For Broadway theater, the new millennium has started on a note of musical diminuendo. With the demise of Cats, the soon-to-be-missing Miss Saigon and the lack of any new hits from Andrew Lloyd Webber or the Les Miz team in years, the era of the Brit-generated mega-musical seems all but over. Happily, straight plays seem to be filling the gap. Demanding dramas like Michael Frayn's Copenhagen have become unlikely Broadway hits, while the Manhattan Theatre Club, an off-Broadway stalwart, successfully transferred two strong works, Proof and The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, to the main drag this fall. With regional theaters thriving and even Las Vegas playing host to performance troupes like Blue Man Group, the stage is alive and bustling.
1 BOY GETS GIRL With Spinning into Butter, her play about race relations on campus, Rebecca Gilman gave notice that she was a playwright to watch. And with this intense drama of a woman's encounter with a stalker, she became one to hail. First produced by Chicago's Goodman Theatre, it's not just a gripping play but also an important one.
2 COMIC POTENTIAL Alan Ayckbourn, a British delicacy long underappreciated in the U.S., gets treated right in this deft off-Broadway production of his London hit. Janie Dee is brilliant as a robot actor of the future, in a comedy whose laughs are more than skin deep.
3 AIDA Disney faces a Lion King problem--how can anything measure up?--but this kid- friendly version of the opera, with Elton John and Tim Rice replacing Verdi, has pleasures aplenty. Heather Headley is a knockout, and Bob Crowley's inventive sets will do until the next Julie Taymor comes along.
4 FULLY COMMITTED A frazzled afternoon with the reservations clerk for a hot-hot-hot Manhattan restaurant. Becky Mode's one-actor play (a hit off-Broadway and now in L.A.) is a tart and hilarious send-up of the social feeding frenzy.
5 THE LARAMIE PROJECT The murder of gay student Matthew Shepard in Wyoming was the impetus for Moises Kaufman's unique stage docudrama, constructed entirely from interviews with the witnesses and participants. A pioneering work of theatrical reportage and a powerful stage event.
6 TANTALUS British theater titans Peter Hall and John Barton use the mythic Trojan War as the centerpiece of their adventurously scaled, sharply written satire of modern politics. This 10-hour marathon, which premiered in Denver, bristles with enough backstabbing drama to keep the slack moments few.
7 PROOF David Auburn's intriguing mix of memory play and math lesson concerns a professor's daughter who may or may not have solved a famous math enigma. Of the year's two brainy science plays (the other: Copenhagen), this is the one that touches the heart.
8 DINNER WITH FRIENDS Two couples see their friendship go sour when one of them gets a divorce. Donald Margulies' perceptive, well-crafted, very contemporary play won the Pulitzer and is already popping up on the regional circuit.
9 SEUSSICAL: THE MUSICAL The critics were grinches, but this musical of Dr. Seuss stories is surprisingly charming, with popsicle-colored sets, a tuneful Lynn Ahrens-Stephen Flaherty score and an irresistible cast. Even the mishmash of Seuss-iana goes down easy. Green Eggs and Ham as a marching chant? We like it, Sam-I-am.