40 Years of Broadway: 2013 - 2023:
Top Flops, Revivals and New Shows
Top Flops, Revivals and New Shows
When you see my list of my Top 10 favorite Broadway shows from August 20, 2013 - August 19, 2023, you'll probably be more surprised at what is on it, than what isn't. Over the years, my tastes have changed, and some shows I appreciate more now than I did then, and vice versa. The result is that what made my list are those shows that (for me) have really stood the test of time. There are flops, blockbusters and award winners on that list. (The flops on my Top 10 list don't appear on my Flops list.) Each list below could have been double in size (and I even added lists and doubled one!), and I still would have more I could have added. And it was still tough!
These lists include only those shows I actually saw on Broadway, and are arranged in New York Times Theater Directory order. (Trying to rank them would require constant editing!) All things considered, I was lucky enough to see most of the biggest shows of the time.
Top 10 Flops: 2013 - 2023
For the record, for these articles I consider unexpectedly short run shows and/or critically panned &/or failed to gain an audience as "flops." (Sometimes all three at once!)
Almost Famous (2022): I still haven't seen the film, and going into this unknowing added to my enjoyment. The score, the vibe, the staging were so exciting. It was funny and touching. But the real thrill was seeing a youthful, vibrant cast giving their whole heart to it, and seeing one truly amazing debut. Rock on!
American Psycho (2016): This was just too weird for stuffy old Broadway. I was literally on the edge of my seat - scared, thrilled and completely enthralled. Another show that I think may come back someday to a more accepting community. Fingers crossed.
Bad Cinderella (2023): Social media killed this delightfully subversive take on the famous fairy tale. You'll never convince me otherwise. Face it, Andrew's shows don't generally get rave reviews, and word of mouth has given many of his shows a long life. The score was great, the cast was having a complete blast and we reaped the benefits of just that!
Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 (2016): Everything about this production was thrilling. I'll never forget rounding the corner from the lobby into the theater and literally stopping dead in my tracks, mouth agape. The best part though, was the exhilarating production itself. The story, the pageantry, the music, all of it.
Rocky: The Musical (2014): Was this a great musical? No - serviceable at best, despite a few really nice songs (like "Raining," which haunts me still). But it was a triumph of staging, a study of organized crowd control, and a study in creative design. And Andy Karl boxing...
The Bridges of Madison County (2014): Thank God this won the Tony for Best Score, because I might have caused a riot on Broadway. And it wasn't only the score that deserved not only more awards, but many more performances. Romantic and moving, and told with beautiful simplicity, this lovely piece deserved a much better fate.
The Last Ship (2014): The funny thing about this being on any list of mine is that I went into it very skeptical. You see, just before we saw it, there was a PBS special featuring Sting singing songs from it. I was bored to tears. The show, however, was brilliant. Expertly staged, sung and told, this story of desperation, loss of tradition, and fear of an uncertain future was ultimately powerful and empowering.
The Prom (2018): Two and a half hours of pure joy. A sweet story that was told with humor, heart, and a terrific cast. Established Broadway stars playing established Broadway stars and a youthful ensemble overflowing with infectious energy made this one of the most entertaining nights I've had at the theater.
The Visit (2015): Like several of Kander and Ebb's masterpieces, I suspect that this dark, troubling and extremely satisfying musical will have a popular renaissance in the coming years. A blessing to have seen both Chita Rivera and Roger Rees.
Tuck Everlasting (2016): One of those shows whose lack of success shocks me to this day. It was beautiful to look at, and the staging was magical and meaningful. A cast full of talented people I admire, and the score impressed me just as much. Oh, and that extended ballet sequence... if you know, you know!
Top Play and Musical Revivals: 2013 - 2023
Some were thrilling revisions, others more understated, but all of them offered modern perspectives. These classics were a welcome reminder of the past and an exciting look at great modern talents on stage and behind the scenes.
