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.
1996 was a vibrant year of entertainment both on, off and around Broadway. For better or worse, people were talking and theater was even part of the "ordinary man's" debate. Julie Andrews turning down a Tony. The slaughter of the innocents (otherwise known as the LES MIZ debacle). Dramaturgs suing the dead. These things got noticed, and granted, they are just one side, perhaps a dark side, of show BUSINESS. But also some wonderful things happened.
1) Every so often, a dream production like A DELICATE BALANCE comes to town and with it a master class in writing, acting, and direction. Watching Elaine Stritch, George Grizzard and Rosemary Harris and company make chamber music together, at times discordant but never less than brilliant, was a theatrical experience not to be missed and one that I will cherish forever.
2) An ensemble almost to match was the amazing cast of SEVEN GUITARS, playing the wonderful "music" of August Wilson in a magnificently designed production.
3) Betty Buckley sending chills down my back and up my spine in an amazing performance as Norma Desmond.
4) A simple but totally charming Off-off-Broadway production of T.S. Elliott's THE COCKTAIL PARTY--a wonderful introduction to a wonderful play.
5) Last but certainly not least, watching my beginning acting students at Brooklyn College. The pure passion they bring to their discovery of the art is truly moving. Teaching truly is a great profession, because it is so important to plant the seeds for the future--future artists, future audiences. And, as they say, the teacher learns far more from the pupils than the other way around. For my own enrichment, to my students I say thanks.
From Joe Falduti (JGillis2@aol.com):
Let's start with the Tony Awards...BORING! All I have to say is, What a way to celebrate 50 years! If it weren't for the outstanding performance of RENT I probably would have changed the station.
I saw this show for the first time December 26th. It's probably my last show of 1996 and I'm glad I'm ringing out the year with something so terrific. I wish I had seen it sooner (like Off-Broadway) or at least at the beginning of its run.
The King & I:
What a WONDERFUL production. I have seen the movie with Yul Brynner and thought Lou Diamond Phillips did an incredible job...I liked his portrayal better than Yul's. I saw it from standing room and hardly knew I was on my feet. I hope to go again and sit this time!
I have now seen this show 4 times...the last time was on Elaine Paige's opening night (September 12th). I saw Betty Buckley the previous 3 times. All I have to say is GO ELAINE!!!!! It's about time! I now tell all my friends to go see Sunset before she leaves...it's a rare chance for an American to see her perform and she's WELL WORTH the money!
I'm glad I saw it but didn't enjoy it. I can now say I am one of the few who saw Big on Broadway. It was a nice try, but didn't feel it was even worth the $15 I paid to stand.
I saw Patti LuPone do the role...MAGNIFICENT job! I also got to see Helen Goldsby's understudy who was WONDERFUL! I really enjoyed it.
Oh! I forgot one other! I saw the final performance of Crazy for You! It was my first show of 1996! It wasn't for me but was a cute show!
For the coming year, I suggest anyone who hasn't done so to see Rent, Sunset Boulevard with Elaine Paige, and The King & I.
What I'm looking forward to seeing:
EVERYTHING COMING TO BROADWAY! More specifically...I have been waiting for a year for Jekyll & Hyde...It's about time! I am also very anxious to see Whistle Down the Wind, Titanic (VERY curious about THIS one!), Chicago, perhaps the new cast of Les Miz, Candide, Steel Pier, and really everything else!
My happiest memories from this year are of Broadway on Broadway (my first this year!), the BC/EFA Flea Market (also my first!), Rent, Elaine Paige, and just plain running around the City looking at Marquees. I wish everyone on Broadway now a healthy run and a great coming new year! I can't WAIT for the new season to roll around! Best of luck to everyone! This year's Tonys ought to be good!
From Jonathan R. Billig, Musical Director - Illinois Theatre Center:
How could you leave out the magnificent revival of I Do! I Do! at Lamb's Theatre? It received rave reviews from all but the Times, and it suffered from opening at the bust time of the year with lousy promotion. Karen Ziemba and David Garrison were delightful, and the cast album is a treasure (you could have at least mentioned that). I attended the closing matinee - an unforgettable performance of a production which deserved to run much longer.
