While I discuss the role of critics frequently and often engage in conversation on Twitter with several, it has been my practice to neither tweet nor blog about reviews themselves (nor to offer my own). I do this because I believe that there is more than enough judgment of productions going around on and offline, so I need not amplify it further. I break my moratorium to publish this bouquet of bests precisely because these lists seek to champion that which is to be admired; while a few negative assessments are part of these articles and I cannot trim them, the preponderance are about critics’ enthusiasm for what they saw this year and even though a number of the shows herein may be closed, there may be other productions of them to bee seen in the future, especially if enthusiasm is indeed contagious. I’d also like to say how pleased I am that many of the critics herein refused to be shackled by the limitation of “Top Ten,” and often went beyond that arbitrary number, in addition to creating their own categories which applaud more than simply “the best.” Good for them.
A couple of notes: although links to the complete articles are provided, I have summarized just the titles beneath each link; in cases where the lists may themselves have been hierarchical, I have converted them all to alphabetical. Also, I have no doubt that I have missed certain lists and paywalls have excluded me from others; should you happen upon others, please share them with me either through my Twitter account. Also, due to the practices of various sites, some of these links may become inaccessible after a certain amount of time; that’s out of my hands.
Black Watch, chamber musicals, Confidence Men: Improvised David Mamet, set designer Ia Enstara, actress Lauren Lane, Rappahannock County, Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins, Spirits to Enforce, The Tempest, Zach Theatre and seven honorable mentions.
Boston: Don Aucoin for The Boston Globe
The Brother/Sister Plays, Candide, DollHouse, The Drowsy Chaperone, Next Fall, Porgy and Bess, R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe, Richard III, Ruined, and Ten Cents a Dance
All’s Well That Ends Well, The Brother/Sister Plays, Candide, Comedy of Errors, Dogg’s Hamlet/Cahoot’s Macbeth, DollHouse, The Hotel Nepenthe, Hysteria or Fragments of an Analysis of an Obsessional Neurosis, The Merchant of Venice, 9 Circles, Porgy & Bess, R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe, Richard III, Ruined, and Twelfth Night
Billy Bishop Goes to War, Dying Hard, ENDURE!, Girl in the Goldfish Bowl, Grim and Fischer, It Is Solved By Walking, Jake’s Gift, Much Ado About Nothing, Penny Plain, Summer of My Amazing Luck, Wicked, and The Wizard of Oz, as well as other various mentions of notable work.
Chicago: Hedy Weiss for Chicago Sun-Times
Shows of the year were: Black Watch, The Cripple of Inishmaan and The Madness of George III; a variety of other shows were included in such categories as Outstanding Solo Turns, Reimagined Classics, Reborn Musicals, House and Home, On the Job, High Style and Brainy Fun.