Angels in America (2018): We did this two-parter in one day. Who knew 7 hours of intense drama could fly by so quickly. I doubt I could add much to the discourse around this modern masterpiece. The performances: epic. The staging: jaw-dropping. The experience: life-changing.
Carousel (2018): I know this production was polarizing, but I was firmly in the "loved it" camp. Admittedly, it was my first experience with the piece. I was overwhelmed by the whole thing, and it solidified my admiration for both Joshua Henry and Jessie Mueller.
Company (2021): Love is company, and love it I did. Smart and much funnier than ever before, it is my favorite version/production of this show. No wonder Sondheim himself loved this staging so much.
Oklahoma! (2019): So far, this is the only time I've sat through this classic and enjoyed it. Actually, I loved it. Vibrant and edgy, that box social was downright frightening. Ingenious!
Once On This Island (2017): What a beautifully rich production, and worthy of its every accolade. Michael Arden is a genius, pure and simple. The doors closed, and we were transported...and moved.
Parade (2023): One of the finest performances I have ever seen, period. Again, Michael Arden is a genius. I was stunned and shaken. An important story told beautifully.
Spring Awakening (2015): One of the finest performances I have ever seen, period. Again, Michael Arden is a genius. I was stunned and shaken. An important story told beautifully. The rare revival that was better than the original.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2023): A glorious, full production of one of my favorite musicals ever. I'm very familiar with this piece, so it means a lot when I say it was like seeing it for the very first time. What a wonderful thrill.
The Boys in the Band (2018): The casting was perfection, the staging even more so. Rather than feeling like a period piece, this iconic play felt fresh and current.
The Color Purple (2015): I had seen the original production, and was very underwhelmed by it. John Doyle broke it down to its essentials and crafted a tight, powerful drama that entertained, but also educated.
The Glass Menagerie (2013): This is probably my favorite play. Period. I've seen it dozens of times. This production is easily the best I've seen. The cast was superb, the concept was brilliant, the execution was flawless.
Three Tall Women (2018): To be in the same room with these accomplished women was a privilege. We were held captive by their presence, and we hung on their every word. And that stage effect...I still have dreams about it.
Twelfe Night, or what you will (2013): Shakespeare has been a large part of my life for as long as I can remember, and this experience - we sat on stage - felt so authentic, from the candle chandeliers to the make up to the men playing all the roles. And seeing British actors like Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry, well... unforgettable!
Violet (2014): If you read yesterday's column, you know I found Sutton's performance in this piece to be incredible! If I wasn't a Tesori fan before, this amazing show made me a lifelong member of her fan club. Touching and packed with theatricality, it was everything I love about live theater.
West Side Story (2020): You either loved this or hated this. I loved this. I don't remember breathing the entire time. A stunning re-invention of an American classic. This is a show I have been in a couple times and I've even directed it, but I can say I saw things in this version that never even occurred to me. This was a West Side Story for the ages.
Top New Plays: 2013 - 2023
During this decade, I got to many more plays than in the past. (I still have a way to go in seeing even more!) These 10 represent a variety of sub-genres, creative direction and some of the most exciting performers I've ever seen.
A Doll's House, Part 2 (2017): After the door slam heard 'round the world, the further adventures of Nora unfolded in this pointed and poignant play. The minimalist decor only served to put the action and the brilliant performances in the forefront. The cast was nothing but ace actors at the peak of their powers.
Casa Valentina (2014): A beautiful play tackling some underrepresented issues, Harvey Fierstein paid tribute to these marvelous souls from another time. Every performance was unique and wonderfully touching.
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2014): What an exciting evening of theater! Sure the special effects and dazzling lighting were great, but the story and the actors were always front and center. I learned so much, and was thoroughly entertained. It doesn't get much better than that.
Hand to God (2015): Who knew a satanic puppet in a church basement could cause such mayhem? Funny, with a sharp point, I'll never forget this one. And what an introduction to one of my now-favorite actors, Steven Boyer.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (2018): We saw both the 2-part version (with the original cast), and the single play version. I preferred the one-part version because the relationship between Scorpius and Albus was more focused and full. To be honest, I still can't figure out what they cut to make it shorter anyway!
