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best of 2009

An Afrobeat Prince and Princess Leia: The Best Theater of 2009

Just when you think Broadway — where nine of every ten ticket dollars are spent on tourist-friendly musicals — is finished with smart and provocative new work, along comes a year like 2009. Yes, it was once again too reliant on Hollywood star turns (Jude Law, Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman, Sienna Miller), and ticket sales were shaky at shows without the glimmer of Hollywood, but you got the sense that producers were at least back in the game, hunting for provocation and originality. For every turkey (David Mamet's dried-out Race, the painfully missed opportunity of Bye Bye Birdie) there was a perfect onstage moment (Laura Benanti's turn in In the Next Room or Jon Michael Hill's in Superior Donuts). Away from Broadway, unlikely material also spawned terrific work, both musical and otherwise: a larger-than-life African musician, a comic monologue about the recession, and even a hoary old American chestnut that you might expect would defy reinvention.

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