Playbill Poll: The Greatest Plays of the 20th Century -- Part 4

Playbill Poll: The Greatest Plays of the 20th Century -- Part 4 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.

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.

Here is your chance to pick what you 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, please pick what you believe to be the FIVE best plays of the 20th century, with a brief description why. We'll be unable to post more than five choices per person, so make them good. Simple lists of titles won't be posted. You must briefly explain your choices. These will become a permanent part of the Playbill On-Line archive.

Please post responses to Managing Editor Robert Viagas.

Playbill On-Line thanks all who took the time to write. Owing the number of responses, we have created this fourth file of results:

From Pease, Dennis:
1. Follies...for my book, the greatest musical ever produced. Saw different productions in New York (original) and London. Despite criticism re the book problems, I do not feel that is the case at all. Ever minute story tells volumes, to want to focus on any one to the detriment of the others. HArd to separate the writing from the production...nevertheless, the score is perfect, provides opportunities for so many great theatre moments. The extended Follies number at the end is still incomparable. A nervous breakdown to dance.
2. Long Day's Journey Into Night. I have probably not seen a truly well reviewed production of the play yet. Despite this, thought that the Brooklyn Academy Production, the production with Jack Lemmon and with Dewhurst / Robards all provided moments that were heartbreaking, theatrically exciting, emotionally wrenching, very funny. Each production has stayed with me...the only constant has been the writing. And from a purely theatrical perspective, the opportunity to view great performances (again, many of the ones I saw were not even well reviewed.
3. Streetcar Named Desire. This is the saddest play I have ever seen. I have seen many great performances, which I think is part of the test...the characters that Williams created and the poetry and imagery he created, the savagery, the contrast in characters -- competitors to the death -- always point to greatness.
4. She Loves Me -- The PERFECT musical. I don't know why this show continues to have such a problem finding an audience...it is perfect. The basic story is thoroughly enjoyable, well constructed; the story and characters are extremely well-defined through the music; the score is, for my money, on of the two or three best written that I know of; I have seen multiple productions; even the poorest one was thoroughly enjoyable. The recent Broadway production was Champagne.
5. Moon For the Misbegotten. This may be a case of production Vs. play. The 1973 production still reigns as the best evening in the theatre I have spent. The combination of humor, pathos is wonderfully balanced. The sense of emptiness and pain contrasted against the mother-earth of Josie, shadowed by the pain in her own life, was shattering.
Could add a lot of others: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Fences, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Philadelphia Story would score high.


From OLLIE111:
So many have included the obvious and well deserved choices such as "Salesman" and "Streetcar," that there seems little point in my repeating them. But, in my opinion, one play, "Harvey" by Mary Chase needs special attention. This seeming simple comedy about an eccentric man who sees a 6'3' rabbit contains a depth of insight on the larger cosmic, and unifying force of faith than many so called "serious" dramas. Its strength is evident in the unique feeling of "oneness" an audience gets after a performance. Which, for my money, is more powerful and more important than any left brain, didactic , dramatic arguments some our "great" plays make.


From MEGARA1028:
OK, here I go. I'm still a teen, so my experience is not exactly extensive, but here are my top five.
HAIR- It was new, it was revolutionary, and it was a huge success. Not to mention that it had some really terrific music! If only I had been around to see the original production....
GODSPELL- I love the versatility of the music in this show. It's got rock, it's got folk, it's got traditional stuff, and it's all wonderful. Sure, it came 6 years after Hair, but I think this also kind of helped to revolutionize Broadway.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA- Beautiful music, scenery, and costumes. Dramatic, touching, even suspenseful plot. Amazingly talented actors and actresses to convey all that. It's got all the ingredients of a truly magnificent show.
MISS SAIGON- Oh my God. I don't know how to even attempt to describe this astounding show, but I'll try anyway =) Definitely the most beautiful score I've heard in my (limited) theatrical experience. It's deeply affecting, and, although sad, still has a beautiful message, which is love conquers all, and a mother's love most of all. I love it....
RENT- Oh, Rent. My beloved Rent. Stupendous score. Beyond talented cast. Superb storyline. Marvelous message. And it made Broadway cool again, which is no small achievement! In my opinion, the best show to ever grace a Broadway stage.
There ya go!


From Snopjo:
Without a doubt my first choice has to be RENT, it's hard for me to imagine any theater not including that in their choices for best plays. It is full of compassion, lessons, love, and hope and is the "A Chorus Line" of my generation. It will never be forgotten not because of the awards but because of the message.
Next would be Chicago, one of the most devilish plays to come around in a long time. Especially the new version so craftily conceived by Ann Reinking and performed so well by Reinking and Bebe Neuwirth. It is a show showcasing the best of talent.
A hundred other people have said this but Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf is one of the best plays ever, as is Black Comedy by Peter Shaffer. Both plays are witty and utilize dialogue and actions to entertain their audience.
My last choice would be the aforementioned "A Chorus Line" which is a sensation in every syllable of the word. It gathers all the emotions of auditions and houses them in believable characters that stand for every one of us.


