The 5 Best Broadway Shows of 2016
These are the shows that really wowed us this year.
2016 was an uncommonly good year for Broadway, but certain shows rose above the rest. Here are our picks for the 5 best Broadway shows of the year:
1. Dear Evan Hansen
This electrifying new musical tells the story of a socially awkward teenager who gets lost in a lie that precipitates into a category-5 Twitterstorm. With direction by Michael Greif (Rent) and sets by David Korins (Hamilton), the show captures the insidious power of social media better than any other stage show we've seen. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's memorable pop score seamlessly alloys with Steven Levenson's astute and suspenseful book to create an emotional wallop. People will be talking about leading man Ben Platt's unsettlingly real performance for years to come. The show opened to critical acclaim in May at Second Stage off-Broadway before transferring to Broadway. If $10 million in advance ticket sales is any indication, Evan Hansen is shaping up to be the box office hit of the season and a top contender for the 2017 Tonys.
2. Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
This is the most radically innovative Broadway experience of 2016, which one wouldn't expect from a musical adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's 1869 novel, War and Peace. Sure enough, though, the Broadway rulebook gets thrown out the window from the moment we step into the building. Set designer Mimi Lien and director Rachel Chavkin have turned the Imperial Theatre upside down, making the lobby a portal into an underground Russian punk venue and the house a plush 19th-century nightclub. Dave Malloy's songs are simultaneously challenging and melodic and the stellar cast performs them magnificently. This is especially true of leading man Josh Groban, who is making his Broadway debut. The audience is everywhere, even on what is usually the Imperial stage, while the show unfolds around us, including in the mezzanine. This is going to become one of those landmark productions that everyone references in the future, so don't miss your chance to say you were there.
3. The Humans
The 2016 Tony Award winner for Best Play, Stephen Karam's The Humans, is not only formally daring, but undeniably relevant to our fretful age: Set over the course of a family Thanksgiving in a sparsely furnished Chinatown apartment, the story elegantly unveils the anxieties of the characters: Theirs fears of loneliness, illness, and poverty all get served up before the dessert course. Director Joe Mantello masterfully endows the stage with an inexplicable air of dread that he and the cast maintain for 90 full minutes. Reed Birney and Jayne Houdyshell play middle-aged married couple Erik and Deirdre Blake; both actors won Tony Awards for their unforgettable performances. This slow-boil thriller is closing in January, so be sure to get your tickets before it goes away.
2016 was a big year for writer-actress Danai Gurira: Her play Familiar opened off-Broadway, as an actress she filmed another season of The Walking Dead, and she made her Broadway debut as a playwright with Eclipsed, her gripping drama about five women in the Liberian Civil War. With a riveting production by director Liesl Tommy, the play offered Broadway audiences a window into a world few Americans know much about: It told the story of a group of women married to the same warlord, sharing a small one-room home in a rebel camp. The cast (including Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o in her Broadway debut) gave performances that were humorous and heartbreaking, making them feel very close to us, rather than across the Atlantic Ocean. We've become big fans of Gurira's work since Eclipsed and we can't wait to see what she writes next.
5. Oh, Hello on Broadway
This two-man show based on a popular Comedy Central sketch is perhaps the unlikeliest entry here, but Nick Kroll and John Mulaney left us in stitches. They play Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland, a pair of elderly Upper West Siders attached at the hip. Over the course of the evening they present a workshop of their play (about elderly Upper West Siders named George and Gil) and treat us to a live version of their cable access show, Too Much Tuna. That bit is created with the help of a new guest every night. George and Gil have interviewed Bobby Cannavale, Aziz Ansari, and their ultimate: Alan Alda. Complete with giant puppets and a wheezing dream ballet, this show is silly good fun, a perfect respite for your weary brain.