The top theatre of 2023

Our associate editor rounds up her favorite Broadway and Off-Broadway shows from this year, along with upcoming 2024 theatre to look forward to next year.

Gillian Russo
Gillian Russo

Hundreds of shows opened in New York this year — plays and musicals, comedies and dramas, Broadway and Off-Broadway, solo works and mega-spectacles. I was lucky enough to experience a fair amount of each of these, providing me many nights of laughter, heartbreak, shock, awe, and captivation. Even though many have closed, they're worth celebrating.

There are plenty of other shows I loved that didn't make the list, and our team of writers celebrated so many more shows this year. As such, this article is not totally comprehensive, nor does it represent New York Theatre Guide as a whole.

But these are the shows I saw and saw again, thought about at 1 a.m. weeks later, remember for their groundbreaking contributions to the theatre landscape, or all of the above. Some are still running — and to make up for the ones that aren't, this list includes upcoming 2024 shows I'm looking forward to, and any fellow fans of these 2023 shows might also.

Get tickets to New York shows on New York Theatre Guide.

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All the Devils Are Here

It's a rare treat to see Tony Award nominee Patrick Page's wit and unparalleled, gripping talent up close in a 100-seat Off-Broadway space. His solo show is truly for everyone: a fascinating history of Shakespeare's villains for us Shakespeare nerds, and an accessible, engaging, and funny exploration of evil for everyone else. Plus, you know a show is good when it starts with a joke that connects the illustrious Macbeth with the famous flop Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

2024 watchlist: Drunk Shakespeare, in which one actor takes five whiskey shots before performing a Shakespeare play with four sober people. It's been in NYC for years, but I've never been - maybe this is finally the year.

Get Drunk Shakespeare tickets now.

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Alex Edelman: Just For Us

After multiple sold-out Off-Broadway runs, Alex Edelman's solo show got a well-deserved Broadway run. The story of a Jewish comedian sneaking into a local neo-Nazi meeting sounds like the stuff of horrors, but Edelman packs in nonstop laughs and a thoughtful takeaway: How much empathy are we willing to give those different from us?

2024 watchlist: The White Chip, another comedy that sounds like it shouldn't be one: the story of a man's journey to alcoholism recovery. The play is coming back to NYC with the director and star from its critically acclaimed 2019 premiere.

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The Girl You Talk To

I saw two early workshops of this show before the full-fledged Off-Broadway run, and it was a revelation every time. With razor-sharp insight and humor, writer and performer Alyssa May Gold posed the question: What if Jesus was a woman, and what if religion and other systems of power weren't built with "male" as the default? The theories she spun make me wonder whether she was actually a prophet, and I hope this show has a second coming.

2024 watchlist: Doubt, John Patrick Shanley's thorny Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play about the sacred and the profane, returning for its first Broadway revival.

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The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window

The Broadway revival of this lesser-known Lorraine Hansberry play, which tackled a host of modern social issues 60 years ahead of its time, makes me wonder why it isn't produced more. Seeing Oscar Isaac and Rachel Brosnahan live in the starring roles was the cherry on top, but supporting actors Miriam Silverman (who won a Tony) and Gus Birney deserve equal flowers.

2024 watchlist: Home, another 20th-century hit buried in time. Back on Broadway for the first time since its Tony-nominated 1980 premiere, the show follows a man on a journey of self-discovery after his longtime sweetheart leaves.

Get Home tickets now.

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Parade

I triple-masked and ventured out in the NYC smog in June to see this Broadway production. It was worth it. Director Michael Arden's Tony Award-winning revival of this poignant musical — about the real-life wrongful trial, imprisonment, and lynching of a Jewish factory manager accused of murder — was nothing short of brilliant, skillfully differentiating its large ensemble and incorporating historical footage. The varied, soaring score remains one of Jason Robert Brown's best.

2024 watchlist: Days of Wine and Roses, another lush but dark-streaked musical with big talent. Kelli O'Hara and Brian d'Arcy James play a couple whose romance is rocked by alcoholism.

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Fat Ham

James Ijames's retelling of Hamlet, with a queer Black student at its center, was an absolute feast of joy both on and off Broadway. Rather than a tragedy, this version is a celebration of staying true to oneself, finding nonviolent means of justice, and lead actor Marcel Spears bringing the house down during a karaoke version of Creep.

2024 watchlist: My Son’s a Queer (But What Can You Do?), in which queer British actor Rob Madge celebrates their theatrical, flamboyant childhood and the accepting environment they grew up in.

