As the 2010s come to a close, Arts & Entertainment writers have dedicated two articles to their most beloved music and film releases of the decade. To round out the series, theater critics Charlotte Selton and Joel Lerner share their hot takes on the most captivating, crucial and compelling theater of the last 10 years.
The 2010s are, in my opinion, what revitalized theater and brought it back into the public eye. With massive hits like “Hamilton” and “Dear Evan Hansen,” theater has become less of a niche interest and has found its home in the public consciousness. I was personally impressed by the strides taken in refining existing genres in theater. For example, the brazen and comedic “Book of Mormon” redefines vulgarity in theater, and the dramatic “Come From Away” demonstrates the importance of kindness and community after a divisive event like 9/11. It is through endeavors like these that theater as an art will continue to grow and develop in future decades.
The past 10 years also gave new life to old classics with the continuation of the “Phantom of the Opera” storyline in its sequel, “Love Never Dies,” and with the jaw-dropping revival of shows like “Once on This Island” that detail class struggle in ways that are still relevant today. From 2010 to the end of this year, new audiences have been driven to discover theater because of the revitalization of the styles of music used in musicals and by watching relatable characters tackle tough and current issues.
The best new musicals of the 2010s have brought new audiences to Broadway and have pushed Broadway to rethink what a hit musical sounds and looks like. “Hamilton” is now famous for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s brilliant rap verses and racially diverse casting. “Dear Evan Hansen” showed us that pop musicals are not confined to the light-hearted juke-box model of “Mamma Mia.” The original storylines of “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Book of Mormon” stand out in a decade saturated with Broadway musicals based on existing media, including films, TV shows and previous musicals. (Egregious examples include “King Kong,” “Spongebob,” “Pretty Woman,” “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark” and “Love Never Dies.”) At their best, musical adaptations can bring niche works to new audiences, like how “Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812” reimagines 70 pages of the novel “War and Peace.” New to Broadway this year (and my current favorite musical), “Hadestown” stirs the soul with a folk-jazz sound, transforming Greek myths to timely commentary on the troubles of present-day America.
Yet, plenty of the outstanding musicals I treasure from this decade never made it to Broadway or flopped once there. “Bright Star” had a short Broadway run but has since become one of the most-produced musicals in America, both for its evocative bluegrass score and a story from the rural Applachia of America, a community rarely represented on New York stages. “Heathers: The Musical” never played on Broadway but soared in an extended run on the West End, finding a cult following as a dark-comedy rock musical. “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” despite positive critical reception and all-star cast, never made it past regional productions, although I consider it the best Disney musical since “The Lion King.” Only one in five musicals on Broadway turn a profit, so the obscure decision to bring a show to Broadway weighs on much more than just the quality of a show. The last decade has given the world a broad range of new musicals. Consider listening to some of the most iconic Broadway showtunes of the decade, but if you explore further, please don’t prejudge all shows by their commercial success. Not all great musicals can be “Hamilton.”