Editors' Picks: The Most Impactful Shows of 2015

News   Editors' Picks: The Most Impactful Shows of 2015 What was the one musical and the one play that impacted you the most this year? That's what we asked our editors. Find out our favorites and see which ones you can still snag a ticket for a life-changing theatrical experience all your own.

Take a look back at Our Unforgettable Theatre Experiences of 2014

Adam Hetrick, Editor in Chief, Playbill.com
 
Musical: Hamilton, now at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway
The artistry and innovation of Hamilton are enough to merit its place as the show of 2015. Lin-Manuel Miranda has rightfully earned every ounce of praise thrown his way, but one of the things that has stayed with me since first seeing it at the Public Theater, is the way in music, lyrics, choreography, direction and every single design element seem connected through a strand of pulsing nerves — like some kind of hip-hop musical theatre history machine. But what we can't ignore is that Hamilton's zeitgeist has sky-rocketed it beyond the 10-block radius of the theatre district and put it on the lips of world influencers. That is something everyone involved in theatre should be proud of.

The cast of <i>Hamilton</i>
The cast of Hamilton Photo by Joan Marcus

Play: The Mystery of Love & Sex Off-Broadway at Lincoln Center Theater
Something still haunts me about Bathsheba Doran's The Mystery of Love & Sex at Lincoln Center Theater. The lifelike way the relationships of the four main characters ebbed and flowed over the course of several years felt inevitable and explosive. The show's youngest stars, Gayle Rankin and Mamoudou Athie, were perfect foils for Tony Shalhoub and Diane Lane. And that final scene, a dimly-lit reunion on the edges of an outdoor wedding, still puts a lump in my throat.

 

Andrew Gans, Senior Editor, Playbill.com
Musical: Little Shop of Horrors at New York City Center
A long-time admirer of the many unique talents of Ellen Greene, I had waited years to see her once again step into the high heels of Little Shop of Horrors' lovably ditzy Audrey, a role she created Off-Broadway in 1982 and later preserved  on screen to equally stellar reviews. The open-hearted actress managed to do the impossible, not only meeting, but exceeding, exceptionally high expectations, somehow melding the worlds of stage and screen into a definitive Audrey that will forever remain the benchmark of anyone who might someday dare to take on the role. This writer can't remember another performer whose every word, note and breath was met with unbridled adoration, and the astonishing fact is all the hoopla was deserved. Those thunderous and lengthy ovations also followed her heart-stopping rendition of "Somewhere That's Green" and her thrilling duet with Jake Gyllenhaal on "Suddenly Seymour." In fact, most everything that she and the flawless cast delivered was met with uproarious approval in what can only be described as a thoroughly magical experience.

Ellen Greene and Jake Gyllenhaal in <i>Little Shop of Horrors</i>
Ellen Greene and Jake Gyllenhaal in Little Shop of Horrors Photo by Joan Marcus


Play: Sylvia now at the Cort Theatre on Broadway

I'd be hard-pressed to say whether my love for theatre or dogs is greater, but that does make my choice for favorite play of the year an easy one: the revival of A.R. Gurney's Sylvia. Featuring a hilarious performance by Tony winner Annaleigh Ashford as the titular canine and the versatile Robert Sella in a variety of roles, the play is surprisingly moving, especially in Sylvia's final eye-opening speech to her owner's wife (Julie White) and White and Matthew Broderick's subsequent remembrances of their late dog. I spotted several other audience members, who had likely also loved and lost a pet, wiping away tears as they exited the Cort Theatre.

Blake Ross, Editor in Chief, Playbill
Musical: Hamilton, now at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway
2015 was an extraordinary and groundbreaking year for theatre of all kinds. Most of all, commercial theatre saw a huge, needle-moving moment for new kinds of music, people of color, actors and audiences with disabilities, access to the theatre, etc. My unforgettable musical moment was Hamilton. On a professional level: our industry will be infinitely changed as a result of this generation-defining musical. What is considered a proper and commercially viable theatre vehicle will change. Casting choices will change. What is considered "star power" will change. Audiences will change. We will change, and change for the better, because of what Lin-Manuel Miranda created. On a personal level (full disclosure, Miranda is a personal friend and former colleague): I couldn't be prouder to have been a witness to the trajectory of this masterpiece from its infancy to now. I'm watching from the sidelines as a person I have great affection for is doing great career-defining work. I am so very proud.

Ben Miles and Lydia Leonard in <i>Wolf Hall</i>
Ben Miles and Lydia Leonard in Wolf Hall Photo by Johann Persson

Play: Wolf Hall Parts I & II on Broadway
My unforgettable play was Wolf Hall. There is nothing better (for theatre fans, anyway) than completely immersing oneself into a theatrical experience. The idea of any "marathon viewing" is just as it sounds--daunting at first blush, but it can be thrilling with the right piece. Wolf Hall managed to check all the boxes. It was a stupendous piece of theatre and history. In fact, most London imports New York received this year--Ivo van Hove's A View From The Bridge, Nick Payne's Constellations, Bill Nighy's latest Skylight performance, Helen Mirren's Tony-winning turn in The AudienceJohn Doyle's The Color Purple with the star-turn of RADA alum, Cynthia Erivo--gave us Yankees a run for our money.

Matt Blank, Photo Editor, Playbill.com
Musical: Daddy Long Legs now at Off-Broadway’s Davenport Theatre
With all of the glitz and glamour of the many excellent Broadway productions each year, it’s easy to sometimes forget the value of what is at the core of all theatre: storytelling. This absolutely gorgeous two-person musical on a single set in a tiny theatre was a much-needed reminder of what can be accomplished with great material and the right performers. The sweet, uncomplicated story and absolutely stunning score affected me as deeply as anything else I’ve seen onstage in recent years.  And it is a true star-making lead performance for Megan McGinnis, who never leaves the stage and delivers song after song with such beauty and commitment.

A scene from <i>Charles Francis Chan Jr.’s Exotic Oriental Murder Mystery</i>
A scene from Charles Francis Chan Jr.’s Exotic Oriental Murder Mystery Photo by William P. Steele

Play: Charles Francis Chan Jr.’s Exotic Oriental Murder Mystery at National Asian American Theater Company 
The latest by Lloyd Suh absolutely took my breath away, and I suspect it to be among the most important plays of our era- boldly tackling a number of vital and controversial subjects. At the very core, it is an exploration and indictment of the absurd manner in which Asian-Americans have historically been (grotesquely) portrayed and (un)represented in American culture. With rapid-fire dialogue evocative of Angels in America and fearless use of racist cartoon imagery and Asian minstrel show, the piece manages to be simultaneously devastating, angry, provocative and hilarious. It’s taken until 2015 to see any sort of positive Asian-American representation in TV and film, and Suh’s work makes it abundantly clear that there is so much work to do. At a certain point, the audience is asked to name the most memorable Asian-American character in USA popular culture... ever. After much silence, someone finally came up with Harold and Kumar. Good movie. But if that's really the pinnacle of our representation in media over the last 100 years, it's a sad statement. This powerful work connected me to the gross reality of the past, and gave me hope for the progress awaiting in 2016.

Michael Gioia, Features Managing Editor, Playbill.com
Musical: Hamilton, now at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway
I could go on and on about why it's exciting to have Hamilton on Broadway and how great it is, but I'll just say that — because of this musical — New York theatre is on the upswing. The musical has now made headlines all over the world, people are flocking to the theatre, it is living proof that hip-hop music can thrive in this medium and, most importantly, you leave with an education. For that, I am grateful. #YayHamlet

Lindsay Mendez and Gideon Glick in <i>Significant Other</i>
Lindsay Mendez and Gideon Glick in Significant Other Photo by Joan Marcus

Play: Significant Other Off-Broadway at Roundabout Theater Company
Watching Significant Other was like watching my life play out before my eyes. Dating has changed so drastically in the wake of social media and dating apps like Tinder, and I feel like we have lost touch with proper social interaction — in New York City, it's almost taboo to approach a stranger and ask them out on a date. And, most twentysomethings who are in a relationship have been in one for ages and are slowly-but-surely getting engaged. So, what happens to the single best friend? How many more bachelor or bachelorette parties will I have to attend? How will I ever find "The One?" How could I possibly meet someone in a city where everyone shies away from commitment? And then, when you think you may have found someone, are they truly into you or are you just a placeholder until someone better comes along? This show was so real and relatable, and Gideon Glick embodied everything that single twentysomethings are in this big, bad city. It felt almost therapeutic to be in the theatre, and it functioned as a friendly reminder that: "No. I'm not alone."

