The Decade's Best Theater

From undervalued plays and underfunded companies, 10 years of freewheeling joy

That freedom to stretch or shrink made the decade's musical theater a far livelier place than it had been for years. The Producers broke the spell of late-20th-century earnestness; suddenly, musicals had permission to be fun again—to parody, to mock, or even to be dead serious if they chose. If the results weren't exactly pantheon-ready, the freewheeling joy they brought more than compensated. Urinetown, Avenue Q, [title of show], Grey Gardens, Next to Normal, Passing Strange, Coraline—all, in their varied ways, kept the musical's irreverent spirit jumping. Note, again, that they all began Off-Broadway and moved up, except for the puzzlingly undervalued Coraline, but then had to struggle against Broadway's money-bound realities.

Money, being our culture's central value, is our theater's permanent heartache. Under the Bush presidency's evil shadow, greed became a fixation in the arts; its reverberations still plague us as we straggle up out of the economic crater Republican looters dug for us. The decade's dollar crunch hurt theaters; Broadway's spiraling ticket prices maimed exactly the audience that theaters need for meaningful survival. Fighting and sacrificing to be heard, our artists achieved at least enough to justify these paragraphs, leaving touchstones for the grim time ahead. Though lacking a Bergman, we start over again with willing hearts, equipped to remember and hope, as well as to ache.

Scandinavian saviors: Ingmar Bergman's production of Ibsen's Ghosts, at BAM
Stephanie Berger
Scandinavian saviors: Ingmar Bergman's production of Ibsen's Ghosts, at BAM

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