Friday, June 05, 2009

SOB's Best Of 2008-09 Top Ten Of The Year

SOB’s Best Of 2008-09: Top Ten Of The Year

Over the past week, I've offered up my "Best Of" lists for four of the five major stage categories observed by the Tony Awards, including Best Musical Revivals, Best Play Revivals, Best New Musicals and Best New Plays.

Now, before I launch into which Broadway shows would get my Tony vote if I could actually vote and my own prognostications on who will win, here’s how the best of the best rank in my personal countdown of the “10 Best” theatrical productions I saw over the course of the 2008-09 Theatrical Season:

10 - 9 To 5

Venue: Marquis Theatre, New York, New York

Top 10 Worthiness: 9 To 5 wins by being so thoroughly and consistently entertaining. Not only exceedingly fun and funny, but Dolly Parton has delivered one of this season's most melodic scores, with plenty of tunes to keep you humming long after departing the theatre. You'd be hard pressed not to revel in 9 To 5's frivolity.

Exceptional Standout Performances: Allison Janney, Stephanie J. Block and Megan Hilty, as well as Marc Kudisch and Kathy Fitzgerald.

Status: Open-ended run.

SOB Review Rating: ***1/2 (out of ****)

9 - The Cripple Of Inishmaan

Venue: Linda Gross Theater, Atlantic Theater Company, New York, New York

Top 10 Worthiness: Martin McDonagh's The Cripple Of Inishmaan crackled with wit and pathos. With frequent McDonagh collaborator Garry Hynes at the helm, the playwright intrigues with his surprising compassion for humanity.

Exceptional Standout Performances: Excellent ensemble, but special nods to Aaron Monaghan and David Pearce.

Status: Closed after enjoying extended limited run.

SOB Review Rating: ***1/2 (out of ***)

8 - next to normal

Venue: Booth Theatre, New York, New York

Top 10 Worthiness: With a fierce, electrifying direction from Michael Greif, Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt’s next to normal is nothing if not atypical for Great White Way musical fare. But in tackling mental illness and its continued social stigma head-on, next to normal marks a welcome if downright shocking departure for Broadway.

Exceptional Standout Performances: Alice Ripley, J. Robert Spencer, Aaron Tveit and Jennifer Damiano.

Status: Open-ended run.

SOB Review Rating: ***1/2 (out of ****)

7 - The Visit

Venue: Max Theatre, Signature, Arlington, Virginia

Top 10 Worthiness: John Kander and the late Fred Ebb's spellbinding "new" musical The Visit read like a who's who of the stage, including Terrence McNally with his shrewdly clever book, Ann Reinking for her captivating choreography and fine direction from Frank Galati. Kander & Ebb's score proved a formidible co-star.

Exceptional Standout Performances: Chita Rivera, George Hearn, Jeremy Webb, Mark Jacoby and James Harms.

Status: Closed last summer after limited run. Initially rumored to be New York-bound, but economy seems to have placed those plans on hold.

SOB Review Rating: ***1/2 (out of ****)

6 - Speed-The-Plow

Venue: Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York, New York

Top 10 Worthiness: When David Mamet's good, he's just about as stimulating and entertaining as any playwright can be. He's the real deal. In Neil Pepe's astounding and absorbing revival of Mamet's gutbusting Speed-The-Plow, this is almost as good as it gets.

Exceptional Standout Performance: Raúl Esparza.

Status: Closed after a tumultuous limited run in which star who shall not be named left show to become "a thermometer."

SOB Review Rating: ***1/2 (out of ****)

5 - Ivanov

Venue: Wyndham's Theatre, London, United Kingdom

Top 10 Worthiness: Michael Grandage's West End revival of Anton Chekhov's Ivanov was so vibrant and alive with pleasure, brimming with dark humor throughout, that I found myself completely rapt with attention. With excellent new adaptation from Tom Stoppard, Ivanov was both entertaining and enlightening, soaring with one of the year's best ensembles on either side of the Atlantic.

