The top ten theater productions of 2019
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This year, for the first time since I began compiling these best-of-the-year lists in 2003, no Broadway shows at all have made the top ten. In part, that's an accident of timing; two shows that opened on Broadway this year, Oklahoma! and Slave Play, were on my 2018 top ten list for their earlier Off Broadway runs, and What the Constitution Means to Me was an honorable mention. Still, it speaks to a general truth of theatergoing in New York City: That much of the most exciting work is happening in smaller venues—including original musicals, of which there are four on this year's list. And it's been an especially strong year for Playwrights Horizons and the Public Theater, two longtime pillars of the Off Broadway world. Here are my picks for the best theater of 2019.
1. A Strange Loop (Playwrights Horizons, closed July 28)
Musical-theater auteur Michael R. Jackson and his onstage alter ego Larry Owens turned themselves inside out in this painfully funny and explosively honest metamusical about queer black identity.
2. Heroes of the Fourth Turning (Playwrights Horizons, closed Nov 17)
In the same year as his marvelously absurdist and unsettling Plano, Will Arbery delivered a sharp right hook to the jaw in this portrait of religious conservatives debating the future at a gathering in Wyoming.
3. Greater Clements (Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, through Jan 19)
In his latest chronicle of life in rural Idaho, Samuel D. Hunter heartbreakingly explores the limits and possibilities of human bonds in an unsparing landscape.
4. Octet (Signature Theater Company, closed June 30)
Musical-theater maverick Dave Malloy continued to expand the borders of the form with this striking a cappella suite about personal connectivity in the internet age.
5. Little Shop of Horrors (Westside Theatre, open run)
Returning a classic show to its Off Broadway roots, this delightfully dark revival—the musical tale of a nebbishy florist and his man-eating alien plant—offers pleasures by the spore.
Little Shop of Horrors (Photograph: Courtesy Emilio Madrid-Kuser)
6. The Appointment (4th Street Theatre, closed May 4)
There were many choice moments in Lightning Rod Special’s outrageous and provocative fantasia about abortion, which included both a chorus of singing fetuses and a sensible look at the actual procedure.
7. Is This A Room (Vineyard Theatre, through Jan 19)
Using verbatim text from the FBI’s interview with classified-info leaker Reality Winner (the remarkable Emily Davis), Tina Satter’s quasi-verité piece captures the strangeness and menace behind the news.
8. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf (Public Theater, closed Dec 15)
The seven gorgeously talented women in Leah C. Gardiner’s revival of Ntozake Shange’s 1976 choreopoem cast prismatic light on the joys, frustrations and fears of black womanhood.
9. Ain't No Mo' (Public Theater, closed May 5)
Jordan E. Cooper’s wild satire about a great African-American exodus in the near future vibrated with thrilling humor, energy and anger.
10. Soft Power (Public Theater, closed Nov 17)
At its best, David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori’s feverish musical offered a brilliant deconstruction of classic Broadway storytelling by projecting it through a Chinese lens.
All My Sons
A Bright Room Called Day
Do You Feel Anger?
Fefu and Her Friends
Jacqueline Novak: Get on Your Knees
The Lehman Trilogy
Moulin Rouge! The Musical
Mrs. Murray's Menagerie
The Thin Place
The Underlying Chris
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The Appointment (Photograph: Courtesy Oona Curley)