From Craig:
It is very difficult to narrow down to five picks from a seemingly endless possible list. Here goes:
1) Angels in America (parts I & II) Seven hours of the most riveting theater a person could experience in a lifetime. Real, honest characters, with an odd intermingling of their lives.
2) Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - Again, real (frighteningly real) honest characters caught in a trap of their own design.
3) Rent - Not just the "Hair of the 90's" but for the ages. Where Hair's political/antipolitical message got in it's own way, the characters and situations of Rent can touch any life anywhere - regardless of your political/war/antiwar sentiments.
4) A Streetcar Named Desire - One of the best of Tennessee Williams' plays - characters so real that you more than feel their pain and tragedy. All characters so creatively real (even down to the minor characters) that if one were missing, the play would not be complete.
5) Candide - One of the most clever uses of a classically written novel. What took it to the next level of greatness was how the entire production was conceived in the 1972 revival at the Broadway theater - 14 stages and 17 ramps and runways connecting them gave this circus of a show a way to step out of the proscenium and into your lap or shoulder or foot or....


From BriKatz:
Great topic!
1) Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Albee) - a breakthrough piece, utterly solid in its dramatic form, will be performed forever by actors looking to dig into the marrow of relationships, success and what America was supposed to be.
2) Talley's Folly (Lanford Wilson) - the best love story ever written Its is biting, funny and ultimately uplifting look at how we can find each other in the worst of circumstances. Love can save.
3) Sunday in the Park with George (Sondheim / Lapine ) - the greatest musical there will ever be. Through music and sparse book, Sondheim and Lapine uncover the soul of an artist, both modern and antiquated. It moves me like no other play. I have watched it scores of times, and still see something new on subsequent viewings.
4) Seven Guitars / Joe Turner's Come and Gone / Fences (August Wilson) - he is our Chekhov. It is a shame that so much of white America is unfamiliar with his work. His characters are universal, as are his themes. And he writes with such soaring poetry. I just can't pick my favorite.
5) Angels in America, Parts I and II (Kushner) - this is where we are at. Kushner uncovers the soul of modern America, and advances the art of theatre by providing a truly postmodern play that teaches, illuminates and puzzles. He has so much to say - lets hope he gets back to original work soon!


From Josh Schonauer:
Ok, I'm not much of a straight play fan, so I'm just going to say my choices for the 5 best/most influential musicals.
5. Chicago - This show has a pretty good story, but the music is amazing. It is full of witty humor, but has some great serious moments.
4. Fiddler on the Roof -- This show has a lot of emotion behind it, if the actors play it right. It has one of my favorite scores, and was my first performance (when I was in 1st grade).
3. The Life -- I don't know why I'm so drawn to this show. Maybe it is the risky subject matter... maybe it is the brilliant score. I don't know, but it has a strong message and it was a brave show.
2. Ragtime -- Wow! This show is just amazing. It has an outstanding story, amazing score, and an important message. It was staged very well, and I think should be among the best musicals ever.
1. Rent -- What can I say about Rent? It is the most outstanding show I've ever seen. The bittersweet moments and the upbeat, out of this world score make you a little upset that this show ends. You feel torn from your seat and feel like you are one of the gang. You can feel the struggles. The emotion and the poignant life-affirming message make this show one that you'll always remember.


From Brett:
I have seen many musicals so far in my life, I would have to say these would be the top five for me:
5. The Phantom of the Opera: It was really one of the first great spectacles of the theatre. It made an inhumane beast based on Leroux's novel, into a beautiful creature. It had many memorable melodies (e.g. "All I Ask of You", and "Music of the Night), and special effects - including a lot of pyrotechnics.
4. Grease: Not so much a great work of drama, but gave everyone a good time. It has so many songs that for the past 30 years are still popular as well as memorable, and will remain a hit for generations to come.
3. West Side Story: It had groundbreaking choreography by Robbins, and superb music by Bernstein. Based loosely on Romeo and Juliet, it gave a literary classic a modern and still a life valuing lesson.
2. Jesus Christ Superstar: No doubt about it; one of the first shows in modern theater to really give the theatre a modern look with its great score and depiction of Christ's last days'. It's one that you can go and see and have a good time; and leave with the feeling that leaves you touched by the events that happen in the show. It has some great songs as well (e.g. "Heaven on their minds","Superstar", "Gethsemane", and"I Don't Know How to Love Him").
1. Rent: The modern American musical. It can be classified almost to a version of West Side Story, character wise. (such as Maria's"Tonight", and Mimi's "Out Tonight"). It was loosely based on Puccini's La Boheme, changing Tuberculosis into Aids among many other idealisms. It has bold, strong music that influences you a lot, and changes the way how you look at all people, from all walks of life. Its many great songs, I think, are "One Song Glory", "Today for U", "Seasons of Love", and "What You Own".
Other favorites: Oklahoma, South Pacific, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Evita, Little Shop of Horrors, and Chicago.


From legato:
* Sweeney Todd: Sondheim's masterpiece is so witty, so pathetic, so artfully constructed. It is also consistently entertaining as well as thought-provoking.
* Fiddler on the Roof: This is probably the most humane musical ever written. It understands the map of the human heart and captures a moment and place and people in time beautifully.
* West Side Story: This may be the best updating of Shakespeare ever, but with Bernstein's fantastic music and Sondheim's peerless lyrics and the fabulous dancing it is perfection.
* My Fair Lady: Maybe this has the best balance between song and text of any musical. Every song seems so perfectly placed and so perfectly expressive of its character. Higgins, Eliza and Alfred P. Doolittle are unforgettable. MFL is flawless.
* Phantom of the Opera: This is the MEGA-Musical, the British blockbuster of our time. It has its knockers, but as a psychological exploration of one of literature's minor archetypal characters, it can't be beat. And its gloriously voluptuous music matches its voluptuous and decadent soul.