We spent 2012 watching live performances—plays, musicals, operas, classical concerts, dance shows, literary readings—wherever we could find them: in Broadway theaters, in the stacks of the Grand Army Plaza library, in a crowded Crown Heights bar, in Central Park, in an old concert hall in Boerum Hill, and everywhere in between. These were the best things we saw, and the companies, actors, organizations and events you should look out for in 2013. [photo
20. Paris Commune
The Civilians stormed BAM's new Fisher building with this musical-lectural recounting of the first socialist government—and its brutal suppression by the French government.
19. As You Like It
Shakespeare's comedy in the woods was perfectly suited to the Delacorte; where did the set end and Central Park begin? Plus, it featured Lily Rabe, who makes Shakespeare sound like it was written for her that morning.
18. Brooklyn Village
In "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," Whitman famously wrote directly to generations hence about "the similitudes of the past, and those of the future." This brilliantly conceived Brooklyn Philharmonic program was a direct response back, drawing a throughline from Beethoven to contemporary local composers, stopping along the way at 18th-century religious singing and Aaron Copland. It was like a time capsule flung back through the fourth dimension to hit Walt Whitman on the head—as if to declare, "this is us, Mr. Whitman. Do you really still recognize us?"
17. 4000 Miles
Gabriel Ebert gave a haunting performance as a young man torn apart by grief in Amy Herzog's long-running drama at Lincoln Center.
16. Mies Julie
In this adaptation of Strindberg's Miss Julie, Bongile Mantsai and Hilda Cronje gave the kind of uninhibitedly physical performances more often found in radical modern dance. They really put themselves on the line, and the often mummified Strindberg classic came to life.
15. Philharmonic 360
At this Park Avenue Armory concert, the New York Philharmonic spread out around the room, making music that was, without amplification, both live and in stereo—and that forever changed the way we think about sound's relation to space.
14. Einstein on the Beach
This rare revival at BAM of Philip Glass's punishing five-hour intermission-less opera was difficult to sit through, but in hindsight it was a mind-blowing extravaganza of music and theater. Also, to have successfully endured it also confers serious bragging rights.
13. In Masks Outrageous and Austere
This Culture Project production of Tennessee Williams's last play, which had never been produced before, was a labor of love for all concerned, and it closed far too soon. At its center was a fabulously layered, old-time Actors Studio star-turn by Shirley Knight, who found the beating heart within this difficult material.
12. Scott McClanahan at Franklin Park
The West Virginia short story writer doesn't read his work—he performs it, turning short fiction into a religious experience, a sermon with singing and dancing. His return appearance at Franklin Park exceeded sky-high expectations.
11. The Caretaker
The revival at BAM of Harold Pinter's classic, essentially a struggle between three mad men to determine who is craziest, was most notable for Jonathan Pryce's performance, for which he developed a repertoire of verbal and physical tics uncannily familiar to anyone who has ever jumped on an apparently empty subway car during rush hour.
10. The Bad and the Better
The Amoralists once again proved that they were the most exciting and ambitious young company in New York theater with Derek Ahonen's large ensemble drama about politics, mother love and role-playing. There were 30 speaking parts in this play, and they were all impeccably acted.
9. The Lady from Dubuque
New York revivals of Edward Albee plays have long been must-see events for any serious theatergoer, and this diamond-hard production of one of Albee's supposed failures of the 1970s revealed a play of startling depth and pessimism.
8. Storefront Church
John Patrick Shanley's latest aimed to be no less than the Hunchback of Notre Dame
of this subprime mortgage-crisis era—a play thoroughly of its time, full of knee-slapping humor, rousing speechifying about the emptiness of wealth, and poignant drama about the unbearable smallness of being (under capitalism, anyway). It made you want to be a better person.
7. Orpheus and Eurydice
After Eurydice dies in Pina Bausch's avant-garde adaptation of Gluck's ballet (performed by the Paris Opera Ballet at the Lincoln Center Festival), Orpheus crouches in the corner, his back to the audience, unmoving, for, like, 10 minutes. It was the saddest thing we saw all year.
6. Peter and the Starcatcher
This scrappy, inventive and delightful Peter Pan prequel proved that, even on Broadway, $60 million spectacles can't out-wonder imaginative minds.
Thomas Bradshaw's hour-long Biblical provocation at The Flea Theatre showed this dangerous playwright at the top of his game. It proved so popular that the production will be revived in January.
Down at the Barrow Street Theater, this moving, hilarious and gruff Off-Broadway smash hit about a deaf son in a hearing family explored the way we use language and join groups—families, communities—to make life less scary.
- from an earlier production at the New York Public Library
"Walking the stacks in a library... it's hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits," Robin Sloan writes in his new novel. Elevator Repair Service brought those spirits to life in this show at the Grand Army Plaza library, in which actors performed among the shelves computer-generated excerpts from American modernist classics.
2. Uncle Vanya
For this masterfully acted Chekhov adaptation (written by Annie Baker), the Soho Rep was transformed into a living room. It was strikingly intimate—Michael Shannon was so close we could smell him.
1. Golden Boy
The first Broadway revival in 60 years of Clifford Odets's masterpiece is possibly the best thing we've ever seen on a stage. This is the kind of work no one writes anymore—it's epic, with three acts and 19 roles (inhabited by 19 first-rate actors), a grand drama about the whole fucking human condition.