Best of Broadway 2016: A love letter to 'Dear Evan Hansen'

Sunday, 25 December 2016 10:33 AM Written by 


Ben Platt, center, leads a uniformly fine cast in "Dear Evan Hansen." (Matthew Murphy)

My "Best of Broadway Musicals, 2016" -- I haven't seen that much, but certainly I saw some great productions and performances. I am most looking forward to "Come From Away" in the new year.

1. "Dear Evan Hansen" -- The most original musical I've seen in a long time, and the most of-the-moment, came to Broadway after winning a slew of Obies off-Broadway. Ben Platt's troubled teen is a magnificent mess and Pasek and Paul's songs, whether funny or poignant, convey urgency as the tension builds. I can't get "Waving Through a Window" out of my head.

2. "She Loves Me" -- An old-fashioned love story that has been retold often because it's just that good. The Roundabout Theatre revival had some of theater's most likable stars in Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi and Jane Krakowski on a Tony-winning confection of a set.

3. "The Color Purple" -- Like "She Loves Me," I saw this not long before the Tony Awards. Cynthia Erivo's performance as Celie was phenomenal. I turned to my son Josh at some point and said, "Give her the Tony now." Well, they waited a few weeks. Danielle Brooks and Heather Headley also were amazing in the revival by less-is-more director John Doyle.

4. "Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812" -- OK, so Josh Groban wasn't there the night I got to see it. But effervescent Denee Benton (CMU '14) was. A kernel of Tolstoy's "War and Peace" is reimagined with dramatic twists and engaging performances, in an immersive setting. The costumes are fab, too.

5. "Falsettos" -- This was purely about star power and getting to finally see a production of a musical whose songs I have known forever. "The Baseball Game (Watching Jason Play Baseball)" triggers a million memories. Seeing this limited-engagement "Falsettos" with Christian Borle, Andrew Rannells, Stephanie Block and Brandon Uranowitz was irresistible.

6. "Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed" -- There were consequences to building a show around Audra McDonald, only because also present were Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Adrienne Warren, Brandon Victor Dixon and Joshua Henry (the latter two now starring in New York and Chicago productions of "Hamilton" and Warren is headed into a Tina Turner musical). McDonald became pregnant and the producers decided the show could not go on, but for a shining moment, the overly ambitious musical was packed with show-stopping songs and dance numbers by Savion Glover.

Honorable mention, for joyful entertainment:

  • "Something Rotten!," soon to be here as part of PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh, is a zany songfest for lovers of Shakespeare and those who don't like him so much. After the Broadway production closes Jan. 1, current stars Rob McClure, Adam Pascal and John Grisetti head out on tour. Can't wait to see the big production number "It's a Musical" on the big Benedum stage.
  • "School of Rock," Tony-nominee Alex Brightman and a bunch of amazing kids. "School of Rock" also raised the awareness of Andrew Lloyd Webber to the great need for musical intstruments and education in New York public schools, and he put his fortune to work in that effort. Nice going, Sir Andrew.
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