The past year has been a great one on Broadway, but five productions really stand out for their fearlessness, innovation, and splendor. We've listed them here with explanations of why these shows impressed us so thoroughly. We highly recommend that you see them all, but we've ranked them in case you can see only one or two. Let's start with the clear winner:

1. Hamilton
Listing Hamilton in the top spot almost feels too obvious, but rarely does a Broadway show come along that so clearly stands above the rest. Telling the story of first U.S. Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton through rap, composer-lyricist-actor Lin-Manuel Miranda does for America what Shakespeare did for England: commit a mythologized version of our history to gorgeous and insightful verse. Director Thomas Kail's production is just as alive and complex as the lyrics, enhanced greatly by Andy Blankenbuehler's dynamic choreography and an insanely gifted cast. If you can get a ticket, Hamilton is the show to see this year and every year.


2. The King and I
The moment the conductor strikes up the overture of this Rodgers and Hammerstein revival, the audience is instantly transported back to the Golden Age of Broadway. Stars Kelli O'Hara and Ruthie Ann Miles both won their first Tony Awards for their performances in this musical about an English schoolteacher in the court of Siam. With a cast of over 50 actors and a 29-piece orchestra, it leaves every other Broadway show in the dust in terms of scale and opulence. Director Bartlett Sher marshals the massive resources at his disposal into a resplendent operatic production — you really see your money onstage. Brilliant performances, a symphonic sound, gorgeous staging: None of it would be possible without Lincoln Center Theater, the only not-for-profit in the city currently producing musical theater of this quality and grandeur.


3. Spring Awakening
An emo rock musical about angst-ridden teenagers in fin-de-siècle Germany, Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater's Spring Awakening was a sensation when it first opened on Broadway in 2006. While 2015 feels almost too soon to revive a show that just closed in 2009, director Michael Arden destroys our reservations with this dazzling revival featuring a super-talented cast of deaf and hearing actors. It's incredibly illuminating and, in many ways, more powerful than the original. Brimming with inventive staging and rocking musical arrangements, it makes the case for Spring Awakening as a perennial classic to be revisited at regular intervals for its hidden insights.


Tim Pigott-Smith stars in Mike Bartlett's King Charles III, directed by Rupert Goold, at Broadway's Music Box Theatre.
Tim Pigott-Smith stars in Mike Bartlett's King Charles III, directed by Rupert Goold, at Broadway's Music Box Theatre.
(© Joan Marcus)

4. King Charles III
There's something for everyone in this show, which manages to be simultaneously intelligent and a guilty pleasure. Taking the form of a Shakespearean history written about the future, King Charles III imagines the disastrous first days of the reign of the current Prince of Wales. Playwright Mike Bartlett has concocted a delicious mélange of ripped-from-the-tabloids gossip and speculative constitutional crises, all presented in ingenious iambic pentameter. With a speedily efficient production by director Rupert Goold and heart-pounding live music by Jocelyn Pook, you're guaranteed to be swept away by the pageantry and palace intrigue of King Charles III.


Russell Tovey, Mark Strong, and Phoebe Fox star in Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge, directed by Ivo van Hove, at Broadway's Lyceum Theatre.
Russell Tovey, Mark Strong, and Phoebe Fox star in Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge, directed by Ivo van Hove, at Broadway's Lyceum Theatre.
(© Jan Versweyveld)

5. A View From the Bridge
Director Ivo van Hove breathes new life into Arthur Miller's tragedy of a Brooklyn longshoreman, his beloved niece, and her handsome young Italian suitor. Van Hove stages it all with minimal props and scenery, and in what appears to be a giant white display case, allowing the actors' performances to take center stage. In particular, Mark Strong portrays central character Eddie Carbone with raw and unbridled passion. The final 10 minutes are a near-spiritual experience. As far as drama goes, you can't do any better on Broadway.