Theater at its best puts us in touch with what it is to be human. Whether escapist entertainment or devastating drama, the best plays and musicals of our time explore the truest emotions; provide us with characters who share our dreams, joys, ambitions, insecurities, and flaws; and connect us with one another through stories of laughter, tears, and wonder. Below is a list, in alphabetical order, of the top 10 experiences we've had in the theater. Each of these accomplished works serves as an inspiration to Final Bow as the types of productions we hope bring to Broadway and national audiences in the years to come.
OUR TOP 10
August Osage County: One part Eugene O'Neill; one part Sam Shepherd. Tracy Letts may be the best playwright writing for actors today. What actor wouldn't love performing his scenes full of high stakes and biting one-liners? And for that matter, what audience member wouldn't love watching them? When we caught this new work at its Steppenwolf premiere in Chicago, it was clear that this was a play that deserved to be seen by a wider audience. There is nothing quite like finding a hidden gem at a regional theater before it opens on Broadway to critical acclaim and standing ovations.
Cabaret at Studio 54 & Chicago: Cabaret and Chicago were among the first Broadway shows we saw in New York. From the politics of Cabaret to the sly satirical wit of Chicago, these provocative Kander and Ebb hits remind us that musical theater can be an adult art form. The success of these productions provide continued proof that sex and a little razzle dazzle sell on Broadway.
Clifford Odet's Golden Boy: In this magnificent revival, an all-star cast (led by director Bartlett Sher) offered unforgettable performances that would have given The Group Theater ensemble a run for its money. Golden Boy is the story of art vs. commerce (or what is loss when there is much to be gained). From a poetic musician to a hardened fighter, protagonist Joe Bonaparte shelves lyricism and love for fame and fortune in this timeless tragedy that left audiences' hearts aching well past the curtain call.
Long Day's Journey into Night: Featuring a star-studded cast working at the top of their game, this Robert Falls production of Eugene O'Neill's family tragedy left audiences stunned and staggering. None who saw it can forget the breathless atmosphere in the theater, nor Vanessa Redgrave's searing performance as the matriarch of the Tyrone household.
David Cromer's Our Town: With most Americans being exposed to several poorly directed and performed high school and community theater productions within their lifetimes, it is easy for one to dismiss it as simply overrated. David Cromer’s brilliant production reminds us just how beautiful and rich the text actually is. Cromer's beats and characters are so well defined that we, as an audience, can't help but fully realize life while we live it.
Cervantes' Pedro the Great Pretender: This Royal Shakespeare Company production turned out to be a surprise delight when we caught this world-premiere production in London in 2005. An episodic and entertaining journey of discovery and enlightenment, this show first taught us how creative staging and spirited performances could be even more magical and enthralling than falling chandeliers and rotating barracks.
The Producers: Borrowing from a conventional structure, Mel Brooks created the first real laugh-out-loud musical comedy of the aughts. With contemporary humor and a toe-tapping nostalgic score, this hilarious 'bromantic' comedy infiltrated all aspects of our modern zeitgeist. No matter what your previous knowledge of the theater was, you had heard of this show and you wanted tickets for it. Brooks reminded us that musical comedy could still provide us with one of the most entertaining and enjoyable evenings out.
Peter and the Starcatcher: This total-theater experience was delightful from start to finish. With a clever script, ingenious staging, charming performances, and the most stellar lighting and hand-produced live sound effects to be found on Broadway, directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers give audiences the gift of a bedtime story. Not since the days of your youth have you been allowed to surrender to the tale, letting the words, fantasy, and spirit wash over you as you fall into a sublime, joyous trance.
South Pacific & The Light in the Piazza: No one stages a musical as well as Bartlett Sher and his Lincoln Center design team. With lush orchestrations and gorgeous and expansive stagings on the Vivian Beaumont, any production mounted by this team is can't miss. Sher manages to consistently bring exquisite, nuanced performances out of Kelli O'Hara, Victoria Clark, Matthew Morrison, and Danny Burstein that help bring a rare depth to commercial musical theater.
National Theatre's War Horse: War Horse is cinematic theater at its best. Its astounding puppetry, effective original score, and dynamic staging creates an unforgettable night at the theater. Perhaps, most notably, it is the simple coming-of-age story of family and friendship at its core which has the greatest effect on its audience. Set against a war-torn continent, War Horse wears its heart on its sleeve leaving audiences genuinely moved and emotionally fulfilled.