It’s been a busy, diverse spring both on Broadway and off, with a bumper crop of headturning musicals and ambitious plays. Here’s our picks for the best of the year so far, as chosen by Variety’s New York critic Marilyn Stasio.
The audience claps at the overture and whistles at the set; and when Bette Midler (pictured above), with her great pipes and sly-puss wit, makes her entrance, everyone falls into a dead swoon. Jerry Herman’s beloved 1964 musical is back on Broadway and it’s still one of the great audience shows of them all.
This was a pitch-perfect revival of August Wilson’s first play, an ensemble piece (featuring “Moonlight” actor Andre Holland) about gypsy cab drivers in Pittsburgh, trying to make an honest living during the 1970s depression. Actors Brandon J. Dirden and John Douglas Thompson squared off in a father-and-son battle royal.
Pacific Overtures (closes June 18)
John Doyle’s gorgeous staging of this Stephen Sondheim musical unfurled like a Japanese scroll. Stylized performances of a superb Asian cast led by George Takei as the Reciter create the illusion of a drama unfolding on the pages of an ancient manuscript.
The congenial staging of this landmark musical by Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim invites audiences to have a seat at the tables set up at the Barrow Street Theater and eat, drink, and dodge the actors dancing on the tables. Norm Lewis currently stars as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
A Doll’s House 2
Playwright Lucas Hnath pulls off the dramatic parlor trick of bringing back Ibsen’s iconic heroine, Nora Helmer (in a sensational performance by Laurie Metcalf), 15 years after she slammed the door on her marriage and made her way on her own. It seems that time hasn’t changed much about women’s lives.
Present Laughter (closes July 2)
Kevin Kline won another well-deserved Tony for his smashing performance of a narcissistic matinee idol in the delicious 1942 drawing-room comedy that Noel Coward wrote to amuse himself and his friends. A swell cast performs terrific backup in Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s classy production.
The Little Foxes (closes July 2)
It wasn’t just trick casting that has Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon alternating in the lead roles of Lillian Hellman’s brilliant, blistering indictment of a rapacious Southern family in the aftermath of the Civil War. Both actors find drama in the clash between the aristocracy and rich carpetbaggers.
Superb casting (Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shalhoub, Jessica Hecht and Danny DeVito) turned the revival of Arthur Miller’s 1960s-era domestic drama into a significant play for 2017. Estranged brothers battle for relevance when they clash over the distribution of the family heritage.
Come From Away
Here’s that feel-good musical audiences always pine for. The show celebrates the generosity of the small Canadian town that welcomed some 7,000 stranded passengers from airplanes diverted in the air and grounded in the rocky landscape of a small but super-friendly town in Newfoundland.
Broadway loves its divas, and two legends in one musical is a gift. Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole battle like ladies — which is to say ruthlessly — in this Doug Wright-scripted show about the lifelong competition between cosmetics rivals Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubenstein.
* = shows with a limited run that have closed