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2018 Best of Broadway With Ben Brantley

Ben Brantley and Joe Donahue
Ben Brantley and Joe Donahue

This morning we look at the year on Broadway 2018 and it was quite a year. Movie properties were plentiful: "Mean Girls," "Pretty Woman," "Frozen" and even "King Kong." The ever-persistent juke-box musical form came from the songs of Cher, Donna Summer and The Go-Go’s.

There was lots of star power - Kerry Washington, Bryan Cranson, Chris Evans, Laurie Metcalf, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer and Elaine May - just to name a few.

And, there were amazing transfers from London that landed on Broadway and have made an impact: "Harry Potter & the Cursed Child," the National Theatre productions of "Network" and "Angels in America" as well and the Jez Butterworth powerhouse "The Ferryman."

There is nobody better to discuss the year on Broadway with than Ben Brantley. Ben is the co-chief theater critic of The New York Times, filing reviews regularly from London as well as New York City, and Regional theatres.

Productions discussed:

The Ferryman

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Network

Three Tall Women (no longer running - Brantley's NYT profile of Glenda Jackson

Angels in America (no longer running)

The Waverly Gallery

The Jungle (Off-Broadway - no longer running)

Travesties (no longer running)

King Kong

Coming in 2019:

Oklahoma!*

Moulin Rouge!*

Williams Shakespeare's King Lear

(*Exclamation points are part of these musicals' official titles.)

Joe’s Best of Broadway 2018:

1. “Three Tall Women” by Edward Albee, directed by Joe Mantello. Seeing Glenda Jackson command the stage was a staggering example of greatness. Laurie Metcalf delivers a punch line like no other. And this intermission-less masterpiece gave us another opportunity to marvel at Albee’s greatness. Miriam Buether’s set design was gasp-inducing and helped make this the most memorable production of the year.

2. “The Ferryman” by Jez Butterworth, directed by Sam Mendes. Perhaps the only thing keeping this from topping my list was the lack of a legend in the title role. However, Paddy Considine is headed in that direction. Butterworth’s play is perfect in almost every way and it becomes an edge of your seat thriller. At the stunning conclusion, you only wish you could sink back in your chair and watch the Carney clan interact for another three hours.

3. “Harry Potter And The Cursed Child” by Jack Thorne, original story by J.K. Rowling, directed by John Tiffany. Yes, this is a truly magical production. Besides wands and spells, there is beautiful acting, inspirationally sparse staging and characters you know perhaps better than many of your relatives sitting at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

4. “The Waverly Gallery” by Kenneth Lonergan, directed by Lila Neugebauer. Seeing the premiere of this play at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 1999, with distinguished stage actress Eileen Heckart at the helm, began my love for this work. Elaine May, 86, stars in this production and her return to the stage is an event. However, as we marvel at her decades-long career, give time to appreciate Lucas Hedges as the narrator and a performance that further proves his greatness at just 22.

5. “Angels In America” by Tony Kushner, directed by Marianne Elliott. This show is nearly 30-years old and Elliott proved it is still one of the most devastating and thrilling experiences to be had in a theatre. Every emotional button is pushed with nary a fingerprint left. Instead, we feel a burning mix of emptiness and possibility.

Notes:

• “To Kill A Mockingbird” did not make this list because I see it on 12/30. I reserve the right to add it by the end of the year. They had me at Sorkin.

• There are no musicals on my list. That is because the best musical I saw this year (and in quite a few years) is “Moulin Rouge!” It had a Boston tryout this past summer and will open in June on Broadway. Spoiler alert: This show may lead my list for 2019.

• I really struggled with “Network.” Ivo Van Hove’s production of Paddy Chayefsky’s classic film is a good-enough play with some structural issues. However, Bryan Cranston gives one of the most electrifying performances of the season.

Joe talks to people on the radio for a living. In addition to countless impressive human "gets" - he has talked to a lot of Muppets. Joe grew up in Philadelphia, has been on the area airwaves for more than 25 years and currently lives in Washington County, NY with his wife, Kelly, and their dog, Brady. And yes, he reads every single book.
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