Sunday, June 13, 2010

SOB's Best Of 2009-10: Top Ten Of The Year

SOB's Best Of 2009-10: Top Ten Of The Year

Over the last couple days, I've offered up my "Best Of" lists for each of the four major stage categories honored by the Tony Awards, including Best Musical Revivals, Best Play Revivals, Best New Musicals and Best New Plays.

Now, before this evening's Tony Awards are bestowed, 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 2009-10 Theatrical Season (ending April 30, 2010):

10 - A Streetcar Named Desire

Venue: Harvey Theatre, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, New York

Top 10 Worthiness: Liv Ullmann's crackling revival of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire became a must-see event not only because it starred the magnificent Cate Blanchett, but also because it so forthrightly showcased this classic work for what it is -- one of the best plays ever written.

Exceptional Standout Performance: Cate Blanchett

Status: Closed late 2010

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

9 - Fences

Cort Theatre, New York City, New York

Top 10 Worthiness: In Kenny Leon's exceptional revival of August Wilson's monumental Fences, Denzel Washington excels in delivering a solid line drive as former baseball player Troy Maxson -- once a player, always a player. Yet as Troy's wife Rose, Viola Davis hits this one out of the park with the most extraordinary, heartwrenching performance of the year.

Exceptional Standout Performances: Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.

Status: Limited run through July 11, 2010

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

8 - The Full Monty

Venue: McKnight Theatre, Theatre Latté Da, Ordway Center For The Performing Arts, St. Paul, Minnesota

Top 10 Worthiness: In one of those rarest of rarities, Theater Latté­ Da's excellent and thoroughly enjoyable revival of The Full Monty was actually much better than the Broadway original. Under Peter Rothstein's exceptional, confident direction, Terrence McNally's book and David Yazbek's underrated score became even more salient, all the more emotionally gripping and certainly more entertaining today.

Exceptional Standout Performances: Wendy Lehr and Randy Schmeling

Status: Closed last fall after limited run

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

7 - Brighton Beach Memoirs

Venue: Nederlander Theatre, New York City, New York

Top 10 Worthiness: Nothing could have prepared me for the earnest and devastating charms found in Neil Simon's superb Brighton Beach Memoirs. This semi-autobiographical period piece received an excellent (though sadly short-lived) Broadway revival, flawlessly executed by director David Cromer. Through Brighton Beach Memoirs, Cromer further burnished his credentials as a brilliant, visionary master at breathing vigorous new life into classic material.

Exceptional Standout Performances: Laurie Metcalf, Noah Robbins and Santino Fontana

Status: Closed last fall the Sunday after it opened

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

6 - Superior Donuts

Venue: Music Box Theatre, New York City, New York

Top 10 Worthiness: Tracy Letts' tasty and satisfying Superior Donuts may have appeared on my list last year, but since he and director Tina Landau further sharpened this dramatic comedy for its Broadway bow, the play once again earns its place on my list. Superior Donuts ostensibly left its audience with hope and an entreaty to wake up to the world around us, give a damn and take a stand.

Exceptional Standout Performances: Michael McKean and Jon Michael Hill

Status: Closed at the beginning of this year

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

5 - Twelfth Night

Venue: Delacorte Theatre, Central Park, New York City, New York

Top 10 Worthiness: Love was in the air, and that breeze blowing straight through Central Park was William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Daniel Sullivan’s gorgeous gender-bending revival was brimming with bawdy charms and an extraordinary ensemble. I walked out of Central Park both enthralled and enchanted.

Exceptional Standout Performances: Anne Hathaway, Raúl Esparza, Audra MacDonald and David Pittu

Status: Closed last summer after limited run

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

4 - The Brother / Sister Plays

Venue: Upstairs Theatre, Steppenwolf, Chicago, Illinois

Top 10 Worthiness: The Brother / Sister Plays, Tarell Alvin McCraney's excellent and deeply poetic trilogy, cast an unusally enthralling spell over me through its lyrical power. Standing as a towering achievement, not only for the incredibly young yet wise-beyond-his-years playwright, but also for its outstanding ensemble, The Brother / Sister Plays may ultimately prove to be the most important new work of this new decade.

Exceptional Standout Performances: K. Todd Freeman and Alana Arenas

Status: Closed this spring after limited run

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

3 - Ruined

Venue: New York City Center Stage I

Top 10 Worthiness: What playwright Lynn Nottage and director Kate Whoriskey have achieved with the heartstopping and excellent Ruined was nothing short of monumental. They skillfully succeeded in placing many a human face on those who are grossly dehumanized, even if it ranks as one of the most difficult plays I ever sat through.

Exceptional Standout Performances: Portia, Quincy Tyler Bernstine and Russell G. Jones

Status: Closed last summer after multiple extensions

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

2 - Red

Venue: John Golden Theatre, New York City, New York

Top 10 Worthiness: John Logan's magnificent Red, masterfully directed by Michael Grandage, has forever changed how I'll view abstract art, particularly that of artist Mark Rothko. A modern-day masterpiece imported directly from London's Donmar Warehouse, Red intrigues and titillates the senses with its potent examination of the internal conflicts Rothko may have endured.

Exceptional Standout Performances: Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne

Status: Limited run scheduled through June 27, 2010

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

1 - Brief Encounter

Venue: McGuire Proscenium, Guthrie, Minne-apolis, Minnesota

Top 10 Worthiness: The all too Brief Encounter stands out as the most magnificent entertainment production I saw anywhere this year.

As its conceit, director Emma Rice ingeniously builds on the precepts from the Oscar-nominated 1945 motion picture written by Noël Coward about two married individuals who enjoy a chance meeting in a train station only to find themselves swept away in a mad love affair. Silver screen images are shown on the stage, but it's seemlessly brought to life with a captivating fusion with live theatre. Topping off this delectable treat is a perfect blend of music from the era that breaks the fourth wall.

To say much more beyond this doesn't seem fair because this excellent production has to be seen to be believed and fully appreciated. But I'll add one more thing. It took Brief Encounter's spellbinding trip back in time to catch a glimpse of the future in entertainment and the integral role projection designs -- like those offered here by Gemma Carrington and Jon Driscoll to mesmerizing, dramatic effect -- can have in stage productions.

Fortunately, Broadway audiences will have their chance this fall to encounter this excellent work that defies description. And don't be surprised if there's further call for a new Tony Award category to be created for Best Projection Design. It's an element that's here to stay.

Exceptional Standout Performances: Hannah Yelland and Milo Twomey

Status: Closed in April after limited run. Production will be mounted this fall at Broadway's Studio 54

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).

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminate against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I have received nothing of value in exchange for this post.

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At 14 June, 2010, Blogger jan@broadwayandme said...

Hey Steve, I couldn't agree with you more about Brief Encounter, which was my favorite show of the season too! Like you, I'm excited about its coming to Broadway and the prospect of seeing it again. But I'm also keeping my fingers crossed that they can keep the magic in a more commercial venue.

At 14 June, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

I'm keeping my fingers and toes crossed because, quite honestly, it is hard to imagine feeling all this show's charms in the far reaches of Studio 54's mezzanine!!


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