Here they are! Take a look at the Best Five of the 2016 Season in Theater and Cabaret.
It’s the end of 2016 . . . hard to believe it raced by so quickly with all its turbulence. Theater Pizzazz writers, in both theater and cabaret, were extremely busy seeing many, many shows. Each one had their favorites, several even agreed. It was an especially tough task paring down to only 5 when there were so many others we would have liked to list.
Finian’s Rainbow: At the Irish Reperatory Theatre, this production is a welcome addition to this, or any season’s, musical lineup.
Falsettos: Even after 25 years, William Finn’s melodic score continues to explore the many sides of family with its exuberant joy, love and heartbreaking loss.
The Front Page: Capturing the feeling of the print era is a championship cast of two dozen, many familiar to audiences from stage and TV screen
Othello: NY Theater Workshop. Fierce and merciless performances by a stellar cast led by Daniel Craig and David Oyelowo and taut direction by Sam Gold.
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet Of 1812: All the theater’s a stage for this beautiful and creative production.
Django Reinhardt All Stars: This music is keeping alive the legacy of Django Reinhardt and his “hot jazz” that captured the attention of generations and continues to do so. At Birdland.
John Pizzarelli & Jessica Molaskey: The Arc of a Love Affair at the Cafe Carlyle, mixing insightful lyrics with trademark fiery musical deliveries.
Ana Gasteyer: A classical violinist who belts some killer R&B, and sees the world through her own prism of many colors. At the Café Carlyle.
Baby Jane Dexter: Body and Soul – It’s impossible to separate emotionally from a Baby Jane song, even as it sears with heartbreak. At the Metropolitan Room
Jeff Harnar’s The 1959 Broadway Songbook: It sparkles, it glitters, it touches the heart and, even more, it celebrates the gift of songs that America has given the world. At the Metropolitan Room
All of Scott Siegel’s shows – Best of…, Broadway Originals, etc. – Feinstein’s/54 Below
Hanna Burke’s Madeline Kahn Tribute “Why Is Everyone Laughing” at the Metropolitan Room
Carmen Cusack at Feinstein’s/54 Below
Jeff Harnar’s Reprise of his 1959 Musicals show at the Metropolitan room
Nancy Dussault at Feinstein’s/54 Below
Jarrod Spector at Feinstein’s/54 Below
Dear Evan Hansen – With a gorgeous score, a strikingly original book, and a knockout performance by Ben Platt, what’s not to like? (The rest of the cast is also awesome.) Crisply directed by Michael Greif, this cautionary tale uses humor generously as it tells the tale of a teenage misfit unexpectedly handed what some might call a macabre ticket to popularity.
The Band’s Visit -Half a planet away from Evan Hansen geographically and thematically, this gem of a musical, at the Atlantic, has a certain kinship with Evan in that they both have a free-wheeling style and music that’s consistently engaging. The excellent cast includes the always reliable Tony Shalhoub, but it’s the lesser-known Katrina Lenk who sets the stage on fire with her nuanced blend of sexy, jaded, and big-hearted.
THE GABRIELS: Election Year in the Life of One Family – Forget the election – it’s time to eat! And Richard Nelson’s beautifully intimate trilogy about a mostly fiftyish extended family takes place in the kitchen where food is just about always being prepared. The election serves as a backdrop for this immensely talented cast to share their humanity with each other and with us.
Notes from the Field – Anna Deavere Smith is at it again, this time taking on the two-headed monster of education and incarceration. As in earlier works like Twilight: Los Angeles, she’s interviewed a host of captivating characters, and she recreates each of them with uncanny immediacy as, through her, they share their points of view.
Small Mouth Signs – Six would-be ascetics flee the city for a five-day retreat in the country, under an oft-broken vow of silence. What better place to shine a flashlight on their imperfections? Playwright Bess Wohl does just that with a light and skillful touch resulting in a very clever and surprisingly poignant comedy.
One Flea Spare
Tick Tick Boom
Kate Baldwin at Feinstein’s/54 Below
Caroline Bowman at Feinstein’s/54 Below
Rumer Willis at The Cafe Carlyle
Broadway Sings Whitney Houston at Highline Ballroom
The Cooper Clan All Together at Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse in Lincoln Center
Lee Squared – Peggy Lee and Liberace as Chuck Sweeney and David Maiocco – Don’t Tell Mama
Sidney Myer at the Laurie Beechman Theatre
Any of Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway at Don’t Tell Mama
Vildeh Mehaya – Eleanore Reisse and the Klezmatics at Joe’s Pub.
Joe Alterman at Birdland
Cast Party at Birdland
Indecent – Vineyard Theater – the most memorable play, coming to Broadway this spring
Nathan the Wise – Classic Stage Co.
