In recent years, Broadway has really gone from strength to strength, with a huge number of great shows wowing audiences and scooping up the awards.
From spectacular musicals to serious, ground-breaking drama, there’s arguably never been a better time for theatre in America. If you go down to the Great White Way this evening, you’ll find a wealth of must-see productions to suit all tastes. What are some of the great shows that you might have missed over the last five years? Here’s our selection.
The first Broadway musical to feature a lesbian leading character, Fun Home was also one of the first plays adapted from a graphic novel. Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori took Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical coming-of-age story and won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The songs successfully adopted a wide range of styles as three actors played Alison in various stages of her life, discovering her sexuality and coming to terms with her conflicted, overbearing father.
Dear Evan Hansen
Portrayed by Ben Platt in the original Broadway cast, Evan Hansen is a socially anxious teenager whose desire to connect and be accepted paradoxically leads him into a web of lies and deception. This 2017 musical had already won awards in its earlier runs in Washington DC and off-Broadway, but scooped six Tonys in its first Broadway incarnation, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. Not flinching from issues such as teenage suicide and communication in the internet era, Dear Evan Hansen resembled a song-packed Catcher in the Rye for our times.
Lynn Nottage’s powerful working-class drama used Reading, Pennsylvania as a microcosm of Trump-era America, exploring the economic and social tensions that tear apart a previously tight-knit community. Co-produced by Louise Gund of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where the play was originally performed in 2015, Sweat won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2017. The brilliance of Sweat lies in the way that it translated complex issues of race, class, gender and global economics into an easily relatable human story.
The Band’s Visit
Itamar Moses and David Yazbek created a sophisticated, offbeat and emotionally powerful musical with this 2016 story of an Egyptian police band that accidentally ends up in the wrong town on a cultural visit to Israel. The Band’s Visit transferred to Broadway the following year and won instant critical acclaim for its wonderful songs, understated performances and touching explorations of love, loss and cultural differences. The use of Middle Eastern actors and characters in roles that had a real depth and humanity also attracted praise. As far from the bombast of a traditional Broadway musical as you can get, The Band’s Visit is nevertheless one of the best song-based shows to grace the district this decade.
This British play by UK writer Jez Butterworth is set in Northern Ireland during the early 1980s and looks at the family of a former IRA activist during the period known as “The Troubles”. Opening at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 2017, it transferred to Broadway in October 2018 and won four Tony Awards, including Best Play, before closing this July. In the play, a large family comes together for a harvest supper but is haunted by a dead son, the ancient mythology of place, and the political conflict that will not let them alone.
Angels in America
Hailed as perhaps the greatest American play of the 1990s, Tony Kushner’s powerful account of the AIDs crisis was revived at London’s National Theatre in 2017 and transferred to Broadway the following year. Angels in America received a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play in a production that ran for nearly eight hours and that brought an extra layer of pathos engendered by the 27-year gap since its original production. Audiences were forced to consider how they and the world had changed in that time, and to view the events and characters portrayed with a new and sometimes humbling sense of perspective.
Some of these plays and musicals are still being staged, so there’s no excuse not to go and see them yourselves. Of course, this list only skims the surface, and so many other productions could have been mentioned. The likes of Hamilton, The Book of Mormon and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child can still be seen and are all very much deserving of their lengthy runs, as well as the numerous awards with which they’ve been garlanded. Broadway continues to astound and amaze in equal measures, and you owe it to yourself to keep up with what is on offer.