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Top 10 Plays and Musicals

Nov 23, 2016
Anna Deavere Smith in her new work, "Notes From the Field," at the Second Stage Theater in New York, Oct. 14, 2016.
Tina Fineberg—The New York Times/Redux

10. Notes From the Field

Anna Deavere Smith has virtually created a genre of her own with her solo stage works drawn from her reporting on events like the Los Angeles race riots. Her focus here is a bit more diffuse — America's failing educational system and its impact on black America — but once she again proves a master of turning committed journalism into dynamic stage pieces.

Lynda Gravatt, left, and Adesola Osakalumi in the play ?Skeleton Crew? at Atlantic Stage 2 in New York, Jan. 5, 2016. The play, set in an automobile stamping factory during the peak of the Great Recession, features characters navigating an uncertain path between comfort and chaos, lawfulness and criminality, mutual support and blinkered selfishness. (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)
Sara Krulwich—The New York Times/Redux

9. Skeleton Crew

Tensions rise among four employees at a Detroit auto plant facing the prospect of layoffs in Dominique Morisseau's incisive glimpse of working class anxieties in Donald Trump's America. Along with Lynn Nottage's Sweat (about Pennsylvania steel workers whose jobs are about to be outsourced to Mexico), off-Broadway theater this year seemed more in touch with the political winds than most journalists.

8. Maestro

One-man bio-plays can be tedious things. But not Hershey Felder's tribute to the life and work of composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein. Felder, refreshingly, bypasses the usual "and-then-I-wrote" chronology and offers a more impressionistic, affectionate but even-handed portrait, embellished with a bounty of Bernstein's music, performed with flair by Felder at the piano.

PHOTO MOVED IN ADVANCE AND NOT FOR USE - ONLINE OR IN PRINT - BEFORE MARCH 6, 2016. -- From left: Zachary Levi, Byron Jennings and Jane Krakowski in "She Loves Me" in New York, Feb. 19, 2016. The musical tells the story of two feuding perfume-shop employees who find epistolary romance as unknowing pen pals. (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)
Sara Krulwich—The New York Times/Redux

7. She Loves Me

The 1963 Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick-Joe Masteroff musical about a love-letter romance in 1930s Budapest is one of Broadway's little gems, and it got a near-perfect revival last spring, directed with uncommon delicacy by Scott Ellis and starring the delightful Laura Benanti as the stubborn shopgirl who gets won over by ice cream.

From left: Christian Borle, Andrew Rannells, Anthony Rosenthal and Stephanie J. Block in the new production of "Falsettos" in New York, Oct. 6, 2016. Times have changed for gay rights, leading the makers of ?Falsettos" to wonder how the show will be received compared with its Broadway debut in 1992. (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)
Sara Krulwich—The New York Times/Redux

6. Falsettos

William Finn's pioneering gay-themed musical — a combination of two one-acts written a decade apart, before and after the AIDS crisis — might seem a relic of the bygone '80s. But it looks as fresh and winning as ever in James Lapine's brisk new Broadway production, starring Christian Borle as the sexually confused husband and father, Andrew Rannells as his gay lover, and Stephanie J. Block as his suffering wife, who freaks out wonderfully in the showstopping number "I'm Breaking Down."

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Alex Breaux, left, and Peter Jay Fernandez in a scene from the play "Red Speedo" at the New York Theater, Feb. 10, 2016. Breaux, formerly a Harvard wide receiver who opted for an acting career, plays a champion swimmer in the play. (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)
Sara Krulwich—The New York Times/Redux

5. Red Speedo

A swimming pool takes center stage — and not just for show — in this deftly turned drama about the ethical choices faced by an Olympic swimmer and his entourage when drug charges surface. Playwright Lucas Hnath (The Christians) builds the stakes in punchy, stylized scenes that lift the play beyond mere issue drama, to something more subtle and resonant.

Josh Groban in the musical "Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812" at the Imperial Theater in New York, Nov. 4, 2016. Dave Malloy's pop opera, adapted from a slice of Tolstoy's "War and Peace," was born four years ago in the shoe box of Ars Nova, one of the most adventurous Off Broadway companies, before moving into a specially built cabaret-style space in the meatpacking district. (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)
Sara Krulwich—The New York Times/Redux

4. Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

Dave Malloy's pop-rock musical, based (sort of) on War and Peace, doesn't have quite the immersive fizz it did in two earlier incarnations as a downtown cabaret-style show. Still, it has come to Broadway with its bold theatricality and infectious score intact — plus a new star, pop singer Josh Groban, who has the pipes that a big Broadway house needs.

-- PHOTO MOVED IN ADVANCE AND NOT FOR USE - ONLINE OR IN PRINT - BEFORE NOV. 13, 2016. -- FILE -- Laura Dreyfuss, left, and Ben Platt in the musical "Dear Evan Hansen" at the Second Stage Theater in New York, March 25, 2016. Benj Pasek, along with songwriting partner Justin Paul, have been churning out hit songs since college, and will soon see their musical "Dear Evan Hansen" head to Broadway and their lyrics hit the screen in the movie "La La Land." (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)
Sara Krulwich—The New York Times/Redux

3. Dear Evan Hansen

A misfit teenager becomes an unwitting high school hero after the suicide of a classmate. A small musical with big ideas — about parenting, about the Internet, and about our desperate need for connection — and a big new star in Ben Platt, who plays Evan. The score, by hot songwriting team Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, is serviceable, but few musicals are as psychologically acute or strike as powerful an emotional chord as this one.

2. Love, Love, Love

A couple hook up in the free-spirited, drug-fueled '60s, then (in two successive acts, spaced 20 years apart) see their marriage, kids and lives unravel. This piercing new play from Mike Bartlett (King Charles III), imported from London's Royal Court Theater, is admirably lean and mean, a portrait both of two severely mixed up characters, and of an entire generation's ambiguous legacy.

The 70th Annual Tony Awards
John Paul Filo—CBS /Getty Images

1. Shuffle Along

It was submerged by the Hamilton tidal wave, but in any other season George C. Wolfe's splashy re-creation of a landmark black musical of the 1920s (and the story behind it) might have been the toast of Broadway. Part revival, part theater history, part backstage drama, the show was not only a tribute to the African-American contribution to the Broadway musical, but also (with an all-star team of performers like Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Billy Porter) a showcase for the contemporary fruits of that grand tradition.

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