JK (Joe) Clarke
Sense and Sensibility (it ran through November); Bedlam
Dear Evan Hansen
Hamlet; Public Theater’s Mobile Shakespeare Unit
The Winter’s Tale; Cheek by Jowl @BAM Next Wave
Les Liaisons DangereusesAna Gasteyer a the Cafe Carlyle
John Epperson at the Public
Tammy Faye Starlite at Pangea
Ana Gasteyer a the Cafe Carlyle
Carole J. Bufford The Music of the Jazz Age at Feinstein’s/54 Below
Lea Salonga at Feinstein’s/54 Below
Justin Vivian Bond: Love is Crazy at Joe’s Pub
Kiki and Herb: Seeing Asylum at Joe’s Pub
Dear Evan Hansen – captures the heart with emotionally nuanced performances and great sensitivity.
Natasha,Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 – a grand and elaborate production with searing talent in a superbly conceptualized setting.
The Band’s Visit – witty, spirited and portrayed with beautiful subtle emotion.
Sweet Charity – a freshly reimagined barebones production with extraordinary talent.
Sweat – the heartrending plight of the working class, racial bias and tragedy tear at families and friendships in this stunning work coming to Broadway.
Falsettos – funny, tragic and loveable confused neurotics grapple with life in this brilliantly written revival.
Pizzarelli & Molaskey – Café Carlyle
Marilyn Maye – Dino’s Backstage and Dizzy’s Coca Cola – or Marilyn Maye anywhere!
Sidney Myer – Laurie Beechman Theatre
Laura Benanti – Café Carlyle
Veronica Swift – Dizzy’s Coca Cola
“Hoi Polloi” — produced by Musicals Tonight
KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler (Laurie Beechman Theater)
Marissa Mulder — : “Marilyn” (Laurie Beechman Theater)
Natalie Douglas (Birdland)
Gabrielle Stravellli (Birdland)
Christine Andreas (Feinstein’s/54 Below)
Judy Gold at 54 Below. The successful comedienne’s first cabaret show ever. Completely out of her comfort zone, as a singer she was almost dangerously terrible and fabulous; and as a comic razor-sharp funny.
Liz Callaway at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse. There is no better ambassador for Maltby & Shire than Liz Callaway.
Sh-K-Boom – The founder Kurt Deutsch got teased, complimented and deeply thanked by all the artists who gathered to perform. It was a special roster spanning the spectrum of contemporary and classic theater talent that has earned the pioneering musical theater label three Grammy Awards, twelve Grammy nominations and a Drama Desk “Special Award.” A complete orgy of songwriters. Joyful and expertly executed.
Melissa Errico Sing the Silence at Joe’s Pub. Hard to capture, hard to describe the quality of deeply felt tribute and respect for women this show slowly and surely revealed. Women are silent for many reasons, are encouraged to be so. But Melissa Errico created a piece of theater that through her humor, deep honesty and enormous talent expressed the value of learning from, and then breaking through, silence.
Half Moon Bay at the Cherry Lane Theater. Playwright Dan Moyer provides newly minted and compelling language in which everyone finds themselves. Romance is not dead, it’s just different.
Although I did not review this, Hamilton qualifies as the best in theater. Perfect achievement in the art form we Americans call the musical—synthesis of deep heart and yet universal. The rap, the iambic pentameter of it mimicked the beat of the heart which is Hamilton’s great gift: It is the heartbeat of a people demanding a voice—and succeeding—with music and script and dance and irrepressible spirit. For those who could hear, it met a universal desire for connection with the world that was life changing.
American Psycho – The most wonderful surprise; expected to hate it for the gore, but loved it. Benjamin Walker is a rocket.
The Father– Langella, Langella, Langella
Cagney – Sheer delight from beginning to end. Robert Creighton simply couldn’t be better.
A Bronx Tale– Thoroughly entertaining, terrific cast. New York, New York, a helluva town.
Falsettos– Still crazy after all these yes, and still relevant.
Samuel L. Leiter
Sense and Sensibility
The Golden Girl
Master Harold . . . and the Boys
Nathan the Wise
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart
The Producers (Papermill Playhouse)
Aaron Weinstein: Violinispirations
T. Oliver Reid: Made in Americana
Karen Akers: Viva La Chanson
Rob McClure: Smile
Jeff Harnar: The 1959 Broadway Songbook
Brian Scott Lipton
Dear Evan Hansen
Master Harold…and the Boys
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
The Big Uncut Flick
King & Country: The Royal Shakespeare Company’s brilliant series of 4 history plays (Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1&2, Henry V) at Brooklyn Academy Music in February – superb acting and directing – unforgettable – a privilege to see
Natasha, Pierre, & The Comet of 1812: a sensational Broadway show starring Josh Groban, with stunning direction by Rachel Chavkin, whose extravagant imagination has converted the entire Imperial Theatre into a 19th century spectacle
Othello at New York Theatre Workshop: a brilliant, unique, minimalist production directed by Sam Gold, with outstanding performance by David Oyelowo and David Craig
Notes from the Field: Anna Deavere Smith’s heroic one-woman docudrama about the American educational system that offers most compelling political theatre of the season
Kings of War at Brooklyn Academy of Music: a stunning evening of 5 Shakespearean history plays (Henry V, Henry Vl 1-2-3, Richard lll), directed by the daring Belgian director Ivo van Hove. It’s his best work to date, in my view.
