Starr Busby in "The Beautiful Lady".

Don Shewey’s Review of 2023

NYC and beyond

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Don Shewey
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Top 10 Theater

“The Beautiful Lady.”
  1. “The Beautiful Lady” – Anne Bogart’s triumphant staging at La Mama brought Elizabeth Swados and Paul Schmidt’s 1984 cabaret musical about the Russian revolutionary poets to fiery life with across-the-board fine performances.

2. “Stereophonic” – David Adjmi’s play meticulously reproduced the creativity and tension of life in a recording studio, focusing on a Fleetwood Mac-like band, with an excellent cast who play and sing songs by Will Butler (of Arcade Fire) beautifully directed by Daniel Aukin on David Zinn’s astonishing set.

  1. “Buena Vista Social Club” – This thrilling new musical at Atlantic Theater Company, developed and directed by Saheem Ali, wove together the histories of five Cuban musicians featured on the 1996 album (and the Wim Wenders documentary). The hot band, excellent singers, and exciting dancers combined to blast the audience with joy.

4.”Infinite Life” – Annie Baker’s characteristically spare and profound play about pain, time, and health used six superb actors masterfully directed by James Macdonald to cast a spell at Atlantic Theatre Company.

5.”Jaja’s African Hair Braiding” – playwright Jocelyn Bioh knows her characters (the staff and clientele of a Harlem hair salon) and director Whitney White knows her audience – together with an exciting and hilarious cast, they blew the roof off of the Samuel Friedman Theatre on another dazzling David Zinn set.

  1. “Sad Boys in Harpyland” — Alexandra Tatarsky’s demonic cabaret/existential clownshow transformed the tiny upstairs space at Playwrights Horizons into a hilarious, theatrical, and dangerous hellscape, abetted by sound generator Shane Riley and director Irish McCloughan.
  2. “True West” – I’ve seen many stagings of Sam Shepard’s famous play but this one stood out for its innovative all-Asian cast directed by Mei Ann Teo at People’s Light in Pennsylvania.
  3. “Days of Wine and Roses” – Brian d’Arcy James and Kelli O’Hara dived deep into this intense chamber opera about a couple’s descent into alcoholism by Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas, directed by Michael Greif at Atlantic Theater Company.
  4. “Helen” – Violeta Picayo’s production at La Mama of Caitlin George’s play for En Garde Arts rang many surprising twists on familiar figures from Greek mythology.
  5. (tie) “Ecosex and the City” – Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens created a luscious three-day festival of panels, films, and live shenanigans at Performance Space New York “exploring the earth as lover.”

Bob Dylan’s Philosophy of Modern Song – always-inventive filmmaker Michael Almereyda staged this one-night-only tribute to Dylan’s quirky survey of 20th century pop led by the great Meshell Ndegeocello and her band with the legendary André De Shields as magisterial master of ceremonies.

Best Music: “boygenius,” “The Record;” “Romy,” “Midair;” “Everything but the Girl” “Fuse;” “The National,” “First Two Pages of Frankenstein;” “Fred again…” Tiny Desk Concert

Jamie Lee Curtis in “The Bear.”

Best TV: “The Bear” (great cast of rising stars – Jeremy Alan White, Ayo Edebiri, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Liza Colon-Zayas – and phenomenal guest stars like Jamie Lee Curtis; “Somebody Somewhere,” “Reservation Dogs.”

“Bubble Bath”

Best Films: I didn’t see a lot of blockbusters. “Barbie,” of course, and “Oppenheimer,” but neither of them blew me away as much as the wildly underrated “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.”I admired documentaries galore: “The Disappearance of Shere Hite,” “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” “Navalny,” “Leaning into the Wind – Andy Goldsworthy,” “32 Sounds.” But my movie-watching this year largely revolved around my MUBI subscription, which got me to see tons of quirky vintage foreign films (the 1980 Hungarian animated feature “Bubble Bath,”) and fascinating indie gems I otherwise would have missed, many of them international films directed by women. Some favorites: “Rotting in the Sun,” “Kokomo City,” “The Five Devils,” “The Sweet East,” “Ava,” “Fremont,” “Amanda,” “Joyland,” “Tori and Lokita.”

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