The 10 Best Broadway Shows of 2022
Broadway came back in full force this year, and what a year it was. Here are the shows that not only delighted me this year, but helped me remember why there's precisely nothing like the thrill of live theater. — David Gordon
10. & Juliet
I was not expecting to love & Juliet as much as I did: I'm not terribly interested in pop music (even though Max Martin's songs are engrained in all our lives), I don't particularly enjoy being showered in confetti (twice), and this kind of parody isn't usually that funny. But David West Read's revisionist Romeo and Juliet was cleverer than it had any right to be, deploying great jokes and allowing its stars, particularly Lorna Courtney, Betsy Wolfe, and a Backstreet Boys-singing Paulo Szot, to let loose and have the times of their lives. That feeling extended across the footlights in this unexpected joy of a production.
9. Ohio State Murders
Audra McDonald manages to top herself in every successive show she does. We're especially lucky to see her sink her teeth into Adrienne Kennedy's Ohio State Murders, a primal scream of a drama that marks its 91-year-old author's way overdue Broadway debut. Kenny Leon provides McDonald, who never leaves the stage, with a gorgeous and spooky production, and while this is essentially a one-woman show, there are terrific supporting performances from Bryce Pinkham and Lizan Mitchell. But it is McDonald's play, and she is delivering a performance for the ages yet again. Two, actually, if you consider how she's playing her character's older and younger selves, usually performed by separate actors. She can do it all.
8. Between Riverside and Crazy
Stephen Adly Guirgis's Pulitzer Prize-winner is as good as ever. In fact, this comedy about (among other things) the politics of policing New York City real estate is even timelier now than when it premiered eight years ago. Second Stage wisely reassembled the old gang — led by director Austin Pendleton and star Stephen McKinley Henderson — and they all return to their positions without missing a beat (Common, the sole new cast member, makes a nice debut, too). As was true in 2014, Henderson delivers a greatest of all time performance, one that has aged, alongside the play, like a fine wine.
7. How I Learned to Drive
My "if I could go back in a time machine and see anything" show is the original production of Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive. That's not possible, of course, but Manhattan Theatre Club treated us to the next best thing this year. Original stars Mary-Louise Parker, David Morse, and Johanna Day got together with director Mark Brokaw and brought the show back for a long-delayed Broadway premiere. My expectations were high and the revival lived up to them, plain and simple.
6. Ain't No Mo'
I missed Jordan E. Cooper's Ain't No Mo' when it premiered at the Public Theater in 2019, and I'm so glad I got to see it on Broadway during its undeservedly brief run at the Belasco. It's really wonderful, the kind of thoughtful, provocative theater that doesn't come around on Broadway too often and doesn't last that long when it does. Director Stevie Walker-Webb pulled some outrageously good performances from his actors, specifically Crystal Lucas-Perry in a dazzling turn that I really hope gets remembered come awards time for an extraordinary monologue where she seemed to change dialects with every next line.
5. Some Like It Hot
Not all theater needs to make you think, and in that respect, the unabashed joy of Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Matthew López, and Amber Ruffin's musical Some Like it Hot really stood out in the back half of the year. The show, directed and choreographed to the hilt by Casey Nicholaw, asks you to sit back and have fun, and I really did. It felt like a glorious throwback to a bygone era of musical-theater, and benefitted from excellent performances by J. Harrison Ghee, Christian Borle, Adrianna Hicks, NaTasha Yvette Williams, and Kevin Del Aguila. I can't wait to see it two more times.
Who knew a drama about the annihilation of the Viennese Jewish community would become the best-selling play of the fall? Eighty-five-year-old playwright Tom Stoppard delivered a devastating excavation of the mishpucha he discovered late in life, and while may very well be his final play, it's up there with his best. The staging by Patrick Marber is at once gilded and austere, featuring a cast of dozens playing dozens. While it is a true ensemble work, it would be remiss to not mention the standout performances of David Krumholtz, Brandon Uranowitz, and especially Jenna Augen, whose final scene is an absolute knockout.
3. Into the Woods
The lightning-in-a-bottle success of Lear deBessonet's production of Into the Woods is its simplicity, with a group of actors having the times of their lives while faithfully articulating James Lapine's script and beautifully delivering Stephen Sondheim's score without embellishment. The wonderful surprise of the season was Sara Bareilles's thoughtful and funny Baker's Wife, ably backed by a to-die-for cast including Brian d'Arcy James, Gavin Creel, Joshua Henry, Patina Miller, and the list goes on and on. Steve would be smiling.
Well-earned controversy has dogged this Michael Jackson bio-musical from the moment it was announced in 2018. But should you judge a work of art by the baggage around it? I was exceptionally entertained by Lynn Nottage (book) and Christopher Wheeldon (direction/choreography)'s slice-of-career musical, which is tricked out with flashy projections (Peter Nigrini), amazing sound design (Gareth Owen), and a once-in-a-lifetime performance from Myles Frost as Michael (with equally good turns throughout from Quentin Earl Darrington as Michael's dad and Tavon Olds-Sample as Michael's younger self). Considering that the show is essentially produced by the singer's estate, the fact that Nottage even managed to semi-address Jackson's alleged predilections is something of a miracle, too.
1. Take Me Out
A great revival can make you look at a show you know very well as if you're seeing it for the first time. That was my experience with Scott Ellis's production of Take Me Out, Richard Greenberg's drama about bigotry and baseball. Ellis assembled a crackerjack team, drawing enthralling performances from stars Jesse Williams, Patrick J. Adams, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Michael Oberholtzer, and Brandon J. Dirden, who carried the show straight to the Tony Awards and helped find shocking relevance in a 20-year-old play. More importantly, it was the kind of thrilling, edge-of-your-seat experience that doesn't come along very often. What a home run.