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The 5 Best Broadway Shows of 2017

These are the must-see shows from the past year.

In 2017, Broadway saw a convergence of new and old, with classics returning in surprisingly innovative ways. Comedy and drama collided as the political became very personal. In short, it was a great year for theater, but a handful of productions stand out. Here is our list of the five best Broadway shows of 2017:

1. The Band's Visit
We're used to movies turning into Broadway musicals. The typical adaptation slaps an exclamation point at the end of the title and makes everything bigger, louder, and brighter — but this show is far from typical. With understated power and unfailing grace, The Band's Visit is a screen-to-stage adaptation that manages to maintain the intimacy of an independent film, a major achievement for director David Cromer. Book writer Itamar Moses has lovingly adapted the script from Eran Kolirin's 2007 movie, which tells the story of an Egyptian police band lost in Israel and forced to depend on the kindness of strangers. David Yazbek's score offers a sophisticated fusion of traditional Middle Eastern music and jazz, while Katrina Lenk and Tony Shalhoub enact the most realistic fleeting romance ever portrayed on a Broadway stage. This is simply a great adult musical and a clear front-runner for the 2018 Tony Awards.

2. Junk
Money makes the world go 'round: We all know it, but only a select few understand it. We learn not just how money rules our lives but why in Ayad Akhtar's Junk, a panoramic look at the moment in American history when debt became our most lucrative national product. Its central figure is the fictional financier Robert Merkin, who stages a hostile takeover of a generations-old steel company by leveraging high-yield (or "junk") bonds. Portrayed by Steven Pasquale with an unsettling mixture of revolutionary zeal and determined frigidity, we're never certain if Merkin is meant to be a hero or villain. Audiences are likely to leave the theater divided on the subject, which is part of the brilliance of Akhtar's play. Featuring a cast of 23, director Dough Hughes's production is Shakespearean in both scope and acuity. This is the kind of breathtaking play we see too rarely on the modern American stage.

Bette Midler (center) leads the Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly!, directed by Jerry Zaks, at the Shubert Theatre.
(© Julieta Cervantes)

3. Hello, Dolly!
If you've ever loved a big, brassy, unapologetically entertaining Broadway musical, you'll adore Jerry Zaks's revival of Hello, Dolly! Set in late 19th-century New York City, it follows widowed matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi (Bette Midler) as she maneuvers herself into loving (but more importantly, comfortable) matrimony. Yes, this show is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to see Midler hold a Broadway audience in the palm of her hand, but the production is great even without her, as Donna Murphy teaches us every Tuesday. We're sure Bernadette Peters will continue to keep audiences in awe when she takes over for Midler on January 20. This is hands-down the best revival of 2017 — and it might just keep that distinction in 2018.

4. Once on This Island
Hot on the heels of Hello, Dolly! is Michael Arden's thrilling environmental revival of Once on This Island. Caribbean-inspired songs by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Anastasia) underscore the star-crossed love of Ti Moune (the irresistibly charming Hailey Kilgore) and Daniel (the fresh-faced Isaac Powell) on an island in the French Antilles. Arden invites us into the world of the musical with a production that envelops us in the sights and sounds of the island. Fire, water, and sand feature prominently in the elemental design, while Clint Ramos's costumes employ found objects to create a world of magic in unexpected places. This innovative and sensory staging in the round points the way to the future of Broadway.

Clifton Duncan, Alex Mandell (on floor), Ashley Bryant, Katie Sexton, Ned Noyes, Jonathan Fielding, Akron Watson, and Amelia McClain star in The Play That Goes Wrong, directed by Mark Bell for Mischief Theatre at Broadway's Lyceum Theatre.
(© Jeremy Daniel)

5. The Play That Goes Wrong
If you want to bust a gut on Broadway, there's no surer way than seeing this comedy from London's Mischief Theatre. Think about the most disastrous stage production you've ever witnessed, and then imagine all the ways it could have been worse. Mischief will top it with this farce that wins the award for truth in advertising. The show envisions a murder mystery in which everything that can go wrong does — in spectacular fashion. Truly, this cast features some of the most talented physical comedians working on the stage today performing violent pratfalls in ways that feel jaw-droppingly real. This is theater as an extreme sport, and it is very funny.