Chicago: Chris Jones for the Chicago Tribune
Black Watch, Chinglish, Clybourne Park, En Route, Follies, An Iliad, The Sound of Music, Spamalot, Terminus, A Twist of Water and 10 honorable mentions
Chicago (Fringe): Nina Metz and Kerry Reid for the Chicago Tribune
Nina Metz: Burning Bluebeard, El Stories: Holiday Train, Superman: 2050
Kerry Reid: Man From Nebraska, Or, The Word Progress On My Mother’s Lips Doesn’t Ring True
Chicago: Kris Vire for Time Out Chicago
The Big Meal, Church and Pullman WA, Festen, Follies, An Illiad, Middletown, Passing Strange, Porgy and Bess, Sophocles: Seven Sicknesses and A Twist of Water
Chicago (visiting productions): Kris Vire for Time Out Chicago
Ann, Being Harold Pinter, Black Watch, The Doyle and Debbie Show, and en route
Chicago (outstanding ensembles): Kris Vire for Time Out Chicago
Burning Bluebeard, The Neo-Futurists; Circle Mirror Transformation, Victory Gardens Theater; El Nogalar, Teatro Vista and Goodman Theatre; 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche, The New Colony; The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?, Remy Bumppo Theatre Company; The Homosexuals, About Face Theatre; MilkMilkLemonade, Pavement Group; Murder for Two, Chicago Shakespeare Theater; Spring Awakening, Griffin Theatre Company; Three Days of Rain, BackStage Theatre Company; There is a Happiness That Morning Is, Theater Oobleck; and Vincent River, Theatre Y
Chicago (great performances): Kris Vire for Time Out Chicago
Jennifer Blood, The Sound of Music; Kelsey Brennan, Romeo and Juliet; Janet Ulrich Brooks, A Walk in the Woods; Carrie Coon, The Real Thing; Harry Groener, The Madness of George III; Jennifer Lim, Chinglish; Jeremy Myers, Pussy on the House; Caroline Neff, Port; Barbara Robertson, The Detective’s Wife; Bethany Thomas, Porgy and Bess; Dan Waller, The Pitmen Painters; and Billy-bot, Aunt Julie-bot, Hans and robot ensemble, Heddatron
Chicago: Kelly Kleiman for WBEZ
List by an array of topics, including Best Show of the Year in any Category, Best One-Man Show of This or Any Year, Best Musical We’ve Seen in Years, Best Plays About Monarchs, Best Plays About Racism, Best Avant-Garde Plays, Best Adaptations From Other Media, Best Plays With an Irish Lilt and Best Plays About Escaping From Reality.
Chicago: Laura Molzhan for WBEZ
Two unique lists of bests, featuring the five funniest shows of the year (Better Half, Burning Bluebeard, Musical of the Living Dead, Funk It Up About Nothin’ and That’s Weird, Grandma) and the five best dressed shows (The Clinking, First Ladies, Paper Shoes, Pirates of Penzance, and Vincent River).
Chicago, Conni’s Avant-Garde Restaurant, Darwinii, The Game’s Afoot, La Boheme, The Life of Galileo, Next to Normal, Rent, Ruined, The Trip to Bountiful, and Trying
Connecticut: Frank Rizzo for The Hartford Courant
Agnes Under The Big Top, The Circle, The Crucible, A Doctor in Spite of Himself, Fela!, Fraulein Maria, I’m Connecticut, Next to Normal, Show Boat, and Water By the Spoonful
Copenhagen: Ben Hamilton for The Copenhagen Post
A Christmas Carol, Cinderella, Oleanna, Vita and Virginia, and The Zoo Story
Dallas: M. Lance Lusk for D Magazine
Arsenic and Old Lace, As You Like It, Easter, Morphing and Wittenberg
Ages of the Moon, Arsenic and Old Lace, Cabaret, Ex Voto: The Immaculate Conceptions of Frida Kahlo, Language of Angels, Horton Foote Festival, Rags, Spring Awakening, The Tempest and Thom Paine (Based on Nothing)
Fort Worth: Punch Shaw for the Star Telegram
How I Learned to Drive, Macbeth, Taking Pictures, Topdog/Underdog, and Wittenberg
Florida (South Florida): John Thomason for Boca Magazine
August: Osage County, Captiva, Clybourne Park, Crazy for You, Fool for Love, The Light in the Piazza, Masked, Red, Side Effects, and Song of the Living Dead
Houston: Jim J. Tommaney for Houston Press
“Unexpected Moments” in Houston theatre: A Christmas Carol, Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Evil Dead: The Musical, It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, Museum of Dysfunction IV, Panto Red Riding Hood, Spring Awakening, There is a Happiness That Morning Is, War of the Worlds, and Wild Oats
International: Charles McNulty for the Los Angeles Times
Blackbird, The Book of Mormon, Circle Mirror Transformation, The Cripple of Inishmaan, Jesus Christ Superstar, Let Me Down Easy, Peace in Our Time, Luise Miller, The Motherf***er With the Hat, The Normal Heart, and One Man Two Guvnors.
