Saturday, December 31, 2016


A Celebration of the 2016 Theater Year

Among the 163 productions I saw on and off Broadway in 2016, there were many delights, surprises, and moments that triggered a surge of Pure Delight. Here are six standouts:

A Surprising Turn After A Raggy Start

AL PACINO: By the time I saw David Mamet's much maligned play China Doll near the end of its Broadway run, things had miraculously fallen into place. Mr. Pacino had no trouble with his lines, his enunciation, voice projection, or performance, all of which were sharply criticized (along with the play itself) during previews and after the long-delayed opening. With rewrites in place and after a lot more work, the star was excellent in a demanding, non-stop role in the play about the waning days of a major power broker who hasn't quite lost his edge, no matter how trapped he seems to be. Other than an ending which came across as oddly tacked on, it seems that Mr. Mamet and Mr. Pacino were on to something after all. And despite predictions that this would be the last we'd be seeing of the 76-year-old actor on stage, he soon will be co-starring with Judith Light in God Looked Away at the Pasadena Playhouse in California. Pacino will be playing Tennessee Williams in the final rocky years of his life in the play penned by Williams's close friend and biographer Dotson Rader. Assuming Mr. Pacino wants to bring it to New York, expect to see it in the spring.

Two Performances that Got Better and Better

DANNY BURSTEIN AND JESSICA HECHT:  The delight in this latest rendition of the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof was in seeing two masterful performers, Danny Burstein as Tevye and Jessica Hecht as Golde, continuing to grow into these iconic roles over time.  I saw it early in the run, and then again several months later.  Happily neither had fallen into the famous Ethel Merman mantra concerning her opening night performances: "Call me Miss Bird's Eye; it's frozen." In the early days, Mr. Burstein tried so hard to not be Zero Mostel that his Tevye seemed to be just one of the residents of Anatevka   a great ensemble player but not the over-the-top milkman we've come to expect. For her part, Ms. Hecht's Golde started out as an overbearing shrew who you might imagine (as does Tevye) "screaming at the servants day and night." Yet by my second viewing, Burstein had found his Tevye and made him as assertive and generous of spirit as you could ever want to see, and Ms. Hecht shaped her Golde into a tough yet tender-hearted women, beaten but not thwarted by her harsh life.  When they sang "Do You Love Me?" you absolutely could see them as the couple at the core of Fiddler.

A Special Year for a Special Guy

SHELDON HARNICK: 2016 was a great year for the spry, witty, and effervescent 92-year-old lyricist and delightful raconteur.  Mr. Harnick showed up at celebrations and tv shows and lecture halls all over the city as revivals of his shows sprang up everywhere:  Fiddler on the Roof and She Loves Me on Broadway, and Fiorello! and a reworked version of The Rothschilds off Broadway.  What a guy!

A Director Soars

RACHEL CHAVKIN:  It's a sure bet she will be nominated for a Tony for her thrilling direction of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, now wowing audiences on Broadway. Ms. Chavkin directed all of the previous incarnations of David Malloy's pop opera, which is derived from a section of Tolstoy's War and Peace. A great strength has always been the way in which the performers have woven around the audience members seated at cafe tables in relatively small off Broadway venues. But how on earth could the director recreate that feeling in a large Broadway house?  Suffice it to say, she had taken on the challenge and has flown with it to the stratosphere. Think "Yellow Brick Road" to get an idea of how she skillfully makes the entire Imperial Theater feel like an intimate Russian cafe. Ms. Chavkin has shown herself to be one of the most exciting directors working in New York now.  Great Comet is merely the latest production to have been polished by her gifted  hand.  Recently, she helmed the sit-up-and-take-notice production of The Royale at Lincoln Center, and the folk opera Hadestown at the New York Theatre Workshop. Both were resplendent. Don't be surprised if you see the latter return to another venue before too long.

Theater Company Bats 1000

RED BULL THEATER and its artistic director Jesse Berger keep improving year after year. Just a little over a decade old, the company began by doing off-the-wall productions of rarely-seen Jacobean dramas (e. g. The Revenger's Tragedy)  in whatever venues it could manage to find, and now it is doing first-rate productions with top-tier actors. In 2016, Red Bull gave us two glorious productions:  a fiery version of Shakespeare's Coriolanus and a brilliantly comic production of Sheridan's The School for Scandal.  Three mighty cheers for Red Bull!

A Chance to Brush Up Your ... 

SHAKESPEARE: It was a great year for the bard, as well. In addition to Red Bull's bravado version of Coriolanus, we got to see a marvelous Troilus and Cressidaalong with the great Janet McTeer strutting the boards as Petruchio in the all female production of Taming of the Shrew, both  at Central Park's Delcorte Theater. More recently, we had the opportunity to enjoy the innovative Seeing Place's edgy production of Macbeth in the East Village. Right across the street from it, and playing at the same time, was the Broadway-bound production of Othello, starring David Oyelowo in the title role and Daniel Craig as the nefarious villain Iago.  We also had a quirky and rare production by a company calling itself Bad Quarto of The Tragicall History of Hamlet Prince of Denmarke, the earliest known published version of Shakespeare's tragedy.  


There were many other highlights to the theater year, of course.  In a previous entry, I identified 15 performances that stood out.  Click here to link: (15 great performances in 2016). 

Have a Happy New Year, everyone, and here's wishing you all the best of theater-going in 2017!!!

Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to offer up your own theater stories by posting a comment. I also invite you to check out the website Show-Score.Com, where you will find capsule reviews of current plays from Yours Truly and many other New York critics.  


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