End of the 2010s: BroadwayWorld's Best Shows of the Decade!
As the 2010s draw to a close, we thought we'd look back at all the incredible theatre of the past decade. What's been your highlight? Here, BroadwayWorld reviewers share some of theirs!
Aliya Al-Hassan: I have so many standouts, but Kinky Boots must rate one of the highest. In its three-year West End run, I saw it four times and was very disappointed not to catch the tour. It strikes me as a mixture of everything wonderful about a musical: frustratingly catchy songs, wonderful choreography, blistering performances, and so, so much fun. As cheesy as it may sound, I also think the intrinsic messages of love and acceptance are more important than ever at the moment.
The Lehman Trilogy at the National Theatre blew me away on so many levels: astute, witty, inventive and utterly immersive. Who thought banking could keep an audience completely hooked for three hours?
I also feel so lucky to have seen the original version of Constellations at the Royal Court with Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins back in 2012. Nick Payne's ability to fit complex quantum theory into a powerful love story in only an hour is inspired. It is a beautiful, ingenious and challenging play. Superb.
Gary Naylor: Hamilton - smart, technically brilliant and so much fun. I never thought I would live long enough to hear a score as good as West Side Story - Hamilton's is better.
Sweeney Todd - in my local pie shop in Tooting, then onto the West End and New York, Sondheim reinvented as intimately as a shave from the demon barber himself.
London Road at the National Theatre - moving, unique, utterly theatrical, and a magical tribute to the power of compassion.
I'd watch all three every week of 2020 and not be bored for moment.
Jonathan Marshall: A Streetcar Named Desire at the Young Vic with Gillian Anderson set a hugely high bar for that particular play. It was directed and produced perfectly. The Inheritance, again at the Young Vic, for its beautiful writing, acting and direction.
Tim Wright: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at the National Theatre - a quite frankly astonishing piece of theatre, marrying creative storytelling, innovative design and stunning visuals. It appeals across age ranges to inspire and delight in equal measure. Its ongoing commercial and touring success come as no surprise.
And, in a decade where the National has struggled to find shows to fit the cavernous Olivier space, Amadeus felt at home. With a full symphony orchestra on stage, this powerhouse production had its audience stunned. The lead performances from two of our best British talents in Lucian Msamati and Adam Gillen were a joy to behold as the duelling duo Salieri and Mozart.
Fiona Scott: I think Mischief Theatre's work has stood out this decade. As I discussed with Nancy Zamit, they came along at just the right time when people needed some entertaining escapism from the news. There's a reason why they have three (soon four) shows running in the West End, plus their tours. I love rewatching YouTube clips of their TV appearances performing The Play That Goes Wrong, Peter Pan Goes Wrong etc. when I just need a good laugh.
Similarly, Dear Evan Hansen has caused quite a stir. It opened in New York while I was going through treatment for thyroid cancer and feeling rather isolated while I went through that. The themes of the story resonated with me particularly during that time and I was thrilled to get to see the show in New York in 2017.
I love when theatre facilitates important conversations; it's been wonderful to hear stories of people opening up about their mental health after seeing it. It examines how our social media-mad society responds to tragedy - no matter how directly we are involved - and I'm thrilled for Pasek and Paul's success.
Vikki Broad: For dance, the production that springs to mind is English National Ballet's Lest We Forget. The poignant and beautiful imagery is completely absorbing in all three of the pieces, but Akram Khan's work is the jewel in this crown. It's an incredibly emotive work that leaves the audience rigid with tension, eyes wide in astonishment.
The final pas de deux is completely transporting - I've found myself catching my breath several times as I've watched it. Its dramatic qualities simply can't be matched. Lest We Forget has been performed most years since 2014, and last year to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, but it's far from run its course, and I hope to see it in ENB's repertoire for many years to come.
Shane Morgan: One of my favourites is Missing by Gecko. Having seen it three times - once with the original cast, once post-Battersea Arts Centre fire, and once with the new cast - I can say that this is the show that keeps on giving. Whether under full lights, sound and tech, or unplugged to raise funds for a new set, this is a masterful take on childhood, memory, family and love.
Gecko fill their shows with heart and soul, and Missing has both to spare. Bold, beautiful and inspiring storytelling.
I also love Pride and Prejudice (*sort of) by Tron Theatre Company and Blood of the Young. With a trend of reinventing classics and adapting non-theatrical work for the stage taking over on the latter part of the 2010s, Pride and Prejudice (*sort of) has left the rest behind.
Taking a classic and firmly planting it in the 21st century with joy and bold abandon, whilst respecting the source material, Isobel McArthur has crafted a new masterpiece out of an old one. The finest example of women reclaiming a narrative in recent years. This company should stage all adaptations from here on in.
Debbie Gilpin: I won't mention exactly how many times I saw Sunny Afternoon in its two-year stint at the Harold Pinter Theatre, only that it became my go-to show if I needed cheering up, or a dose of loud live music.
Coming into it as someone who only knew the really famous songs from The Kinks, it was Joe Penhall's book and Elliott Ware's arrangements of Ray Davies' songs that sealed the deal; it may not have been perfect, but the quality of the script, in conjunction with the autobiographical nature of the songs, set it apart from most jukebox musicals - and I've not seen one of these shows with a book of this quality since.
Also, seeing as I was a repeat visitor, the two West End casts obviously formed part of the magic of the show too, from the principals to their incredibly hard-working understudies (including everyone's favourite queen, Vicki Manser). Not only did they embrace my love of the show, but the freedom they were given to change up their performances meant I never felt like I was seeing exactly the same show twice. And I have to mention the brilliant drum solo that fast became my favourite part - you don't see many of those in the West End!
A Midsummer Night's Dream at Shakespeare's Globe opened up a couple of things for me: firstly, it was the first thing I saw at the Globe (and I've been a regular ever since), but more importantly it introduced me to Emma Rice. It's no exaggeration to say that she completely changed the way I look at theatre - since that point, the emotional connection I form with a production has become far more important, surpassing almost everything else.
I've seen more than my fair share of Dreams, and this is the best of the lot (although the Bridge Theatre came close this year), as it was hilarious, magical, musical and innovative; turning Helena into Helenus turned the character from whiny and annoying into someone completely relatable - it felt like this is what Shakespeare had intended all along.
The midnight matinée concept was made for a production like this, and that performance was one of the most perfect theatrical experiences of my life.
Verity Wilde: Two from opposite ends of the decade for me. Firstly, the RSC's Matilda: I saw it in the original run at Stratford and thought it was so wonderful I haven't dared go back again in case it doesn't live up to my memories. I have the cast album and still listen to it fairly regularly - enough that tracks from it pop up in my favourites mix on my music streaming service every few weeks.
And the other is the National Theatre's Follies. I saw it three times - once in the original run (in the theatre the night of the live broadcast to cinemas), and then twice when it came back. I would have gone more if I could. Teenage me would not have believed that I would turn into a Sondheim person - after all, my gateway show was We Will Rock You - but it turns out that I have.
The NT Follies had everything: gorgeous design, a massive orchestra playing that amazing score, and a cast packed full of talent (including in that second run a WWRY link in Alexander Hanson, who was the original Commander Khashoggi!) that just added up to the sort of experience where you willed time to slow down so that it would last for longer.
Anthony Walker-Cook: I arrived in London in September in 2017 to begin my PhD. A few weeks in, I booked a Friday Rush ticket to see Follies, a show that I knew was considered a triumph. I was blown away from the first number onwards; watching the ethereal memories float across the stage to Sondheim's tinkling music is possibly my favourite show opening.
Since then, I saw Follies more times when it was on both times than I dare admit, and loving Dominic Cooke's direction means I'm excited to see the film adaptation. Joanna Riding was a perfect Sally, and the ecstasy of the "Mirror Number" on the last night of the show's second run will stay with me for a long time.
That this was considered a problematic piece before Cooke's production at the National Theatre astounds me, because it worked to such gut-wrenching perfection. I got to interview Janie Dee on a magical morning for the Sondheim Society, and becoming a fan of the show has let me meet some amazing people. I can't think of anything else that comes close to Follies to being my favourite show of the 2010s.
Marianka Swain: Another Sondheim reinvention joins Follies in my fondest memories of the decade: Marianne Elliott's revelatory gender-swapped Company, which went from being an old-fashioned piece to strikingly pertinent - hilariously, heartrendingly so. And what a cast: Rosalie Craig, Patti LuPone, Jonathan Bailey, Richard Fleeshman... Will it wow again on Broadway in 2020?
Hamilton was the turbo-charged boost musical theatre needed to once again strike the cultural zeitgeist and seem...well, cool. It also makes me weep, unashamedly, every time - as I'm sure it will again in January when I head back for a fourth time to check out the amazing new cast.
Speaking of weeping, it would take a heart of stone not to shed a tear or two during Come From Away - one of those musicals that comes along exactly when needed to fill a void you didn't even know was there. Stirring, funny, kind, and incredibly skilful ensemble storytelling - showing the best of humanity, in the worst of times.
And amidst a slew of incredible female creatives, whose voices our industry can and should be championing more (thank you to organisations like Tonic Theatre fighting that fight!), I have to mention Annie Baker, whose plays have challenged, moved and stuck with me more than any others - thank you to the National for giving them a home.
Finally, call it recency bias, but has anyone captured our confused, ludicrous, messy, post-truth age more effectively than Lucy Prebble with A Very Expensive Poison at the Old Vic? (Not to mention on TV as well with Succession...)
Here's to the next great decade of shows to thrill, surprise, move, entertain and confront us - whether making sense of our world, or providing a very necessary escape from it!