From Judi Ollis, Cleveland, OH:
I know many people will respond by saying that RENT was their peak theatre experience of 1996, and I have to agree with them. I am from Cleveland, OH and traveled by car to NYC on November 29th with my best friend, my 17 year old daughter and her best friend to see this show. We took my daughter for her birthday. Needless to say it was the best birthday present she has ever gotten. After listening to the cast recording for 3 months, finally seeing the show live was worth every penny. I have never experienced something so great-the music just blows me away.
But, the best part was meeting a couple of the cast members afterwards. They signed autographs, they posed for pictures. I just want to take this opportunity to thank Adam Pascal, Wilson Heredia, Jesse Martin & Anthony Rapp for taking a few minutes to stop, say hi & let my daughter have her picture taken with them. Hey Wilson-we were the ones who stopped you before the show-thanks for being so gracious. Hey Anthony-my daughter was the one who had seen all your movies & thinks you're great-thanks for being so nice to her. It truly was a birthday memory she'll never forget.
The show ROCKS-the cast is GREAT-the music is AWESOME. You don't have to live in the city & stand in the $20 ticket line 100 times to appreciate this musical. Know that there are fans all over the country that can relate to the music.
We only wish we lived closer so we could see it more often. But for now, all we have are some great memories & pictures. I know Jonathan Larsen is looking down on all of us, smiling, knowing his music has touched us all. GOD BLESS HIM! VIVA LA VIE BOHEME!!.
From Mary Ellen Kelly (email@example.com):
My most memorable Broadway moment in 1996 was, in fact, a step into Broadway's past: A self-guided tour--sanctioned by the Shuberts-- through the remains of David Belasco's studio atop his namesake theatre in 44th Street: a tour made in the company of a member of the Belasco family--a somewhat distant relative from England, whom I met at the Billy Rose collection of the NYPL, where we both had gone to do research on the "Bishop of Broadway."
The two of us--on a shining October afternoon--spent over an hour in Belasco's rooms. With only a mini mag-light to see by, we gazed on the remnants of one-time splendors--the ruins of a small Japanese bedroom and an ornamental fountain, a spiral staircase carved in Gothic style, a huge carved and tiled fireplace and the mammoth matching mirror, now moved, that once stood above it, a still-glowing stained-glass ceiling and a painted-over stained-glass window--and imagined the way the rooms used to look when filled with Belasco's treasures.
. . . if only a Disney or a Livent would resurrect this sleeping treasure of a theatre! And not just--or mainly--for the hauntingly ruined rooms above, but for the glorious Tiffany-glass-and-Everett-Shinn-mural-bedecked theatre below!
2. Les Miz
3. Crazy for You
4. Miss Saigon
6. The King and I
8. Guy and Dolls.
9. West Side Story
10. Camelot and Beauty and the Beast.
From Srrurhino (firstname.lastname@example.org):
1996 was a significant year for me, in large part because my interest in theatre, which has just been an interest for a long time, became an involvement again (after a long-dormant period) in some important ways. I acted in a production of Corneille's "The Illusion" (as adapted by Tony Kushner) at Fell's Point Corner Theatre in Baltimore (where I live). I have written and submitted a play to the Actor's Theatre of Louisville's 10 minute play competition. And I have taken several steps toward launching a major effort in helping to preserve historic theatres in Times Square. Anyone who would like to communicate with me on these or other subjects is welcome to e-mail me at email@example.com. Meanwhile, I am grateful for the fact that Broadway, and theatre in general, have had such a fantastic year, and I look forward to more of the same in 1997!
Clearly one of the highlights of 1996 was the long overdue Broadway debut of Elaine Paige. Her performance as Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard" has transformed the show and is not to be missed. Finally, American audiences are able to enjoy this extraordinarily talented actress and singer without having to travel all the way to England. Let's have more Elaine Paige on Broadway in 1997 and for many more years to come!
