Theater Blog Roundup: Reviewing 2021 in a mix of emotions

Was 2021 a cause for celebration or for sorrow? Was it a time for gratitude, grief or gall? Yes, say the theater bloggers in the roundup below.

The strange mix of emotions might be summed up by the photograph, taken by Howard Sherman (and shared in his NYC 2021: My Year in My Pictures) of the lovely Laura Benanti, joining in the group singing of “Sunday” at Father Duffy Square….a moment of mass mourning, two days after the death of Stephen Sondheim.

Many bloggers offered end-of-year lists. Some were tailored to the peculiarity of the year.

In  About Last Night, Terry Teachout wrote” I can’t remember the last time I:” — and then listed 16 things, including 

Went to a classical concert or an operatic production
Bought a book in a brick-and-mortar bookstore
Attended a rehearsal of anything
Felt at ease walking after dark in New York’s theater district

In The Producer’s Perspective, Ken Davenport offers a generally more positive list of the Top 10 Broadway Moments of 2021,” which were largely not about what happened on stage (or screen).

1. The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical gets a Grammy nomination!
2. 7 plays on Broadway this past fall . . . All by black playwrights.
3. Dj Andrew Lloyd Webber in the house!
4. Oh, we did actually open up!
5.  The return of the Drama Book Shop
6. We knew it would happen someday, but still (Stephen Sondheim’s death at 91)
7. Look at all those movie musicals!
8. SVOG (the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, which gave broadway productions up to 10 million dollars)
9. Mandates, masks and more
10. It is getting better . . . Thanks to you.

“2020 had no theater.  2021 had a lot more theater.  And now, even despite omicron, and the canceled shows and premature closings that are happening right now, we are better off than a year ago. 

in Theater Aficionado at Large, Kevin Daly offers his usual once-a-year accounting of what he watched and listened to during the year, including My Year in Show Music, which begins with “Kiss Me Kate” and ends with “Mame,” and includes “Caroline or Change” eight separate times (two for the original Broadway cast album, six for the new one.) Each album listing is linked to a webpage on, which offers the songlist and other details. “Old habits die hard. I haven’t written about theatre in years but I am still keeping track of what I listen to; a grasp at normalcy in abnormal times, perhaps.”

But some resisted lists. “The problem is that, with a couple of exceptions, I haven’t really enjoyed most of what I’ve seen and who wants to naysay theater at a time like this when it’s scrambling to stay on its feet,” Janice Simpson wrote in a post called “Sizing Up An Uneven and Uneasy Fall Season” on her blog Broadway & Me, in which, although she has been theatergoing regularly, she writes about just three shows, which offered “a mixed bag of experiences.

Simpson wonders whether  “my lack of enthusiasm reflects my uneasiness” about attending in-person theater at a time of pandemic. Samuel Leiter details what it entails in Theatregoing in a Time of Covid: A Cautionary Tale. “… speaking only for myself, I can say it ain’t thrilling.”


In My 2021 Year in Review, Adam Szymkowic recounts the many productions of his plays, but concludes

“I don’t know when more of the small theaters who have been my mainstay will be back and I know some of them won’t.
I don’t mean to end on a bleak note.  I just want to acknowledge that my momentum on a life in the theater has taken a huge hit and I know some people were hit a lot harder.  The pipeline has never been more clogged up so even sending plays out right now seems more pointless than usual.  And there is a big question about when or if the normal level of theater producing will return.  Especially for small theaters without spaces or small theaters who lost their spaces.
So it takes a lot more hope than normal to keep writing.”

One of the ten interviews he conducted with playwrights during the year (a much smaller number than usual) was with Peter Michael Marino (playwright interview number 1103), who explains how the digital version of his toy theater  “Planet of the Grapes Live” came about

In answer to Szymkowicz’s standard question,  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be? Marino says: “It became clear during the pandemic that there was a difference between Broadway-lovers and Theater-lovers. So many people missing Broadway shows, yet there were so many international artists creating theatrical content – digitally. But, folks were more into those kinds of events if celebs were involved. I think some of the most creative theatrical experiences I’ve had during pandemic were from digital theater shows. I hope in the future that more Broadway-lovers realize that they are actually theater-lovers and take greater chances on the unknowns.”

Onstage Blog ended the year with a series of angry and disappointed posts, such as The Truth About the State of Broadway, which anonymously quotes complaints by theater workers, e.g. “I 100% do not feel safe in the auditorium of a theater…and it’s primarily because of the audiences and their behavior…”

Other posts: Omicron is Exposing New York Theatre’s Failure to Change
How COVID is changing our attitudes around illness in theatre (“We shouldn’t have asked sick performers to go on in the past and we certainly shouldn’t now.”)
By disrespecting understudies, Charlotte St. Martin needs to go
and, for a change of pace, 10 Broadway Christmas songs to brighten your holiday season

Years after George Hunka in effect gave up his theater writing, as both a playwright and a critic, he recently saw his 11-year-old daughter Billie make her stage debut at the Lee Strasberg Institute. In his post Like father, he writes:

“It could well be that theatre and drama are properly young people’s passions — young at heart, if not in body, perhaps; but I can’t say that I’m young at heart these days myself, so am delighted to leave it to my daughter and her new friends, who certainly are. Nonetheless, her performance did poke the ashes a bit; I recently found myself re-reading The Cherry Orchard, and even made a few notes for a new play that would include, as a character, a 12-year-old girl. Maybe it’s a family business now…”

That’s the closest the end-of-year posts came to being hopeful and heartwarming. I’d say that’s pretty damn close.

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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