Exceptional Standout Performances: Excellent ensemble led by Kenneth Branagh and Gina McKee.

Status: Closed after limited London run. I'm hoping beyond hope that a transfer may be in the works to Broadway, but it may merely be a pipe dream.

SOB Review Rating: **** (out of ****)

4 - Superior Donuts

Venue: Downstairs Theatre, Steppenwolf, Chicago, Illinois

Top 10 Worthiness: Tracy Letts' profoundly moving new play Superior Donuts intelligently combats some urban myths about race and feels genuine, gritty and real, right down to its climactic brawl. There's plenty of humanity and heart to be found deep inside of this thoughtful and entertaining play.

Exceptional Standout Performances: Excellent ensemble led by Michael McKean and Jon Michael Hill.

Status: Initial world premiere run at Steppenwolf closed last summer, but the show has been confirmed for a Broadway bow this fall.

SOB Review Rating: **** (out of ****)

3 - A Little Night Music

Venue: Menier Chocolate Factory, London, United Kingdom

Top 10 Worthiness: There's pure heaven found in Trevor Nunn's gorgeous London revival of A Little Night Music. It enveloped every one of my senses like a welcome salve for these troubled times. Transcending all expectations, only a heart of stone could not be moved by Stephen Sondheim's ravishing score and Hugh Wheeler's über-clever book.

Exceptional Standout Performances: Hannah Waddingham, Maureen Lipman and Gabriel Vick.

Status: Currently enjoying a transferred run in London's West End. Rumored to be heading to Broadway later this year.

SOB Review Rating: **** (out of ****)

2 - Our Town

Venue: Barrow Street Theatre, New York, New York

Top 10 Worthiness: Thornton Wilder’s classic stage drama Our Town has never looked better. Stripped down to its bare essentials by director David Cromer, it's hard to imagine live theatre could get anymore intimate than this. Making the case against living in the past, this mind-blowing production simply can’t be missed.

Status: Limited run scheduled through September 27, 2009.

SOB Review Rating: **** (out of ****)

1 - The Norman Conquests

Venue: The Circle in the Square Theatre, New York, New York

Top 10 Worthiness: Alan Ayckbourn's uproariously hilarious The Norman Conquests cuts with remarkable, exacting precision, but it also slices and dices its six fully-rounded characters in this jujitsu of love. Matthew Warchus' brilliant direction of each installment makes each story accessible and comprehensible in its own right. Yet it's only after seeing all three that all the complex pieces truly come together as an unequivocal masterpiece. This is the best show I've seen all year anywhere.

Exceptional Standout Performances: The entire ensemble: Amelia Bullmore, Jessica Hynes, Stephen Mangan, Ben Miles, Paul Ritter and Amanda Root.

Status: Limited run through July 25, 2009, but don't be surprised if this is extended by popular demand.

SOB Review Rating: **** (out of ****)

What shows would be on your top ten list? Do you think I've completely missed the boat, or would your choices largely mirror mine?

I invite you to join the discussion and post your comments here.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 06 June, 2009, Blogger Vance said...

You know, The Norman Conquests started out amusingly but nothing that special, and then I felt there was a lot of explanation, but somehow by the end of the marathon, I was enraptured. I want to go again now. (I just have to find a free Saturday now)

Gina McKee was excellent but I just don't think I "get" Chekov.

At 06 June, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Vance, glad you enjoyed The Norman Conquests, too. As for Ivanov, well, let's just say I loved it so much more than that other Chekhov play that actually received a Broadway transfer from London this year.

At 07 June, 2009, Blogger Vance said...

Oh yeah, I REALLY didn't get that one either. I enjoyed Ivanov more than that one at least too. (Though my problem with Ivanov was that I felt Gina McKee and Kenneth had TOO much chemistry that I didn't believe for once that he would leave her).


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