From Adam Fine:
For me, 1996 was the year of Callas... although this may be somewhat incorrect, since "Master Class" opened in 1995. Reagrdless, I saw "Master Class" more times than I've seen any other play. Sure, "Rent" was excellent, but "Master Class" was the catalyst that brought me to Maria Callas. Yes, of course, Zoe Caldwell did it all... she was amazing... but for all the musicals I've ever known and loved (and still do), I've discovered that nothing compares to Callas singing Bellini... Norma, La Sonnambula, I Puritani... and all of her Puccini and Verdi repertoire. This is our deepest heritage, the fountain from which all our musical theater springs. And what fertile roots we have! I still get great enjoyment from introducing theater newcomers to Porter, Rodgers & Hart, Coleman, Styne and all the rest... but to go farther back, to listen to that voice that cries so much of our pain, well... if it weren't for Terry McNally, my life wouldn't be nearly as rich as it is today, because of him... and Zoe Caldwell... and, of course, La Divina, Maria Callas. "Master Class" defined 1996 for me in a way I hadn't thought possible. And that triumph belongs to all of us. Brava La Divina!
From Matthew Evan Schicker:
My best theatre experiences this year were both in New York: BRING IN 'DA NOISE, BRING IN 'DA FUNK and Fiona Shaw performing THE WASTE LAND. Each demonstrated a thoughtful, intense vision and managed to do what theatre should be doing, making people think and changing the way people think through a poetic, live experience. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU Fiona Shaw and everyone at FUNK/NOISE for making Broadway shine this year!
From Charles J. Quagliata:
My greatest theater moment in 1996 was when the cast of RENT came downstage and sang "Seasons of Love." I know I'm only reporting what thousands of others must be saying...and I probably should be more unique and/or clever. But the best is the best and there it is!
From Mathew Needleman:
Greatest Play of 1996: Master Class
From Shey Zanotti
I have had many experiences in theatre this year that I could write about. Still I am going to choose the one that a hundred other people will write about. Rent.
My 1st experience with Rent was sitting in my Production and Design class at Michigan State University in late March or April. My prof showed us a clip on the show. We were supposed to be looking at the lighting. That short little clip had me wanting more. I called everybody I knew when I got back from class telling them about this exciting new show. They thought I was nuts. I taped every interview I saw and when the cast album came out who do you think was first in line at our Tower Records.
I have never had a musical touch me like that before. When I listened to that music that first time I was overcome by the things it brought out in me. I understood it. I like musicals but I have always been a straight play kind of girl if I wanted to really feel something. Muscials were always nice but that was it. Few ever effected me until Rent.
So my poor roomate put up with Rent 24/7 and even started to sing along. But it wasn't enough. I had to see it. I never thought it would happen but through a lot of hassle and crazy events, I ended up at the Nederlander in November.
I admit I was worried. What if it didn't live up to my expectations? But it did. It went way beyond. I was absolutely spell bound. Tears flowed down my face at the second act. I wish I hadn't been wearing mascara because that also ran down my face. Which would have been fine except me and my two friends ended up meeting most of the cast afterwards!
Somehow we ended up with this group of kids who were having a private talk back. I have to say that that was the most defining theatrical experience I have had all year. Having somebody who I'd been watching since I was nine and completly respected like Anthony Rapp in front of me telling us what he thought was important to have when going into the world of theatre was absolutely amazing. Hearing first hand from the cast what some of the first drafts of the show were like, what Jonathan Larson was like, why they were in theatre, and the like was just absolutely inspiring. So thank you to all of you that took the time that day to talk to us. I'm sure I'm not the only one you kept a dreamed fueled in. One day if I ever get to the level you all are at I hope that I am as kind and supportive to the people who come to the shows.
Much fine theater, but one single scene keeps coming back to me: the moment in A Delicate Balance in which we are told the story of the "pet dog," who is finally killed because his master cannot live with his rejection. A small scene, a small story, but about as much pain as any of us can live through. And yet, it's funny. Horrible, plausible, painful, and funny. Albee stands with Becket as the playwright of the 20th century and we are only first realizing it. And "Virginia Wolfe" is coming in 1997!
I want to comment that I saw one how in New York this year that DID change my life, or at least the way i Think about my life. That show was Rent.
Jonathan Larson's masterpiece at times made us laugh, cry, and...well....Moo. The through-the-roof energy of the cast combined with the wonderfully minimal set, gloriously trashy costumes (especially Angel (Wilson Jermain Heredia)'s Santa Dress), gritty yet beautiful music, and the intimacy of the Nederlander, made this show one that I will never forget.
Also, the cast has brought back the class to Broadway, by exiting through the front door of the theater and signing autographs for as long as fans ask for them.
Everyone wants their "One Song Glory" in life, and being a part of Jonathan's was quite an experience.
