The American Film Institute recently published a list of the 100 greatest American films "of all time," though the film industry is scarcely more than a century old.
Playbill On-Line offered readers a chance to pick what they believe to be the greatest stage plays of the 20th century (musicals included). Submissions can be from any country, in any language. The original production must have occured during the 20th century. For ease of processing, readers were asked to pick what you believe to be the FIVE best plays of the 20th century, with a brief description why. Simple lists of titles were not posted. The poll is now closed.
Owing the great number of responses, we created this eleventh and final file of replies. Playbill On-Line thFrom Thomas Kellenberger, Zurich, Switzerland:
1. "Shopping and f***ing" by Mark RavenhillA great piece of contemporary british theatre. Raw, brutal, achingly funnyand above all very realistic.
2. "The Boys in the Band" by Mart CrowleyShocking at the time it first came out, because it was way ahead of itstime. The first play that dealt with a homosexual community in a fresh,comical and "normal" way. Great characters!
3. "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" by Edward AlbeeWhat can I say? Already a classic of american plays, with the most belovedcouple in theatre history: Martha and George!
4. "Pterodactyls" by Nicky SilverDark and absurd, yet funny and moving. A great metaphor for the declineand even the end of mankind
5. "L'Etranger" by Albert CamusThis play is the key to existentialism. Deeply philosophical, veryintellectual-a must!
My favourite musicals are the following:
1. "Passion" by Stephen SondheimA brilliantly written piece of musical theatre, very intelligent,philosophical and demanding.
2. "Martin Guerre" by Boublil/SchonbergAlthough it flopped in the West End, still one of the greatest musicalsever written. Stronger in music and plot than both les Miz and MissSaigon. It will gloriously return to the West End and come to Broadway, nodoubt.
3. "Kristina fran Duvemala" by Anderson/UlvaeusAn epic musical from the creators of "chess". Wonderful story, hauntingmelodies. A classical musical
4. " Cabaret" by Kander/ EbbDo I have to say anything? Loved Liza, but love the Revival even more.Their best and most daring score
5. "Elisabeth"This Austria-grown musical has taken the world outside the West End andBroadway by storm. What modern musical theatre should be. I hope it willsoon make it to London or N.Y.
From Nicola Waters, London:
The power of the story, the scenes and the music put Phantom in a league ofits own. The Phantom has to be the most enthralling, awe-inspiring, sensualand beautiful man in the history of theatre, combining immense power withincredible vulnerability.
The final scene of Phantom of The Opera is the most powerful scene in theatre;I could go on forever but I daresay you wouldn't have the space on your page!
1- DEATH OF A SALESMAN, Miller
The most heart-breakingly accurate look at the American condition. As apiece of literature, it is like the best of Greek tragedy in its awesomeweight and perfection of language. No other modern work, prose or drama, cancompare to Death of a Salesman in its brutal and sad portrayal of the failureof the American dream and family. It is a play which is physically painful toread.
Wow to pick just 5 from this century. Here's mine: (In no particular order.)
The Crucible-- This play, I feel, shows that history DOES repeat itself. Bynot directly remarking on the times Arthus Miller made people look at what was going on from what had already happened to our fore fathers.It is a play that makes one give a good look at themselves.
The Lion King-- At first I thought this idea was stupid, but I soon realizedhow beautiful it is. Julie Taymor and the whole production staff flawlessly combined everything from ballads to rock and roll to African chants along with Eastern theatre into one show. Even theactors are amazing. After looking at them for a while you forget thatthey are people and animals, but you start to think they are justanimals.
Rent-- This is a story everyone can relate to. Just as the characters, we too want to leave some mark in the world. Plus, I feel, through it all everyone involved has remained true to original idea, and has not been carried by the success of the show.
West Side Story-- Here is a musical that seems special to everyone., but italso changed the face of Broadway. At a time of light and happy musicals, this show showed the dark sides of being a teenager, gangmember, immigrant, and practically living off the streets. The showdefied the times. It also put dance as a more prominent part of a show.
Les Miserables-- This is a story we can, like Rent, all relate to. I thinkeveryone of us can place ourselves as one of the characters. The story relays every emotion from guilt to love. Plus, as in the middle of reading the novel, the musical stays true to the story till the end.
I am SO glad that someone is recognizing the plays and musicals. Yesterday's Top 100 Novel List was rather above the heads of even well readpersons.
