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Episodes: Shows I have seen on Broadway (or nearby), ranked


Emily VanDerWerff

Mar 12 2016

7 min read



(On Friday, we rank things, why not?)

In the process of coming up with this list, I realized something: I have seen far more shows on Broadway than I actually thought I had (though I didn't have to rank the listless performance of Les Mis that I saw, because that was in London). So I've probably forgotten one or two or 50 shows. My apologies. These are ranked from worst to first, and I haven't put numbers on them, because I don't entirely remember everything I've seen for sure. I am not counting the many shows I've seen on tour, because who has the time?

Sweet Smell of Success: My desire to do this list was spurred by remembering that I have seen this. It's one of those shows that wasn't a flop (it even won John Lithgow a Tony!) but also wasn't a success by any means. It lost lots of money, though it staggered to over 100 performances, which is more than most shows can say. The score kind of sounds like droning bees, and the show doesn't really rise above that.

The Lion King: I saw this a few years into its run, from the balcony, which is not the way to see this show (which basically demands to be seen from the floor). Anyway, everybody in it seemed really bored, which is a peril with long-running shows. (One of these days, I'm going to convince everyone I know to go see Phantom together for this very reason.)

The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged: In college, I hung out with people who loved this show and took every opportunity to see it if they could. So we went and saw it in New York. I probably didn't need to ever see this show more than once. It's not that great!

Chicago: I'm trying to remember who was in this when I saw it. I thought it was pretty good, and I saw it before the movie, too. Mostly, I remember that I ended up seeing it instead of The Producers, which was then in the phase of its life cycle where it sold out every show. (That day, President George H.W. Bush went to see it and bumped out a bunch of standby possibles.) I think it was right across the street?

Copenhagen: This is the very first thing I ever saw on Broadway, the very first time I ever went to New York. (It was between this and Miss Saigon, believe it or not.) I passed up on a chance to go to the top of the World Trade Center in order to see this, which is now a little sad as I think about it. Anyway, this is a really good play. I remember being blown away by it, but my memories are being colored by this actor who visited my college and told me she thought it was just okay. I wish there were more plays about scientists talking in the afterlife.

Proof: This is tricky, because I love this play, but it's a play that is so easy to fuck up with the wrong cast. I saw it with Jennifer Jason Leigh, who was really good but maybe not everything I had hoped she would be. I so wish I had gotten the chance to see Mary Louise Parker in it, but that's life. Anyway, read this play if you can. But only see it if it's got great reviews.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson: I always felt like this show deserved a fairer shake, even though basically everybody involved in it has gone on to a great career. I really love the score, and I love the idea of a show that attempts to interrogate the scariness of American populism. I suspect a revival of it right now would play really well, but it had the misfortune to launch in the first year of Barack Obama's presidency, when New Yorkers were perhaps less interested in a story about the darker side of populism. Oh well! It's kind of a chaotic piece of work. It feels like a proto-Hamilton, though so far as I know, nobody involved in Hamilton has ever had anything to do with this one.

Once: I saw this with my wife, which means it pretty much couldn't fall any lower than this. Cristin Milioti was out the night we saw it, which was a bummer, but Steve Kazee (who really needs to get another big thing) was terrific, and the staging was brilliant. I'm a sucker for great stage direction, and this had it in spades. (Fun fact: For a long time, I really wanted to be a theater director, until I realized that my parents would kill me if I did so.)

The Humans: This one just moved to Broadway, and you should go see it. It's a pretty brilliant, funny, scary play about the divide between red state and blue, and about how families are always disappointing each other. It's kind of quietly been lurking in the shadow of Hamilton all season, and if any play upsets that musical for the Pulitzer (which, let's be honest, won't happen), it will be this one. It has a ghost!

Urinetown: I saw this one on the fateful college trip that introduced me to many of these shows. It was early in the show's run, when it still felt like the freshest, newest thing in ages, and I remember sitting in the very upper balcony, leaning over its edge on a tiny stool, watching this thing play out below me and laughing my ass off. I don't know how I'd react to it now, but in early 2002, it was all I wanted out of life.

Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812: I was emotionally overwhelmed by this electro-pop musical version of one tiny section of War and Peace, to the degree that if you ever give me money, I will mount an impeccable film version of it. I even know what it will look like. (Also I wrote some really shitty pieces about it that convinced me never to become a theater critic.)

Fun Home: Another one I saw with my wife, which was immensely improved by our seats being improved so we were sitting right down next to the action. This one is still showing, and if you can, you should see it. It's a brilliant show about figuring out the person you really are.

Favorite show I saw on tour: Avenue Q

Favorite show I saw an amateur production of: Guys and Dolls

Show I think of often, even though it was probably awful: I saw this adaptation of one of the Greek tragedies at a college theater festival, and it was set in the Iraq War, and it blew my mind. I am 100 percent certain if I saw it now, I would find it cringe-worthy.

Favorite show I was in: I was in Sweeney Todd in college, just as a chorus member, but it was a ton of fun.

Least favorite show I was in: I had a bit part in Oliver (also in college), and man, that show is a snooze if you're not Oliver. (If you take nothing else away from this newsletter, take away that I am not a very good actor.)


Episodes is published at least three times per week, and more if I feel like it. It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox Dot Com.

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