MOOOOOOOOOO! and Viva La Vie Boheme.
From Julia Evins:
The highlight of my theater year was seeing the world premiere of "Triumph of Love" at Center Stage, Baltimore's regional theatre--twice.
Susan Egan performed in Triumph with such brilliance that I can only say she was magnificent. She sings to perfection, acts the role with impeccable comedic timing and is beautiful to watch. I am looking forward to seeing Triumph again when it goes to New York.
The entire cast was wonderful. Mary Beth Peil, Robert Lupone, Denny Dillon, Daniel Marcus, Kenny Raskin, and Christopher Seiber were superb. The direction by Michael Mayer was sharp and the book by James Magruder was witty. The set by Heidi Landesman was appropriate for the stage action. The music by Jeffrey Stock and lyrics by Susan Birkenhead were really smart. Many of the songs are still swimming around in my head.
I know the musical is still being worked on but I think it is very close to being there. The first act is stronger than the second (IMHO). Maybe that's because Egan and Seiber dont have as much to do in Act II as in Act I. My wish was that the final number was a little longer and uninterrupted by supporting characters. Im sure it will all be worked out before they hit New York.
Baltimore had the opportunity to see a real star performance from Egan. Here's hoping all theatregoers get to see what Baltimore already has.
From Nancy Tietze:
Frank Wildhorn's Jekyll and Hyde; music was great and performances by Cuccioli and Eder far surpassed my expectations. Coming to Broadway in March, but I saw it twice this year on tour. That's my vote!!
From Joe Bravaco:
In no particular order:
TIMON OF ATHENS (NYSF in the PARK)
A DELICATE BALANCE
From Craig Woythaler:
Definitely the second time I saw RENT. I don't think I fully appreciated it the first time I saw it. The second time around, it was like an epiphany...I have since seen the show 2 more times, and I plan to go many more times before it closes in Boston where I go to school.
From Neil Carlson, Minnesota:
I just looked over the programs from my 1996 theatre experiences, and I picked Rattlestick Productions' "Message to Michael" as my best evening at the theatre during 1996. I like it when I leave the theatre after having an emotional experience. Message to Michael kept me on an emotional high longer than anything I have seen recently. The acting was good; the writing good to outstanding. This is certainly the best "gay" play since Blue is For Boys, Dancing in the Dark, and Initiation Rites were all running at the same time a few years ago. I encouraged the company to extend the play (as I am sure others have done).
Running a close second would be the New Federal Theatre's production of "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" at the Henry Street Settlement House. This was another emotional experience. I sat in the front row, so I got to see how involved the actors and actresses were in this production. I saw the Broadway version of Joe Turner, also. The production at Henry Street Settlement House beat the Broadway production. These actors and actresses were really into giving a good show--and they did.
I spent 18 days in New York City (I have lived in Minnesota all my life) just hanging out and going to entertainment events, primarily theatre. I went to Broadway, off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway, and probably even farther than off-off Broadway. I enjoyed, at least to some extent, everything I saw. The two plays mentioned above were way above the other things I saw.
Another thrill was going into the Virginia Theatre for both the Gypsy Awards and Smokey Joe's and seeing how gorgeous the Virginia has become. In my opinion, Jujamcyn is doing a much better job than the other two major companies maintaining their theatres. The theatres look nicer, cleaner, and the rest rooms are by far the cleanest of any of the theatres in New York City.
Last but certainly not least, it is a thrill to see something being done about crime and criminals hanging out on every corner. The change may be harder to notice for year around residents of New York City, but I definitely notice the difference every time I come to town. I notice this difference where I stay (Chelsea), the West Village, the Broadway theatre district, and on the transit system. For example, during approximately 70 subway rides, many at off hours, I saw only one turnstile jumper. I would hope that the theatre and entertainment bsinesses in New York back their mayor and police department and encourage this very positive thing to continue.
I have rattled on long enough, To sum up, the 18 days went by amazingly fast. I had a fantastic time, as I always do in New York. We have lots of theatre in Minneapolis and St. Paul, but we do not have the total experience one gets from New York City. Joe Turner has closed, but I encourage everyone to see "Message to Michael." According to Playbill, it has been extended to February 2, 1997.
Here's my top 5 list:(no particular order):
1. Spectating "Sunset Boulevard" with Betty Buckley on Broadway.
2. Listening to my favorite soundtracks, such as "Big," "Ruthless," and recently, the new "Evita" with Madonna.
3. Spectating the national tour of "Kiss of The Spider Woman."
4. Performing in such musicals/dramas as "On Golden Pond" (Billy Ray), "Meet Me In St. Louis," "Guys And Dolls," "Bye Bye Birdie" and many others. 5. Collecting memorabilia, such as theatre coffee mugs, posters, soundtracks, shirts, keychaings, pictures, etc.
From Jamieson M. Cobleigh:
OK, my day on Saturday at the BC/EFA sale. I get up around 7:00, get on the 8:41 train out of New Brunswick with one of my suite mates, Dan, and his friend, Seth. We arrive in New York's Penn Station around 9:30, and we walk up to the TKTS booth in Times Square. We decide we want to try to see Victor/Victoria and Sunset Boulevard. Sunset Blvd is on the TKTS so Dan gets dropped off in line, while Seth and I run to the Minskoff Theatre to get tickets. We find out the Elaine Paige is supposed to do the matinee. We would not have seen the show if an understudy had done it, as all three of us had seen the show. I had seen Betty Buckley, Seth had seen Glenn Close, and Dan saw Petula Clark in London. The only reason we went is to see Elaine. We get $25 student discount tickets (hey, we were on a budget). We go to Marquis Theatre, and find out the only seat available for the evening showing were the $75 tickets, so we decided to abandon that idea. Stumped as to what to see (between Seth and I, we had seen a lot of stuff), so we head over to Shubert Alley to check out what was there.
I noticed Elaine Paige was going to be there signing autographs, so I jump in line. (It is now about 10:30am). While standing around in line, I suggest we go see Master Class. I had already seen it, but I had no qualms about seeing it again. So Dan & Seth run over to the John Golden Theatre and get tickets for the show in the mezzanine. 11 o'clock rolls around, and no Elaine. I get to the front of the line, and I find out she is only going to be there from 11:30-12:00. I decided to wait it out, since I am a big fan. I eventually get up to see her and she was really nice. She seemed a little shocked at all the CDs of hers I owned (I brought all my CD liners). I had her sign her Encore CD, the Cats London CD, and my ticket for Sunset Boulevard. I run out of that line, and move around to the picture portion, and I got my picture taken with her. By this time, Dan and Seth have gone wandering. I find Dan, but Seth had gotten lost in the crowd. Dan and I look for him, can't find him, and decide to go to lunch. We meet back at the theatre at around 1:30, where we meet up with Seth. We move in to the theatre, and our seats are in the center. However, we could (and did) touch the back wall of the theatre, but what do you expect for $25? Elaine was exceptional. Even though we were in the back row, her voice soared through the theatre, and I thought she was going to blow the roof of the theatre and some points. The biggest disappointment was the absence of George Hearn. Although his understudy was good, he wasn't as good.
After Sunset let out, we attempted to go to the Jekyll & Hyde for dinner, but the line was too long, and there was a chance we wouldn't have made it out in time to catch Master Class. From experience, I knew better than to arrive late. We ended up eating at a little pizza parlor across the street, which was good. I guess I'll go there some other time. We arrived at Master Class at around 7:30. We had decent seats. We were flush right, about 5 rows back in the rear mezzanine. The theatre was small enough that you could see and hear almost everything perfectly. After the show, Seth and I flew down the stairs and parked ourselves outside the stage door to wait for Patti. I had a copy of my Patti LuPone live liner ready to be signed. As we were waiting there, it began to rain on and off, sometimes heavy. At one point it began raining extremely heavily, with heavy winds, and at that exact moment Patti came out of the stage door. She signed two people's Playbills, and then apologetically got into her red Chevy Blazer. Seth and I walked over to the driver side door, put on our saddest faces, held out pens and looked at her. She rolled down the window, and while Seth and I used our umbrellas to keep the rain out of the car, she gave us and several other people autographs. We thanked her profusely as she signed. I was truly in awe of her for doing that, since it was a really nice thing for a diva to do. We took the 11:41 train back to New Brunswick, and I collapsed at around 1:30am, exhausted from a great day.
To read more responses, see Part 1 in Theatre News,