Top New York Theater Stories of 2016


Many New York theatergoers surely see 2016 as “the worst year ever, until next year” according to the title of an essay in the New Yorker by Jia Tolentino, who cited a Twitter meme that picture how people felt at the beginning of the year compared how they feel now at the end – e.g.

ScottRudinSure, the theater had its heavies too: Producer Scott Rudin, for example, twice. (See June and October.)

But the downbeat reaction by New Yorkers has little to do with the theater this year.

In theater, 2016 was The Year of Rachel Chavkin.


The theater director brought us:


Hadestown New York Theatre Workshop By Anaïs Mitchell Developed with and directed by Rachel Chavkin 2015/16 SEASON May 6, 2016—July 3, 2016 With Hadestown, celebrated singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell and inventive two-time Obie award-winning director Rachel Chavkin (Three Pianos; Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812) transform Mitchell's
Small Mouth Sounds

small_mouth_sounds for Calendar

The Royale

Khris Davis (Jay), McKinley Belcher III (Fish)

AND, on Broadway,

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Josh Groban as Pierre and the cast of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway

It was also The Year of Lin-Manuel Miranda, whom the Associated Press just named Entertainer of the Year. He was “everywhere in popular culture this year — stage, film, TV, music & politics”

Below are some of the top New York theater news stories of 2016, and some of the weirdest theater stories of 2016. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the two. There are also some of the people that the theater community lost this year.  The stories are offered chronologically by month, and paired with some articles that I wrote each month.


The first #Ham4Ham digital lottery is TOO successful – more than 50,000 entries for 21 seats, crashing the website.

Times Square, January 23, 2016 at 1:30 p.m. Click to see enlarged.
Times Square, January 23, 2016 at 1:30 p.m.

Broadway and the Blizzards of 2016: The shutdown of public transportation during the blizzard causes the Broadway League to cancel all performances of Broadway shows for Saturday, January 23, 2016, both matinee and evening.

Kecia Lewis as Mother Courage
Kecia Lewis as Mother Courage

Tonya Pinkins announces she is leaving the Classic Stage Company’s production of Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children,” directed by CSC artistic director Brian Kulick, on January 5, two days before its planned opening. The theater delays the opening by only 12 days, and casts Kecia Lewis, who gets great reviews. Dues to the theater’s strict calendar, the show closes five days after it opens.

The first-ever BroadwayCon, a ComicCon-like convention for Broadway fans

Grease Live was broadcast on the Fox television network, its first foray into the live musical trend established by NBC.


David Bowie

Alan Rickman

Alan Rickman
Alan Rickman

Elizabeth Swados

Abe Vigoda


My articles:
WTF? How necessary is clarity in the theater?

Interview with Noah Robbins of Grease Live, his first musical since high school


Grammy winners
Grammy winners

The Hamilton cast recording wins a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album.


Tony-winning actress Helen Mirren appears in a Super Bowl commercial, saying, “If you drive drunk, you — simply put — are a short sighted, utterly useless, oxygen wasting, human form of pollution, a Darwin-award deserving, selfish coward. If your brain was donated to science, science would return it.” — and then finishes the spot by drinking from a bottle of beer


Four different plays open this month that contain a character with Alzheimer’s

  • Dot by Colman Domingo
  • Her Requiem by Greg Pierce
  • Smokefall by Noah Haidle
  • The Humans by Stephen Karam

Of the 20 performers nominated for Oscars this year, seven have performed (or are soon to perform) on Broadway. (Last year, it was 11 out of 20.)


Harper Lee


My articles

Immersive Theater, Defined: Five Elements to Sleep No More,Then She Fell Etc.

Hollywood and Broadway: 2016 Oscars


Wicked NY
Wicked NY

Wicked becomes one of only three shows to gross $1 billion on Broadway.


Maryann Plunkett, Lynn Hawley, Meg Gibson
Maryann Plunkett, Lynn Hawley, Meg Gibson

Hungry, the first of Richard Nelson’s trilogy of plays, The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life Of One Family, opens at the Public Theater. The first play, and the two subsequent plays, mention Donald Trump’s name precisely once.


In an interview with American Theatre Magazine, Todd Haimes, the artistic director of the 50-year-old non-profit, Roundabout Theater Company, complains that he only made $450,000 a year


Nerds, a musical about the rivalry between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, is abruptly canceled while the cast is rehearsing for an April opening


Patty Duke

RIP Patty Duke

My article

In praise of The Civilians, at 15


Hamilton wins 2016 Pulitzer Prize

Hamilton the Revolution published, becomes best-seller

The success of Hamilton may have saved Hamilton on the ten-dollar bill.


The producers of Hamilton have agreed to give the musical’s original cast members an unspecified share of the profits, which are reportedly some half a million dollars a week and sure to grow, given the planned new productions. More than two dozen cast members had hired labor lawyer Ronald H. Shechtman, and they were given support by a Twitter feed #Stand4Ham, which ran the photograph above after the announcement.

“This should be a real moment of celebration for any actor who feels powerless,”  Actors Equity president Kate Shindle said.

The “messy” behind-the-scenes fight that got Hamilton’s cast Broadway’s best deal


Jed Bernstein departs as president of Lincoln Center after just 27 months. The announcement says it was prompted not by a change in career plans, but a month later, the true reason is revealed – the discovery that he was in a relationship with a staff member.


Frankie Michaels

(born Francis Chernesky), age 60. He holds record as youngest ever Tony winner (age 10) for Mame

My articles:

Could a Play Stop A Demagogue: Theatre and Electoral Politics

Tim Federle From Gypsy to Librettist, With Severals Stops at Novelist


The season ends. Broadway stats for the season, according to The Broadway League:
13,317,980 visitors (up 1.6 percent from 2015)
$1.373 billion gross (up .6 percent from last year)
Average ticket price: $103.11 (down $1.07 from last year!)

Lupita Long'o in Eclipsed
Lupita Long’o in Eclipsed

May is really New York theater award month, although the most visible theater award, the Tonys, happens in June.  Symptom: There were three different NYC award ceremonies on May 23rd, the Lilly Awards, the Obies, and the Theatre World Awards. Lupito Nyong’o attended all three, either to pick up an award or to present one.

My articles:

Men vs. Women on Broadway This Season

10 Cool Time Square Hangouts



At the 70th annual Tony Awards , black actors win all four musical performer categories for the first time since the Tonys began

Hamilton swept the 2016 Tony Awards with 11 awards out of the 16 for which it was nominated


Some 70 Broadway performers gathered together for Broadway for Orlando, a single to raise money for the LGBT center in Orlando, Florida, after the mass shooting in a gay nightclub there. They sang  “What The World Needs Now Is Love” written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David in 1965

The ensemble performs “Broadway Blues” in Shuffle Along,
The ensemble performs “Broadway Blues” in Shuffle Along,

After “Shuffle Along” did not win any of the 10 Tonys for which it was nominated, producer Scott Rudin announced that the musical will close July 24, after only 100 performances. He blamed his decision on Audra McDonald’s forthcoming maternity leave.


Peter Shaffer 


My article:

Sung-through: Real American Musicals or Concerts with Benefits?


Dozens of veterans of the Broadway stage performed at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, while none performed at the 2016 Republican National Convention.

The Broadway revival of Motown closes nine days after its official opening in July.

My articles
Meet the Cats cast:  Shonica GoodonEloise KroppRicky Ubeda

Runaways by Elizabeth Swados, Four Decades Later



#Ham4Ham performances come to an end, after a year.

The 20th anniversary of the New York International Fringe Festival. Afterwards, the festival organizers said they were going on “hiatus.” — no festival in 2017, at the least.

Broadway for Black Lives Matters

Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim’s new musical, in collaboration with David Ives, was given a reading in August at the Public Theater, which plans to present it to the public in 2017.


Melissa Errico writes an essay in the New York Times in August about how she’s forced to play an ingénue yet again, because there are few roles in musical theater for middle-aged women.



James Houghton, age 57

James Houghton (Founding Artistic Director, Signature Theatre Company)

My article

Broadway for Black Lives Matters — and Off-Off Broadway Too


Wells Fargo antiarts ad

Wells Fargo ad outrages the theater community. Wells Fargo apologizes.

Watercolor costume sketch by Lemuel Ayers for the musical St. Louis Woman, starring Pearl Bailey, 1945
Watercolor costume sketch by Lemuel Ayers for the musical St. Louis Woman, starring Pearl Bailey, 1945

The new National Museum of African-American Culture and History in D.C. features hundreds of theater-related items in its permanent collection.

Lena Horne, 1947
Lena Horne, 1947
Nicholas Edwards as Daveed Diggs/Thomas Jefferson in Spamilton
Nicholas Edwards as Daveed Diggs/Thomas Jefferson in Spamilton

Spamilton, spoof of Hamilton by the creator of Forbidden Broadway, becomes its own hit — despite (because? regardless of) its 10 cent lottery.

Soho Rep abruptly shut down its theater at 46 Walker st, where it has operated since 1991, and is looking for a new home.


Edward Albee


My articles

Four books about American musicals, all explaining the success of Hamilton

Black Fringe


Nathan Lane
Nathan Lane

Reviving past practice, The Front Page producer Scott Rudin eliminates any press previews, inviting critics instead to opening night. (Does this mean they’ll also be reviving the ticket prices of the past? )


Joseph W. Polisi announces he will leave his post as president of Juilliard in 2018.

Bette Midler
Bette Midler

Hello, Dolly starring Bette Midler  made a record nine million dollars in advance sales on the first day that tickets were available for the Spring 2017 show.


Bob Dylan wins the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first musician to do so. (His songs have been featured in four Broadway shows.)

Inside the Hamilton store on 46th Street
Inside the Hamilton store on 46th Street

#TheHamiltonShop, 1st Broadway souvenir shop selling just one show’s merchandise,


Tammy Grimes

Tammy Grimes
Tammy Grimes

My article:

Presidential candidates on stage




In one of his first acts as President-Elect, Trump attacks Hamilton

Hamilton curtain call aimed at Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who is in attendance. Trump demands an apology, calls the musical “overrated.”

Adam and Eve scene from

Betsy DeVos is appointed Secretary of Education She was lead producer with her husband of Kathie Lee Gifford’s 2012 musical Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson

Robert Stanton and Nick Westrate, two of the leaders of #FairWageOnstage
Robert Stanton and Nick Westrate, two of the leaders of #FairWageOnstage

The League of Off-Broadway Theaters and Producer agreed to “hefty wage increases” for Off-Broadway performers thanks to the efforts of the Fair Wage Onstage campaign. Currently, the average Off-Broadway performer earns less than one-third of the minimum salary for a performer on Broadway.

Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 opens to rave reviews on Broadway. It was eveloped by the Off-Broadway theater Ars Nova, which had to sue the commercial producers before they would honor their agreement to give them the proper billing in the Playbill.

2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom


Florence Henderson


My article:

Death and Disenfranchisement: Anna Deavere Smith’s Notes From the Field



Although there was some confusion due to a misleading press release put out by Cirque de Soleil, the real story is that the owners of the Lyric, Ambassador Theatre Group, aka ATG, plan to renovate the Lyric in hopes of its housing in 2018 “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” now playing to sold-out audiences at the Palace in London’s West End. ATG is therefore kicking out “Paramour” in April, 2017.

HAIRSPRAY LIVE! -- Pictured: Ricki Lake & Marissa Winoker as Pinky's Girls, Maddie Baillio as Tracy Turnblad (center) -- (Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC)
HAIRSPRAY LIVE! — Pictured: Ricki Lake & Marissa Winoker as Pinky’s Girls, Maddie Baillio as Tracy Turnblad (center) -)

Hairspray Live, the fourth year in a row that NBC has broadcast a Broadway musical live in December.

In Transit1

In Transit is the first a cappella musical to debut on Broadway. It is not well-received

David Oyelowo as Othello and Daniel Craig as Iago
David Oyelowo as Othello and Daniel Craig as Iago

Othello with David Oyelowo and Daniel Craig. Security tight. Reports that they are looking to transfer it to Broadway.

Brandon Victor Dixon as Aaron Burr
Brandon Victor Dixon as Aaron Burr

The last original principal cast member of “Hamilton” leaves the show. Hamilton replacement cast assessed

Radio City Rockettes as rag dolls
Radio City Rockettes as rag dolls

1473804899-christmas_spectacular_radio_city_rockettes_ticketsThe Radio City Rockettes have been invited to perform at the Presidential Inauguration, joining the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and America’s Got Talent runner-up Jackie Evancho. Some of the Rockettes don’t want to go

According to Broadway World, dancer Phoebe Pearl wrote in a now-deleted Instagram post.

“I usually don’t use social media to make a political stand but I feel overwhelmed with emotion/ Finding out that it has been decided for us that Rockettes will be performing at the Presidential inauguration makes me feel embarrassed and disappointed. The women I work with are intelligent and are full of love and the decision of performing for a man that stands for everything we’re against is appalling. I am speaking for just myself but please know that after we found out this news, we have been performing with tears in our eyes and heavy hearts. We will not be forced! #notmypresident”

Their union, The American Guild of Variety Artists, said they couldn’t boycott the event, but the Rockettes owner, Madison Square Garden Entertainment announced that participation was voluntary. “It is always their choice. In fact, for the coming inauguration, we had more Rockettes request to participate than we have slots available.”


Carrie Fisher

Debbie Reynolds


(Mother and Daughter)


My article

The Trump Effect

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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