While the official Broadway season dances along for a few more months before culminating with the Tony Awards on June 8, it seems like a good a time as any to recap our favorite performances of the calendar year and give one more Shakespearian poke at those productions that may have been better left in the mind’s eye.
Merrily We Roll Along
The best musical of 2013 never even made it to Broadway (yet). The Menier Chocolate Factory’s production of Merrily We Roll Along, directed by Maria Friedman, captured the hearts of Sondheim fans and critics alike. Known for some heavy-hitting Sondheim favorites, including “Not a Day Goes By,” the Merrily cast rediscovered this Sondheim gem through fast-paced direction and spot-on choreography and staging. Moments of vulnerability, humor, rage and celebration unfolded throughout the evening — one of those rare musical theater experiences where we were completely transported in time and place.
Back on the home front, After Midnight is an evocation and celebration of the love, connection and liberation that jazz fostered in the era considered to be Harlem’s Golden Age (1920s-1930s). We were rocketed to the heavens by Jazz Age song cycle, which features 26 songs by Duke Ellington and greats such as Cab Calloway, Dorothy Fields, Ted Koehler and others — all performed by a brilliant cast of more than 20 triple-threat performers and a stunning 16-piece Jazz at Lincoln Center All Stars band (conducted by Daryl Waters). Fantasia appears through February 9, followed by K.D. Lang (Feb. 11–March 9) and Babyface and Toni Braxton (March 18-30).
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Beth Henley’s latest work, The Jacksonian, was the most gripping play of the year (although we must also give a shout-out to Holland Taylor’s performance in Ann). This noir tinted murder mystery set in 1964 Jackson, Mississippi between the months of May and December took us to dark, twisted places and we didn’t want to leave thanks to stand-out performances by Amy Madigan, Ed Harris and a thrilling ensemble including newcomer Juliet Brett.
For Your Ears Only
We reviewed quite a few audio releases this year; many of them live recordings from the newly opened 54 Below, Broadway’s new “supper club” and cabaret space adjacent to the legendary Studio 54. Bebe Neuwirth’s Stories in NYC… Live at 54 Below was the best of the best. The Tony Award-winner performs everything from her old audition song, “I Love the Piano,” to Kander and Ebb favorites like “And the World Goes ‘Round” and “Ring Them Bells.”
Take the leap for our least favorite shows of 2013….
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
We lost our appetite at this debacled production that attempted to breathe new life into the classic film starring Audrey Hepburn. It was the Broadway debuts for Emilia Clarke and Cory Michael Smith, but their lack of magnetism, chemistry and inexplicable ‘wow factor’ slowly dissolved into a trudging attempt to keep the simple story chugging along. Like Holly Golightly herself, Breakfast at Tiffany’s seemed to have gone astray from the onset, and as many loving hands apparently tried to shoo her back on track, she was inevitably a lost soul.
U.S. scientists suggest that Venice (as in Italy) is sinking five times faster than local experts believe. That’s a far better projection than the theatrical nosedive that ran at the Public Theater this summer. A post-apocalyptic hodgepodge that felt like one part Hunger Games and another part Othello, Venice never found solid ground. Without any sense of danger, urgency or love, Venice crumbled.