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The Year in Theater


Star of the Year
Actress makes Broadway debut in role (Born Yesterday) originated by Judy Holliday, gets Tony nomination, then goes on to reprise the role that made her the talk of the town (Venus in Fur). So goes the story of Nina Arianda, whose future is as bright as the laughs she garners. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t also call out the very fine work by Lily Rabe in Seminar.

Moment of Surprise Greatness
David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People gently touched on touchy class issues, but what elevated this small, heartfelt play above its text was Frances McDormand. As a South Boston mother with endlessly bad luck, she brought unpredictability to a story that played out exactly as anyone might have guessed.

Best Puppetry Moment
While bouquets were rightly heaped on War Horses Joey, another, slightly less sophisticated moppet was slaying audiences across town in Robert Askins’s Hand to God. The stunning Steven Boyer pulls double duty playing both a demonic sock-puppet and his hapless Texas-teen puppeteer, and engages himself in what was, hands-down, the best-executed stage fight of the year.

Biggest Disappointment
Catch Me If You Can
was no stinker, but the purported next Hairspray—same director, composer, and lyricist—closed after 170 performances. The cast was as hard-working as they come, but the conceit of a TV hour never quite jelled.

Biggest Comebacks
Jon Robin Baitz, whose playwriting heyday was in the late eighties and nineties, roared back with Other Desert Cities, which had a sold-out run at Lincoln Center before transferring to Broadway. David Henry Hwang, after a long stretch of smallish works and writing librettos for musicals like Aida, debuted a play on Broadway (Chinglish) for the first time since 1998. Finally, there’s Larry Kramer, whose The Normal Heart was once thought too cranky and polemical to endure but received a gripping revival.

Most Exciting Newcomer
The rise of China is the backdrop for Chinglish, but the rise of Jennifer Lim as a Broadway superstar is the real news. As an ambitious local official, Lim is all business and all woman, blending Hwang’s trademark wistfulness with her own snappy good humor. She’s the play’s central mystery, yet she remains un-mysterious and doggedly human throughout.

Most Underrated
Rajiv Joseph’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo contains some of loveliest, liveliest onstage poetry in recent memory, much of it delivered by a tiger shot dead by American soldiers in Iraq. That tiger was played (very well) by Robin Williams, whose celebrity may have overshadowed Joseph’s script. The play deserves, if nothing else, a long afterlife.

Most Overrated
War Horse
is the most intense and epic kiddie entertainment ever on Broadway, and the biggest achievement in mainstream puppetry since The Lion King, but there’s not a single beat of this show that wouldn’t have benefited from wordlessness. That its script won the Best Play Tony boggles the mind more than the show boggles the eyes.

— Scott Brown and Michael Alan Connelly


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