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All for the Best

TheaterMania's critics choose their top 10 plays and musicals of 2007.

Dan Bacalzo David Finkle Brian Scott Lipton
August.gifAugust: Osage County
An excellent ensemble cast populates Tracy Letts' gripping dysfunctional family drama, which is the best new American play to hit Broadway in years.
The Wooster Group's Hamlet The sight and sound of the adventurous company's actors mimicking gesture for gesture the taped version of John Gielgud's 1964 production starring Richard Burton revivified Shakespeare's classic as it celebrated the marvelously evanescent quality of live performance. Donna MurphyFollies Casey Nicholaw's City Center Encores' production of Stephen Sondheim's cult favorite, led by the incomparable Donna Murphy and Victoria Clark, proved just how brilliant - and heartbreaking - this often misunderstood musical really can be.
Intimate Exchanges Alan Ayckbourn's hilarious and insightful epic is comprised of more than 32 hours spread out over 16 plays, performed by a hardworking cast of two -- the wonderful Bill Champion and Claudia Elmhirst. Frost/Nixon Peter Morgan's speculation about how David Frost's revealing 1977 television interviews of President Richard Nixon came to be is a Shakespearean study of lost power and the struggle to regain it. In the title roles, Michael Sheen and Frank Langella gave masterful performances. Journey's End David Grindley's shattering (and ear-shattering) revival of R.C. Sherriff's anti-war drama was remarkably timely, powerfully acted, and ultimately unforgettable.
Gypsy Patti LuPone gave a breathtaking performance as Mama Rose in this Broadway-bound revival, with exceptional work also being done by co-stars Laura Benanti and Boyd Gaines. Au Revoir Parapluie James Thierree, son of circus performers and grandson of Charles Chaplin, drew on his distinguished gene pool to give the Orpheus legend a circus spin that could also be described as a post-modern silent film. The surprises from a genius at joyful work numbered in the seeming thousands.
100 Saints You Should Know Kate Fodor's gorgeously empathetic character study of a confused priest and his equally lost cleaning woman and her teenage daughter dealing with their own crises of faith was beautifully played and written.
Horizon Rinde Eckert's boldly theatrical exploration of faith and ethics was performed by a terrific trio, made up of Eckert, David Barlow, and Howard Swain Dividing the Estate The humanity and unflinching sentiment characteristic of Horton Foote's best plays radiates throughout this entirely uncontrived look at a Texas family whose matriarch is not about to succumb to the shenanigans of her greedy children. Michael Wilson directed an impeccable cast. August: Osage County The Steppenwolf Theatre's production of Tracy Letts' sprawling, immensely entertaining dysfunctional family drama was a bracing reminder of what the words "ensemble acting" really mean!
Journeys EndJourney's End Director David Grindley breathed new life into R.C. Sherriff's 1929 war drama, making it seem just as relevant now as when it was originally written. Make Me A Song William Finn is the best songwriter in the culture when it comes to plumbing personal emotions for universal implications. His supreme gift for elating lyrics and unexpected melody was showcased by a smartly-cast foursome thoughtfully and vigorously directed by Rob Ruggiero. Translations Brian Friel's evocative exploration of a small 19th-century Irish town in danger of losing its identity got a sterling production at Manhattan Theatre Club, courtesy of director Garry Hynes and a first-rate cast.
Gone Missing The Civilians' marvelously inventive meditation on things lost and sometimes found is full of quirky charm, and features a terrific score by Michael Friedman. The Brig Living Theater co-founder Judith Malina's immaculate recreation of the company's 1964 take on daily life in a marine corps prison retained its documentary-like abilities to shock in the Iraqi war age even as it raised intriguing questions about what young thespians are willing to undergo for their art. My Fair Lady As much as I can't wait to see Kelli O'Hara tackle South Pacific's Nellie Forbush later this season, it's hard to imagine she could ever be better than she was as Eliza Doolittle in this joyous musical presentation - especially as backed by the amazing New York Philharmonic.
Peter and Jerry Edward Albee explores how what's unspoken affects a long-term relationship in a way that perfectly complements his classic Zoo Story, presented in the same evening. Bill Pullman is simply amazing in the role of Peter. Rock n' RollRock 'n' Roll Following The Coast of Utopia, his three-part treatise on pre- revolutionary Russia, with a more compact consideration of post-Revolutionary life elsewhere, Tom Stoppard astutely recognized that the freedoms sought during the stressful later period are best reflected and appreciated in the era's popular music. Gypsy Thankfully, we'll soon get another chance to watch Patti LuPone as the monstrous Mama Rose sing the hell out of Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim's score. But the true geniuses of this Encores Summer Stars entry were the multifaceted Herbie of Boyd Gaines and the sensational Laura Benanti as Louise/Gypsy. (The less said about the lamb, the better.)
Radio Golf August Wilson's final play received a top-notch Broadway production, grounded by superb performances from Harry Lennix, Anthony Chisholm, and Tonya Pinkins. The Taming of the Shrew Edward Hall submitted further proof that his Propeller troupe is at the top of the Shakespeare interpretation heap with an ultra-creative, conciliatory poke at the anti-feminist comedy. Leading the merriment was Simon Scardifield as a brutal Kate and Dugald Bruce-Lockhart as a mercurial Petruchio. Speech&DebateSpeech & Debate Stephen Karam inaugurated the new Roundabout Underground space with this stunningly original, often hilarious work about three troubled teens, beautifully impersonated by Gideon Glick, Jason Fuchs, and especially the amazing Sarah Steele.
10 Million Miles This underappreciated tuner melded Patty Griffin's gorgeous songs with a simple, but affecting story by Keith Bunin. A terrific four-person cast made up of Irene Molloy, Matthew Morrison, Skipp Sudduth, and Mare Winningham brought it to vivid life under the sensitive direction of Michael Mayer. MoonA Moon for the Misbegotten The closing scene of Eugene O'Neill's tribute to his troubled brother contains some of the greatest writing in American theater literature, and what Howard Davies elicited from Kevin Spacey as James Tyrone and Eve Best
as Josie Hogan superbly matched the script's aching quality.
King Hedley II The Signature Theatre Company made it three-for-three with this superbly calibrated reevaluation of August Wilson's sins-of-the-fathers play, set in the hardscrabble 1980s.
BASH'd: A Gay Rap Opera Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow's Fringe festival hit delivered a high-energy, hard-hitting story through rap and spoken word. In the Heights Throughout this musical examination of a specific upper Manhattan neighborhood, composer-lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda accomplished the trick of making the hip-hop mentality fit the stage. Add in Tommy Kail's direction and Andy Blankenbuehler's vital choreography, and the result is a contemporary Street Scene. Toys in the Attic Lillian Hellman should finally be smiling in her grave, thanks to the Williamstown Theatre Festival's magnificent production of The Autumn Garden and the Pearl Theatre Company's almost-as-good take on this underappreciated work about a Southern ne'er do well who wreaks havoc on his sisters' lives.

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