Best Theater of 2023

It sounds slightly deranged to credit Anton Chekhov with having written one of the best scenes of sexual and romantic tension in the canon, but he did: in “Uncle Vanya,” whose Sonya and Astrov have a middle-of-the-night tête-à-tête over cheese in the dining room, exchanging confidences, igniting hopes. Her hopes, mainly, because she’s the hardworking young farmer with the yearslong crush on him, and he’s the heavy-drinking doctor who doesn’t think of her that way. But in Jack Serio’s staging in a Manhattan loft, Marin Ireland’s Sonya and Will Brill’s Astrov touched off the audience’s hopes, too, even if we knew they’d come to nothing. Heads bent close in the candlelight, speaking sotto voce, they made an almost rom-com pair. LAURA COLLINS-HUGHES

In Simon Stephens’s “Vanya,” a funny, sexy tragicomedy that ran in London’s West End this fall, Andrew Scott performed all the parts. He gave a beautifully calibrated, split-focus tension to the yearning chat between Sonia and the tree-planting doctor she adores, whom Stephens has renamed Michael. On the one hand, Scott as the nervous Sonia, for whom the conversation is a treasured memory in the making; on the other, Scott as the sozzled Michael, careless enough to call her “my love,” in Scott’s irresistible Irish lilt. “You have the gentlest voice,” Sonia tells him. And sure, hers is very similar. Still, it’s true. LAURA COLLINS-HUGHES

I can’t say I knew the name Joy Woods back in April, so when she was announced as a last minute-replacement on the roster of singers for the annual Miscast benefit concert, I felt a little let down. Not any more! Her quiet-storm medley of “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” from “My Fair Lady” (arranged by Will Van Dyke) was the evening’s revelation, keeping her fully in step with a starry lineup that included Ben Platt, LaChanze and Josh Groban. Now her name seems to be on everyone’s lips, with roles in “Little Shop of Horrors,” “I Can Get It for You Wholesale” and, next spring, “The Notebook” on Broadway. SCOTT HELLER

Two actors really went to town in their utter rejection of verisimilitude this year, single-handedly spicing up their respective Broadway shows. In “The Cottage,” Alex Moffat delivered a gonzo Expressionist-by-way-of-Plastic Man performance in which merely lighting up a cigarette became a full-fledged event. In “Back to the Future: The Musical,” Hugh Coles was a standout as George McFly, taking what Crispin Glover did in the original movie and amping it up into an arch marvel of manic stylization. In “Put Your Mind to It,” he paradoxically suggested George’s stiff demeanor with loose limbs that defied the laws of biomechanics. ELISABETH VINCENTELLI

Elizabeth Stanley, so skilled at bringing out a pop song’s emotional core, exposed the giddy carnal drive behind “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” in a gala presentation of “Pal Joey” at New York City Center. In full bedroom afterglow, her devil-may-care performance peppered scatting and swinging jazz vocals through the song’s racier lyrics. (The ones thanking god she can be oversexed again.) Also voluptuous was Aisha Jackson’s aching “My Funny Valentine,” made into a torch anthem through Daryl Waters’s despairing orchestrations. Jackson richly moaned through love’s irresistible betrayal, revealing an erotic trembling in the Rodgers & Hart classic. JUAN A. RAMÍREZ

“Once Upon a One More Time,” a fairy-tale mash-up powered by the hits of Britney Spears and skin-deep feminism, delivered the form’s most profane needle drop. Cinderella (Briga Heelan) was slumped over the hearth, with her haughty stepsisters (Amy Hillner Larsen and Tess Soltau) glowering down at her, when rapid-fire beats blared through the Marquis Theater. “You want a hot body? You want a Bugatti?” Their command was obvious: “You better work, bitch.” NAVEEN KUMAR

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