12 Shows that Totally Ruled Charles Quittner’s 2019
From nightclubs, to rehearsal studios, I found dynamic perspectives and delicious new forms in the many shows I was lucky enough to catch in NYC this year. Some are still running, others have yet to premier – the mostly hotly emerging artists in and behind these pieces show there is so much to look forward to in the new decade of theatre!
Is This a Room (The Kitchen, The Vineyard Theatre) – Tina Satter mounted Half Straddle’s most grounded (and perhaps best) work yet with a word-for-word account of the FBI’s arrest of hero Reality Winner played by Emily Davis giving the performance of the year. It’s the most creative documentary theatre I’ve seen and it just got an extension, so google up the heroic Reality Winner and get on over to The Vineyard.
Choir Boy (MTC) – My favorite Broadway musical to arrive on broadway this year, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s constantly juicy script about a choir in an elite all black boarding school provided a vehicle for Jeremy Pope’s many talents. Camille A. Brown’s passionate musical staging along with Jason Michael Webb’s score and music direction took the passion in the delicious drama to the heavens.
Skittles the Broadway Musical (Town Hall) – Eating its own capitalist tail, my new favorite Will Eno work is a live-superbowl ad for Skittles. The brilliant absurdist musical utilized a powerhouse team of Downtown’s best (Raja Feather Kelly! Sarah Benson!) with its loopy constantly hilarious plot, jammy songs by Drew Gasparini, and deliciously angsty performance from Michael C. Hall in a Cats costume. Running only one performance, I can’t wait to see the inevitable revival at Signature in 2025.
A Very Meow Meow Holiday Show (BAM: The Harvey) – Queering the Christmas pageant form, Meow Meow entered climbing over the audience pregnant with a tummy full of inflatable barn animals. The legendary comedy queen reigned over the “shelf” of the Bam Harvey with batty energy that melted into sincerity with gorgeous stage pictures and a surprising display of pointe. I expect every artist to end their BAM residency crowdsurfing.
Heroes of the Fourth Turning (Playwrights Horizons) – Will Arbery is here, y’all, and he dropped a riveting fugue of a play revolving around the most frightening voices: Conservative academics. I was particularly grabbed by the otherworldly elements Arbery always delivers and Zoë Winters’s deliciously rotten turn as a New York conservative.
The Trees (Playwrights Horizons, reading) – Though still in the development phase, Agnes Borinsky’s newest play The Trees has all the makings of the next great queer theatrical stage fantasy (or truly the first?). Two siblings find themselves literally rooted in the park neighboring their childhood home and find themselves at the protection of capitalism and care of their loved ones. The hug of a play has 15 characters you care very deeply about (cast authentically and eclectically by Tina Satter for the reading).
Hadestown (Walter Kerr Theatre) – Hadestown arrived on Broadway souped-up with lifts, turntables, and a very attractive ensemble that added to the already magical folk opera based on the ancient love song of Orpheus and Eurydice. Anais Mitchell’s score is the most tuneful of the decade with inspiring staging moments by Rachel Chavkin that left me breathless most notably Wait For Me II into Doubt Comes in (So many chills!). The heart of the show is Amber Gray’s element rattling performance as Persephone – what a powerhouse!
American Utopia (Hudson Theatre) – David Byrne’s ingenious Broadway concert is the best of the recent popup “broadway residencies” pop singers have put up. Director Annie B. Parsons was constantly outdoing herself with her inventive musical staging and downtown Jackie of all trades Chris Giarmo lent thrilling anarchic support in the ensemble.
Read My Lips: Lady Gaga (3 Dollar Bill) – Blake Deadly, and Nicky Ottav created a seasonal drag game show at 3 Dollar Bill that plays like a Disney World version of Drag Race…in the best way. In the debut show, 12 very well-selected Manhattan vs. BK queens brought their flashiest props to tell the stories within Gaga’s songs. Ultimately, it was BK’s West Dakota who walked away with $1000; her performance of Perfect Illusion was one of the most iconic drag numbers of the year. I was left voiceless after hollering for her audience-chosen win. This is sports!
Hercules (The Public Theater, The Delacorte) – Public Works found it’s grooviest groove with a community theatre retelling of the Disney film about Gods and the makings of a true hero. By fleshing out the movie’s ensemble of Thebians as a diverse ensemble of like 100 New Yorkers, the community ties felt authentic and I was just so proud I could cry (and I did!).
Red Carrots (Exponential Festival, The Brick) – Lisa Fagan is the most interesting movement maker in town – you want to join in the games her femme ensembles are seemingly cooking up on the spot and she plays with an irreverence few choreographers can get down with. Steak Diane (one of the delicious games) is the most iconic theatrical dish of the year for me.
Cabin (The Bushwick Starr) – The best show of the Bushwick Starr’s year, the dance-play Cabin shows the too real fear lurking just underneath hard-won gay pride – and that pride was thrillingly embodied by LEGENDARY Dauphine of Bushwick Tyler Ashley. Ashley (moving alongside the dashing Brandon Washington) pranced and sashayed as the heart of the dance theatre piece about a throuple who suffer tragedy in the woods.