The Year in Superlatives
Best Ten Minutes on Broadway: ‘Solidarity’ From Billy Elliot
The sequence is an old-style showstopper, one in which striking miners, baton-wielding cops, and dainty preteen ballerinas leap, dodge, and weave across a crowded stage, every near-collision illuminating the show’s mix of the personal and the political. A gold star to whoever on the choreography team kept all those little kids focused and in line.
Best Performances in Nonhuman Roles: Equus and Shrek
In Equus, they were six horses—silent, muscular, moving with elegant precision except during one shockingly violent, beautifully choreographed scene. In Shrek, they were eight trilling segments of a lithe smoke-breathing dragon, confessing her many-voiced love of a prancing donkey. Thanks not just to costuming but to the wonders of dance, song, and other human talents, these troupes of creature-players managed to steal their (very different) shows from their star counterparts, whether Harry Potter or Sutton Foster.
Best Delivery of Actual Popular Music to Broadway: In the Heights and Passing Strange
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights mixed reggaeton, merengue, hip-hop, and cheesy balladry into a stew that really did sound like West 187th Street on a hot July day. And Stew’s Passing Strange included the sublime wall of sound “Keys (It’s Alright),” in which—as at the best rock concerts—great lyrics were almost completely washed away by crashing waves of guitar. Coming up next year: the crisp, complex Afrobeats of Fela! are rumored to be moving to Broadway.
Best Writer-on-Writer Violence: The Four of Us
In his sharp and cruelly funny The Four of Us, Itamar Moses tackled the professional issues that writers live and breathe every day: Competitiveness, ambition, envy, Schadenfreude! His premise: What happens to two writer friends when one becomes (a thinly disguised) Jonathan Safran Foer, and one does not? Gideon Banner and Michael Esper played this amiable yet acrid symphony of forced smiles and benign shrugs to passive-aggressive perfection.
Best Sets: American Buffalo, Blasted, and Macbeth
There was a fourth character onstage in the quick-to-close revival of David Mamet’s American Buffalo, and that was the expertly curated junk shop. Santo Loquasto’s set seemed to double as fight choreographer, intensifying the play’s contentious claustrophobia. For Blasted, Louisa Thompson’s cunning staging transformed from posh hotel room to bomb-struck hellhole in a mere twenty seconds of light and noise. And would Macbeth’s Patrick Stewart have been as terrifying (and terrified) without the kitchen-abattoir, ghostly projections, and flashes of witchy electro-lightning in Rupert Goold’s menacing interpretation?
Best Debuts: The Three Billys, Billy Elliot
Whom to praise when there are three boys taking turns in a role, each with his own strengths (David Alvarez’s classical grace, Trent Kowalik’s jazzy ebullience, Kiril Kulish’s angry intensity)? Instead, these three performers stand together as proof that meritocracy and ambition can still make stars—at least on Broadway—no matter how many American Idol also-rans and slumming movie stars crowd the stage.
Best Downsizing: The Smart Solo Show
For a while there, the solo show seemed relegated to B-list attention hogs, untalented thumb-suckers, and Jackie Mason. Then Danny Hoch resurfaced after a decade, his grievances and myriad personalities fresher than ever in Taking Over; Mike Daisey managed brainy intensity without ever rising from his chair in If You See Something, Say Something; and Mike Birbiglia, in Sleepwalk With Me, reminded the post-Seinfeld generation that stand-up and storytelling aren’t mutually exclusive. They all arrived just in time for a new era of thrift, with its premium on the ability to tell stories without a 30-person chorus.