Broadway, Film, and Television: The Best of 2017
As we wrap up 2017 and say goodbye to a year that made most of us roll our eyes and up our alcohol intake, it is important to take a few minutes to remember some of the good things to come out of the last 365 days. Thank goodness for the world of entertainment, providing both joyous escapism and thought-provoking drama. Here is my list for the best of 2017 in Broadway, film, and television.
It’s a nostalgic throwback to the old-style musical comedy, rich with melody, humor, and larger-than-life performances. Whether you saw Bette Midler or Donna Murphy portray Dolly Gallagher Levi, the matchmaker looking to find love for herself, you experienced musical theatre the way it was meant to be done. Hello, Dolly! is lavish, opulent without being gaudy, and every moment brims with charm. The Jerry Herman score is as wonderful as it was when the show debuted in 1964. For my money, it was the “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” scene that reduced me to tears with its unbridled exuberance and dancing perfection.
Come from Away
No show of 2017 quite inspired us like Come from Away, a musical that shed light on the goodness and resilience of humanity. Set during the week that followed the 9/11 attacks on America, this musical tells the story of how a small, isolated community came together to create a safe-haven for the passengers of 38 planes who were rerouted to Gander, Newfoundland. With music, book, and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come from Away helps us to see that our greatest commodity is community and the hope that togetherness generates.
Paula Vogel’s play recounting the controversy by the 1923 play God of Vengeance by Sholem Asch was the most important play of 2017. Dealing with the topics of censorship and the ongoing discussion of what defines art, this powerful play was co-conceived by Vogel and director Rebecca Taichman. Exploring a conservative time in America’s theatre history, Indecent demonstrates the boundless parameters of self-expression even as the powers-that-be try to reign it in.
Once on this Island
The Broadway revival of the 1990 Lynn Ahrens-Stephen Flaherty musical Once on this Island is so cleverly conceived and reimagined for this theatre-in-the-round experience that it is concretely revealing what most of us always knew: this is a special musical with a poignant and beautiful story. As the girl Ti Moune travels across a tropical island in search of her beloved Daniel, she is aided (and occasionally thwarted) by the Gods of the island. Both inspiring and heartbreaking, it is a story about the power of love, laced with music that is bursting with Caribbean flavor.
The Band’s Visit
Composer-lyricist David Yazbek’s new musical follows a group of Egyptian musicians representing the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra who end up stranded in a remote Israeli village due to a pronunciation error in their travel plans. Yazbek’s juxtaposition of musical styles is the perfect way to tell this story of the cultural clash, and eventually the dissolving of the barriers, between the Egyptian musicians and their Israeli hosts. In a world where we are so divided, The Band’s Visit is an inspiring lesson in how, if we just find our commonality, we can come together.
A harrowing and intense cinematic achievement, Dunkirk, written and directed by Christopher Nolan, tells the story of The Miracle of Dunkirk. Set in 1940, audiences witness the evacuation of WWII allied soldiers from the Dunkirk Harbor in the north of France. Short on dialogue, but relentlessly effective in its visual storytelling, Dunkirk rivals Saving Private Ryan as one of the most-unyieldingly-honest depictions of World War II and the carnage that ensued. It also features a top-notch ensemble cast including Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, and Tom Hardy.
DC Comics fans have spent years waiting for the Wonder Woman movie, often concerned that its long gestation was an indicator that the film would be a mess. Just the opposite. Wonder Woman arrived on the scene and became a big summer hit, with a compelling story and a breakout performance by Gal Gadot. Though some quibbled about the film’s ending, Wonder Woman was a telling indicator that films with strong, powerful, and intelligent women can succeed at the box office, breaking long-held Hollywood gender stereotypes. Plus, it was an action-packed, visually impressive film with a coherent and compelling storyline.
