Year in Review

With the New Year right around the corner, it's time for my year in review. Herein, my favorite things of the year (in alphabetical order), plus some honorable mentions. (Like Spinal Tap, I take this to 11.)

  1. Aaron Tveit Has a Good Year—The multi-talented star began the year by being the best thing about the screen adaptation of Les Miserables. He continued his mastery of the universe by walking out on stage at the Academy Awards like a boss, showing everyone how it's done. Then his new TV show, Graceland, premiered on USA Network and was picked up for a second season. He basically broke 54 Below's ticketing system, selling out several concerts (I couldn't even get a ticket), and then released a recording of the concerts (the album has been in constant rotation). He continues to work in film, shooting a few films, both short and feature-length. I couldn't be happier for the talented guy's success—though I do hope it's not too long before we see the Next to Normal and Catch Me if You Can star back on stage. (Also, he got friendly with pal Norbert Leo Butz.)

  2. Broadway Idiot—Chronicling Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong's journey from Berkeley to Broadway, this documentary fully captures everything I love about American Idiot, and so much of what I love about theatre. (And it made me realize how much I miss American Idiot.) That sense of feeling as if you don't belong, struggling to find your place in this world and then finally finding your family. It's all there. All the blood, sweat and tears, all the emotion, all the glory—and the genius of Tom Kitt. Absolute perfection.

  3. Christopher Wheeldon Has Great Year—And there's more to come! Last year, I named NYCB's first-ever All Wheeldon night one of my favorite things, so it should come as no surprise that the busy choreographer makes my list this year. The world premiere of his A Place for Us was the highlight of the NYCB spring gala. In it, he created a beautiful love story on engaged principal dancers Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck, and also paid homage to his hero, founding choreographer Jerome Robbins. Throughout the year, he proved himself a consummate choreographer, first in his one-act interpretation of Carousel, and then in his full-length ballet, Cinderella, which came to New York courtesy of the San Francisco Ballet. This all makes him the perfect person to direct and choreograph the Gershwin musical, An American in Paris, set to debut in Paris in December 2014, before landing on Broadway in spring 2015. Wheeldon never disappoints, and I can't wait to see what he does next.

  4. city.ballet—It seems like everyone and everything has a reality show, but that's not quite what city.ballet is. Rather, it's a documentary series that takes a peek behind the curtain at one of our most revered arts institutions, the New York City Ballet. There are episodes that explain the ranks, how you get into the company and the sacrifices you make; episodes about partnering on and off stage; episodes about the thousands of customized pointe shoes the Company goes through each year. And in each episode, you feel like you're getting to know the Company, and something new about this heretofore rather mysterious art form is revealed. Plus, executive producer and long-time NYCB supporter Sarah Jessica Parker talks with some Company members as well as Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins, who reminds us that NYCB doesn't import anything, and actually commissions more new music than the NY Phil. Head to cityballet.com to watch all the episodes, including the bonus features in which the dancers are playful and candid as they talk about everything from favorite foods to what they'd be doing if they weren't dancers.

    Bonus Ballet: 
    • All Robbins—Since Jerome Robbins is one of NYCB's founding choreographers, it's commonplace for the Company to present an All Robbins program. I've been to those programs plenty of times before, but none have been as fun at the All Robbins night in May, when, for the first time, I had already seen all three ballets on the program—and they were three of my favorites: Interplay, Fancy Free and I'm Old Fashioned. A great night for the Company and the audience.

    • All Rodgers—When you pair a great composer with great choreographers great things happen. To wit: The All Rodgers night at City Ballet. First was Thou Swell, a Peter Martins ballet that sees four couples dancing to a medley of Richard Rodgers songs. (Most are Rodgers and Hart tunes; some are Rodgers and Hammerstein.) Next was Carousel: A Dance, the brilliant Christopher Wheeldon's distillation of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Closing out the night was the always entertaining Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, the Balanchine ballet from the Rodgers and Hart musical On Your Toes. In total, it was a wonderfully bewitching night of ballet.

    • Justin Peck—Last year was a good one for Company soloist and rising choreographer Peck, as it brought the debut of his first collaboration with musician Sufjan Stevens. But 2013 was also a good year. The year kicked off with the world premiere of Peck's Pas de La Jolla, a glorious new work that opens with Tiler Peck entreating us to join in the fun. Later in the year, NYC got to see Peck's first work for the Company, In Creases, which had previously premiered at the Company's summer home in Saratoga. It's a sharp, crisp work that's not to be missed. In the fall, Peck was granted a coveted spot at the Fall Gala, premiering Capricious Maneuvers, for which fashion designer Prabal Gurung designed the costumes. And there's more to come: Peck has re-teamed with Sufjan Stevens for a ballet that will premiere in 2014.

  5. The Good Wife Kicks Ass—When The Good Wife returned this September for its fifth season, it came back with a vengeance. The first half of this season has been explosive, with intra-office politics unsettling long-standing alliances and sexual politics getting in the way of everything, naturally. The writing this season is noticeably meatier, and the performances from cast regulars, especially leading lady Julianna Margulies and her sparring partner Josh Charles, are knocking people out. (The guest stars are no slouches: Tony winners and comedy legends abound.) What's remarkable about this is that in the fifth season of a show that hadn't exactly gone stale, stakes are being raised and the audience is being surprised. What's even more remarkable is that something this good is on network TV. Quality drama like this is usually reserved for premium cable channels like AMC and HBO.

