Just to let you know how difficult it was to pick the ten best shows of the year, my original list totaled 34, all of them worthy of inclusion. Indeed, it was a very good year. 2007 saw a significant rise in the number of plays by Americans playwrights produced on Broadway. The Brits took a back seat for a change, at least during the late fall when a slew of American-authored plays, including "Is He Dead" by Mark Twain (how American can you get?) opened within days of each other.
The almost month-long strike that unfortunately lasted through the traditionally lucrative Thanksgiving period seriously hurt the momentum of many plays set to open. Halted during their preview period "August: Osage County," "The Seafarer," "Is He Dead?," and "The Farnsworth Invention" were fortunately able to hold on and open within days of each other, all garnering excellent reviews. "Rock n’ Roll" got raves but opened just prior to the strike. Some shows such as "Mary Poppins" and "Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein," as well as the plays performing at the Broadway venues of the non-profit Roundabout and Manhattan Theater Companies, had special contracts with the stage hands union and continued their runs. Attendance increased for them, as well as for shows running Off Broadway during the strike period.
Undoubtedly the strike will have an effect on future ticket prices. Even before the strike, tickets for most musicals had topped out at $110 with premium seating for "Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein" going for $450.00. Tickets to straight plays are set to break the $100 barrier with the top ticket for new plays "August: Osage County" and "The Seafarer" going for $99.50 and $98.50, respectively. Bargain hunters continue to line up at the temporary TKTS headquarters window on 45th Street, where tickets are discounted from 25 to 50 percent.
The saddest part of picking 10 best is to know that many shows will have already closed and unlike films cannot be seen again. That is not exactly true as theater buffs have learned that the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts tapes all the Broadway shows, although there is nothing quite like the experience of live theater. Shows can be seen by appointment and free of charge. This was also a year to see Kevin Kline successfully tackle two of the greatest roles in dramatic literature – King Lear and Cyrano de Bergerac (see review on page 27); to relish the right-on performance of Frank Langella as Richard M. Nixon in "Frost/Nixon," and to experience the impassioned Stephen Lang portraying various winners of the Medal of Honor in "Beyond Glory," to name a few.
The 10 best are listed in alphabetical order with no distinction made between Broadway and Off Broadway, or whether a show is new or a revival. The first list is followed by those awarded honorable mention. An asterisk indicates that the show is still running.
August: Osage County: Tracy Lett’s 3 1/2 hour dramedy about a seriously dysfunctional family in crisis boasts a terrific ensemble of actors from Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater) * Imperial Theater, 249 West 45th Street.
Dividing the Estate: Another beautifully written play from 90-year-old Horton Foote in which various members of a family bicker over the sale and distribution of the family’s waning fortunes. Plans are afoot (no pun intended) to bring this wonderful and funny play to Broadway next season.
The Glorious Ones: The origin and exploits of the first commedia del arte troupe are humorously treated in this ribald musical from the composing team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime). Closes 01/06/08 * Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, Lincoln Center, 150 West 65th Street.
King Hedley II: This excellent revival was part of the Signature Theater season devoted to the plays of August Wilson.
In the Heights: This vibrant romance and dance-enhanced musical about New York Latinos was a smash last season Off Broadway and is making the jump to Broadway next month.
LoveMusik: Composer Kurt Weill, his wife and singer Lotte Lenya, and playwright Bertolt Brecht formed the menage a trois in this satirical, musically thrilling, biographical revue.
Radio Golf: Completed just before he died, August Wilson topped off his brilliant series about African-Americans in the 20th century with this conflict between preservationists and redevelopers in 1997 Harlem. Radio Golf had its out-of-town premiere at McCarter.
The Receptionist: A chilling and frightening Kafka-esque play by Adam Bock, in which Jayne Houdyshell brilliantly plays the part of a receptionist in a seemingly ordinary business office scarily revealed as a front for an unspecified government agency.
Rock n’ Roll: Tom Stoppard’s (The Coast of Utopia) latest play involves three generations and covers Czech political history over a span of 22 years, with time lines punctuated by rock and roll music. * Bernard Jacobs Theater, 242 West 45th Street.
Secret Order: The ethics and politics that surround and motivate medical research framed this absorbing and intelligent play by Bob Clyman.
The Farnsworth Invention: Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) wrote this interesting and almost factual play with lots of characters and adversarial talk between Philo Farnsworth and David Sarnoff, the head of RCA, surroundomg the invention and development of television. * Music Box Theater, 239 West 45th Street.
Rock Doves: Irish playwright Marie Jones (Stones in His Pocket) sets her taut, topical drama in Belfast, where a young man, hunted by a paramilitary group, seeks refuge with an old alcoholic squatter, his lady friend, and a transvestite.
The Scene: Theresa Rebeck made her auspicious Broadway debut this season with "Mauritius." But it was this play, produced earlier during the season Off Broadway, about the rise of a scheming femme fatale and the fall of a gullible actor within the oeuvre of successful media types, that was most memorable.
Xanadu: This funny and entertaining stage adaptation of one of the worst musicals in Hollywood history works like a charm from Mt. Olympus, as gods and goddesses have their fun with mortals on roller skates. * Helen Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th Street.
The Five Worst of 2007
Because I see hundreds of shows, often produced Off-Broadway and presented for limited runs, it doesn’t make much sense to compile a list of shows I considered truly awful with titles that will probably mean nothing to you. Therefore my worst list represents only shows with a significant profile, but are inexplicably either still running, had enjoyed healthy runs despite my reaction to them, or have recently opened.
A Bronx Tale: A tiresome, indulgent, self-serving tale of growing up among thugs, as revealed by the otherwise personable actor Chazz Palminteri. * Walter Kerr Theater, 219 West 49th Street.
Adrift in Macao: Playwright Christopher Durang can be funny, but not in this film noir musical parody.
Deuce: What a shame that two divas of the stage, Angela Lansbury and Marian Seldes, were trapped in Terrence McNally’s inconsequential, un-involving, talent-wasting play about two ex tennis pros.
The Ritz: This stultifying revival of Terrence McNally’s farce about shenanigans in a gay bath house featured an unintelligible Rosie Perez, as a third-rate singer.
The Seafarer: What made Irish playwright Conor McPherson think that pitting four pathetic and uninteresting Irish drunks against the devil would be entertaining? *