10 Best Theater of the Decade

Hard to believe we’re at the end of a decade. The 2010s don’t seem to have acquired much of a profile, at least not yet. But in retrospect it was a pretty great decade for theater: a lot of disappointments for me, but the high points were really high. Here’s my 10 Best list of the decade. Ranking them was too difficult — four or five could be plausible number ones — and so I’ve chickened out by listing them in chronological order.

War Horse (2011). This spectacular show from London’s National Theater, based on a young-adult novel set in World War I, exploited all the resources of the theater — sound, light, puppetry, and the sort of big-canvas storytelling that is increasingly rare these days— to create a truly enthralling evening.

Belleville (2013) Amy Herzog gets my vote as the most underrated playwright of the decade. Her delicate comedy-drama 4000 Miles, staged a couple of years earlier, could easily share this spot, but I give a slight edge to this harrowing drama about a couple whose marriage disintegrates in a Paris hotel room.

Matilda (2013) When I reviewed it for Time, I called this the best musical since The Lion King, and — with apologies to Hamilton — it still might be. Matthew Warchus’s whimsical, hand-crafted production, Tim Minchin’s delightful songs, and the sardonic humor of Roald Dahl’s original children’s story were a perfect combination.

Here Lies Love (2013) David Byrne’s melodic take on the life of Imelda Marcos, staged (by Alex Timbers) on a disco floor with the sets and audience moving constantly, was an exciting, multimedia pop extravaganza with one of the best scores of the decade.

The Flick (2013). Annie Baker’s shaggy-dog play, about a group of geeky employees at a scruffy movie house, went on for more than three hours and had little plot to speak of, but its deadpan portrait of a band of lovable losers was funny and compassionate in equal measure.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (2014) Simon Stephens’ adaptation of the young-adult novel by Mark Haddon, about an autistic boy turned crime solver, was yet another triumph of British stage wizardry, enveloping us in an alien yet entirely credible world.

Hamilton (2015) What more is there to say? Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical was the theater phenomenon of the decade — a cross-generational hit that got adults into rap, kids into American history, and Broadway into unimagined riches.

King Charles III (2015) The Brits triumph yet again: Mike Bartlett’s speculative drama about what might happen when Prince Charles finally ascends the throne was savvy, complex, and challenging in a way most American political plays can’t approach.

Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 (2016) At the height of the immersive-theater fad, Dave Malloy took a slice of Tolstoy’s War and Peace and staged it as a rambunctious pop cabaret show. It might not have been Tolstoy, but it was loads of fun.

Come From Away (2017): This unlikely hit musical, about the town in Newfoundland that hosted the stranded airliners on 9/11, came out of nowhere and won over Broadway — and me as well.

 

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