International: Randy Gener at “In The Theater of One World”
Radio Muezzin, Macbeth After Shakespeare, Chinglish, Faust, Being Harold Pinter, When Father Was Away on Business, more…more…more…future, Blood and Gifts, Sleep No More, Cries and Whispers; 10 honorable mentions and 15 special mentions.
Las Vegas: Jacob Coakley for La Vegas Weekly
The Glass Menagerie, Ba-Ta-Clan, Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom, Vegas Fringe Festival, and Legacy of the Tiger Mother
The 39 Steps, 42nd Street, Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches, Becky’s New Car, Big River, Chiropractical, Cirque de la Symphonie, Lady Windermere’s Fan, Marginalia at 40, Medea, Rent, Romeo and Juliet, Spamalot, and Twelfth Night, as well as list of top individual performances
Non-hierarchical essay including mentions of plays, primarily revivals; productions; and performances.
London: Lyn Gardner for The Guardian
Non-hierarchical essay including plays, musicals, revivals and companies.
London: Kate Bassett for The Independent
List by an array of categories including Electrifying Actors, Scintillating Actresses, The Lowest Moment and Two Highs, Best New Play, Unlikeliest Musical, and Stories on a Biblical Scale.
London: Susannah Clapp for The Observer
The Passion, London Road, Richard III/The Comedy of Errors double bill, Matilda, Grief, The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, King Lear, Parade, One Man Two Guvnors and Tender Napalm
London: Kate Maltby for The Spectator
66 Books, Accolades, The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, Betty Blue Eyes, Bound, Cause Celebre, King Lear, The Passion, Secret Consul, and The Tempest
Wide-ranging essay without clearly defined categories or numbering
Show of the Year: London Road; Best Venue: National Theatre; Best New Play: The Knowledge; Best Fringe Show: Accolade; Best Revival: All’s Well That Ends Well, Ecstasy, Saved, and Top Girls
Los Angeles: Steven Leigh Morris for L.A. Weekly
Alceste, Bakersfield Mist, Blackbird, The Broad Stage (The Grand Inquisitor, The Merchant of Venice, Rockaby), California International Theater Festival, director Bart DeLorenzo (Margo Veil, Day Drinkers), The Hollywood Fringe Tent, Neva, The Next Best Thing, Small Engine Repair, and Trojan Women (After Euripides)
Massachusetts (western MA): Jeffrey Borak for The Berkshire Eagle
As You Like It, The Best of Enemies, The Drowsy Chaperone, Dutch Masters, Guys and Dolls, The Memory of Water, Taking Steps, Ten Cents a Dance, Turn of the Screw, and Wittenberg, as well as eight more that “left an imprint.”
Melbourne: Kate Herbert in the Herald Sun
Aftermath, Apologia, Clybourne Park, Court in the Act, Hedda Gabler, Howie the Rookie, I am Playing Me, Invisble Atom, Little Match Girl, Liza (on an E), Namatjira, Silent Disco, and Smoke and Mirrors
Extensive essay noting plays, directors, performances and companies, along with lists of Best Musicals, Best Plays About Theater and Best One Person Shows.
Minneapolis/St.Paul: Graydon Royce and Rohan Preston for the Minneapolis Star Tribune
Graydon Royce: After Miss Julie, Doubt, God of Carnage, The Gospel According to Jerry, Hairspray, Little Shop of Horrors, Man of La Mancha, Shirley Valentine, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and Waiting for Godot
Rohan Preston: Annie, Ajax in Iraq, God of Carnage, The Edge of Our Bodies, H.M.S. Pinafore, In The Red and Brown Water, I Wish You Love, Les Miserables, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Street Scene
Minneapolis/St. Paul: Jay Gabler for Twin Cities Daily Planet
Losing My Religion, Pinocchio, Doubt, After Miss Julie, The Folly of Crowds: A Heterosexual Buttsex Play, Leave, The Winter’s Tale, Bloodymerryjammyparty, Res Resurrected, and The Burial at Thebes.
