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Broadway’s top 10 in 2023

God is heading to Broadway in 2023, as Stephen Sondheim and Maria Friedman see. Whether this happens joyfully or not is another question, but then that’s a question we all have to choose for ourselves.

I’ve reviewed every Broadway show in 2023. Here, in order of preference (alphabetical order is a haven for wimps), are the year’s top 10, the first truly full calendar year since COVID, with plenty to remind us of the pleasure of going to some of the world’s best theatres.

one. “We Walk With Joy”: This year’s best of the best was director Maria Friedman’s excellent revival of the justifiably beloved Stephen Sondheim/George Furth musical about how life destroys youthful optimism and loving relationships with equal fervor. This revival was somewhat of a savior for a show that didn’t initially have a production this centered, clever, and determined to cut the existential jugular. But “Merrily” was also a joyful triumph for the pink triumvirate of Jonathan Groff, Lindsay Mendez and Daniel Radcliffe. What a pleasure it was to watch as life kicked its ever-hopeful characters in the teeth.

2. “Suitable”: “Appropriate,” a take-no-prisoners surprise dash toward the end of the year, was a reminder of the literary excellence of playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and the power of a drama with a powerful perspective on America’s racist past. , but is also determined to empathize with the characters who are experiencing a level of chaos that is impossible for them to understand. Originally penned a decade ago but now reaching Broadway, this is the story of a fractured family unable to find solid planks to stand on amidst generational decay. It is elegantly directed by Lila Neugebauer. Sarah Paulson is lighting the fire, but the entire cast is holding everyone’s feet to the fire. The audience marveled at the sight, which was both strange and all too familiar.

Jay O. Sanders, Billy Eugene Jones, Kara Young and Leslie Odom, Jr. "Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Wrestle Over the Cotton Patch" at the Music Box Theater in New York.

3. “Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Wrestle Over the Cotton Patch”: Another reminder of how much master director Kenny Leon has done for Broadway since the COVID pandemic, “Purlie Victorious” delivered a performance worthy of its title character’s name. Here was a satire of all-American racism, set on a snarling Georgia plantation in the 1950s, populated by pragmatically sycophantic Black characters and a whip-wielding white overlord. There is no easy job. Still, Leon and his stars Kara Young and Leslie Odom Jr. It made the audience laugh, think and cry. Leon focuses more generously on Black playwrights than any other living director, and here he reminded us that Ossie Davis deserves a place among the greats of the 20th century.

Rachel Brosnahan and Oscar Isaac "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window" on Broadway at the James Earl Jones Theater in New York.

4. “The Sign in Sydney Brustein’s Window”: Lorraine Hansberry wrote “A Raisin in the Sun,” as good a play as any 20th-century drama, and then this incredible work about bohemians and radicals in downtown New York. Critics have generally failed to do justice to this masterpiece; It was so full of morality and melancholy, yet so full of emotional intelligence and poetic beauty, that it kept you upright in your seat for almost three hours. At the heart of director Anne Kauffman’s spectacular production was Rachel Brosnahan, who gave an open-hearted performance that didn’t get anywhere near the praise it deserved.

Jodie Comer walks in "First Hundred" at the Golden Theater in New York.

5. “First Hundred”: An empathetic actress capable of conveying many colors and emotions, Jodie Comer gave such a powerful performance at the heart of Suzie Miller’s legal thriller that it was easy to forget that this was a solo show. This big-event feel is also enhanced by director Justin Martin, who uses Miriam Buether’s sophisticated design and the bold vocal emphasis of Ben and Max Ringham as Comer’s co-stars. They all deserved equal pay, but Comer still provided a masterclass in how to navigate a politicized narrative in theater while also serving up a deeply vulnerable main character, a lawyer whose value system has been turned upside down. “Prima Facie” may seem like a procedural on the surface, but the art here was so complex that no genre could do the show justice.

Marcel Spears and Billy Eugene Jones "Fatty Ham" on Broadway at the American Airlines Theater in New York.

6. “Fat Ham”: A slyly conceived and entertaining riff on William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” set in the backyard of a contemporary black family, “Fat Ham” took aim at the most basic tragic assumptions and challenged what Arthur Miller has called representational greatness in any play for years. It set a powerful example as a game. . In other words, “Fat Ham” said that a self-doubting, non-conformist young man has the same tragic value as any Danish prince. It was not without its flaws, and writer James Ijames seemed to have run out of time, but this most delicious of contemporary plays shone with necessary truth and audacious wit, and was endowed with an uneven but deeply committed production that demanded due sensitivity.

Arielle Jacobs (Imelda Marcos) and Jose Llana (Ferdinand Marcos) at the Broadway Theater in New York

7. “Here Lies Love”: Unfortunately, it wasn’t much of a commercial success, but “Here Lies Love” was still unlike any other series in history. The Broadway Theatre’s orchestra seats have been traded away in favor of gripping storytelling that focuses on both the trajectory and moral underpinnings (or lack thereof) of famed Filipino leaders Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos. David Byrne’s music owed as much debt to Edinburgh as Manila, but Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s 2010 album still provided a terrific boost to the show. Director Alex Timbers’ high concept made sense thematically, given Imelda’s love of Studio 54. “Here Lies Love” explored this couple without turning the show into a piece of moralistic propaganda; the show was both an event and an artistic achievement that did not receive the respect it deserved.

George Gershwin (John Zdrojeski) and Oscar Levant (Sean Hayes) in Doug Wright's play "Good night, Oscar."

8. “Good night Oscar”: Broadway audiences are always success of power The performance is unexpected, dependent on skill and craft, and always surprising enough to make an otherwise costly evening feel worthwhile. Sean Hayes’ Tony Award-winning performance as Oscar Levant demonstrated exactly that; It’s an emotionally and psychologically rigorous performance with just enough courage not to distract from the immoral practices of an entertainment industry that has exploited sick people for decades. Playwright Doug Wright’s play was a good vehicle for this study; It’s old-fashioned, sure, but it’s deeply committed to a style that was once a Broadway staple, and so it fits perfectly with the events unfolding here in Jack Paar’s fast-paced, late-night extravaganza.

Alex Newell, Caroline Innerbichler, Kevin Cahoon and Andrew Durand "shocked" at the Nederlander Theater in New York.

9. “I was shocked”: Broadway needed laughs in 2023, and this goofy show certainly delivered them, all thanks to the wit and wit of writer Robert Horn, who seems to have emptied his entire head of all the one-liners that live and dance inside him and glued them to laughter. Stage of the Nederlander Theater in New York. Opinions differed on the show’s longevity, and the “Hee Haw” nonsense only went so far, but no one with a pulse was immune to the night’s main purpose: giggles, boos, and then a few more giggles. A very talented cast was more than ready for fun.

Okieriete Onaodowan and Jessica Chastain "A Doll's House" at the Hudson Theater in New York.

10. “A Doll’s House”: Detractors argued that the show featured stage-sitting actors with head mics at Broadway prices, was too cool for school, was a show made for the Audible and AirPods era, and was hugely popular for the heartfelt stories played on people’s ears. But such skepticism ignores the richness and vibrancy of Jessica Chastain’s central performance as Henrik Ibsen’s Nora, an insightful look at the most important door-closing in dramatic history, as well as the way director Jamie Lloyd finds a way to cut through unnecessary clutter. explore geographically and chronologically, and find a new way to focus contemporary audiences on Ibsen’s topical observations of human behavior.

Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.

cjones5@chicagotribune.com

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