Check back for information on My Son’s A Queer tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

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Appropriate and The Comeuppance

Two Branden Jacobs-Jenkins plays about reunions gone wrong hit the stage this year, and each was an absolute knockout. The Pulitzer-nominated playwright has a wicked sense of humor and a fearlessness about exposing the ugliest sides of his characters — while still keeping you hanging on their every word. Sarah Paulson as Toni, a woman fighting against the skeletons in her dead father's closet in Appropriate on Broadway, is a top-notch example.

2024 watchlist: Appropriate again, as the show is still running. Also its successor at the Hayes Theater, Mother Play, Paula Vogel's world-premiere dysfunctional-family drama starring Jessica Lange, Jim Parsons, and Celia Keenan-Bolger.

Get Appropriate tickets now.

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Covenant

Horror that legitimately frightens is rare on stage, but York Walker rose to the challenge. His Off-Broadway-debut play, Covenant, in which a rumor about Satanic possession upends a family in a deeply religious Southern town, was thrillingly unsettling, twisted, and surprising at every turn, due in no small part to the arresting lighting (Cha See) and sound design (Justin Ellington).

2024 watchlist: Sweeney Todd. I saw an early performance of the classic, bloody thriller earlier this year, but Stephen Sondheim's bone-chilling and epic score — god, that's good.

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Dark Disabled Stories

Ryan J. Haddad, who has cerebral palsy, spun this darkly funny Off-Broadway show from true anecdotes about navigating the world with his disability — which illuminate how so much of the world is not built for disabled people. Notably, every performance was completely accessible, featuring ASL interpretation, audio descriptions, accessible seating options, and portions of the set people could touch to get a feeling for the environment.

2024 watchlist: How to Dance in Ohio, an adaptation of the documentary about autistic, young adults. It walks the walk by featuring a cast of autistic actors.

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Seven Sins and Cocktail Magique

Company XIV's burlesque variety shows offer some of the city's most unique nights out, and they're worth the trek to Brooklyn. Seven Sins put a vibrant, queer twist on the Adam and Eve story, and Cocktail Magique blends magic and mixology that even includes the audience in the fun.

2024 watchlist: Company XIV's annual holiday show, Nutcracker Rouge, and Cocktail Magique still, as the run just extended through summer 2024.

Get Cocktail Magique tickets now.

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School Pictures

This Off-Broadway solo show written and performed by Milo Cramer musicalizes the interactions Cramer had with 10 adolescent students while they worked as a tutor. Delightfully offbeat and idiosyncratic, Cramer seamlessly blended dry humor about the struggles of being a teenager with a fearless indictment of the prestige-obsessed NYC school system. Plus, they summoned a more dramatic sound from a toy piano than I ever thought that instrument could make.

2024 watchlist: Staff Meal, at the same theatre (Playwrights Horizons) with the same director (Morgan Green) as School Pictures. Described as a comedy about patrons and workers at a restaurant that doubles as a refuge from the world. Like School Pictures, it seems like the kind of show that will turn the mundane into the extraordinarily profound.

Check back for information on Staff Meal tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

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Bob Fosse’s Dancin’

Chicago and Cabaret may be Fosse's most famous works, but it was a treat to see his lesser-known choreography take the Broadway stage for the first time since the '70s. Those musicals cemented his legacy as the master of dark, seductive choreography, but Dancin’ reminded us that he also knew how to create movement that just bursts with joy. Plus, dancer Kolton Krouse gave one of the standout Broadway performances of the year.

2024 watchlist: Another pioneering dance musical: Cats. Downtown venue PAC NYC's revival reimagines the Jellice Ball as a contest in the queer underground ballroom scene of the '80s and '90s.

Check back for information on Cats tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

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Letters from Max

Playwright Sarah Ruhl and poet Max Ritvo began as teacher and student before becoming fierce friends, creative collaborators, and pen pals before Ritvo's death from cancer. Adapted from the same-named book that collects their correspondences, Ruhl's Letters from Max off Broadway was a gorgeous tribute to Ritvo that allowed him to, in a way, come back to life for a while.

2024 watchlist: Orlando, Ruhl's outstanding 2010 play adapted from Virginia Woolf's novel. The story of the immortal title character, who lives life in two different eras as two different genders, returns off Broadway with Signature Theatre.

Check back for information on Orlando tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

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Prima Facie

Tony Award winner Jodie Comer gave one of the year's best performances in Suzie Miller's Broadway solo play about a defense lawyer seeing her profession from the other side after an assault. She only played one character, and yet she seemed to shapeshift from cunning professional to broken girl to hardened survivor with something as simple as a glance.

2024 watchlist: Teeth, the new musical adaptation of the cult classic film about a young girl whose body literally bites back when men try to violate it.

Check back for information on Teeth tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

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