* * OUR TOWN: Thornton Wilder uses no spectacle to weave his story of theeveryday life of OUR TOWN. The merit of the play relies only on the actorsportrayal of the written word. What a masterpiece! Someday we will allknow why it all happened the way it did; Emily learned only in death what agood life she'd lived.
* * THE MIRACLE WORKER: William Gibson's retelling of the Helen Kellerstory is dramatic as the audience gets drawn into the struggles of AnneSullivan and Helen Keller. It is a story that makes one realize theimportance of not giving up even in the face of seeming insurmountableadversity. Anne didn't give up on her student; she found a way to getthrough to her student...as a teacher, daily so must I.
* * THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK: The reality behind the drama makes the storyall the more compelling. The script's conflicts of woman vs. self, womanvs. others, and woman vs. society create multidimensional layers and allowan audience to relate to Anne and the other characters' struggles indiverse ways. Even after six weeks of play rehearsal, four weeks ofreading it and teaching about The Holocaust in English class, and watchingvarious films on the subject matter; I found myself moved to tears as thecurtain closed. "I believe that despite everything people are really goodat heart." (paraphrased a bit).
* * PYGMALION: Oh to be the common flower girl transformed into thebeautiful princess of a lady; the dream of so many of us since childhood! But equally challenging; to be the professor who creates thetransformation! George Bernard Shaw weaves a modern fairy tale come tolife on stage. Professor Higgins is Eliza's (Cinderella's) FairyGodmother, but it all takes more than the wave of a magic wand. He becomesEliza's nemesis; and later we are lead to believe, her love. A universaltheme of "love conquers all" ending. It is the fairy tale of our youthrevived.
* * WEST SIDE STORY: The retelling of Shakespeare's popular Romeo andJuliet is current even today. The gangs may have changed racialconfigurations; but the fight for turf, the egoism, and the reality ofdeath reach headlines daily. We feel for the star-crossed love of theseteens, we empathize with their losses of friends and family, we know itcould happen in our backyards. It is real to us.
From Byron in Cleveland:
The first show on my list is definitely Our Town. This show is aclassic no explanation needed.
Next I would definitely have to go with Ken Ludwig's hilarious farceLend Me a Tenor. We performed this in my high school and I felt it wasone of the funniest pieces I had ever seen. Every one in the cast had achance to shine. Then when I saw it done by a professional group, Idecided that it is one of the best comedies that has ever been written.
The third show on my list is Showboat. This show is amazing. Itchanged the format of musical theatre to what we recognize now. And, asthe Livent revival showed, this piece is timeless and will stillprobably be performed for years to come.
Next on my list, I would put Death of a Salesman. I adore this show. The final scene moved me to tears. As with Our Town, no furtherexplanation is necessary.
Finally, I would place Rent. This show is breathtaking. While thereare some who don't feel it should qualify because it is still a youngshow, I don't think that it really matters how long the show has beenaround. Rent is an amazingly qualified piece for one of the best of the20th century. It's awards speak for themselves (Tony for best musical,Pulitzer Prize). After all, Rent may be the salvation of Broadway. What other show has done even half as well at drawing the new generationinto the theatre.
From Gary and David:
Although it is hard to be limited to just 5 plays , we have pickedthings that we feel stretched the boundaries of theater.
1. Equus -A rare voyage into the depths of the human psyche,mixed with aone-of -a-kind theatrical sense.
2. Kennedy's Children-- Although a hit in London, this American play --which,through a series of monologues, successfully capsulized the '60'swent largely (and undeservedly) unnoticed by broadway audiences.
3. 'Night Mother -- A tightly-constructed mother-daughter piecewhich,though ostensibly about suicide, is close to being the last wordon the subject of family.
4. Dreamgirls -- Perhaps the ultimate "American Dream" story told withsharp wit and cynicism and dressed with a flawless multi-layered score.
5. What the Butler Saw - Joe Orton's last play which is perhaps the bestfarce of the 20th century in the English language.
From Toni Harris:
1. Ragtime. Without a doubt, this play has it all. Drama, humor, and greatmusic. The current NY cast is exceptional, heartbreaking, dazzling; and theplay is actually about something meaningful.
2. Pacific Overtures. I saw the LA production twice, and then again at asmall theater in Hollywood with Mako. Again, a musical that is aboutsomething, historic relations with Japan, more relevant today than ever.
3. Sweeney Todd. A musical that transports you to another place and time,and allows you experiences you would not otherwise have. Haunting music andthought-provoking moral dilemmas.
4. A Little Night Music. The score for this one is superb. The songs reallypropel the action and convey the emotions perfectly. A musical for adultsthat engages the mind and the spirit.
5. Music Man. A very overlooked show that provides a lot of entertainmentfor adults and children, without animal costumes, laser lights, smoke andmirrors.
From Jonathan A. Rybka:
1. Ragtime (it defined us-- our history and our lives in song and dance)
2.Angels in America (it defined the worst epidemic in our lives for the 20thcentury)
3. Rent (it brought us to the 21st century and what musicals will be)
4.Six Degrees of Separation-- such a great and thought provoking play
5. A ChorusLine-- just because... and an honorary award to Dreamgirls for the sole reasonof making a show look and feel like a slick movie.
Ok, I'm a traditionalist:
1) The Crucible - Arthur Miller's greatest play and a tremendous allegory forits time
2) A Streetcar Named Desire - Tennessee Williams at his very finest
3) A Long Day's Journey into Night - Human pathos as no one else could everwrite it.
4) Death of a Salesman - Arthur Miller again, but this play speaks volumeseven decades later
5) West Side Story - Since I can't vote for Shakespeare...
From Grace B. Hollow, San Francisco:
This is such a wonderful thing to do, and although I'm underqualified tojustify making these suggestions, I love the theatre too much to keep my mouthshut. So here are my 5 favorites from this century:
The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams. From its first monologue to itshaunting final line, this is a play that is so deeply personal, the audiencealmost feels like they're witnessing what they're not supposed to be seeing.But at the same time, they identify so powerfully with what these characterswish and want and do. I first saw this play years ago with Maureen Stapleton'sextraordinary performance, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about itsince! .
The Cherry Orchard, Anton Chekhov. Like The Glass Menagerie, The Cherry Orchardalso explores memory and the past. I think it's a theme that makes forriveting theatre, maybe because memory, like theatre, is both illusionary andstrikingly real at the same time. What's amazing about Chekhov is that he'sable to keep the audience interested and moved while barely having a plot.It's all about the complex, fascinating people of his world, and I think forcharacter development, Chekhov is simply peerless, in any language, and thecharacters in this play are unforgettable.
Our Town, Thornton Wilder. Thornton Wilder had the amazing ability to hold theuniversal and the minuscule together in perfect balance on the same stage.Yes, Our Town is a lovely bit of Americana, but in its story of simple,ordinary folk, it also focuses on enormous issues that affect literally everyperson on this planet...work, love, family, death. It's an amazing thing whathe does in this play, and I think in these recent cynical years where theatrehas become so much about flash and gimmick and star turns for actors to chewoff the scenery, this little, huge (!) play (where there is no scenery to bechewed) might not get the credit it deserves.
The Piano Lesson, August Wilson. There are passages in all of Wilson'swonderful plays that are as magically poetic as anything Shakespeare everwrote. The Piano Lesson is yet another play about the past, but, moreimportantly, I think it's about the future, and about the power we both haveand don't have in shaping the future. The characters are rich and colorful,there's abundant humor, and there's a riveting ending that literally ishaunting. There's nothing not to love in this beautiful play.
West Side Story, Bernstein, Sondheim, etc. The film made the American FilmInstitute's List, so why shouldn't the stage version, which is not sodifferent, make mine? I think this was one of the first hit musicals thattruly wasn't a "musical comedy." It deals with very serious issues and nevercondescends to its characters, as musicals, I think, sometimes tend to do.And, of course, there's that score, those gorgeous melodies and those sharplyrics. I admire much of Rodgers and Hammerstein's work, and Sondheim's wok onhis own, but this is the best musical I know of.
And that's my list!! I wish I had more room, especially for British and otherEuropean writers.
1: A Streetcar Named Desire- Tennessee Williams writing has captured thecharacter better than any dramatist and playwright has in this century.
2. A Chorus Line- an amazing portrayal of the theatre business, as produceddirected and conceived by avid participators.
3. West Side Story- the revolutionary musical which defined American MusicalTheatre
4. Chicago (the revival)- the "drop-dead" Broadway musical that redefinedBroadway in the 90's, with amazing dancing, wonderful direction, and a"simple-minded" style.
5. 'Night Mother- Marsha Norman's piece that deals with suicide reallycaptures the struggle and hardships that would accompany such agony.
