 1988 drama (which dissects race relations, gender roles and international affairs) underwent detrimental rewrites in this ill-conceived revival directed by Julie Taymor (in her first Broadway outing since “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark”).
5. ‘A Clockwork Orange’
It was near impossible to make sense of this all-male, self-indulgent and utterly bizarre stage adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ 1962 dystopian novel about a teen gang leader who undergoes painful psychological conditioning.