In response to Time magazine's Top 10 list for theatre in 1996, Playbill On-Line asked members to pick their own Top 10, or Top 5, or just single memorable theatre experience of the year.
Here is the first part of the results. To accomodate as many correspondents as possible, additional files of results have been posted. Playbill On-Line thanks all those who took time to answer.
From Kim C. Beck, Milwaukee, WI:
No doubt about it, my peak experience was sitting in the front row of Bring in 'da Noise and being drenched in Savion Glover's sweat. It was an honor to watch someone with his talent and persona perform.
From Kenneth Robbins, Poughkeepsie, NY:
1. Rent (Broadway)
2. Martin Guere (London)
3. Playing Fagin in a community production of Oliver! in Poughkeepsie.
4. A Funny Thing (Broadway)
5. A Little Night Music (London)
6. By Jeeves (London)
7. Oliver (London)
8. Victor/Victoria (Broadway)
9. Sunset Blvd. (Betty Buckley on Broadway. She's no Glenn Close)
From Mungojenny, Cleveland, OH:
You will probably be receiving a million responses saying this (and rightfully so), but my most incredible theatre experience this year - and ever - was my opportunity to see RENT, the most brilliant show ever created. I had never been to NYC before this past October (I live in Cleveland), but I was completely determined to make it this year and see that incredible cast I heard and seen so much about.
My experience was so near perfect. I had amazing third row seats, so I got to make eye contact with some of the cast, including Anthony Rapp, my idol in a hundred forms. The show was perfect, VERY moving and completely unforgettable. After the show was even better!! I got to personally meet and Anthony, along with Jesse Martin and Idina Menzel. They were the three most wonderful people I had ever met.
Anthony, despite my shaking state, treated me almost as a friend, and was willing to talk to me as long as I would have liked. Not a day goes by that I do not relive those five minutes and consider myself truly blessed. His influence is with me now and forever.
From Brad Strowger:
Having seen everything listed [in Time magazine's top 10] but the Becket, My top ten:
1. I still love Beckett
2. Buried Child
5. A Delicate Balance
7. John Gabriel Borkman NT
8. A little Night Music NT
9. 12 Angry Men in London Directed by Pinter
10. Juan Darien
My Favorite Theater Experience of 1996...:
As an audience member:
FINALLY getting to see Betty Buckley as Norma Desmond.
As a professional:
Dressing the greatest cast imaginable for the Dallas Theater Center's production of "Angels in America, Part II: Perestroika."
Since I live in Tennessee, I had only one opportunity to see a Broadway show this year, but what a show it was. I went in October to see "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum". The show was unbelievably funny. I laughed during the entire show. The entire cast was absolutely fabulous but I believe it's Nathan Lane who IS the show. He is extremely talented and has a very good relationship with the audience in the theater.
From Vicki Haller:
All of my Broadway experiences seem to be a dream. My love of theatre extends far beyond my high school productions. Living in Florida, it is difficult to get to New York City to keep up with the whirlwind of excitement. But when I do go, the magic of the theatre overwhelms me.
In my second and most recent trip to New York, the first play I saw was Sunset Boulevard. I did not know the story at all, but my mother said Betty Buckley was starring in it, so I gladly went along. When we arrived, Betty Buckley was not there. Karen Mason, her understudy, was instead.
My mother tried to trade in her tickets, but we were on the sixth row, and would not be able to get seats that good during our ten-day visit. So we stayed.
When Karen came onstage, I was overwhelmed by her talent. Not only was her acting incredible, she had one of the most beautiful singing voices I had ever heard. She made an unforgetable impression on me. We left the theatre, stopping by the stage door to see if the cast (Karen especially) would be coming out for dinner. They didn't. That was on Saturday after noon. On Monday, we were waiting in line at TKTS, and we heard that Betty Buckley was in town that night, so we bought Sunset tickets again. She was there, and we thoroughly enjoyed her performance. We stayed after and met her and she was extremely nice and polite.
The next night, we were returning to our hotel after seeing another show, and I walked through the walkway by the stage door for Sunset. To my happiness, Karen Mason was walking out. I ran up to her and told her how much I liked her performance and I got my mom to take our picture. She was the nicest person and she said to me: "Maybe someday we'll share a playbill." That changed my life.
I have always loved acting, but this made me want to be on Broadway even more than before. I saw her performance again the next Saturday and dropped off a letter for her before the show. After the show I waited for her to see if she had received the letter. She had, and she thanked me over and over again for it. She also promised that she would write back. That was in August, and I checked the mail every day for four months, waiting for that letter. Finally, when I returned home from a short vacation, this wonderful letter was waiting for me. I ripped it open, almost crying from happiness. It was from Karen, and I read it over and over in disbelief.
I wrote her back the very next day. I know that she has no idea how much she influences me in everything I do, especially the theatre, but she does. If she reads this, it will make me a very happy person. I am her biggest fan. She is the Greatest star of all.
Top 5 Worst Things that Happened to Theater in 96
5. Big, a fun-loving musical that was never given a chance, closed after 185 shows.
4. The Les Miz cast problems
3. Betty Buckley left Sunset (nothing aginst Elaine Paige or anything)
2. Davis Gaines left Phantom
1. The death of Jonthan Larson
One of the highlights of 1996 for me was seeing Nathan Lane in FORUM and being very grateful that there was someone out there who could still do good old fasioned musical comedy.
From John Guillette:
This year has been a great year for me as far as theater goes. Before this past February, I had seen only 4 shows (Phantom, Cats, Tommy, Superstar). However, beginning Feb. 22, 1996, I have seen 5 more. It began with "Les Miz" at the National Theatre in DC. Next was "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" in Boston during July. On August 10, I finally saw "Miss Saigon" on Broadway. It didn't end there. On September 22, I attended "Beauty and the Beast" at the Kennedy Center in DC. Finally, on December 12, I saw the World Premiere of "Whistle Down the Wind."
Of all the experiences, I'd say the best as a whole was "Whistle Down the Wind" because of the event itself. I'd never attended a world premiere before and may never get the chance again. It was a night I never will forget. Following close behind was "Beauty and the Beast" which was the BEST SHOW I had ever seen. When they sang "Be Our Guest" and "If I Can't Love Her" I was in heaven. "Miss Saigon" was terrific as were "Joseph" and "Les Miz." I was not disappointed with any of the shows at all. They were all wonderful. But "Beauty" and "Whistle" were the most memorable as a whole. Now all I have to do is see "Jekyll & Hyde" on Broadway and I will be happy. After that, it is just a matter of seeing all of the shows I've seen (except Cats) many more times.
My defining theatre moment for this year was finally seeing Elaine Paige on stage in "Sunset Boulevard." I have been in love with her voice since the first time I heard her sing "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" on the London Cast Recording and I finally got to see her in another role she was born to play!
1) Sunset Boulevard (Betty Buckley & Alan Cambell)
2) The King And I (Donna Murphy & Lou Diamond Phillips)
3) Beauty and the Beast (Terrence Mann)
4) Miss Saigon (Roxanne Taga)
5) Hello, Dolly! (Carol Channing)
6) Crazy For You
From Jeremy O'Keefe, 16, Wilmington, DE:
Nearly 3 months after the demise of "Broadway's Biggest Disaster" I can hardly await the chance to see "BIG-the musical" on tour, in local theatres, and in it's revival in the 21st century.
I loved the charming musical based on the Tom Hanks film of the same name. What made me enjoy the show so much? Was it Maltby and Shire's witty, poignant,beautiful music? Was it Susan Stroman's innovative, energetic, hip-hop choreography? Was it Mike Ockrent's indepth direction of the so-frightening human experience of adolescence? Or was it the honest performances of Daniel Jenkins, Crista Moore, Barbara Walsh, Patrick Levis, and Brett Tabisel? It also could've been the fact that the best dancing in recent years on Broadway was being performed by young teens. To single out any one of these reasons would be impossible.
To love a show like BIG (and see it three times) you must forget about the mega-musicals that involves violence, and sets to get in the way of the plot. BIG is not a "big" show--it is very intimate and inviting to the audience. To enjoy BIG you must not be a cynic like so many of us performers are. Why do people go to see live theatre? To be entertained. To laugh. To cry because what they see is so touching and personal. To relate. If people are open-minded and can remember being 12 going on 13 they will in a sense relive some of the most happy and hurtful years of their lives. People can relate to BIG because every adult was 13.
"I wish Mom wouldn't bug me....I wish Mom wouldn't hug me in front of kids I know!" --Richard Maltby--"Can't Wait"--BIG-the musical.
We have ALL felt that way.
BIG honestly depicts how a 13-year-old feels. I know that for a fact because that was only 3 years ago for me.
The audiences loved BIG. They laughed and cheered because they allowed themselves to be entertained.
BIG was full of fun and laughs and even a few tears. If I have learned anything from BIG I have learned to give something a chance. I am terribly sad to see that BIG no longer resides on the Great White Way. But I'll always have the recording and as soon as TITANTIC opens--you can bet I'll be there offering all my support.
From Ian M Mccullough:
Number one experience: Seeing Bring in 'da Noise/Bring in 'da Funk.
From OiVeyMan (OiVeyMan@aol.com>):
Well, I went to NYC for the first time this summer and I saw four shows, and, well, they were all pretty darn good!!! So, here we go!
2. Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk---Broadway
3. Les Miserables---National Tour, Cincinnati, Ohio
4. Sunset Boulevard---Broadway
5. Phantom of the Opera---National Tour-- Louisville, Kentucky
After seeing Les Miz on Broadway, I thought the Nat'l Tour did as good, if not a better job presenting the story.
Best local show---Ruthless! The Musical performed by Actor's Guild, Lexington, Kentucky
Biggest disappointment---Grease!---National Tour---Lexington, Kentucky (Luckily I got a free ticket, I wouldn't have paid a penny to see it)
What am I going to see? Man of La Mancha-- National Tour---Louisville, Kentucky; Kiss of the Spider Woman-- National Tour---Lexington, Kentucky; Whistle Down the Wind---National Premire---Washington, D.C. (Hopefully); I am also going back to NYC in March, so if you have any suggestions on what to see, email them to me!!!
From David Little:
My favorite theater moment of 1996 would have to be the long vaudeville segment in the touring revival of "Damn Yankees." Jerry Lewis was great! He was clearly enjoying himself which made it more fun for the audience to watch. I loved the whole musical, but it was worth seeing just for that 15 minute segment. That was definitely one of the highlights of my whole theater goining experience!
From Josh Levine:
The most exciting theatre productions that I had the pleasure of watching this "season" were produced and performed by the Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival. One of the most exciting experiences was the Festival's series entitled SHAKESPEARE UNPLUGGED. It is a series of play readings of the histories otherwise known as The War Of the Roses.
The Festival held a reading of one of these plays each month in preparation for the traditional spring season, in which they will present Richard III. The readings are held in a downtown college campus arena and professional actors and actresses usually read more than one role. I'm a high school student and attend every single reading with my mother and we enjoy the performances immensely.
At first, the thought of sitting and just listening to Shakespeare may frighten people away, but the expressions that the actors show give the audience just as much excitement as a regular production would. The most important thing about the series is the focus on the literature, which still holds true after many years.
The second and third "theatre experiences" that were most treasured were the productions of DRACULA: The Journal Of Jonathan Harker and The Curate Shakespeare As You Like It.
DRACULA is an orignal one-man show written by the director of the festival, Jim Helsinger. Mr. Helsinger's performance was so involved and wonderful that only a million adjectives could describe what emotions one felt as you watched him change from the shy and frightened Jonathan to the demonic Count Dracula, which were only two of the many roles Mr. Helsinger portrayed. His performance was enjoyed by all that attended.
The Curate Shakespeare As You Like It was also a wonderful treat for anybody who knew a lot about Shakespeare's As You Like It ( my mother) and it was also fun for somebody who had never even heard of the play ( like me ).
All in all, the Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival's fall season was amazing, thought provoking, exciting, original, and just plain wonderful. I have no doubt that the spring productions of Richard III and The Merry Wives of Windsor will surpass my expectations.
1) RENT - Boston Company (they were incredible)
2) SUNSET BOULEVARD - with Elaine Paige (need I say more)
3) TAP DOGS - the Australian tap spectacular...
4) FORUM - Lane IS the show
5)LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION!