Leopoldstadt (2022): A gorgeous production didn't stop this play from being rich with amazing performances, or from being any less impactful. An important work that implores all of us not to forget a past we seem doomed to repeat.
Life of Pi (2023): The sheer theatricality of this stunning play was nearly overwhelming. The epic tale deserved an epic staging, and still felt small and somehow personal. Aren't all of us Pi inside?
The Humans (2016): My God, what a creepy play! A fine tuned character study, I sat leaning forward to catch every nuance and detail. The tension was almost unbearable. This one stays with me - I think of it every time I use a red cup.
The Waverly Gallery (2018): I've said enough about Elaine May's stunning performance. She was not the only actor on that stage - the entire ensemble matched her brilliance, including a brave turn by Lucas Hedges, and the touching and difficult work by Joan Allen. It would have been a true loss to have missed this play.
To Kill a Mockingbird (2018): Based on one of my three favorite novels ever, I was just hoping I wouldn't be disappointed. Instead, my expectations were far exceeded. I was captivated from start to finish, dazzled by a top-notch cast who by turns delighted and infuriated me. The story is timeless. This production was sterling.
Top New Musicals: 2013 - 2023
This most recent batch of ten new productions represents, I think, the direction of musical theater heading into the next quarter century. There are all types of musicals on this list, and all are valid. Rather than dismiss any type, why not demand excellence no matter the form?
& Juliet (2022): The songs were almost secondary, as I was swept up in the story and the exciting choreography. By secondary, I mean that it was a show where they were so tightly integrated that I never had one of those "I loved that song on the radio" moments. I mean this as high praise.
Come From Away (2017): One of the tightest, fat-free musicals I've ever seen. I can't even imagine the amount of planning and rehearsing it took to execute such precise and meaningful staging. A testament to the true greatness of human potential, it made me believe in the goodness of people. Triumph in darkness.
Fun Home (2015): Here was a stunning realization of a unique perspective on the LGBTQ+ experience, based on a very unique source. Profound, humbling and hopeful, I felt a little bit of every emotion each time I saw it.
Girl From the North Country (2020): When this came back a second time, we caught it at the tail end of its run. Frankly, I wasn't really interested in it, and only went to see it so we saw every musical of that season. My regret? That I waited to see it for so long. I am sure I would have seen it several times. True excellence.
Hadestown (2019): All I can say about this is I was so transported and in my own world watching it, that my visceral response when he turned around was audible. I was so disappointed when it was over - I wanted another hour! A brilliant staging of a brilliant work. A modern masterpiece.
Head Over Heels (2018): I only knew a few Go-Go's songs going in, and I was completely unaware of the work on which the book is based. To say I loved it is a gross understatement. I was/am obsessed! Hilarious, surprising and full of meaning, this should have been a big hit. If you didn't see it, you really missed something.
Jagged Little Pill (2019): Off-stage drama aside, this musical surprised and delighted me as each scene unfolded. The entire company was superb, the staging absolutely breathtaking and the choreography was dazzling. The American family never looked so broken and never began healing better.
Kimberly Akimbo (2022): What can I say that could add to the conversation about this simply beautiful work? I laughed, I cried (actually sobbed). I left the theater a better, more fulfilled person than when I arrived. We are lucky it is still around. If you haven't seen it, what are you waiting for?
Moulin Rouge! (2019): We saw an early pre-Broadway performance of this in Boston, and even then it was magnificent. Bawdy and excessive, visually stunning, it only got better on Broadway. It is fun and packs a fair amount of heartfelt emotion to boot. A more sumptuous production would be hard to find.
The Band's Visit (2017): The polar opposite of Moulin Rouge, this work dazzles with its quiet dignity and rich characters - study of human beings coming together. For me, this is one of the greatest musicals of the early 21st century. I wouldn't change a word or a note. "Answer Me" is devastating.
Contest Question #13:
How many of the above productions (all categories) played at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre?