Al Pacino came back again and Jessica Chastain showed up for the first time. “Annie” returned and so did “Evita” and “Elf.” Katie Holmes made a second appearance and that old stalwart “The Lion King” celebrated its 15th anniversary. Yes, 2012 was a year of old and new, theatrically speaking.
It also was a year in which the theater community tried to keep the show going despite several disasters – a natural one in Superstorm Sandy and two man-made ones in misleading monologist Mike Daisey and the phantom investors of “Rebecca.” None of those, of course, made our Top 10 list of the best moments in 2012:
1. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”: This masterpiece of a play by Edward Albee is now celebrating its 50th anniversary on Broadway with an astonishing production courtesy of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Starring Tracy Letts and Amy Morton, it is vicious and yet hysterically funny, crisp and loving and savage. Bring a date!
2. “Once”: Yes, many of the songs came from a movie. Yes, the plot also came from the movie. But the show at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre is still somehow fresh and poignant. It is an ode to heartbreak, making a lasting connection even if its two lead actors cannot.
3. “Clybourne Park”: If you missed it, shame on you. Bruce Norris’ Tony and Pulitzer winner had everything anyone would want in a play: smart, witty, provocative and wonderfully acted by a well-knit ensemble, particularly Jeremy Shamos. Squirming in your seat while overhearing racially insensitive jokes has never been funnier.
4. James Corden: The British actor was pure silly bliss in the delirious “One Man, Two Guvnors,” playing a down-at-his-heels manservant who overtaxed his limited mental capacity by simultaneously working for two demanding bosses. We should welcome Corden back as soon as possible.
5. Neil Patrick Harris: As the Tony Awards host, he’s always graceful, always funny and always delightfully tweaks Broadway’s pretensions. This year, his third time, Harris offered a rousing original number in which he wished real life was more like theater and also performed with “The Book of Mormon” cast. Is there any way to lock him in as host for the next decade?
6. Kevin Spacey as Richard III. With his aviator sunglasses and military jacket brimming with medals, Spacey’s Richard at the Brooklyn Academy of Music was overblown and cartoonish and yet impossible to stop watching, part Groucho Marx and part Moammar Gadhafi – a sarcastic, snarling tornado of resentment whose reign of terror somehow was funny.
7. “If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet”: Nick Payne’s clever, edgy domestic drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal is a delight. Making it even more special was the set design by Beowulf Boritt under the direction of Michael Longhurst: All the furniture was piled in the center of the stage and each piece was taken and then discarded after every scene (appropriate for a play that discusses trashing the planet). It culminated in major watery magic as the stage flooded. Can sets get a standing-O?
8. The sad death of Marvin Hamlisch in August brought together three divas who took turns honoring the composer at a moving service at The Juilliard School – Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin and Liza Minnelli. Minnelli sang “If You Really Knew Me,” Franklin gave a soulful rendition of “Nobody Does It Better” and Streisand brought the crowd to its feet when she finished “The Way We Were.” Wow.
9. “A Christmas Story, The Musical”: It dares to mess with one of the most popular Christmastime movies of all time and yet manages to not only do the film justice, but also top it. It is an auspicious Broadway debut from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the songwriters we will all hear a lot from in the future. Plus, you will be amazed by 9-year-old tap dancing prodigy Luke Spring.
10. The welcome return of “Forbidden Broadway” after a three-year absence. The latest edition goofs on shows including “Annie,” “Newsies,” “Once,” “The Book of Mormon,” “Evita,” “Porgy and Bess,” “Anything Goes” and “Follies.” Bernadette Peters, Matthew Broderick, Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin get roasted. Among many others, of course.