6) HOW TO SUCCEED...with Ralph Macchio (not bad for the Karate Kid)
From Joey M:
This year has been a wonderful year of theater experiences for me. The show that thrilled me this year was Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. Expecting to see a second rate attempt at copying the Disney film, I was thrilled to find a first rate re-creation of the film with dazzling special effects, sets and costumes. The cast was enthusiastic and real, singing and dancing their hearts out!
The show that moved me was a local production of "Lost in Yonkers" at Hillbarn Theater in Foster City, California. The direction was right on the mark. The cast worthy of Broadway.
The show that touched me was Victor/Victoria on Broadway. Julie Andrews gave a performance that was wistful and lovely. Although Tony Roberts was fine as Toddy, I missed Robert Preston's lovable performance. Rachel York and others in the cast and the production team were wrongly overlooked by the Tony awards committee.
The show that changed my life? A 6th grade production of Oliver! Though I auditioned and didn't get into the production, I saw it and knew then that was what I wanted to do, perform!
From Meredith Schade:
1. Julie Andrews singing "Crazy World" at the end of Act I of V/V. It truly makes your spirit soar.
2. Patrick Stewart's one-man show of A Christmas Carol. There has never been a better performance given in the history of the stage!
3. Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back. The entire show, from beginning to end was marvelous! What awards this show should continue to receive!
4. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Nathan Lane is superb in the role of Pseudelous. We'll miss Broadway's Funny Man when he leaves the show.
5. As an audience spectator and only local performer, it was thrilling for me to get a backstage tour of one of Broadway's leading shows. To see how a true Broadway production functions increases my desire to work in the theatre some day.
From John S. Rushton:
1996 was another year that pointed out the importance of theatre in my life.The magic continues to amaze me and re-instate the prominence of its calling on my soul.
I started out the year in the midst of a painful seperation and divorce proceeding, depressed, disenchanted and wondering aloud about my future and the curses that accompany the pursuit of the fruits of my talent. A friend was putting together a production of "The Fantasticks" for a benefit dinner theatre production and encouraged me to play the part of El Gallo. I had heard of the show many times, but somehow had never managed to see it or be part of it. I had even performed some of the songs several times, but had never bothered to learn more about it. I was at the lowest point of my life and started to turn him down, but he was most insistant and convinced me that the part would be one that I would love. I decided to give it a try.
Joe needed some help finding good people and I had recently finished directing a production of "Heaven Can Wait", so I gave him the names of a few of the good actors that I had the pleasure of working with on that production. Miraculously, everyone was available! Some were just finishing up a show, others had one beginning right after, one changed a previous commitment. It was amazing how it all started happening. The people who made up this company have become some of my closest friends.
The girl who auditioned for Luisa was still in a show. She had heard about our production, but was not sure if she could do it. She came to the audition anyway, probably to feel it out first. I had seen her before and was impressed with her work. I would learn later that she had followed my work for years, and came to the audition because she heard I would be involved. There was something there between us right from the first night. Not really sexual at first, more romantic and prophetic.
She, too was going through a painful seperation. She was very distant at first, you could tell she had been hurt, yet the fire in her eyes was mesmerizing. Neither of us was looking for anyone, actually far from it. Yet, there in the magical world of "The Fantasticks" we found each other. It was amazing! I had always vowed never to get involved with another actor, but there was this feeling of time stopping around us, while we fell in love in our own special space in time. So small, so diminutive, yet there she was bigger than life.
And now, almost a year later, we are as happy as any two people can be. We went to see a matinee showing of "The Fantasticks" at the Sullivan Street over Labor Day and sat on the front row. With each note, with every familiar line, we smiled and she gripped my hand. The actors spoke to us like old friends and the phrases healed us like I am sure they have done so many times before to the countless El Gallo's and Luisa's out there.
The sheer magic of the theatre has touched me once again, in the biggest way possible. It has given me life and love. Now my days are filled again with passion and poetry. I'm even painting again. For Christmas, I gave Joy a painting to coincide with a poem I had written her earlier. It was my first oil, and it is very good. Life is passion and passion is life. When we stray from our passion, we start to die a little. I had strayed too far, farther than I ever dreamt imaginable. It almost killed me. But, El Gallo saved me and King Arthur followed him in July and August, and now, well, I'm back!
To read more responses, see Part 2 in Theatre News,