Best of 2018, Vol. I: Theater Performances

As we near the end of 2018, I’ll be posting my personal “best of” lists, starting now with my picks for the best Broadway/Off-Broadway performances of 2018. I’m very fortunate to live in New York and have access to some of the very best theater in the world, and 2018 blessed us with another year of incredibly rich, dynamic performances on stage from some of the best actors working today. Of everything I saw this year, these were my favorites.

  1. Full Cast, The Play That Goes Wrong

A hysterical comedic romp, performed with admirable exuberance by a terrific cast of (mostly) unknown actors.

  1. Alex Newell / Hailey Kilgore, Once On This Island

The two most memorable performances from a colorful, spirited production, Newell’s powerhouse vocals and Kilgore’s winsome earnestness made this lively, buoyant production well worth the price of admission.

  1. Jessica Keenan Wynn, Beautiful

The surprise standout of a (mostly) well-made jukebox musical, Wynn outshone Melissa Benoist (also quite good) in just about every scene as under-sung songwriter Cynthia Weil.

  1. Lindsay Mendez, Carousel

The best part of a good production of a very problematic play.

  1. Lauren Ambrose, My Fair Lady

The best part of a good production of a very problematic play.

  1. Michael Urie / Mercedes Ruehl, Torch Song

The only worthy performances in a just-okay revival of a genius play (the supporting cast was extremely weak), though Urie’s performance is mostly just an extremely committed Harvey Fierstein impersonation (albeit a good one), and Ruehl played a quite exaggerated role with a surprising degree of restraint.

  1. Katrina Lenk, The Band’s Visit

One of three performers on this list who were also included in my “best of 2017” theater list, Lenk is the heart and soul of this small, wonderful show, which earned her a well-deserved Tony.

  1. Lauren Ridloff, Children Of A Lesser God

Ridloff played what is probably the best role for a deaf woman in the history of American theater (other than Helen Keller) beautifully in a not-great but not terrible production.

  1. Full Cast, The Boys In The Band

We were so lucky this year to get revivals of several of the best LGBT-themed plays ever written, and this production, starring an all openly-gay cast, was one of my absolute favorites. Giving credit to the full cast because they were genuinely all so good that choosing a single stand-out would be near impossible.

  1. Stockard Channing, Apologia

Channing is an all-time favorite actress for me, and she was, predictably, far and away the best part of this very interesting, incisive new play (should note that the rest of the cast, including Hugh Dancy and especially Megalyn Echikunwoke, were also extremely good, but this play also featured the absolute worst performance I saw on stage this  year from an actress whose name I won’t mention).

  1. Glenda Jackson / Laurie Metcalf/ Alison Pill, Three Tall Women

Three acting giants (and personal favorites) absolutely killed it as the three tall women in one of Albee’s very best plays. Pill’s failure to merit a Tony nomination was one of my biggest snubs of the year.

  1. Lesley Manville, Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Manville gave a powerhouse turn as Mary Tyrone, one of the most difficult yet most iconic roles for an actress in American theater, delivering a performance that could go toe to toe with the ones given by Hepburn, Lange, Metcalf or any of the other greats who have tackled it previously.

  1. Janet McTeer, Bernhardt/Hamlet

Another of the greats, as far as I’m concerned, who doesn’t get nearly enough credit, McTeer devoured this juicy role with a ferocious wit and whimsy that left me wanting more.

  1. Tatianna Maslany, Mary Page Marlowe / Network

Maslany, long a favorite of mine, elevated each of these productions into something far more than they would have been with a lesser actress playing her respective roles. Her scenes in Mary Page Marlowe were among the very best work I’ve seen an actress under 40 ever do on stage, and she made the most of what she was given in Network (which frankly did not work for me at all). She acts with such insight, such poise, and intelligence, it’s nearly impossible to look away.

  1. Bernadette Peters, Hello, Dolly!

I’ve legitimately never had a better time in a Broadway theater than I did watching my personal favorite musical theater actress of all time dive into one of the very best roles in one of the very best shows in the canon. I saw the show on the night of Bernadette’s first preview, which was completely electric, and three more times after, and only felt more warmth and love and joy each time. Pure magic.

  1. Full Cast, Angels In America

The greatest play ever written in my opinion. A bold, behemoth, religious experience in which, again, every single cast member rose to the considerable challenge and delivered not only some of the finest work on Broadway this year, but perhaps the very finest work in each of their respective, very accomplished, careers. The fact that Michael Cera was nominated for a Tony for featured actor in a play over the incredible James McArdle is criminal.

  1. Glenn Close / Grace Van Patten, Mother Of The Maid

2018 is the year of Glenn Close, as far as I’m, concerned, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Her sizzling, powerful performance as Isabelle Arc in this sparkling new play from Jane Anderson is just another feather in her cap, and the immensely talented Grace Van Patten held her own against Close in every single scene, a feat for which she deserves a tremendous amount of credit. Featured actress Kelley Curran was also quite impressive.

  1. Tyne Daly, Downstairs

One of the best living theater actresses (and another personal favorite of mine), Daly gave an incredibly skilled, empathic performance in this very strong new play, in which she acted her brother Tim (also quite good) off the stage and out of the building onto the street. She is a center of power, in all things she does, that’s only grown finer with age.

  1. Carey Mulligan, Girls & Boys

Mulligan, who is tied with Amy Adams for the title of my personal favorite actress working today, knocked the breath out of my lungs with this stunning monologue, from which I still have not fully recovered.

  1. Denzel Washington, The Iceman Cometh

I saw this performance on the first night of previews. The production was a mess, I don’t care for Iceman generally, and Denzel forgot his lines at least 5 times. It was still maybe the single greatest performance I’ve ever seen on stage, from our greatest living actor. A true privilege to observe.

Honorable Mentions: Daniel Radcliffe / Cherry Jones, The Lifespan Of A Fact; Josh Charles, Straight White Men, Full Cast, Twelfth Night; Andy Karl, Pretty Woman; Ashley Park, Mean Girls; Bryan Cranston, Network; Kirstin Maldonado, Kinky Boots

Didn’t see: A lot probably, but notably The Waverly Galley (have to assume Joan Allen would have been in contention for a spot on this list if I had), Carmen Jones, The Ferryman, Girl From The North Country, Harry Potter And The Cursed Child

Here’s hoping 2019 brings as many riches to the Broadway stage as 2018 did. Until next year!

xx

JB