I saw 97 shows over the twelve months of 2006, making it my busiest theatre-going year ever. It was also a mostly excellent year for the artform (especially regarding plays), so making a top ten list seemed impossible to me. And it was. That's why I've decided to extend my end-of-the-year roundup to a top twelve, in addition to the other categories I will mention. Without further adieu...
AWAKE AND SING: An almost flawless revival by Lincoln Center that shows that truly great works never go out of style or become dated (Broadway-Belasco Theatre).
CARMELINA: The York Theatre continued their Musicals in Mufti series (their version of Encores!) with this terrific little show by Joseph Stein. Just when I thought there were no great musical theatre comediennes left, Marla Schaffel blew me away as the title character. Hopefully, a full-fledged production will emerge, as was hinted at by York Artistic Director Jim Morgan (Off-Broadway-York Theatre at the Church of St. Peter).
THE COAST OF UTOPIA: In 2006, we were treated to the first two parts of Tom Stoppard's delicious trilogy about Russian intellectuals. The plays couldn't be any more different: Voyage is a soap opera that flits and floats, while Shipwreck delves deeply into the psyches of the central characters. Can't wait for Salvage (Broadway-Vivian Beaumont Theatre).
FAITH HEALER: A wondrous revival of Brian Friel's oft-neglected masterpiece. Incredible performances from the tight ensemble, which included Ralph Fiennes, Cherry Jones, and the outstanding Ian McDiarmid (Broadway-Booth Theatre).
HEARTBREAK HOUSE: A first-class production of one of Shaw's best, which is still as stingingly potent as it was 100 years ago. The revival, under the stylish direction of Robin LeFevre, featured one of the best ensembles New York has seen in ages (Broadway-American Airlines Theatre).
JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS: It is a testament to the power of Brel's music, and to the talents of the fine ensemble cast who perform it, that a revue assembled forty years ago (with songs written sixty years ago) is still as electrifying today as it was at the Village Gate (Off-Broadway-Zipper Theatre).
LANDSCAPE OF THE BODY: Lili Taylor and Sherie Rene Scott commanded the stage in what can likely be called the definitive production of this John Guare play, and in turn gave the performances of their careers. Director Michael Greif also achieved a rare, commendable feat: he culled genuine performances from his group of talented young actors (Off-Broadway-Signature Theatre Company at the Peter Norton Space).
THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE: A feckin'-good time had by all (Off-Broadway-Atlantic Theatre Company/Broadway-Lyceum Theatre).
MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN: Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not a Meryl fan, but she did blow me away with her heartwrenching performance as Brecht's signature dame. Tony Kushner's translation (with incredible music by Jeanine Tesori) and George C. Wolfe's strong direction made this outdoor mounting the best Courage New York has seen in years, as well as the best musical of the year (Off-Broadway-Delacorte Theatre).
OF THEE I SING!: City Center Encores! mounted a splendid concert version of what I consider to be America's greatest operetta. It featured a delightful cast, including the sharp Victor Garber, the divine Jennifer Laura Thompson (a dead-ringer for Madeline Kahn), the deliciously delectable and shockingly funny Jefferson Mays, and Jenny Powers, who brought down the house with the best "Jilted" I've ever heard (Off-Broadway-City Center).
SEVEN GUITARS and TWO TRAINS RUNNING: The first two productions of the Signature Theatre's season devoted to August Wilson highlighted the poetry and power of the late author's language in a way that has never been seen before. Putting Wilson's plays in a small, 199-seat theatre also brought an intimacy to the works that is usually lacking when they are presented in giant, cavernous Broadway houses. After these two triumphs, my appetite is wetted for their staging of King Hedley II (Off-Broadway-Signature Theatre Company at the Peter Norton Space).
(Omission: Even though I saw Theresa Rebeck's The Scene in 2006, I've left it off the list and out of the running for my other accolades since it doesn't technically open until 2007.)
TOP TWELVE PERFORMANCES OF 2006
Justin Bond, Kiki and Herb: Alive on Broadway
Natascia Diaz, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris
Christine Ebersole, Grey Gardens
Raul Esparza, Company
Carla Gugino, Suddenly Last Summer
Jessica Hecht, The House in Town
Ian McDiarmid, Faith Healer
Cynthia Nixon, Rabbit Hole
Marla Schaffel, Carmelina
Meryl Streep, Mother Courage and Her Children
Nilaja Sun, No Child...
Lili Taylor, Landscape of a Body
MOST WELCOME RETURN: Julie White, The Little Dog Laughed (The show, and her performance, made my list last year, but I sure am glad to have them back in 2006!)
BREAKTHROUGH MALE PERFORMANCE: John Gallagher Jr, Rabbit Hole and Spring Awakening
BREAKTHROUGH FEMALE PERFORMANCE (tie): Halley Feiffer, Suburbia/Samantha Soule, The Voysey Inheritance
SIX INCREDIBLE ENSEMBLE CASTS
Awake and Sing!
The Coast of Utopia
The Pain and The Itch
FIVE SHOWS I'M SAD I MISSED: Almost, Maine; Bhutan; Blue Door; Indian Blood; Pen
SHOWS MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO IN '07: The Year of Magical Thinking; Salvage; Dying City; The Home Place; 110 in the Shade; King Lear; Journey's End; Follies; Eurydice; King Hedley II; Deuce; Prelude to a Kiss; LoveMusik
Have a Happy and Safe New Year and I'll see you in 2007!