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The Ten Best of 2011

TheaterMania chooses the top shows we saw on the New York stage this year. logo
Ron Raines, Bernmadette Peters,
Lora Lee Gayer and Nick Verina
in Follies
(© Joan Marcus)
Another year has come to an end, which means the time has come to choose the ten best shows that hit the New York stage in 2011. TheaterMania editors Brian Scott Lipton, Dan Bacalzo, Andy Propst, and chief critic David Finkle looked back at the hundreds of the shows we saw these past 12 months, and through our combined efforts, have determined that these shows (presented here in alphabetical order) deserve the year's top honors. Let us know if you agree!

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
Rajiv Joseph's play intertwined the stories of two American soldiers, one Iraqi translator, and the ghost of a dead tiger in a poetic yet emotionally grounded story that also served as a thoughtful meditation on the cycle of violence perpetuated by the Iraq War. The Broadway production was beautifully directed by Moisés Kaufman and featured a charismatic and nuanced performance from Academy Award-winning actor Robin Williams in the title role. Click here to read TM's Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo review!

Blood and Gifts
In this simultaneously sweeping and intimate drama, now on view at Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theatre, J.T. Rogers pulls back the curtain on the United States' involvement in the war between Afghanistan and Russia. Directed with care by Bartlett Sher and featuring some carefully crafted performances from Jeremy Davidson, Jefferson Mays, Jon Procaccino, and Robert Hogan, the show rivets theatergoers from the outset, ultimately proving discomfiting as it reveals how the political and diplomatic maneuvering of the period has so profoundly impacted our present. Click here to read TM's Blood and Gifts review!

The Book of Mormon
This jaw-droppingly funny and decidedly irreverent musical comedy, playing at Broadway's Eugene O'Neill Theatre, is the brainchild of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and Avenue Q co-creator Robert Lopez. It tells the story of two young Mormon men -- played with zest by Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells -- who embark upon a mission in Uganda. The production, co-directed by Parker and choreographer Casey Nicholaw, deservedly swept the 2011 Tony Awards. Click here to read TM's The Book of Mormon review!

Stockard Channing and Rachel Griffiths
in Other Desert Cities
(© Joan Marcus)
Eric Schaeffer's near-perfect revival of the legendary Stephen Sondheim-James Goldman musical at Broadway's Marquis Theatre contains both the requisite joy and sadness, as it examines two troubled marriages and an era of musical entertainment never to be equalled. The work of stars Bernadette Peters, Jan Maxwell, Danny Burstein, and Ron Raines as the unhappy couples is thrilling and heartbreaking (occasionally at the same time), and there are exquisite supporting turns by the dazzling Elaine Page, Terri White, Jayne Houdyshell, Mary Beth Piel, and Rosalind Elias. Click here to read TM's Follies review!

Johnny "Rooster" Byron, the ex-motorcyclist around whom Jez Butterworth's tragicomedy revolves, could be classified as a contemporary folk hero. Living in a rundown van on the outskirts of a rural English town, he's a combination Pied Piper-Robin Hood for diminished times. To make his point about a society's erosion, Butterworth seems to draw from every symbol and myth on which England is constructed. The show's indelible success owes much thanks to Mark Rylance's indefatigable Rooster. Click here to read TM's Jerusalem review!

Enda Walsh's intense look at a man revisiting a cataclysmic day in his life will linger in theatergoers' memories well after the New Year thanks to Cillian Murphy's blazingly raw performance as a man pushed to -- and beyond -- the brink of his piety. Further bolstering the thoughtful and provocative script, the playwright's grungy epic staging, now on view at St. Ann's Warehouse, plunges theatergoers into a remarkably visceral world where reality and fantasy collide with disturbing and thoroughly satisfying results. Click here to read TM's Misterman review!

The Motherf**ker With the Hat
In Stephen Adly Guirgis' bracingly funny play, Bobby Cannavale and Elizabeth Rodriguez delivered passionate yet layered performances as squabbling lovers with a history of drug abuse and a number of trust issues. The script's lean, muscular dialogue provided the cast -- which also included Chris Rock in his Broadway debut, and delightful turns from Annabella Sciorra and Yul Vazquez -- plenty to work with, and director Anna D. Shapiro's production was a delight to watch. Click here to read TM's The Motherf**ker With the Hat review!

The Normal Heart
Larry Kramer's devastating, autobiographically-inspired drama about the early days of the AIDS crisis proved to be anything but dated in this blistering production, brilliantly co-directed by George C. Wolfe and Joel Grey. In a rare and welcome return to acting, Joe Mantello was gloriously furious and funny as the single-minded Ned Weeks; John Benjamin Hickey and Ellen Barkin earned well-deserved Tony Awards as Ned's lover, Felix Turner, and Dr. Emma Brookner; and the perfectly-tuned ensemble included Jim Parsons, Lee Pace, Patrick Breen, and Luke McFarlane. Click here to read TM's The Normal Heart review!

In this stage version of the popular indie film -- now at New York Theatre Workshop before its move in February to Broadway's Barrymore Theatre -- an unlikely romance between an Irishman and Czech immigrant comes ravishingly and touchingly to life -- thanks not only to Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova's gorgeous songs (including the Academy Award winner "Falling Slowly"), but also the superb stagecraft of director John Tiffany and designers Bob Crowley and Natasha Katz and two fearlessly committed and deeply felt performances from Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti. Click here to read TM's Once review!

Other Desert Cities
This compelling drama by Jon Robin Baitz, now at Broadway's Booth Theatre after a successful Off-Broadway debut from Lincoln Center Theatre, features an extraordinary ensemble cast made up of Stockard Channing, Rachel Griffiths, Stacey Keach, Judith Light, and Thomas Sadoski. The action, well directed by Joe Mantello, revolves around Brooke Wyeth, who has written a revealing memoir that threatens to expose deeply held secrets from a particularly painful time in her family's past. Click here to read TM's Other Desert Cities review!

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