Montreal (English Language): Pat Donnelly for The Gazette
Essay featuring plays, musicals and production companies, ranging from The Lion King to Fringe shows.
Montreal (French Language): Pat Donnelly for The Gazette
Essay featuring cabaret, plays and Cirque du Soleil
New Jersey: Peter Filichia for The Star-Ledger
According to Goldman, The Break-Up Notebook, A Christmas Carol, It Shoulda Been You, Jericho, Kiss Me Kate, Next Fall, No Child, Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England, and The Wizard of Oz
New York City: Bill Canacci for the Asbury Park Press
The Book of Mormon, Follies, Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway, The Normal Heart, Other Desert Cities, Peter and the Starcatcher, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays, War Horse, and The Wood
New York City: Mark Kennedy for the Associated Press
Anything Goes, The Book of Mormon, Gatz, Good People, Other Desert Cities, Mark Rylance, Seminar, Sleep No More, Venus in Fur, and War Horse
New York City: Jeremy Gerard for Bloomberg Business Week
Blood and Gifts, The Blue Flower, The Book of Mormon, Chinglish, Completeness, Jerusalem, Other Desert Cities, Stick Fly, Sweet and Sad, and Venus in Fur
New York City: Thom Geier for Entertainment Weekly
Anything Goes, Blood and Gifts, The Book of Mormon, Follies, Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures, Other Desert Cities, Sleep No More, Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya, and War Horse
New York City: David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter
Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, The Book of Mormon, Follies, Good People, Jerusalem, The Normal Heart, Once, Other Desert Cities, Sons of the Prophet and War Horse
New York City: Linda Winer for Newsday
Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, The Book of Mormon, An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, Follies, Good People, Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway, Jerusalem, The Motherf***er With the Hat, The Normal Heart, Other Desert Cities, Sons of the Prophet, and War Horse
New York City: Joe Dziemianowicz for the New York Daily News
As You Like It, The Book of Mormon, Cotton Club Parade, The Normal Heart, Once, Other Desert Cities, School for Lies, Sons of the Prophet, Sweet and Sad and War Horse
New York City (and select others): John Lahr for The New Yorker
Angel Reapers, The Diary of a Madman, Green Eyes, How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures, Jerusalem, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Sons of the Prophet, and Stage Kiss
New York City: Elisabeth Vincentelli for the New York Post
As You Like It; The Book of Mormon; By The Way, Meet Vera Stark; The Comedy of Errors; Good People; Once; Other Desert Cities; The Select (The Sun Also Rises); Sons of the Prophet; and War Horse; honorable mentions: Lysistrata Jones, The School for Lies, The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World, Sister Act, and Sleep No More
New York City: Scott Brown for New York Magazine
Arcadia, The Book of Mormon, The Cherry Orchard, Cymbeline, Follies, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures, Jerusalem, Other Desert Cities, School for Lies, Sleep No More, Sons of the Prophet, and Sweet and Sad
New York City: Ben Brantley for The New York Times
Being Harold Pinter, The Book of Mormon, The Cherry Orchard, Follies, Good People, Jerusalem, The Motherf***er With the Hat, The Normal Heart, Other Desert Cities, and Sweet and Sad
New York City: Charles Isherwood for The New York Times
Belleville, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Blood and Gifts, 4000 Miles, Jerusalem, Kin, The Motherf***er With the Hat, Sons of the Prophet, Venus in Fur, and The Walk Across America for Mother Earth
New York City: Roma Torre for NY1
Anything Goes, The Book of Mormon, Chinglish, Follies, Good People, Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway, The Importance of Being Earnest, Other Desert Cities, The Normal Heart, and War Horse
New York City (Off-Off-Broadway): Tom Murrin for Papermag
