Year in Review
To paraphrase The Cranberries, everybody else is doing it, so why can’t I? Herein, I take my Year in Review list to 11 (because it goes to 11). This list (presented in alphabetical order) represents my favorite arts and current events goings on of the year, and beyond the 11 I’ve included some honorable mentions, pieces that were great but didn’t quite make the “favorite” cut.
- All Wheeldon Night at NYC Ballet: An extraordinary night of ballet, City Ballet's first-ever night of ballet devoted to neither founding choreographer was a success. In Wheeldon's choreography, we see traces of both Balanchine and Robbins, as well as what is possible when exceptional dance is paired with an all-encompassing vision. Not to mention that the three pieces, Les Carillons (a world premiere), Polyphonia (his breakthrough work) and DGV: Danse a Grande Vitesse (a New York premiere) were exquisite. The 2013 Spring Gala will mark another Wheeldon world premiere, and I can't wait.
- Justin Peck’s Full
Choreographic Plate: This year, Peck enjoyed the world premiere of two ballets, In Creases and Year of the Rabbit, and received a new commission that will premiere at City Ballet in January 2013. It's not nothing that Peck's newest work is taking the slot of a new Peter Martins ballet, which the ballet master in chief is delaying in order to perfect the dance and allow the composer to refine the score. At just 25, Peck is making a name for himself in the choreographic world. (And he still dances in the corps de ballet of the company!)
- Musical Theatre Writers—The Next Generation: While none of the writers I'm about to mention are fresh off the turnip truck, they did all enjoy high profile success this year. Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash's Murder Ballad was easily my favorite new musical of the year. Dogfight was Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's successful adaptation of a little-seen movie, and the songwriting duo that cut their teeth on song cycles and cabaret shows made their Broadway debut late this year with their stage musical adaptation of A Christmas Story. A perennial favorite of mine, Joe Iconis (and The Family) continued to put on rocking and passionate shows around New York City; Iconis's musical The Black Suits had a successful run at Barrington Stage Company in Massachusetts; and Iconis was tapped to write original songs for the second season of the TV show Smash. Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein (and Hart) and Jerome Kern were all great, but this is the time for new voices!
- The Newsroom: Aaron Sorkin. HBO. Jeff Daniels, John Gallagher, Jr., Olivia Munn. Do I need to say more? I'll admit that the first season of Sorkin's musical theatre-reference laden show was uneven, but the highs were so great that I think the occasional dips are entirely forgivable. Featuring Sorkin's melodic writing and an incredible, theatre-veteran-rich ensemble, which, in addition to the aforementioned actors also includes Thomas Sadoski, Emily Mortimer, Alison Pill, Chris Chalk, Chris Messina, Jane Fonda and Sam Waterston as a chippy drunk, The Newsroom is romantic, thoughtful, intelligent and a delight to watch.
- Now. Here. This.: The lab production of this musical from the [title of show] team made my list last year so it's likely no surprise that the full off-Broadway production should make my list this year. As in [title of show], Hunter, Heidi, Jeff and Susan open up to us and by sharing their experience enrich our lives. The lesson of Now. Here. This. is simple: show up for life. Don't spend your time regretting what's passed or fantasizing about what might never be. Instead, live in the present and open yourself up to the riches life has in store.
- Peter and the Starcatcher: There's no other way to describe this show than magical. At a time when a premium is put on flash and razzle dazzle and under-qualified stars headlining shows and special effects that distract your attention from the mediocrity before you, Peter and the Starcatcher scaled back, and with scrappiness and imagination transformed into a touching and hilarious tale of a lost boy who finds his way. Bravo!
- Playwrights—The Next Generation: Just as this year brought success for and attention to emerging musical theatre writers, this year also brought us new works by playwrights on the rise. Joshua Harmon's Bad Jews became the hottest ticket in town, and with good reason. The Big Meal, by Dan LeFranc, came out of nowhere and was utterly and wonderfully heartbreaking. Leslye Headland scored big, first with the success of the latest play in her seven deadly sins cycle, Assistance (which, it was later announced, had been optioned for a TV series), and then with the near-flawless film adaptation of her play Bachelorette. And the stellar Annie Baker once again teamed up with director Sam Gold and actor Reed Birney, and threw Anton Chekhov into the mix for a brilliant new take on Uncle Vanya. (Baker's latest original piece, The Flick, will debut at Playwrights Horizons in February 2013 and will be under the direction of Gold.)
- President Obama is
Reelected: Best. News. Of. The. Year. The people of this Republic came out in droves to make their voices heard, and they decided that President Obama is the right man for the job. Surely, he has a rough road ahead of him, what with the out of touch nincompoops who sit in Congress, but I believe he has righteous convictions and the leadership skills to keep us moving forward.
- Ted: What's not to like about a foul-mouthed talking Teddy bear? Seth MacFarlane's feature film debut was a box office smash (it surpassed The Hangover II to become the highest grossing R-rated comedy) and also a welcome tonic to all the schlock that gets screened in theaters. Imagine, a comedy with the audacity to be funny without being lazy and the smart screenwriters (MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild) to successfully mix poop jokes with actual human emotion. Job well done, fellas. (And as a bonus, MacFarlane has been having a good year: Ted's success landed him on several high-profile year-end lists, he proved game and versatile as SNL host and soon, he'll join the ranks of Billy Crystal and Bob Hope as Oscar host. I hope he sings!)
- Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: It's hard to resist a pitch-perfect production of a classic play. The skilled director Pam McKinnon gathered actors rather than movie or TV stars and breathed new life into Edward Albee's play of domestic dysfunction. Reminding us that three hours with quality is better than three minutes with dreck, Virginia Woolf is as biting and visceral as ever, and cast members Tracy Letts, Amy Morton, Madison Dirks and Carrie Coon are at the top of their game. This is the best show of the 2012-2013 Broadway season.
- Wrecking Ball: Long considered this country's unofficial poet laureate, Bruce Springsteen once again proved his mettle with his response to the financial crises ruining our country and the corrupt elected officials and special interest groups running it. The ironic lead single "We Take Care of Our Own" has received most of the attention, but "Land of Hope and Dreams" proved curative after Hurricane Sandy. And this record shows off the many sides of The Boss, bringing a stinging indictment against "the greedy thieves...whose crimes have gone unpunished" in one of my favorite tracks, "Death to My Hometown," and getting sultry and swoon-worthy in the simple "You've Got It." (If you haven't heard the album yet, head over to Spotify and rectify this gross oversight.)
- Merrily We Roll Along
- Norbert Leo Butz in How I Learned to Drive and Dead Accounts
- NYCB Fall Gala
- The Best Man
- The Spring Standards, Gold
Extra special bonus: One of my favorite things last year was “Tapping through Anything Goes.” At this year’s Miscast, MCC’s benefit performance in which people who would never be cast in a particular role perform the character’s signature number, Jonathan Groff paid homage to Sutton Foster and her tap-happy ensemble with his rendition of “Anything Goes.” Enjoy.