My Top Ten Theatrical Experiences of 2019

Jacqueline B. Arnold as La Chocolat, Robyn Hurder as Nini, Holly James as Arabia and Jeigh Madjus as Baby Doll from Moulin Rouge!. Photos: © Matthew Murphy, 2019

My Top Ten Theatrical Experiences of 2019

By Ross

So here goes. I’m not that good at making lists, especially in an order that defines saying one thing is slightly better or somewhat worse, because on any given day, the order and assigned number might shift around quite dramatically.  But on this cold NYC morning, this is what I was thinking. Of course, my special mentions are as long as this list of my top ten (by twice), but so be it.  I feel grateful every time I walk in the theatre, particularly since becoming an Outer Critics Circle voting member. There is just so much to love about New York City’s dynamic and eclectic theatre scene, and although I wanted to add a few from London, England, Washington, or Toronto, I tried my hardest to keep it tuned in to what is happening on Broadway and Off this calendar year. So disagree or agree. It’s all good, and let me know your thoughts. I always love hearing about someone’s passionate loves.

J.D. Mollison (center) and the cast of Octet. Photo by Joan Marcus.

10: Octet

“This one certainly got under my skin and had me thinking late into the night. It also forced me, quite intensely and wisely, to think twice before each and every impulse I had to look at my phone…It’s insanely beautiful and achingly real emotionality that forces itself on me even as I attempted to fall asleep after I got home from this enlightenment…The simpleness of this musical has one of the more important messages that the world seems to be desperate to hear and learn.” Full Review 

Danny Burstein. Photos: © Matthew Murphy, 2019.

9: Moulin Rouge!

“Truth. Beauty. Freedom. And above all things, Love. That’s what is splashed before our hungry eyes and ears at the Moulin Rouge! – The Musical decadently and gorgeously mashing together with high-wired spectacular spectacular-ness…Within this new musical, directed dynamically and deliciously…” Full Review

TFANA Fairview Henry Grossman 4
MaYaa Boateng and Roslyn Ruff. Photo by Henry Grossman.

8: Fairview

“Utterly fascinating and forceful play. Like a good food fight, it wildly throws out implied conventions and disturbing vantage points…It transitions dramatically into a heady examination of race, strongly held expectations, and white privilege. Layered on top is an upsettingly accurate internal dialogue…Directed with resolution and unabashed confidence…the piece pounds us forward dramatically, challenging us to overcome.” Full Review 

What the Conststution Means to Me
Heidi Schreck. What the Conststution Means to Me. Photo by Joan Marcus.

7: What the Constitution Means to Me

“As directed with a free-flowing and creative hand by Oliver Butler, it hits us deep and sharp, almost as complicated as the ripples of distrust and pain that strike through Schreck, shaking and overwhelming her composure that feels, most definitely, out of the box…It lightens my load, seeing the smart and funny ‘What the Constitution Means to Me,’ although my broken heart stays confused and perplexed in these trying times.” Full Review

James Jackson, Jr., John-Michael Lyles, Jason Veasey, Larry Owens (in red jacket and hat), Antwayn Hopper, John-Andrew Morrison, L Morgan Lee. Photo by Joan Marcus.

6: A Strange Loop

“Directed with crafty ingenuity…The thrills of that first number sent me into joyous giggles of delight and surprise. And it just kept getting deeper and smarter, wittier and wiser with each effervescent and boundary-free song. The show is like no other…There are times we don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or clap along to the sounds of this collision of hurt and humor, as the players all bring forth an authentic slap to each well crafted song.” Full Review 

Eva Noblezada, Andre De Shields, Reeve Carney. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy.

5: Hadestown

“The ‘Road to Hell’ has never been finer…With Mitchell’s spectacular retelling of the old Orpheus myth…It’s clear from the hot and fiery opening that…Chavkin has a pure vision of tense and muscular motion…The songs are beautiful…’Hadestown’ delivers a deeply resonant and defiantly hopeful theatrical experience, filled to overflowing with passion, artistry, and love, even as are hearts are crushed in the end by our human frailties.” Full Review 

Zawe Ashton, Charlie Cox, Tom Hiddleston in Pinter’s BETRAYAL at London’s Harold Pinter Theatre. Photo by Marc Brenner.

4: Betrayal

“A triangle built with a ballet-like precision within a circle against a long rectangular wall. This is the essence of this masterful revival. They are poised for interaction from that first visual, one by one, in pairs (for the most part), as directed with tight thoughtfulness by the gifted Jamie Lloyd.” Full Review

The full cast of SLAVE PLAY (On Ground L to R): Ato Blankson-Wood, James Cusati-Moyer, Sullivan Jones, Annie McNamara, Joaquina Kalukango, Paul Alexander Nolan. (In red boxes L to R): Irene Sofia Lucio and Chalia La Tour. (photo by Matthew Murphy)

3: Slave Play

“It’s provocative and uncomfortable, pushing boundaries and buttons that are hidden within every single soul in the theatre, daring us with staggering urgency to take notice and check our own prejudicial thoughts and politics…So sign up for this sexy and dynamic experiment and become engaged in a conversation that will likely continue long after the last group member leaves the stage.” Full Review

[IMG_0850]_Will Hochman, Mary-Louise Parker in THE SOUND INSIDE, Photo by Jeremy Daniel, 2019

2: The Sound Inside

“The piece floats forward in segments, delicately ushering in the ideas of encapsulated loneliness and the acceptance of praise that resides within, ever so quietly…The two come together in a (Tony deserving) way that will haunt your imagination as you try to make sense of the imagined.” Full Review 

[1069_v002] Samuel H. Levine, Kyle Soller, Kyle Harris, Arturo Luís Soria, Jordan Barbour and Darryl Gene Daughtry Jr., Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2019

1: The Inheritance

“‘The Inheritance’ truly surprises us, moment to moment, with its tender power and strong parallel story-telling. It slides in almost unsuspecting, finding a way to deliver a heart breaking truth and an emotional reality that sends me, almost, over the edge. ” Full Review 


Steven Skybell and Jennifer Babiak (c) Matthew Murphy
Steven Skybell, Jennifer Babiak in Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):

NYTW’s Sing Street, LCT’s Greater Clements, PH’s The Thin Place, Little Shop of Horrors, St. Ann’s Warehouse’s History of Violence, PH’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning, Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish, ATC’s Blue Ridge, Public’s Sea Wall/A Life, ATC’s The Mother, St. Ann’s Oklahoma!, Gary: A Sequel…, Public’s White Noise, Rattlestick’s No One is Forgotten, LCT’s The Rolling Stone, Broadway Bounty Hunter, MCC’s The Wrong Man, 59E59’s Square Go, TNG’s one in two. I did not get a chance to see Fleabag or many others, as I only have me, and I do need to work occasionally and make some money to live and eat…And I have yet to see The Lehman Trilogy, but I will get my chance in the Spring. Along with the new West Side Story directed by Ivo van Hove and choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker that started previews early December. I’m guessing they might make my Best of 2020.

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