The best in Washington theater starts with a hands-down top six:
The most satisfying musical of the year. Stephen Sondheim's score was played and sung beautifully at Signature Theatre, and the bittersweet romantic comedy was acted to perfection by Holly Twyford, Bobby Smith, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Florence Lacey, Will Gartshore, Sam Ludwig, Maria Rizzo and others — a big, shimmering cast that was exquisite and unexpectedly hilarious.
With a nod to Ethan McSweeny's current airport-set "Twelfth Night," proof that big Shakespeare still lives in Harman Hall. Mike Bartlett's juicy future history imagined a monarchy crisis after the current queen's death. The back-channel politics and mod-classical language mash-up were acted with guile and crackle in David Muse's epic-scaled Shakespeare Theatre Company production.
The egregiously belated D.C. debut of Lin-Manuel Miranda's 2008 Tony Award-winning musical. GALA Hispanic Theatre gets credit for staging it first in the spring, presenting the U.S. Spanish-language premiere and performing it well. The Round House-Olney Theatre co-production had all the salsa pizazz you could ask for, directed by Marcos Santana and jubilantly led by Robin de Jesús.
Holly Twyford and Gregory Linington carved each other expertly in Edward Albee's timeless, knife-sharp marital drama at Ford's Theatre, directed by Aaron Posner and with hard-to-top supporting performances (as the hapless guests through the long night of sour, soused gamesmanship) from Danny Gavigan and Maggie Wilder.
It's just the case: Washington theater is buzzier when the National Theatre is on top of its game. The tour of the Lisa Kron-Jeanine Tesori musical "Fun Home" captured the fragility and buoyancy of graphic novelist Alison Bechdel's coming-of-age story. In the ultra-glossy, perfectly cast "Mean Girls" pre-Broadway tryout this fall, Tina Fey cleverly updated (and in key instances, repeated) the laughs from her adored 2004 movie. Casey Nicholaw's production featured slick social media graphics to go with the promising power pop score by Jeff Richmond.
Lots of competition for a final four. I'm going with these:
2017 has been a watershed year for provocative topical works, with an honor roll including Lisa Loomer's "Roe" at Arena Stage, "The Arsonists" at Woolly Mammoth, "Building the Wall" and "The State" from Forum Theatre, Mike Milligan's "Mercy Killers"/"Side Effects" rep at Taffety Punk, "Whipping, or The Football Hamlet" from Longacre Lea, "Skeleton Crew" at Studio Theatre and Jon Robin Baitz's just-closed Trump satire at the fast-maturing Mosaic Theater, the vicious "Vicuña & the American Epilogue" — all of which means Washington has firmly shed its timidity and claimed status as a vigorous political theater town. Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm's slow-starting, gradually daring comedy, returning to Mosaic in the spring, was especially arresting in springboarding from the Trayvon Martin shooting and code-switching like mad.
The Kennedy Center's best gesture at being a player in American drama brought Richard Nelson's supple, subtly political family trilogy to the Theater Lab, with the Public Theatre's original cast directed by the playwright.
The restlessly creative Caryl Churchill's montage of whizzing scenes was brilliantly imagined by director Michael Dove and a rangy 14-member ensemble. Churchill does not stipulate anything about the settings or the characters, so watching Forum Theatre's choices for this experiential avalanche — flying by like a Twitter feed and implicitly asking what's becoming of us as we process life at the pace of clicks and flickers — was a pivotal part of the heady exercise.
A crisply executed revival at 1st Stage — the troupe's best show yet — of Stephen Adly Guirgis's linguistically florid crime-and-punishment drama. Alex Levy and Juan Francisco Villa co-directed in the round and on a tight raised square platform, where the quasi-religious disputes and monologues were zealously acted by a balanced cast, anchored by Frank Britton as a visionary convict.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that "Fun Home" was based on a memoir by Lisa Kron. The musical was based on the memoir of graphic novelist Alison Bechdel.