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10 Unforgettable Broadway and Off-Broadway Shows of the 2010s

Category Broadway

|by Ron Fassler |

‘Up In The Cheap Seats’ Author Ron Fassler’s favorite theater moments of the decade

It’s impossible to go through ten years’ worth of memorable theater both on and Off-Broadway and come up with a list that doesn’t make you feel terrible for the things that inevitably must fall by the wayside. So, with that in mind, here are what I call “The Top 10 Unforgettable Theater Events of the Decade.” Drum roll, please.

‘Hamilton’ ranks as one of the most memorable shows of the decade (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

‘Hamilton’ ranks as one of the most memorable shows of the decade (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

2010: The Scottsboro Boys
This last Kander & Ebb musical was about the nine African American teenagers who were falsely accused in Alabama of raping two white women in 1931. It received twelve (!) Tony nominations, no awards (!) and no run (sad face Emoji). People didn’t seem to understand its tone, but I sure did, knocking me out on every level. It featured exemplary work from the actors, adept staging by Susan Stroman, a fine book by David Thompson, and one of the very best Kander & Ebb scores (with John Kander writing some lyrics that needed attending, as Fred Ebb died in 2004). It was always going to be a tough sell with such dark material, but mark my words, this tragic musical will find its audience one day when it’s revived at a time it can truly be appreciated.

2011: Jerusalem
Jez Butterworth’s British import was a good, solid play, but what made it a standout was that it featured one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen on stage. Mark Rylance had already won a Tony for his comic deadpan in the 2008 farce Boeing Boeing, and this was to be his second win for Best Actor, in which he created a polar opposite character of towering strength. It was writ large on such an epic scale, that you have to go back to Falstaff for comparison. A mind-boggling accomplishment.

2011: The Normal Heart (Revival)
Having seen the original off-Broadway production in 1985, I had only a dim memory of how impactful Larry Kramer’s play is. And given a far more vivid production this time by co-directors George C. Wolfe and Joel Grey, and with an all-star cast led by Joe Mantello, Jon Benjamin Hickey and Jim Parsons, this was a drama for the ages. When Larry Kramer hit the stage to accept the Tony Award for Best Revival, it was a tribute to his strength and reserve that he’s still here, fighting the good fight, making sure AIDS awareness is never far from the forefront of our hearts and minds.

2011: War Horse
Can anyone who saw this production imported from London’s National Theatre ever forget it? As a play it might have left something to be desired, but as a physical production, it was beyond glorious. As magical and inspiring as it was, it was sadly made into a particularly uninspiring film by Steven Spielberg a short while later. But as directed by Marianne Elliott (who would later be responsible for another Tony-winning play, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), this was theatricality at its best. The puppetry (and puppeteers) who made this possible was simply miraculous.

2013: Twelfth Night (Shakespeare’s Globe Production)
Possibly the finest Shakespeare I’ve ever seen, this all-male version by Mark Rylance’s acting company came to New York and was a sell-out (in rep with Richard III). Once again, Rylance’s versatility was on stage for all the world to see, though this time he surrounded himself with a first-rate group of actors who gave their all in the telling of this extremely popular Shakespeare, one of his darkest of comedies. Rylance’s Olivia will live in my memory forever, and for his performance he took home his third Tony in five years. There’s a DVD of an earlier London version of this Twelfth Night that is available, and it’s totally worth a look. Check it out if you can.

2015: Hamilton
Did you think I’d leave this off? I wouldn’t be surprised (though I won’t live long enough) to see Hamilton on the “Ten Bests of the Century” list in 2099. It’s a seminal work that has transformed the Broadway musical in ways that were unimaginable prior to its creation. Lin-Manuel Miranda stretched our vision for what a musical can say about our current world by mining its past, and the original company featured talent that made for an eye-popping evening in the theatre. I’ve seen it four times… and I’m saving up for a fifth. This is the only show of this group that won the Top Three: The NY Drama Critics Circle, the Tony and the Pulitzer Prize. It is A Chorus Line for another generation. They said Cats was “Now and Forever,” but it did finally close one day. We’ll see about Hamilton.

2016: Jitney (Revival)
August Wilson is one of only a few playwrights to have a Broadway theatre named for him, and the honor is just and appropriate. His ten-play cycle, mainly taking place over a different decade of the 20th century in the Pittsburg Hills District (1904-1997), is a monumental achievement by any measure. Jitney was the first play he wrote, and the last to make it to Broadway, post Wilson’s untimely death in 2005. Requiring ensemble acting of the highest quality, that’s exactly what Reuben Santiago-Hudson’s production received in the Manhattan Theatre Club staging that brought it a Tony Award home for Best Revival.

2016: Shuffle Along
Though it didn’t run long, I managed to see this Broadway musical three times in its short three-month engagement. Its full tile was: Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All that Followed, and it was a behind-the-scenes look at the first time a Broadway musical was ever attempted by African Americans both in front and behind the scenes. George C. Wolfe directed a company of incredible talent that featured Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Brandon Victor Dixon, Joshua Henry and Adrienne Warren. It also had brilliant choreography by Savion Glover and wonderful tunes by Eubie Blake and others from a long-ago distant past. It opened in the wake of Hamilton, which didn’t help, but I found it stirring and ingenious. Perhaps it will return one day,but that cast will never come together again. You wonder why I went three times?

2018: Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish
By now this Little Engine That Could of a production has proven itself worthy many times over. Opening for what was to be a limited run at the edge of Manhattan at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park, it will be concluding a run of a year-and-a-half this Sunday at Stage 42. Simply and elegantly directed by Joel Grey, this National Yiddish Theatre Folksbeine is performed entirely in Yiddish with both English and Russian subtitles. It’s the most effective staging of the show I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a LOT of Fiddlers) and made a fifty-year-old musical remarkably fresh, vibrant and exciting. And in Steven Skybell’s performance as Tevye, memories of great actors of the past were surpassed.

2019: The Lehman Trilogy
Re-opening this coming spring on Broadway, Stefano Massini’s smart and moving drama was brought to the Park Avenue Armory space earlier this season. Taking place over a 163-year-span, three male actors portray dozens of characters (men and women) to tell the incredible story of the Lehman Brothers, who came to America as immigrants to build an empire, only to see it die under the weight of its own largess during the 2008 financial crisis. Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and Ben Miles shine under the direction of Sam Mendes in a breathtaking production that sent me out into the street on the kind of high that only a great evening in the theatre can provide. The good news is, that of all the shows on this list, you can still make up your own mind by seeing The Lehman Trilogy when it opens (for a limited run) at the Nederlander Theatre on Mar. 26. Don’t miss it.

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