Here Are 2019’s Top Plays and Musicals On and Off Broadway

By Anna Breuer on 30 December 2019
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This was an especially difficult year to select the best plays and musicals of the year, simply because there were so many good ones.

Here are our theater co-critics’ picks for the six best musicals and plays on the Great White Way, in alphabetical order, with excerpts from their reviews.

BEETLEJUICE
Winter Garden Theater

There’s a second phantom on Broadway now.  The new musical, based on the 1988 Tim Burton film, haunts and delights theatergoers at the Winter Garden Theater.  Alex Brightman’s ghoul wreaks havoc amongst the living and the dead, and is true to the beloved character in the movie.

The Disney World Haunted Mansion-like set, ostensibly a middle-class home, is inhabited by Leslie Kritzer as Delia Deetz, a life coach, and Sophia Anne Caruso as the death-obsessed Lydia Deetz, along with Tony nominees Rob McClure and Kerry Butler as Adam and Barbara Maitland.

Expect sensory overload as well as non-stop action and the morbid one-liners (some good, some just ok) are virtually non-stop.

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF IN YIDDISH
Stage 42

The Yiddish language production of “Fiddler” brings with it the great authenticity that seeing and hearing Tevye, Golde, Yente, and the other denizens of Anatevke speak Yiddish, the original language of the characters, as well as the same extraordinary moving experience that harkens back to Sholem Aleichem’s original stories (written in the mama loshen, as Yiddish is often referred to).

It merits an honorable mention in this story because it is at an off-Broadway house, Stage 42, although theatergoers get a Broadway-quality production.

Don’t speak Yiddish? Not to worry as there is no language barrier: the supertitled translations are excellent.  Steven Skybell’s Tevye continues to channel Theodore Bikel (the well-known Austrian-American actor who played the role more times than any other). The same goes for Jennifer Babiak, who is a stoic and dignified Golde, having taken over the role several months into the run at the Folksbiene.

Jackie Hoffman continues to conjure her Molly Picon as an understated but hysterical Yente the Matchmaker and Cameron Johnson as Fyedke is a standout for both his vocal talent and his dance moves.

HADESTOWN
Walter Kerr Theater

“Hadestown,” which swept the Outer Critics Circle and Tony awards, is a new twist on several ancient myths about going to hell.

In “Hadestown,” Orpheus (Reeve Carney) and Eurydice (Eve Noblezada) cross paths when Hades (Patrick Page, reminiscent of Karl Lagerfeld in a long black trench coat and sunglasses) abducts Eurydice whilst Persephone (Amber Gray) is on Earth.

The setting is now a Great Depression-inspired post Apocalypse, something the three Fates describe in the show’s opening number, “Any Way the Wind Blows.” Hermes (yes, he’s crept into this upside down legend, too), played by the rather formidable André De Shields, nattily attired in a shiny silver suit, introduces each character in “Road to Hell,” where he invites theatergoers to “Ride that train to the end of the line,” an offer no one refuses for the next three hours.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
Westside Theater

Theatergoers may flock to “Little Shop of Horrors” – a doo-wop musical based on Roger Corman’s low-budget horror movie about a flower shop assistant who cultivates a plant that feeds on human blood – to see the tantalizing combination of Jonathan Groff, Christian Borle, and Tammy Blanchard on stage, but the real star is the set of four puppets that portray Audrey II, the carnivorous plant.

Michael Mayer’s splendid revival of the 1982 musical, which opened last week at the Westside Theater, features Groff as Seymour, the nerdy florist who loves strange and interesting plants, Borle as the sadistic dentist, Dr. Orin Scrivello, and Blanchard as his hapless and abused girlfriend who is also Seymour’s co-worker.

MOULIN ROUGE
Al Hirschfeld Theatre

The opulent stage adaptation of the Baz Luhrmann movie arrived at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre after a world premiere in Boston last year. The musical, which boasts a wide spectrum of pop songs from the 1980s to the present, stars Danny Burstein as Harold Zidler, Tony winner Olivo as Satine alongside Aaron Tveit as Christian.

The almost phantasmagorical set serves as a pleasure palace from which it seems that fragments of almost every pop song to ever hit the chart

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
Shubert Theater

Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning and controversial 1960 novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird” – a book that tackles the difficult topic of race in America as well as class, courage, and values – has largely withstood the test of time and book bans over almost seven decades.

To bring “Mockingbird” to the Broadway stage of the late 2010s, however, somewhat of a renovation was required: a reworking significant enough that the estate of Harper Lee sued the production for having deviated too much from the original version.

The story remains that of Atticus Finch (Jeff Daniels), a white lawyer who defends a black man falsely accused of rape by a white woman in the Deep South. Atticus remains Maycomb’s moral compass but he is clearly conflicted over that role.

Jonathan Spira and Blaise Buckley contributed to this story.

(Photos: Accura Media Group)

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