In 2013, the stars came en masse to Broadway, and while that translated to big box-office success, it didn’t necessarily mean that the plays were all that good (that is, Tom Hanks in Lucky Guy and Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and Rafe Spall in Betrayal).
It was the year repertory returned to Broadway with Twelfth Night and Richard III, as well as Waiting for Godot and No Man’s Land; and it was the year Shakespeare came back to New York in a big way with a plethora of productions on and off Broadway.
As for my selections, listed below in alphabetical order, I chose those that gave me the best overall theatrical experience.
Colin Quinn Unconstitutional
Quinn’s one-man show at the Barrow Street Theatre uses the U.S. Constitution as the springboard to a hilarious social history lesson. He notes, for example, how most people become experts on the Constitution only after a couple of drinks, which he considers appropriate since the Constitution was conceived by the founding fathers during a convention that was essentially “a four-month drinking binge.” (“The bills from those days show thousands of dollars in wine, port, beer. They were all drinking.”)
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
A black comedy musical wherein the killer is more sympathetic than any of his victims, the show expertly combines elements of melodrama, class status, unrequited love, and the desire for revenge into a completely unforgettable experience. It helps that all the victims are played by the brilliant Jefferson Mays, whose demises range from falling through frozen ice to being done in by a swarm of bees. It is now at Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre with an open run.
The Glass Menagerie
Brilliantly directed by John Tiffany, with a superb cast of four consisting of Cherry Jones, Zachary Quinto, Celia Keenan-Bolger, and Brian J. Smith, the production brings to life Tennessee Williams’s heartbreaking tale of a young dreamer, his iron-willed mother, and her painfully shy daughter as seen through the lens of faded memories. It is now at Broadway’s Booth Theatre through Feb. 23, 2014.
Juno and the Paycock
Sean O’Casey’s play expertly intertwines the “troubles” in 1922 Ireland with the story of an impoverished family whose luck may change, thanks to an unexpected windfall. However, the family soon learns that their window of opportunity may shut just as suddenly as it opened. The story is brought believably to life at the Irish Repertory Theatre with impeccable performances by J. Smith-Cameron and Ciarán O’Reilly as the title characters. It runs through Jan. 26, 2014.
Combining high-energy musical numbers with a poignant plotline about finding acceptance from one’s family and friends, this 2013 Tony winner for Best Musical brings both tears to the eyes and a smile to the heart—often at the same time. The show is based on a true story about a failing shoe company in England that finds a very unique niche market in order to survive. It is now at Broadway’s Al Hirschfeld Theatre into May 2014.
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Turning the Shakespeare comedy into a musical, giving it a collegiate setting, tossing in elements of various John Hughes movies, and putting the finished product into the Delacorte Theater in Central Park were strokes of genius. A tale about what the responsibilities of love really mean, the show’s comedic interplay flows freely and easily between the characters, with each musical number more outrageous and outlandish than the one before.
Actor Mark Rylance is perfect as the Countess Olivia in this Shakespeare comedy, which follows the practice from the Bard’s time of having men play all the female roles—an issue which never once distracts in this production. This tale about a woman who disguises herself as a man and the confusion that occurs when she and her long lost twin brother arrive in the same town makes for classic farce; and the able cast, including Stephen Fry who does a wonderful turn as the hapless Mavolio, are excellent. It is playing at Broadway’s Belasco Theatre through Feb. 16, 2014.
The Stephen Schwartz musical makes a triumphant return to Broadway, thanks to a wonderful score, a group of high-flying acrobats and tumblers, and a wonderful cast, including a Tony-winning performance by Andrea Martin. The story depicts a year’s quest as the title character tries to find his corner of the sky despite having to deal with problems thrown at him along the journey. Winner of the 2013 Tony for Best Musical Revival, Pippin is now at the Music Box Theatre with an open run.
Waiting for Godot
Old pros Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, helped by Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley, have a field day in this Samuel Beckett work. Playing two aged and impoverished relics, they seek out a meager existence, while continuing to wait for Godot, the one person they are sure will save them. Showcasing the pathos and absurdist humor, the inhumanity and charity that man can bestow on his fellow man, Stewart and McKellen’s chemistry together is sheer perfection, making this one of the must-see shows of the year. It is at Broadway’s Cort Theatre through March 2, 2014.
You Never Can Tell
Presented jointly by the Pearl Theatre Company and the Gingold Theatrical Group, this production of the George Bernard Shaw comedy offers a hilarious look at love, courtship, and family ties that bind. It is also a gentle poke at the Oscar Wilde classic “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Directed with a sure hand by David Staller, the only person to have directed all 65 of Shaw’s plays, he and the cast skillfully avoid the work becoming too talky or stagey. There are all sorts of action and interplay between the cast, including one of the greatest reverse courtships in stage history.
Judd Hollander is the New York correspondent for the London publication The Stage.