Oslo at Lincoln Center: compelling new play by JT Rogers, who has uncovered a fascinating chapterin Israeli/Palestinian relationship that needs to be known
Martin Luther on Trial
The Trial of an American President;
Liberty: a monumental new musical;
Tie: Public Enemy and Votes
Scott & Barbara Siegel
A Life: The best play of the year! It’s by Adam Boch and it starred David Hyde Pierce in a quiet, introspective and deeply moving one person show.
Dear Evan Hanson: this Off-Broadway sensation at The Second Stage has since transferred to Broadway, and it remains the real musical theater discovery of this calendar year. It has everything one looks for in a musical: a strong book, believable characters who are portrayed by inspired performers, and a engaging score that is both musically winning, with lyrics that are smart and engaging.
The Gabriels: this is a bit of a cheat because it’s actually three plays about the fictional Gabriel Family. Richard Nelson’s evocative followup to his three plays about the theatrical Apple Family from the same small town, The Gabriel Plays are pure, in the moment, Americana. Poignant and searing, Richard Nelson proves thrice again that he is a master playwright.
Spamilton: Comedy is so often overlooked but this loving sendup of Hamilton is wonderfully witty and terrifically performed.
The Band’s Visit: a delicate, cliche-busting little chamber musical at The Atlantic Theater Company. Based on an Israeli movie, this is a real charmer. Tony Shaloub stars but it’s truly an ensemble piece.
The Healing – With its truly compelling performances and incredibly inspirational message of hope, TBTB’s The Healing was a show that resonated with me like no other ever has. An inclusive cast of “differently-abled” actors of all kinds help to deliver a poignant story in such a way that brilliantly touches on the “different abilities” without technically addressing them outright, instead weaving them into pivotal plot points within the story. Of note, Shannon DeVido, Jaime Petrone and John McGinty give particularly stunning performances. A life-changing night out at the theatre!
NY Spectacular – New York is “the greatest city in the world,” and this show will definitely show you why! With its bright lights, big sets, over-the-top technical feats, and of course, who can forget those happy tappy Rockettes, this splashy, spectacular ode to New York was one of my favorite theatrical events of the season! Throw in a stellar cast with main stem alums like Danny Gardner, Kacie Sheik, Lilla Crawford, and Euan Morton, and you simply can’t go wrong!! A must-see show for New Yorkers young and old!!
Charles Busch – This “Greatest Hits” concert would’ve been wonderful as is — Charles Busch dazzles and delights with his incredible selection of songs and stories — but its final number, “The Rainbow Connection” packed a particularly poignant punch (especially given the night the show was performed; June 11, hours before the Orlando shooting) that still shakes me to my core even six months later.
The Broadway Originals! Series – Hosted exclusively by the incomparable Scott Seigel (Broadway Unplugged), these concerts are the ultimate throwback for that diehard Broadway musical fan. An eclectic combination of songs from decades ago, mixed with songs from just last year, are sung by the original cast members who made those songs famous in the first place! What a treat! If your friends call you the “ultimate Broadway fan,” these uniquely special concerts are ones you shouldn’t be missing!
Christine Pedi’s Snow Bizness – Full of panache, pizzazz, and Pedi’s signature comedic flair, Snow Bizness is a one-of-a-kind Christmas concert like you’ve never seen before! Featuring special “appearances” from the likes of Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Betty Davis, Liza Minelli, and even Sofia Vergara (yes, you read that last one correctly!), Pedi obviously brings the laughs… but also surprisingly tugs at the heartstrings in a way you may not see coming. Go… and be forever affected!!
Martha Wade Steketee
*Choices represent shows the writer saw and reviewed for Theater Pizzazz
The Black Crook – Abrons Arts Center – deep dive into reconstruction of the original American musical
Chris Gethard – The Funny Side of Depression – reflections on a one man show that muses on suicide and depression, keeps you laughing
Master Harold and the Boys – sweet, powerful revival that took my breath away
Vivian Reed – Metropolitan Room – ‘A Night of A Thousand Judys’ – powerhouse performer that brought the house down
54 Sings Series ’54 Sings Hair’ – Barely staged performances of musicals that blend original and revival casts to great emotional effect.
Sondheim Unplugged Town Hall – 5 yr. old tradition I delighted in for the first time.
Larry Kerchner’s big show which featured our beloved Sidney Myer,
Kim Maresca’s ‘It’s My Party and I’ll Belt If I Want To’ show with Betty Buckley at 54Below!
Dawn Derow’s hauntingly beautiful ‘Songs For A Winter’s Night’ show at Laurie Beechman.
Richard Skipper Presents at The Triad for December 9th, which featured the inimitable Charles Busch!
Our 2016 Drama Desk Awards converge – what can happen when stellar pros come together!
Carole Di Tosti
Edwin, The Story of Edwin Booth
In Your Face Nina Conti
The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos
She Loves Me
Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk, The First Flight
Terri Lyn Carrington’s The Mosaic Project
Starman at Joe’s Pub
Janis Ian at American Songbook Series