Derby Days, The Divine Sister, Enfrascada, Ennio Marchetto The Living Paper Cartoon, Gob Squad’s Kitchen, In The Pony Palace/Football, The Lapsburgh Layover, Mangella, Post Office, The Select (The Sun Also Rises), and Silence! The Musical
New York City: Robert Feldberg in The Record
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Anything Goes, The Book of Mormon, By The Way Meet Vera Stark, An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, Jerusalem, The Normal Heart, Sister Act, The Three Sisters, and War Horse
New York City: Richard Zoglin for Time Magazine
Anything Goes, Chinglish, The Book of Mormon, Death Takes a Holiday, The Normal Heart, Porgy and Bess, Silence! The Musical, Sleep No More, Traces, and War Horse
New York City: David Cote and Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
Cote: Blood and Gifts, The Book of Mormon, The Cherry Orchard, Elective Affinities, 4000 Miles, Good People, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism with a Key to the Scriptures, Jerusalem, Seminar, and War Horse
Feldman: The Book of Mormon; Good People; Hand to God; Follies, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism with a Key to the Scriptures, Jerusalem; The Method Gun, The Normal Heart; and Tom Ryan Thinks He’s James Mason Starring in a Movie By Nicholas Ray in which a Man’s Illness Provides an Escape from the Pain, Pressure and Loneliness of Trying to be the Ultimate American Father, Only to Drive Him Further Into the More Thrilling Though Possibly Lonelier Roles of Addict and Misunderstood Visionary
New York City (Broadway): Elysa Gardner for USA Today
Varied selection of categories, including Best Dysfunctional Couple, Most Dynamic Duo and Most Conspicuous Arrival, as well as Best Play, Best Musical and Best Revival.
New York State (central): Tony Curulla for the Syracuse Post-Standard
Chicago, The Color Purple, The Graduate, Hairspray, The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, The Marvelous Wonderettes, Radio Golf, Ragtime, Rent, and The Rocky Horror Show
New York State (central): Neil Novelli for the Syracuse Post-Standard
Anything Goes, The Exonerated, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Lion King, Lovers, Romeo and Juliet, The Turn of the Screw, and Urinetown
The Adventures of Robin Hood, Another Home Invasion, Beowulf, Blithe Spirit, Bingo, Caught in the Net, Driving Miss Daisy, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, Lost – A Memoir, The (Post) Mistress, The Ugly One, and When It Rains
Ohio (central): Michael Grossberg for The Columbus Dispatch
August: Osage County, The Camouflage Project, The Drowsy Chaperone, Falsettos, Follies, I Am My Own Wife, Jersey Boys, Legacy, Let Me Down Easy, Oedipus Rex, Scrooge, and Souvenir; also, two youth productions: Cinderella and Stuart Little
Bug, Dark Play or Stories for Boys, Distant Music, The Misfits, Smokey Joe’s Cafe, Tartuffe, Three Tall Women, Tuesdays with Morrie, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The Year of Magical Thinking and nine honorable mentions
Billy Elliot, The Borrowers, Head: The Musical, Lyle the Crocodile, Matt and Ben, Mr. Marmalade, Munched, Ten Chimneys, This, and The Unhappiness Plays, plus three honorable mentions.
Fat Beckett, House and Garden, Hunter Gatherers, The Importance of Being Earnest, Jekyll and Hyde, Maria de Buenos Aires, Marcus or The Secret of Sweet, Precious Little, Red, Superior Donuts and a dozen runners up.
The Adventures of Captain Cortez and the Tri-Lambda Brigade, Always… Patsy Cline, Assassins, Avenue Q, Buried Child, Chicago, D.O.A.: A Noir Musical, Fifty Words, Hedda Gabler, The Irish Curse, Jurassic Farce, The King and I, The Last Thing You’ll Ever See, The Light in the Piazza, The Lion in Winter, Mame, Mary Poppins, Our Town, Smudge, Stranger, A Streetcar Named Desire, Time Stands Still, Ugly People, and Unnecessary Farce
San Diego: Pam Kragen for the North County Times
Angels in America, August: Osage County, Cabaret, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Jesus Christ Superstar, Of Mice and Men, Superior Donuts, Susurrus, and The Tempest, as well as 12 honorable mentions and rundown of the year in theatre news.
