Year in Review: The Best (and Worst) Theater of 2011

David Hurst on the year's top moments onstage.
December 16, 2011

Since the theater season traditionally runs June through May, a year-end assessment of the calendar year necessitates an overlap of two seasons.

The big news on the Rialto this year was, of course, the musical mega-hit The Book of Mormon. Filthy, offensive and hilarious, this tuner from the creators of South Park and Avenue Q lives up to its hype and seems destined to run for years.

Topping the revivals this year are the shattering mountings of Larry Kramer’s AIDS drama, The Normal Heart, and the Kennedy Center’s import of Stephen Sondheim & James Goldman’s backstage masterpiece, Follies.

In terms of new, original plays there was a wealth of riches led by Stephen Karam’s heartbreaking family drama, Sons of the Prophet, and Jon Robin Baitz’s dysfunctional family portrait, Other Desert Cities. Top 10 (and Top 5 where necessary) lists for 2011 are detailed below.

Best New Plays

  1. Sons of the Prophet (above)
  2. Other Desert Cities    
  3. Good People
  4. The Motherf**ker with the Hat
  5. A Small Fire
  6. Unnatural Acts
  7. 4000 Miles
  8. The Whipping Man
  9. War Horse
  10. The Submission

Best New Musicals

  1. The Book of Mormon (above)
  2. Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway
  3. Southern Comfort
  4. Priscilla Queen of the Desert
  5. Newsies the Musical

Best Play Revivals

  1. The Normal Heart (above)
  2. Arcadia
  3. The Importance of Being Earnest    
  4. Born Yesterday
  5. Private Lives

Best Musical Revivals

  1. Follies (above)
  2. Anything Goes
  3. How to Succeed in Business…
  4. Hello Again
  5. Godspell

Best Special Events

  1. Broadway Bares XXI (above)
  2. Cheyenne Jackson’s Cocktail Hour
  3. Encores! Where’s Charley?
  4. Company
  5. Broadway Backwards 6

Worst Shows    

  1. Cactus Flower (above)
  2. Relatively Speaking
  3. Lake Water    
  4. Burning
  5. The People in the Picture
  6. Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
  7. Wonderland
  8. The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures
  9. The Illusion
  10. The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore