Top 10 lists of Top 10 Theater in 2020: Take Me To The World

Yes, there was good theater this year, enough to fill the Top 10 lists below.  “Take Me To The World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration”  followed by “Russian Troll Farm,” then “The Line,” “What Do We Need To Talk About,”  and “The Great Work Begins” (all online), “A Soldier’s Play” (on Broadway) Dana H. (Off-Broadway) are each in more than one of the following critics’ lists.

But some huge caveats: There is nowhere near a consensus this year of the top 10 theater.  “Take Me To The World” was the choice of just four critics; in previous years, it might not have been considered a work of theater at all. “Russian Troll Farm” three; All the others I mentioned were the choice of just two critics.  I couldn’t even find ten theater critics (so far) who have put together a top 10 list. Several who post one every year have opted out in 2020.

I started my  “Top 10 Lists of Top 10  New York Theater” a decade ago as a way of mocking Top 10 lists, but I soon started taking my annual roundup seriously – carefully calculating which shows had attained critical consensus. Some years that was easy, like 2015, when all the critics with top 10 lists picked Hamilton, most making it their number one choice. (I should mention that two critics picked Hamilton on Disney+ this year.)  Similarly “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”  and “The Band’s Visit” were clear favorites in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Even in 2019, when I argued that there wasn’t much of a consensus, seven of the 12 critics whose choices I aggregated – the majority – had listed “Hadestown.”

What a difference a year makes.

It may go without saying, but those consensus choices in past years were all on Broadway.  What happens in a year when only five plays and musicals opened on Broadway and “theater” had to be redefined as occurring on screens for more than nine months of the year? It means a consensus is unlikely.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. It has forced critics to…diversify.

Top 10 lists get attention, and whatever you call the work that emerged this year, it was worthy of attention. As Helen Shaw writes in the intro to her top 10 list (linked below), “somehow the theater managed to be excellent, even as the world slid away.”


Jonathan Mandell of New York Theater:
1. Virtual Anthologies: #WhileWeBreathe, Homebound Project, Viral Monologues
2. Russian Troll Farm
3. The Line
4. What Do We Need To Talk About?
5. Cambodian Rock Band
6. A Soldier’s Play
7. Theatre for One’s Here We Are
8. Mad Forest
9. Songs from an Unmade Bed
10. Voyeur

Jesse Green of New York Times
1. Hamlet at St. Ann’s Warehouse
2. Dana H.
3. Girl from the North Country
4.Benefits (Rosie O’Donnell, Take Me to the World,” a 90th birthday celebration of Stephen Sondheim)
5. Mama Got a Cough’ (a 14-minute film by Jordan Cooper)
6. Equitable Dinners
7. Three Kings
8. The Great Work Begins
9. Russian Troll Farm
10. Lessons in Survival

New York Magazine’s Helen Shaw
1.Dana H.
3.The Seagull on Sims4
5.I Am Sending You The Sacred Face
6. Mud/Drowning
7. A Soldier’s Play
8. The Oedipus Project
9. Circle Jerk
10. Fly Away

Charles McNulty of the  L.A. Times
Randy Rainbow on YouTube
What the Constitution Means to Me on Amazon Prime
West Side Story
My Name Is Lucy Barton
Take Me To The World
What Do We Need to Talk About
The Present
Three Kings
The Great Work Begins

Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal
Irish Repertory Theater’s “A Touch of the Poet”
Undermain Theater’s “St. Nicholas”
Syracuse Stage’s “Amadeus,”
American Players Theatre’s “Arms and the Man,”
The Mint’s “Conflict”
Park Square Theatre’s “The Diary of Anne Frank, ”
Wilma Theater’s “Heroes of the Fourth Turning,”
American Shakespeare Center’s “Othello,”
TimeLine Theater’s “To Master the Art,”
American Conservatory Theater’s “ Toni Stone, ”
The Alley Theatre’s stage version of “1984.”

Peter Marks of the Washington Post

1.Take Me To The World
2.You Can’t Stop The Beat
3.Mary Neely
4.Geffen Playhouse (The Present)
6.To Kill a Mockingbird at Madison Square Garden
7.Slave Play and the Tony Awards
8.The Amen Corner
9.Next to Normal
10.“The unnamed production – stay tuned”

Joey Sims
1. The Conversationalists
2. Endlings
3. Boy Factory
4. Paris
5. The Long Goodbye
6. Cairns
7. Lungs
8. The Underbrush
9. Karen, I said
10. The Line

Jan Simpson of Broadway & Me

American Utopia
Darling Grenadine
Hamlet at St. Ann’s Warehouse
The Headlands
The Hot Wing King
Take Me To The World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration
Bill Irwin’s In Zoom (see the 10-inute video below)
In Camera , at London’s Old Vic
Russian Troll Farm
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom


Author: New York Theater

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

3 thoughts on “Top 10 lists of Top 10 Theater in 2020: Take Me To The World

  1. Funny how much I missed in not being able to go to NYC for the last 10 months. I wish I felt better about the “West Side Story” revival and the Dylan musical, both of which shredded the original impulses of their source material and left me cold. I am glad you liked “Cambodian Rock Band,” which needed work when I saw its premiere production in Ashland, OR, and I trust it got it. From this part of the world (Seattle, where Covid closed up theaters really quick since we had one of the first surges), I am grateful for an excellent revival of “Jitney,” the local premieres of “Dance Nation” and “Admissions,” and “What the Constitution Means to Me,” which I caught up with on Amazon Prime. Wishing you good health and a better planet in 2021, Jonathan!

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