San Diego: James Hebert for the San Diego Union Tribune
Angels in America, August: Osage County, Cabaret, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Jane Austen’s Emma, Milk Like Sugar, Next to Normal, Peer Gynt, Sleeping Beauty Wakes, and The Tempest, as well as the “Just Missed It 20.”
San Francisco & Bay Area: staff of the San Francisco Bay Guardian
Wide selection of creatively defined categories, including Most Memorable Food Fight, Best Drug Story, Most Inscrutable Triumvirate and Most Polarizing Descent Into the Reptilian Complex
San Francisco & Bay Area: Robert Hurwitt for the San Francisco Chronicle
Candida, Clybourne Park, A Delicate Balance, Geezer, The Homecoming, Let Me Down Easy, The North Pool, Phaedra, Ruined, Red Black and Green: A Blues, and The Wild Bride; also “Most Improved” and “MVP”
San Francisco & Bay Area: Karen D’Sousa for San Jose Mercury News
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Billy Elliot, The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, Fela!, Let Me Down Easy, Metamorphoses, No Exit, Three Sisters, and The Wild Bride, as well as six honorable mentions, three “innovation awards,” and an acknowledgement of two important works that the critic missed.
Seattle: the staff of the Seattle Weekly
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Arrh! . . . A Dinosaur Ate My Spaceship, Endangered Species Project readings, Humor Abuse, Mary Stuart, and Milk Milk Lemonade (list also included dance performances)
Papatola: August: Osage County, Brain Fighters, Come Hell and High Water, Little Shop of Horrors, Man of La Mancha, Shirley Valentine, Street Scene, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Two Trains Running and Waiting for Godot
Hubbard: Neighbors and On The Town
Valois: American as Currie Pie and A Wrinkle in Time
The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer, The Dark Room, Gross und Klein, Hairspray, Mary Poppins, Neighbourhood Watch, and Terminus
Toronto (and Stratford & Shaw Festivals): J. Kelly Nestruck for the Globe & Mail
Billy Elliot, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Homecoming, I Send You This Cadmium Red, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Normal Heart, Oleanna, Ride the Cyclone, Topdog/Underdog, The Ugly One, and When the Rain Stops Falling; also nine honorable mentions and four highlights from companies elsewhere in Canada.
Toronto: the staff of Now Toronto
Billy Elliot, Ghosts, Hallaj, His Greatness, The Maids, The Normal Heart, Orfeo ed Eurydice, The Post Office, Ruined, and Topdog/Underdog; also includes a list of ‘Riveting Revivals’
Toronto: John Coulbourn for The Toronto Sun
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Last 15 Seconds, The Normal Heart, Orfeo ed Eurydice/Iphigenia in Tauris, Red, Ruined, Topdog/Underdog, and Tout comme elle (Just Like Her)
United States: Terry Teachout for The Wall Street Journal
Wide variety of recognition for work, companies and performances from around the United States.
Vancouver: Jo Ledingham for The Vancouver Courier
After Jerusalem, Circa, Comedy of Errors, Death of a Salesman, Hard Times Hit Parade, In The Solitude of Cotton Fields, 100% Vancouver, Penny Plain, The Reputation of Lady Mary, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, as well as a list of “favorite things”
Washington DC: Peter Marks for The Washington Post
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Black Watch, A Bright New Boise, The Heir Apparent, King Lear, Photograph 51, Return to Haifa, Ruined, Trouble in Mind, Uncle Vanya and eight “that just missed the cut” (noted on first panel of slideshow)
list as of January 8, 2012