We Narrowed Down The Top Ten Best Broadway Plays Of All Time - From The Distant Past to Recent Revivals to Recent Arrivals On Broadway. What Were The Best Broadway Plays?
Top Ten Best Broadway Plays Of All Time And Makes Them So Good
We’ve compiled a list of the 10 best Broadway plays, representing some of the most compelling American playwrights of our time.
While there’s nothing like the experience of a fully orchestrated Broadway musical, sometimes you’re in the mood for straighter fare. Whether that be in the form of a gripping drama or a rollicking comedy, this list is all about the Broadway play, and what have been the best ones.
1. Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes
Winner of the 1993 (Millennium Approaches) and 1994 (Perestroika) Tony Award for Best Play, Tony Kushner’s epic two-part saga explores homosexuality during the 1980s. Containing naturalistic and, as the title suggests, fantastical elements, this critically acclaimed masterpiece centers on two couples (one gay and one straight) while addressing larger themes of life, love, and politics during the Reagan era.
The play was successfully revived on Broadway in 2018 (Tony Award for Best Play Revival), and adapted into a prestige miniseries for HBO as well as an opera.
Paula Vogel’s thought provoking and heartrending portrayal of artistic censorship and the consequences that come with challenging the status quo, was nominated for the Best Play Tony Award in 2017. The play-within-a-pay in question, Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance, is the proverbially obscene vehicle for Vogel’s unpacking of the controversy.
Indecent marked Vogel’s first play on the Rialto but it was quickly (give or take a pandemic) followed by the Broadway run of How I Learned To Drive, a mere 25 years after its off-Broadway debut.
3. August: Osage County
A domestic comedy by renowned actor and playwright Tracy Letts, this three-act saga depicts the Weston family and all of its hilarious dysfunctions. Over the course of the impressive tragicomedy, secrets are revealed, confidences are broken, and relationships are put to every possible test. The emotional roller coaster set in the wilds of Oklahoma took home the 2008 Tony Award for Best Play.
In 2013, the play was given the star-studded film treatment starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, though the movie did not land as convincingly as the stage version..
David Auburn’s intimate four-hander— especially its suspenseful Act 1 closing moments— won over audiences and critics alike, earning the 2001 Tony Award for Best Play. The play revolves around Catherine, as she navigates a mathematical mystery, the ghost of her father’s genius and her inherited mental illness, all set against overarching themes of control.
While Mary-Louise Parker headlined the original Broadway run, Gwyneth Platrow played the tortured protagonist (opposite Jake Gyllenhaal) in the lauded 2005 film version.
5. The Glass Menagerie
A powerful memory play by legend Tennessee Williams, this work of auto-fiction premiered on Broadway in 1945, predating the Tony Awards. The iconic drama for the ages, whose title refers to Laura’s miniature glass animal collection, details the trials and tribulations of the beleaguered Wingfield family.
Williams’ beloved classic has been revived on Broadway three times: in 1994 (featuring a then unknown Calista Flockhart as Laura), in 2013 (with Cherry Jones playing fading Southern belle Amanda), and in 2017 (starring Sally Field). Several film and TV iterations have also been made.
6. Our Town
One of the most widely produced plays of all time, gracing stages from junior high schools to Broadway, this Thornton Wilder 1938 classic portrayal of ordinary life in a small New England town never seems to wear out its welcome. This deceptively simple slice of Americana about appreciating life while living it is set in pastoral Grover’s Corners and narrated by an avuncular, folksy Stage Manager.
Enjoying several revivals, the most famous was surprisingly a scaled down (except for its freshly cooked bacon!) off-Broadway endeavor in 2009, which ran for a whopping 644 performances. The Barrow Street Theatre’s production became the longest-running production in the play’s history.
7. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Edward Albee’s witty deconstruction of a brittle marriage by way of middle-aged spouses George and Martha, won the 1963 Tony Award for Best Play. The title is a playful nod to the “big bad wolf” of Three Little Pigs fairy tale lore. This three-act domestic masterpiece explores the fine line between truth and illusion.
A celebrated 2012 Broadway revival starred Tracy Letts, and a 2020 iteration offing with Laurie Metcalf shut down after nine preview performances, due to the pandemic.
8. A Raisin in the Sun
The first play written by a Black woman to be produced on Broadway, Lorraine Hansberry’s
study of a Black household in Chicago was nominated for Best Play at the 1960 Tony Awards.
On the heels of the death of the Younger family’s patriarch, the surviving family tries to capitalize on an insurance payout. The seminal work critiques issues of housing discrimination, assimilation and racism.
Radio plays, TV films, Broadway revivals (2004 starring Audra McDonald; 2014 starring Denzel Washington ) and even a Broadway musical (Raisin, which won the 1974 Tony Award for Best Musical) were all based on Hansberry’s original play.
9. The Normal Heart
The 2011 Tony Award winner for Best Revival of a play never actually ran on Broadway but its landmark 1985 run at the Public Theatre had already secured its place in the American theatre canon. Larry Kramer’s searing investigation of the AIDS epidemic in the early 80s is told through the lens of Ned Weeks, a writer and activist (an avatar for Kramer himself) who founds an advocacy group.
The heart-wrenching exposé, which wears its titular heart on its sleeve, was adapted into an HBO film in 2014, starring Mark Ruffalo.
10. The Sisters Rosensweig
Celebrated not only for Wendy Wasserstein’s trademark well-crafted storytelling and relatable subject matter, this 1993 Tony Award Best Play nominee is also notable for centering a cast of three middle-aged women.
The comedic and insightful play follows three Jewish-American sisters and their quest for fulfillment, self-actualization and love. Even though Sisters lost to Angels in the Tony race that year, Madeline Kahn did take home the trophy for Best Actress.