I have no crystal ball when it comes to the Tony Awards. Who will take home the shiny prize on June 9, when the awards are handed out at Radio City Music Hall, is anybody’s guess, mine included. But I can tell you what I enjoyed during the 2018–2019 Broadway season: the plays, the musicals, the performances that moved me and are worthy of your attention.
Stop the presses: “Ink” by James Graham is my Best Play of the Year. In it, The Sun, a tabloid in 1969 Britain, rises like a phoenix from the ashes to win the Fleet Street circulation wars, bankrolled by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch is played to a Tony-worthy turn by Bertie Carvel, who won the 2018 Olivier Award for the same role in the show’s London iteration. “People like stories,” says Murdoch at the end of the play, and this is a cracking good story. Even better for being true.
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St., 212.239.6200, www.manhattantheatreclub.com
“THE CHER SHOW”
The greatest-hits crowd-pleaser about the One and Only may have lost out on multiple Tony nominations (a measly three), but what it did earn is choice: namely, a Best Actress in a Musical nod for Stephanie J. Block as the very incarnation of the wisecracking, softhearted, worldly wise diva. And check out Bob Mackie’s costumes, all feathers and sequins and sheer net. They’re a show unto themselves. And so Cher.
Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St., 877.250.2929, www.thechershowbroadway.com
This is the sweetest show on Broadway, and I don’t mean that pejoratively. The musical about coming out in high school has its heart in all the right places. Bring a hankie. And while the acting throughout is stellar, Brooks Ashmanskas, up for his first Tony Award as a narcissistic actor who finds his true self and finally gets to go to the prom, proves his comic chops. As to the score, I can’t get the song “Dance With You” out of my head.
Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th St., 212.239.6200, www.theprommusical.com
With 14 Tony nominations (the most of any show this season), “Hadestown” is the one to beat for Best Musical of 2019. From start to finish, it’s a triumph for Anaïs Mitchell (book, music and lyrics) and Rachel Chavkin (director). Tony nominee Amber Gray grabs hold of her character—an often-inebriated Persephone in this rendering of classical myth, by way of New Orleans—and stops the show time and time again.
Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W. 48th St., 212.239.6200, www.hadestown.com
Trailing clouds of glory from London’s West End, where it won the 2018 Olivier Award for Best Play, Jez Butterworth’s family drama set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland enters the Tony race a clear favorite, with a total of nine nominations, including Best Play. A sprawling, stunning piece of stagecraft, directed by Sam Mendes, the show boasts a shock ending that has audiences jumping out of their seats.
Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 W. 45th St., 212.239.6200, www.theferrymanbroadway.com
“KISS ME, KATE”
What’s not to love about the revival of the Cole Porter musical from the Golden Age? To say that this is the danciest show now on Broadway is pure understatement. Warren Carlyle, nominated for Best Choreography, puts his dancers through their paces, from the epic, 11-minute “Too Darn Hot” number that opens Act Two to soloist Corbin Bleu effortlessly and tirelessly tap-dancing up and down stairs and even upside down—while singing. Wow.
Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St., 212.719.1300, www.roundabouttheatre.org
Attention must be paid to Bryan Cranston’s mesmerizing star turn as a manic newsman in “Network,” based on the movie of the same name. Unfortunately, the “mad as hell” guy and his show are out of here on June 8, the day before Tony winners are announced. One show that won’t be saying “toot, toot, Tootsie good-bye” for years to come is “Tootsie,” also based on a 1970s movie. The musical’s songs are merely serviceable, but its book is smart and funny as hell.
“Network,” Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St., 212.239.6200, www.networkbroadway.com
“Tootsie,” Marquis Theatre, 210 W. 46th St., 877.250.2929, www.tootsiemusical.com