Mother-daughter relationships can be tense, and Lady Bird evokes an unsettling balance between drama and comedy that captures the full spectrum of that dynamic. Christine McPherson is a senior in high school, trying to navigate that difficult transition into adulthood, often at odds with her mother who doesn’t always feel Christine makes the best choices. It may sound like oft-tread territory, but as written, directed and acted, Lady Bird is a compelling character study of two women who love each other, but don’t know how to show it. Laurie Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan are at the top of their acting game, finding every nuance of their mother-daughter relationship and bringing it to life.
Call Me By Your Name
Hollywood has evolved to the point where it can finally tell a gay love story without being self-conscious about how it does so. Call Me By Your Name, starring the brilliant Timothée Chalamet, is arguably one of the finest gay films yet. It chronicles the story of a 17-year-old male named Elio who embarks upon a romance with an older man. Call Me By Your Name is not the typical love story, but rather a fierce exploration of how love is fleeting and is often abandoned for a more practical set of life choices. Set in 1983, it was a different time to be gay and Elio must endure life’s painful wake-up calls.
The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro is a visual storyteller like no other, directing films that are not only riveting, but also a visual feast of motion, color, and sublime fantasy. His latest effort, The Shape of Water, blurs the lines between emotional drama and sci-fi fantasy. Set in 1962, a mute janitor befriends an amphibious creature while working in a government laboratory. The film is del Toro’s most stunning work since his 2006 Pan’s Labyrinth. Sally Hawkins is getting a lot of career-escalating press for her work, and she is ably supported by Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, and Octavia Spencer.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Inspired by Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale has emerged to be a thrilling television program, a cautionary tale of where we as a country could be if we let religion become the thrust-direct of our laws and moral code. In a not-so-distant future, the majority of the American population is barren and women who can bear children are a commodity. They are rounded up, raped, and forced to carry babies for the wealthy, infertile wives of government officials. Brainwashed to believe they are doing God’s work, the women face multiple horrors that eventually propel them to finally wake up and begin to push back. Though Elizabeth Moss gives a multitextured performance, it is Ann Dowd’s turn as the zealot Aunt Lydia who steals the show.
The Good Doctor
Freddie Highmore continues to wow us as a performer, from his endearing performance debut in Finding Neverland (2004), we have known there is something special about this actor. He’s all grown-up in The Good Doctor, playing a surgeon on the autism spectrum whose special perspective and problem-solving skills make him a talented doctor. At first glance, it may feel like your typical medical drama, but The Good Doctor finds its own rhythm that sets it apart from the beaten-track of ho-hum hospital storytelling.
Keir Gilchrist gave one of the year’s finest television performances as Sam Gardner, a young man living on the autism spectrum. Atypical, a new series from Netflix, is the story, not only of Sam’s day-to-day challenges, but of his family as they struggle and rally to help their son. Each member of the Gardner household does their best to find their own lives and identities, even when most of their time and attention is exhausted on Sam. It’s a study of flawed but loving people coming together. Gilchrist is particularly mesmerizing as Sam, giving the character a depth and range of emotion that are often ignored in portrayals of people with autism.
One Day at a Time
Who would have thought a reboot of a 1970s sitcom about a divorced woman raising her two children would find so much to say in 2017? One Day at a Time, following the recently-divorced nurse Penelope Alvarez as she raises her two kids with the help of her mother (a delightful Rita Moreno) is addressing topical issues such as immigration and deportation, lesbianism, PTSD, alcoholism, and crisis of faith. What is more, the show is actually-funny while being relevant in the way that only a Norman Lear-produced sitcom can be. After all, he is the Kennedy Center honoree who gave us All in the Family, Maude, and Good Times.
Taking its cue from the Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer, American Vandal is a comedic mock-documentary about a high school student attempting to exonerate a classmate who has been accused of spray painting male genitalia on the cars of teachers in the faculty lot. Though the series is quite funny in its inappropriateness, it is also a riveting mystery that keeps you guessing throughout. As suspects come and go, you find yourself intrigued by the dizzying conundrum, “Who painted the dicks?”