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Our critic's top 10 theater shows of 2018

The company in "The Ferryman" by Jez Butterworth.

The company in "The Ferryman" by Jez Butterworth. Credit: Joan Marcus

    End-of-year lists are a tricky business — a critic at another newspaper pretty much admitted it often comes down to a coin toss. This is a list of what moved me, intrigued me, delighted me over the past 12 months, none more so than my top pick, Jez Butterworth’s searing Irish saga set in the time known as The Troubles.

  But understand that I have left off many remarkable shows. On my honorable mention list: “Waverly Gallery,” Kenneth Lonergan’s bittersweet play about a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s, starring the indomitable Elaine May; “Carmen Jones,” the update of the Bizet opera that was a smash at Classic Stages; and “Hangmen,” a dark, Off-Broadway comedy from Martin McDonagh.  

  On Long Island, highlights included the truly lovely production of the classic “Singin’ in the Rain” at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, and the intriguing “Fellow Travelers,” about Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.

Now, on to the list:

10. “King Kong” For the spectacle alone, the musical deserves recognition. The 2,000-pound animatronic puppet is the most exciting thing on stage in the show, captivating the audience with his every move. Needless to say, it’s Kong who gets the last curtain call.

9. “Girl From the North Country” Playwright Connor McPherson turned the Bob Dylan songbook into a haunting but grim musical set in a Duluth, Minnesota, boardinghouse, where the desolate residents’ lives during the Great Depression were laid bare.

8. “My Fair Lady” Director Bartlett Sher brought the enduring musical into the #MeToo era without changing a word, thanks to a dramatic ending for Eliza Doolittle (Laura Benanti has replaced Lauren Ambrose) that I’m still reluctant to reveal.

7. “Three Tall Women” Glenda Jackson was a magnificent presence in Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, playing a 90-year-old woman modeled on the playwright’s adoptive mother, who did not approve of his sexuality.

6. “Twelfth Night” It would be hard to find a more delightful evening of theater than Shakespeare in the Park’s charming take on the Bard’s comedy. A lot of the credit goes to Shania Taub, who did the wonderful music and played the clown Feste.

5. “Oklahoma!” A pared-down version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic — no real ensemble, a small orchestra with mostly period instruments — from director Daniel Fish was riveting, with its focus on the darker, more violent side of the story. The successful production is transferring to Broadway and opens April 7.

4. “Angels in America” The revival of Tony Kushner’s 25-year-old play felt as relevant as ever, touching on issues universal (religion, sex) and current (government corruption). Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane led the cast in the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning show that early on gave a face to the AIDS epidemic.

3. “Fiddler on the Roof” The Yiddish-language production of the enduring musical struck a chord with audiences, who embraced seeing the show in the language that would have been spoken at the time. Directed by Broadway legend Joel Grey, “Fiddler” was extended four times. It runs through Dec. 30 at the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbienne before moving early next year to Off-Broadway’s Stage 42.

2. “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” Audiences had to go all in, devoting more than five hours to the two-part production, as playwright Jack Thorne turned J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard into Broadway magic. Picking up 19 years after “The Deathly Hallows,” the Tony-winning best play introduced us to an adult Harry, now an overworked official in the Ministry of Magic, as he prepared to send his youngest son off to Hogwarts.

1. “The Ferryman” This rich, sprawling family epic by Jez Butterworth wove traditional Irish folklore into a dramatic, suspense-filled story of greed and corruption set in rural Northern Ireland in the early '80s during the great national conflict known as The Troubles. With a huge cast of 21, including an adorable baby, this was one of those rare plays that lasted more than three hours and left audiences longing for more.

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