Was it just us or was this a banner year when it comes to the quality of Off-Broadway shows? It seemed like with every opening, the bar was being raised ever so slightly. While Broadway was dominated by just a few titles, there were several that made a lasting impression on our writers. Here are, in no particular order, the 10 best according the reviews and comments of our writers.
Daddy Long Legs
"With its heretofore quiet success, this musical shows some wiser paths that can be taken for the creation of musicals. In an age where producers are insisting that musicals be based on films, this adaptation shows that novels often have more depth and substance. It also shows, like Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years, that a musical need not be of blockbuster proportions". - Charlies Lupia
Once Upon a Mattress
"Just when the engaging characters start to become “too real,” Sandra Goldmark’s cartoonish set with scenic illustrations and live drawings by Ken Fallin (how much more interactive can a musical get?) transports the audience back into the land of fairy tales and make believe and wishes that sometimes come true. “Once Upon a Mattress gives the audience renewed hope for the future and the possibility for a positive outcome to the struggles of the present – a happily ever after for the global community." - David Roberts
"Songbird” is successful in two ways. Thanks to Michael Kimmel’s rich text, it is a remarkably rich retelling of Chekhov’s classic, following the characters, their conflicts, and their tortured stories in exacting parallel progression. And it is a stand-alone play which highlights the universality of individuals and families confronting and demystifying the challenges of discontented lives and the failed hopes that challenge humankind and its discontents. Chekhov’s seagull becomes a bluebird here with the same rich connections and metaphorical vectors extant in Chekhov’s masterpiece." - David Roberts
Hamlet in Bed
"The conceit is brilliant and the execution by the actors under Lisa Peterson’s direction is equally brilliant and equally engaging. Both actors move – glide actually – in and out of narration, monologues, and engaging scenes in and out of “Hamlet’s bed.” This is a complicated and deeply rich script that lingers with the audience long after the curtain call providing many “Aha” and “Wait, now I think I get it” moments. Rachel Hauck’s scenic design is sparse leaving much to the imagination of the audience to determine the setting. Jessica Pabst’s costumes are simple, appropriate, and complimented exquisitely by Scott Zielinski’s mood-driven lighting which – like the set – teases the audience into star-studded wonderment." - David Roberts
"This is political theatre at it’s finest. In fact, political theatre is almost a misnomer. This play isn’t forcing any agenda on its audience. It’s not leftist or rightist. It is, principally, a staunch plea for humanity, a warning against apathy and a reminder of just how recent history is. And how poorly we learn from it. It is current, and important, and the execution is faultless. It’s not a show that will make you happy, but it will make you ask yourself some serious questions. I’ll say it again: everyone should see this." - Thomas Burns Scully
Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait
"Daniel Talbott has written one of the best surreal, kaleidoscopic fables about not just the horrific legacy of combat on “foreign” soil but perhaps more importantly about the specter of all human conflict – physical, psychological, and spiritual. The unnamed military outpost that serves as the setting for Daniel Talbott’s “Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait” serves as a trope for all of the “mental wards in the middle of the desert” where feelings become numb and connections to moral centers become unhinged." - David Roberts
"What makes the play so large in its intense specificity is Karam’s suggestion that this state of affairs is not just one family’s idiosyncrasy, but rather our species’, as we scratch our way forward at what for everyone living is always the end of time. Richard, the outsider, gets nearest the point (and incidentally explains the play’s title) in a description of a comic book series he likes. It is about a race of monsters who, naturally, do not fear monsters as we do; instead, they fear the humans. We are quite enough to stock a horror show." - Jesse Green - Vulture
John & Jen
"Under the careful direction of Keen Company Artistic Director Jonathan Silverstein, Kate Baldwin and Conor Ryan demonstrate successfully what musical theatre ought to be. Their performances are never caricatures: nor do these performances ever become cartoonish. The audience is always aware of the age difference in the characters they portray. Their onstage chemistry is remarkable and believable. Steven C. Kemps’s scenic design and Josh Bradford’s lighting design cleverly dramatize the rough edges and shadowy corners of the human mind as it attempts to navigate the obstacle course called life.
It is a joy to see all that a Broadway performance ought to be played out on the Off-Broadway stage at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row. Thanks to a brilliant cast and an inventive creative team, the Keen Company has scored a hit worth seeing". - David Roberts
"Jesse Eisenberg's "The Spoils," currently running at the New Group, is the “This Is Our Youth” for the twenty-first century millennial generation and captures the angst of this generation with gripping honesty and often disturbing realism. The complicated dynamics between the protagonist Ben (Jesse Eisenberg), his Nepalese roommate Kalyan (played with a charming innocence by Kunal Nayyar), Kalyan’s girlfriend Reshma (played with a steely veneer by Annapurna Sriram), Ben’s high school mate Ted (played with the right mix of naiveté and revenge by Michael Zegen) and his fiancé Sarah (played with splendid resolute dignity by Erin Darke) enliven the iconic Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and splay the stage at the Pershing Square Signature Center with identification, projection, delusional behavior, magical thinking (to name but a few) and near ego strength meltdown. Mr. Eisenberg’s script is the best on or off Broadway at the present time and for quite some time before." - David Roberts
“Nora” is “A Doll’s House” on steroids with fast-paced action provided by the ensemble cast that rarely leaves the stage each (except Nora) retreating into the shadows in Harry Feiner’s brooding light and each reappearing when engaged with the other actors. Harry Feiner’s set design and Theresa Squire’s costume design further complement Bergman’s taut and tantalizing script with authenticity and grace.
"Nora" is a definite must see for those endeared to the classic and for all of those looking for rich theatre that asks enduring questions about gender, self-discovery, and empowerment." - David Roberts