This Thanksgiving, Playbill looks back on the major moments—onstage and off—any theatre fan can be thankful for.
1. Theatre Greats Become EGOT Winners
First, Robert Lopez became a double-EGOT winner when he won his second Oscar—alongside his wife and writing partner Kristen Anderson-Lopez—for Best Original Song for Coco’s “Remember Me” at the 2018 Academy Awards. Then Broadway legends Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice joined the EGOT club this year with their Emmy wins for Outstanding Variety Special for Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, for which they were producers. Finally, John Legend earned his EGOT with his Emmy win for Jesus Christ Superstar Live, also as a producer. (He was nominated for another Emmy for his performance in the title role.) He is a five-time Grammy winner and is a Tony-winning producer of the 2017 revival of August Wilson’s Jitney and an Oscar winner for his original song for Selma.
2. More Musical Theatre on Television
In addition to the wildly successful Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, which was nominated for 12 Emmy Awards and won five—including aforementioned Outstanding Variety Special—the small screen has continued to show love to theatre. The Disney Channel plucked Freaky Friday The Musical from its development as a stage musical and made an additional made-for-TV movie starring Broadway’s Heidi Blickenstaff and Cozi Zuehlsdorff. NBC premiered the new series Rise, based on the true story of a Pennsylvania high school drama department. Although it was short-lived, we did get a bonus track from Spring Awakening writers Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend premiered its fourth and final season (as planned). Not to mention, regular series like The Magicians, Riverdale, and Documentary Now featured musical episodes.
3. Hamildrop – The Gift That Keeps on Giving
Technically, Hamildrop began last December—but it's been the gift that keeps giving this year. Once a month, Lin-Manuel Miranda dropped re-mixed versions, mash-ups, and genre-swaps based on the songs of Hamilton. From teaming with Weird Al Yankovic on “The Hamilton Polka” to his duet with Dear Evan Hansen’s Ben Platt on “The Story of Tonight/You Will Be Found” to his most recent October Hamildrop starring Sara Bareilles. November, featuring John Kander and Alex Lacamoire, dropped just in time for Thanksgiving!
4. Breaking Boundaries
At this year’s Tony Awards, winners Lindsay Mendez (Carousel) and Ari’el Stachel (The Band’s Visit) addressed issues of diversity in their acceptance speeches. Mendez remembered how she was originally told to change her last name—to Lindsay Matthews—when she first entered the business, and how proud she is to represent. Stachel shared that he used to be embarrassed to be seen with his father, who is Arabic, but that The Band’s Visit helped him to embrace his heritage, saying “Your biggest obstacle may turn into your purpose.”
Broadway has continued its march towards progress. Nicolette Robinson bowed in September as the first black Jenna in Broadway’s Waitress. This week, June Squibb takes over the role of Old Joe—now Old Josie—and switches the gender of the role even though the show is well into its open-ended run. And with Head Over Heels, Peppermint because the first openly trans actor to star in a principal role on Broadway.
5. Re-thinking Revivals
Everything old is new again—and that goes for revivals. In the world of Off-Broadway, directors and theatre companies have revisited classic musicals in a way that renders the decades-old properties in vital, relevant, and exciting ways. National Yiddish Theatre of Folksbiene launched the Yiddish-language production of Fiddler on the Roof, which extended four times and just announced an Off-Broadway transfer. The translation infuses new authenticity into the oft-revived musical. Meanwhile, St. Ann’s Warehouse presented a production of Oklahoma! free of script changes, but with a fresh directorial perspective that turned the story on its head. Across the pond, director Marianne Elliott helmed an all-female revival of Company, lending new meaning to Bobbie’s fear of commitment.
6. Designers Kick It Up a Notch
Broadway’s designers took production to the next level. The revival of Once On This Island opened in December 2018, revealing a complete transformation of the Circle in the Square Theatre (thanks to director Michael Arden and scenic designer Dane Laffrey), complete with a functioning water feature and five tons of sand to immerse audiences in the hurricane-ravaged Haiti. The Lincoln Center Theater revival of My Fair Lady from director Bartlett Sher and scenic designer Michael Yeargan defied architectural scale with the 360-degree-revolving mansion at 27A Wimpole Street. The Lion King puppet designer Michael Curry created a lifelike reindeer for Frozen’s Sven, requiring near super-human strength for the actor romping around on all fours inside the full-body costume/puppet. Puppetry reached an unparalleled spectacular with the Broadway bow of King Kong, showcasing the 2,000-pound and 20-foot silverback gorilla who requires 14 operators—ten of them onstage. And Tony-winning scenic designer Christine Jones outdid herself when she not only created the onstage wizarding world for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 & 2, but renovated the entire Lyric Theatre inside and out to give audiences a Hogwarts welcome the moment they hit 43rd Street.
7. Theatrical Legacies Persist
The year 2018 marked significant anniversaries for multiple theatrical institutions. City Center turned 75 with a celebratory production of A Chorus Line, TDF hit 50, Off-Broadway’s Second Stage turned 40, and the WP Theatre celebrated its 40th anniversary season. The clump of anniversaries speak to a cultural moment in New York City. “The Kennedys came in and there was an emphasis on culture and a cultural conversation again,” says Victoria Bailey, executive director of TDF. “And Jackie Kennedy made the artists glamorous.” Still, the fact that these theatre companies have been able to weather decades of financial flux, the devastation to the city post-9/11, and more.
Honorary mention: Also in anniversaries, Wicked celebrated its 15th year on Broadway with a special concert A Very Wicked Halloween, hosted by original stars Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth. Earlier this year, nearly the entire original cast of Thoroughly Modern Millie, including Sutton Foster, Gavin Creel, Marc Kudisch, Francis Jue, and Sheryl Lee Ralph, reunited to celebrate the 15th anniversary (a little late) to raise money for The Actors Fund.
8. BC/EFA and Actors' Equity Association Make Progress
There is nothing harder than change—especially where beloved traditions are involved. So kudos to Actors’ Equity and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS for hearing the voices of those who found the phrase “gypsy”—once used to denote ensemblists who moved from show to show—no longer culturally sensitive. The Gypsy Robe is now The Legacy Robe and Gypsy of the Year has been renamed the Red Bucket Follies, named for the signature collection bins used to gather donations.
9. Women Band Together
The first ever Women’s Day on Broadway took place at the St. James Theatre, with panels featuring Broadway’s most badass artists. Attended by women throughout the industry, the event promoted camaraderie throughout the business and launched important discussions, like how to increase the number of women who work on Broadway. The Lilly Awards, a foundation dedicated to honoring the work of women in American theatre and increasing the number of women working in theatre, continues their work with The Count, an ongoing study to release data about work produced throughout the country. At the 2018 24-Hour Musicals, The Lilly Awards announced the erection of a statue of playwright Lorraine Hansberry and the upcoming publication The Review to increase representation and diversity among theatre critics.