From Suzanne Bixby:
There's a difference between "top 5 productions" and "top 5 plays", butI'll assume we're basing this on the former:
#1 "Follies" - the last performance of the pre-broadway tryout inBoston (the single most riveting evening I've ever spent in the theatre;not duplicated by the Paper Mill Playhouse)
#2 "Nicholas Nickleby" - the first time it came to NYC (the sort ofengaging story telling theatre should be)
#3 "Arcadia" - the Huntington Theatre Co. production in Boston whichreally made you think (audiences were so interested in the play, thescript made the Boston Globe paperback best seller list)
#4 "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf" - the national tour in Boston in the60's when I was in high school (from the 2nd balcony) and again inLondon last year with Diana Rigg (in the third row); powerful languageand dramatic structure will get you everything
#5 "Carousel" - never seen a 100% satisfying production (NicholasHytner came close), but it made me cry when I read it in the ModernLibrary edition of "Six Plays by Rodgers and Hammerstein" when I was15. Still have the book Directing a production this fall, because Iwant to see it again.
AMADEUS: This was a masterpiece that will never be seen again. Theperformances were all brilliant and defines the meaning of a great play.Play are not meant to be read, but experienced.
LA CAGE AUX FOLLES: This musical brilliantly brought an important message tothe stage and allowed the "family" to be entertained by with great music andleave the theatre able to talk about the what is a family.
NOISES OFF: By far the best farce ever written. You have to be there toreally enjoy the beautiful choreography written by Frayn.
CITY OF ANGELS: In a season when the Broadway community seemed to lose theability to write a musical, comes along a show with intoxicating music and asolid story. It doesn1t get any better then this.
A CHORUS LINE: Simply the best musical ever written.
From Andrew Blau:
Six Degrees of Separation - 90 minutes of breathless writing and acting,Stockard Channing's stellar portrayal, the humor of the first half giving wayto the devastating seriousness of the second half. The most perfectly writtencontemporary play I've seen.
Les Miserables - stunning, epic and yet simple - musical theater at its best.A breathtaking score, matched with direction that showcases the intimate overthe epic, concentrating on the force of the individual performances andensemble, not the spectacle.
Once on This Island - a perfect celebration of oral tradition andstorytelling, from the opening image of the tribal group calming the childwith a story to the end explaining that lineage is established throughstories, Graciela Daniele's inventive, vital staging and choreography derivesinspiration from Ahrens' and Flaherty's lush and clever score to reimagine aclassic fairy tale in a timeless way.
Angels in America - messy, imperfect, overwritten, and ultimately brilliantpolitical and character study. Almost a fever dream of creativity, withindelible moments appearing throughout both parts' extreme length. It triesharder than any play I've ever seen, and succeeds more than most.
From Dawn Adrienne Taylor:
1. Les Miserables - aclassic work with a timeless story. Music makes this an extraordinary production to watch... even bad productions of the show are spectacular, and good productions will leave your soul satisfied andyour face streamed with tears.
2. Jekyll and Hyde (first version)-When I heard the original 'original' cast recording (you know the onewith all the great songs later cut out?) I was exhilarated, andenthralled. The cast was superb, and the songs were just fabulous. After seeing the new 'original' cast I was thoroughly disappointed with theshow, and wish they (whoever 'they' are) would have left thismasterpiece alone. Although I must admit, Christiane Noll wasfantastic... but this is a review for plays....
3. Bring in Da Noise...When I first heard I was going to see this show, I was less thanenthusiastic. Now I honestly say, that not only will I see it again when it opens here, but I have told numerous people that if they likedRiverdance, they shouldn't dream of missing Noise-Funk. The rhythmsare enticing, and dancing leaves you bewildered. This is a veryinteractive play, the audience was as much a part of the show as theactors. The percussionists rock.
4. Phantom of the Opera - Another classicstory with wonderful orchestrations. Although it was created with acertain soprano in mind... the songs are perfectly suited for multiplecasts, and has been a great success. Every so often an idea strikesgold, and we are lucky enough to be around for it.
5. Little Shop of Horrors-OK, I have just always really liked this show. There's littleexplaining I can do really. This is just an all out fun show. Costumes are superb, music is very toe tapping, and the characters are so fictitious- they are extremely believable (kind of like the Star Wars of thestage) Of course these are just my opinions. There are numerous other showswhich have left me breathless, crying, smiling, or just plain wanting more....these are just my most memorable, and best in my opinion.