  6. Here Lies Love—Wow, what an amazing show this is. Based on David Byrne's concept album (on which he collaborated with Fatboy Slim), this fully immersive, ground-breaking musical was brought to life by the incomparable Alex Timbers (who'll be represented on the boards in 2014 with the musical stage adaptation of Rocky). Here Lies Love tells the story of Imelda Marcos, and, because Timbers is a genius, it's set in a disco club. You're in the club and you go through everything Imelda experiences. It carries on the great tradition of theatre being a forum for saying important things, for speaking truth to power (long championed by the Public, where the musical had an extended run) and pushes forward the boundaries of what musical theatre—or any live theatrical experience—can be. Thank Thespis for David Byrne (of The Talking Heads) and Alex Timbers.

  7. House of Cards—There have been many great shows over the years, but this one is different. It's written and filmed like an extended feature film rather than structuring the story to fit into act breaks typically required for commercial TV. Moreover, it established Netflix as a formidable player in the original series game. (The show nabbed multiple Emmys in its freshman season.) House of Cards boasts some of the strongest, smartest writing today, along with deliciously layered and complex characters—male and female. Political operative-turned-writer Beau Willimon is the showrunner and head writer, and David Fincher (The Social Network) directed a couple "chapters." Add to that the knock out cast, featuring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Corey Stoll and Kate Mara, and you can't lose. The second season premieres on Netflix on February 14, 2014.

  8. The Last Five Years—When I saw this in previews in March, I declared it was my favorite thing of 2013. I stand by that statement. For the first time in 11 years, New York audiences got to see this glorious and beloved Jason Robert Brown musical in a fully realized production. Brown's chamber musical (telling the story of Cathy and Jamie's five-year relationship in conflicting chronological order) is beautiful and heartbreaking on its own, but in this production, directed by Brown, it soars to new heights. As Cathy and Jamie, Betsy Wolfe and Adam Kantor were astonishing, unearthing new layers and meaning in songs I thought I knew like the back of my hand. Listening to a recording is one thing, but seeing it—experiencing it in performance is entirely different. (There is a fantastic cast recording of this revival, though. Everything about it is exquisite, including the liner notes. Order it at sh-k-boom.com.) 

  9. Mark Rylance Does Shakespeare—These repertory productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III are literally Shakespeare the way it's meant to be played. Featuring all-male casts led by Mark Rylance, the productions use authentic materials and designs for scenery, costumes, make up, lighting and music; there are stalls for onstage seating; and, if you arrive early, you can watch the company prepare for the show (put on their make up and costumes), like in Elizabethan times. Not only are these great Shakespearean works and not only are the productions authentic, but Mark Rylance is on stage. You know the rules: When he's on stage, you go watch.

  10. Pippin—They've got magic to do, all right. Under the visionary direction of Diane Paulus, this revival of the 70s musical is nothing short of magical. Pippin has always been framed as a show within a show, but Paulus's decision to layer in circus elements adds such richness to the story. Pippin thinks he's trying to find his corner of the sky, but what he's really looking for is his community. He needs to learn to find the people he trusts and then trust them. That's what the performers are doing. There are no wires or safety nets. When these athletes do their stunts, they have to trust each other. That's the greatest trick of all, no matter what the leading player says.

  11. Women Rock—It was a good year for women in the arts.
    • Annie Baker's Still Got It—I love Annie Baker, and her latest, The Flick, is a great example of why. The poignant piece that's, on the surface, about nothing but is really about all the important big life questions, was given a tender premiere at Playwrights Horizons. Baker once again teamed up with director Sam Gold, and enlisted a favorite actor of hers, Matthew Maher, to help tell the story. (Maher's role was written for him.) By taking her time, Baker is able to uncover universal truths while making us laugh, cry, think and feel along the way. Bravo, Ms. Baker!

    • Tina and Amy are Hilarious—As this year's Golden Globes hostesses, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler knocked it out of the park. (The duo will host the 71st Golden Globe Awards in January 2014.) Having honed their schtick at the Weekend Update desk on Saturday Night Live, they have a great chemistry, and because they're both so well-liked in the industry (and, probably, because they're women), they were able to get away with some jokes that others (like previous Globes host Ricky Gervais or this year's Oscar host, Seth MacFarlane) are jeered for. Bottom line: they're amazing and women are funny.

    • Diane Paulus and Pam MacKinnon—This year, women took home the two directing Tonys, Paulus for direction of a musical for Pippin and MacKinnon for direction of a play for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. This hasn't happened in years. Paulus had been nominated for the last two revivals she directed, Hair and Porgy and Bess, but didn't win until this year. And MacKinnon was also previously nominated (most recently for her work on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Clybourne Park), though only became a winner this year, like Paulus. Both women are phenomenal directors, and there are more like them out there. There are plenty of brilliant male directors, too (like Alex Timbers, Michael Mayer and Sam Gold), but these wonderfully talented women deserve extra honors.  
Honorable Mentions

(And here's what I'm looking forward to in 2014: more House of Cards, Justin Peck and The Good Wife; Christopher Wheeldon making his directorial debut; a new original Jason Robert Brown score (via The Bridges of Madison County); Bruce Springsteen's new record, High Hopes; and the original musical from Tom Kitt (a genius) and Brian Yorkey, If/Then, starring Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp!)

Happy New Year! 

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