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The best and worst of New York theater in 2011

"The Book of Mormon" (Joan Marcus)

"The Book of Mormon" (Joan Marcus) Credit: "The Book of Mormon" (Joan Marcus)

In retrospect, 2011 was marked by some pretty extraordinary shows, including the biggest hit musical to play Broadway in 10 years, a return visit from a really hot matinee idol, and a stunning revival of a Sondheim classic. Of course, 2011 also had its fair share of disasters.

The best:

1.  'The Book of Mormon'
Just try getting tickets to this thoroughly hilarious send-up of religion. In spite of the curse words, this is an upbeat, even sentimental musical that combines Rodgers & Hammerstein, powerhouse ballads and tap dancing.

2.  'Follies'
Eric Schaeffer's lavish revival of Sondheim's masterful 1971 musical, about former showgirls and their husbands reuniting at their old theater on the eve of its destruction, is an embarrassment of riches and exceptional performances.

3.  'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying'
By turning himself into a genuine musical comedy star, Daniel Radcliffe performed a feat of magic greater than anything he ever did at Hogwarts.

4.  'Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway'
Simply put, he's the ultimate entertainer. Assisted by a large orchestra and some back-up singers, Jackman paid tribute to Broadway and Hollywood musicals, the Australian Aborigines, and auctioned off his undershirt for charity.

5.  'Sleep No More'
It's "Macbeth," sort of. This nonlinear and sensory-based theatrical experience combines narrative elements of Shakespeare with Hitchcockian noir, modern dance, masquerade and the theatricality of a haunted house.

6.  'War Horse'
The new Spielberg film is nowhere near as moving as the stage version, which depicts Joey and other horses through life-size puppets. This is tug-at-your-heart storytelling at its most spectacular and transcendent.

7.  'The Normal Heart'
Twenty-five years since it debuted, the revival of Larry Kramer's seminal AIDS drama was political theater at its finest, passionate and urgent all at once.

8.  'Once'
This stage adaptation of the 2006 film musical about a depressed singer-songwriter whose life is changed by an upbeat girl retains the film's low-key style and romantic sentimentality.

9.  'Other Desert Cities'
As directed by Joe Mantello, a great five-member cast (Stockard Channing, Stacy Keach, Thomas Sadoski, Rachel Griffiths and Judith Light) turns Jon Robin Baitz's family drama into a portrait of regret and denial that is as entertaining as it is emotionally cathartic.

10.  'Sons of the Prophet'
Stephen Karam's truly moving new play is a heartfelt, topical and funny look at a 29-year-old gay Lebanese-American man dealing with family trauma and medical problems.

The worst:

1. 'Relatively Speaking'
This truly dreadful triple bill of comedy sketches by Woody Allen, Ethan Coen and Elaine May sports a pretty strange cast that includes Steve Guttenberg, Marlo Thomas and Mark Linn-Baker, right. Stay far away.

2.  'Happy Hour'
Three more awful one-acts by Ethan Coen staged Off-Broadway. Again, stay far away.

3.  'Dracula'
The Gothic drama received a cheesy, horribly staged Off-Broadway revival. Take pity on Broadway vet George Hearn, who played Van Helsing.

4.  'Zarkana'
Sad but true: The Tony Awards got kicked out of Radio City Music Hall for this nonsensical Cirque du Soleil spectacle featuring a "wheel of death" and a baby with six arms inside a jar. Unfortunately, it's coming back this summer.

5.  'Baby, It's You'
This jukebox musical, based on the pop songs of the Shirelles, was one of the least satisfying of the genre thanks to a poorly constructed book and undeveloped characters. At least it made "Mamma Mia!" look good by comparison.

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