Forty-four shows opened on Broadway this year... These are our favorite five!
It’s always challenging to narrow down the dozens of productions that open on Broadway every year to a list of the five very best. After a lively discussion, the Broadway.com editorial staff enthusiastically agreed on a Best Show roster that includes a pair of unforgettable original musicals and three very special revivals. Take a look at our selections for the five most outstanding Broadway shows of 2009, and see if you agree!
Hair caused a sensation in Central Park, but plenty of skeptics wondered if the 1968 hippie musical would work on Broadway in 2009. Could a show that seemed loose and carefree in the great outdoors translate to a proscenium stage at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre? Thrillingly, Hair plays even better indoors, and the Broadway revival quickly became the Tony-winning surprise smash hit of 2009. Diane Paulus’ deceptively simple production gets every detail right, from casting (a picture-perfect Tribe led by Tony nominees Will Swenson and Gavin Creel) to choreography (by Karole Armitage) to costumes. The evening’s climactic moment—when the actors invite the audience to join them onstage during “Let the Sun Shine In”—overflows with humor and heart, uniting all ages in a celebration of theatrical magic.
2. Next to Normal
In most cases, a major off-Broadway production is the end of the road for a musical. Next to Normal got that at Second Stage, but luckily for writers Tim Kitt and Brian Yorkey, producer David Stone realized that this unusual show about a manic-depressive mother and her family deserved more development. Happy ending: a Broadway opening in 2009, critical acclaim and fabulous world-of mouth from audiences touched by a show that’s both sad and hopeful, funny and moving. The entire six-person cast is excellent, but a special standing ovation (to go with the ones she gets every night at the Booth Theatre) belongs to Alice Ripley. Holding nothing back, this previously unsung actress redefines musical divahood in a Tony-winning performance that will be talked about for years to come.
3. The Norman Conquests
Stage comedies—particularly sex comedies—have gone the way of the Dodo bird, rendered obsolete by endless reruns of Friends, Seinfeld and Sex and the City. But the power of a play to leave audiences helpless with laughter was demonstrated anew with the revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s 1973 trilogy The Norman Conquests. In three self-contained plays (Table Manners, Living Together, Round and Round the Garden) set in different parts of an English country house over a summer weekend, six self-involved people butt heads and look for love. Ayckbourn constructed a cleverly interlocking theatrical puzzle, but tricks aren’t enough to make Norman (and its uber-horny title hero) soar, particularly in all-day “marathon” performances. And yet with its impeccable British cast, this Tony-winning revival proved that eight hours fly when you’re having fun.
The elements that make Memphis one of the best shows of the year sound like Musical Theater 101, but you’ll seldom find them all in one package: an original story, a score you actually want to hear again, genuine emotions and charismatic lead performances. Flying under the radar, with no stars but plenty of passion (in every sense of the word), Memphis succeeds by making us care about star-crossed lovers Huey Calhoun, a white deejay in 1950s Memphis played with star-making conviction by Chad Kimball, and Felicia Farrell, an African-American blues singer played by luminous newcomer Montego Glover. The secret weapon in this crowd-pleasing musical is David Bryan’s score, written with lyricist Joe DiPietro. Who knew that a founding member of Bon Jovi would turn out to be a natural at writing for the stage?
5. Brighton Beach Memoirs
Yes, we know—it closed a week after opening. But the short-lived Broadway revival of Brighton Beach Memoirs was a highlight of the fall season for everyone who saw it, and a welcome reminder of what a consummate theater craftsman Neil Simon is. Entrusting his most heartfelt autobiographical script to David Cromer (director of the unmissable off-Broadway revival of Our Town), Simon allowed a wonderful ensemble cast to explore the drama behind his plentiful jokes. Highlights? The warm onstage relationship between Santino Fontana as Stanley and newcomer Noah Robbins as Eugene Jerome; the banter between stage sisters Laurie Metcalf and Jessica Hecht; and the portrayal of a family struggling to make it through hard times. Maybe that’s why audiences shied away—but it was their loss.