Not a stage production per se but a movie adaptation of Shakespeare’s brutal tragedy directed by Justin Kurzel whose extraordinary clarity of vision brings this tale of cruelty and revenge to savage life. Intensely atmospheric, the film is almost entirely shot in the Scottish countryside—full of mist and fog and fen—and shows us a Scotland that is caught between the pagan and supernatural and the days of early Christianity. Michael Fassbender plays Macbeth as both bloodthirsty and traumatized and Marion Cotillard sears the soul as his poised, cruel Queen. Deeply internalized acting and vivid, swift-moving depictions of violence make this a complex, yet piercingly clear, rendition of a Shakespeare classic.
9. Outside Mullingar
produced by Everyman Theatre
This lovely, loving production has the power to revive wilting spirits and restore your faith in romance and what the heck, even mankind. Director Donald Hicken handles John Patrick Shanley’s lilting comedy with gentle flair, never laying on the Irish charm too thickly or forcing the whimsicality of this unlikely love story. Set on adjoining farms in rural Ireland, Outside Mullingar is a tender take on the chalk-and-cheese pairing of two awfully odd ducks, played to comedic and romantic perfection by Beth Hylton and Tim Getman. Helen Hedman and Wil Love are also excellent as two codgers with the gift of gab.
8. An American in Paris
Palace Theatre, New York
C’est magnifique! The Broadway version of the Oscar-winning 1951 MGM movie starring Gene Kelly is a delectable meringue of Gershwin tunes, sublime dancing (balletomanes will be in heaven), singing and stagecraft. Romantic, elegant and effervescent, director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon pays rhapsodic tribute to the city of light in a musical filled with supple, sensational movement. Robert Fairchild, Leanne Cope, Jill Paice, Veanne Cox, Brandon Uranowitz and Max Von Essen lead the exemplary cast.
Produced by Center Stage
The world premiere musical Marley, based on the reggae giant Bob Marley, is jamming with righteous rhythms, spiritual power and a potent message about love, justice and revolution. You sometimes have to shake yourself back to the reality that Marley died in 1981 at the age of 36, so convincing and immediate is Mitchell Brunings’ performance in the lead. The Dutch singer plays Marley in an uncanny performance that is not mere vocal impersonation, but captures the fervor, faith and contradictions of a man so dedicated to peace and freedom through music, but also hurting over the poverty and political unrest ravaging his Jamaica.
6. One Night in Miami
It’s exhilarating when history not only comes to life, but catches fire. That’s what happens in Kemp Powers’ powerful fact-fiction mash-up, One Night in Miami, an East Coast premiere brought dazzlingly to the stage with cinemascope style by Center Stage artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah and a knockout cast. A reunion between four friends—Sam Cooke (Grasan Kingsberry), football star Jim Brown (Esau Pritchett) and activist Malcolm X (Tory Andrus) to celebrate Cassius Clay’s (Sullivan Jones) heavyweight boxing victory. One Night takes off like a rocket, immersing you in the dynamics between the long-time buddies and making everything seem real and immediate, instead of a meditative and stately “what if.”
5. Closet Land
When was the last time theater was a white-knuckle experience? Seventy-five minutes of heart-pounding, cold sweat, and conscience-prickling tension are yours for the taking at Factory 449’s visceral staging of Rahda Bharadwaj’s Closet Land, the stage version of the 1991 movie starring Madeline Stowe and Alan Richman. Director Rick Hammerly–aided by set designer Greg Stevens, lighting designer Dan Covey and sound designer Thomas Sowers—locks you into an airtight, cold and clanging world of paranoia, suspicion and torment that is so convincing your eyes frantically search for the reassurance of the theater’s exit sign. A children’s book author (Sara Barker) is accused of hiding subversive, anti-government messages in her stories. She steadfastly maintains her innocence, but her interrogator’s (David Lamont Wilson) endless, increasingly menacing mind games bring to light that the ClosetLand found in her books is no pastel, cotton-candy world.
Until Everyman’s majestic production, I had never seen a production of Fences that did not amount to much more than a blitzkrieg of hollering, grandstanding and bullying by the main character, ex-Negro Leagues baseball player and ex-con Troy Maxson (Alan Bomar Jones). This production brought Wilson’s words to life the way they were meant to–with passion, conviction, earthy humor and marrow-deep emotion. Director Clinton Turner Davis and an exceptional cast turn what I always brushed off as a character study of a bitter womanizer who hammers away at his family and friends the same way he pounds nails into the backyard fence he’s building for his wife into something at once epic and intimate.
Actor Dawn Ursula’s Mama Nadi wields more than a weapon in Ruined, Lynn Nottage’s shattering take on Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, examining the brutal maneuvers necessary to survive amid the amorality of war. Like Mother Courage, Mama Nadi appears to be as ruthless as the war raging outside her corrugated tin walls. Yet, in Ursula’s breathtaking portrayal, you see flickers of empathy here and there when her mask of impermeable conviviality slips. Ruined not only delves into “What price survival?” but posits that most wars are waged atop the bodies of women. Gang rape and sexual exploitation is as commonplace as Kevlar in the battle zone, knitted tight into the fabric of life during war time.
2. The Whale
Samuel D. Hunter’s mighty play about a 600-lb. online college professor Charlie (Michael Russotto) who wants to reconcile with his rebellious teenage daughter before he dies from the effects of morbid obesity packed a visceral jolt. Under the potent and perceptive direction of Kasi Campbell and featuring a towering performance by Russotto, The Whale was as much about transformation as it was about empathy. Like Moby Dick, its main character is something who, by all physical appearances, is a monster—deprived of emotions or feeling. But the play and the novel demanded that we look past the blubber, as it were, and into the souls of these creatures. When we see ourselves in Charlie or the great white whale of Melville’s imagination, we discover depths we never knew possible.
Richard Rodgers Theatre
Yes, all the hype and hyperbole is true. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop pop musical about Founding Father Alexander Hamilton is dazzling, life-changing and a giant leap forward in the development of the modern musical. Everything works dynamically—the music (the score is an instant ear worm), the clever rhyming lyrics, the performances, the two-tiered galley set, the pastel silk dresses on the colonial ladies and the well-fitted coats and vests on the men. A game-changer and well worth the pricey ticket.