Olivia Clement, Off-Broadway Correspondent, Playbill.com
Musical: The Color Purple, now at the Bernard A. Jacobs Theatre on Broadway
John Doyle's stunning production of The Color Purple is one I will never forget. The staging was pared down, yet incredibly impactful, and Cynthia Erivo and Jennifer Hudson's performances were flawless. Like two thirds of the audience, I was also brought to a standing ovation during Erivo's "I'm Here" and moved to tears during the duet, "What About Love?" Danielle Brooks was equally impressive as the fierce and inspirational Sofia. Overall, it felt like one big celebration of girl power, which perfectly encompassed my own goals for 2015.

Play: An Octoroon at Theatre for a New Audience
This show dared to go where so many other plays do not. In dealing with race and America's history, it achieved a rare triumph: making the audience cry with laughter before bringing them to tears of sadness and compassion. It was absurd, hilarious, moving and relevant, all at once. From the falling set pieces to the bold themes and incredible ensemble, An Octoroon was without a doubt, a highlight of 2015.

Robert Viagas, Managing Editor, Playbill.com
Musical: Little Shop of Horrors at New York City Center
Hamilton may be the most brilliant new musical of the year, but for pure heart and star-quality, it was hard to top July’s special Encores! revival of Little Shop of Horrors. Jake Gyllenhaal, Taran Killam, Marva Hicks and Eddie Cooper were featured in the sparkling cast, but the Hope Diamond at the center of the production was Ellen Greene, recreating her original 1982 Off-Broadway “puh-faw-mince” as the low-self-esteem Audrey. Audiences at City Center welcomed the seemingly un-aged Greene back with brick wall of cheers and applause that almost knocked her over.

Tim Pigott-Smith
Tim Pigott-Smith Photo by Joan Marcus

Play: King Charles III, now at the Music Box Theatre on Broadway

You got to have nerve to match pens with William Shakespeare in a verse play about English royalty, but Mike Bartlett pulled it off royally, you might say, with the Broadway transfer of his London hit,
King Charles III. Tim Pigott-Smith stars as Charles Windsor — today’s Prince Charles — in this drama that tries to imagine what may happen if and when he someday assumes the throne as Charles III.  The issue is press censorship, but none of the characters in the play take the attitude toward the subject that you might expect. It’s full of surprises, brilliance, and a thoughtful take on a fascinating premise.

Ruthie Fierberg, Features Editor, Playbill.com
Musical: Spring Awakening, now at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Broadway
To say that Deaf West’s incarnation of Spring Awakening changed me is an understatement. While I saw the original production three times during my undergrad years — and it shaped who I am today — nothing could have prepared me for this production. I walked out completely changed. I don’t understand how the show was done any other way. Deaf West Theatre presents something one cannot fathom until one witnesses this stunning beauty. Michael Arden’s direction is flawless. Spencer Liff is a visionary and his choreography augments the poetry of the piece and shows what amazing storytelling can be done through the right combination of movement and music. Duncan Sheik’s original score is stellar, but these arrangements have elevated it to the next level. The acting throughout is other-worldly. I was floored, in particular, by newcomer Austin P McKenzie as Melchior. The sensitivity and steadfastness he brings to the role (and that voice!) floored me. Tony nominators, take note. I don’t care you who you are or what your theatrical taste is — this piece is important. Do your soul a favor and go. It will change you, too.

Derrick Baskin, Ryan Quinn, Donald Webber, Jr., Daniel J. Watts, Sherie Rene Scott, Chris Myers and Nicholas Christopher in <i>Whorl Inside a Loop</i>
Derrick Baskin, Ryan Quinn, Donald Webber, Jr., Daniel J. Watts, Sherie Rene Scott, Chris Myers and Nicholas Christopher in Whorl Inside a Loop Photo by Joan Marcus

Play: Whorl Inside A Loop at Second Stage Theatre
This play by Sherie Rene Scott and Dick Scanlan is proof of how theatre can change a public dialogue. I’ve always believed in the power of theatre, but this account of a volunteer teaching a master class in acting to maximum-security prisoners demonstrated theatre’s unique ability to heal through the characters in the play and its ability to educate by way of an audience. It also spurred a bit of a moral debate and resurrected the question: Who owns your story? All of the actors played multiple roles and I kept thinking I found my favorite and then another performer opened his mouth and shot that thought to hell. Between it’s smart book, its emotionally deep performances and its provocation, this was the play that made a mark on me this season.

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