The Memory of All That: Playbill.com Contributors Choose Unforgettable Experiences of 2010

News   The Memory of All That: Playbill.com Contributors Choose Unforgettable Experiences of 2010
 
"How do you measure a year?" Here at Playbill we measure in openings, awards, final bows and those singular, indelible moments that only live theatre can bring. The Playbill staff takes a look back at some of our favorite moments from 2010.

Matt Blank, Playbill.com Photo Editor
 

Jill Paice and Jeremy Kushnier in Chess Everyday Rapture.
photo by Scott Suchman

Chess at the Signature Theatre in Virginia. One of my all-time favorite modern musical scores. A real treat to see a full professional production for my first time. Remarkable vocal displays by Euan Morton, Jeremy Kushnier and Jill Paice.

The New York premiere of John Dempsey and Dana Rowe's The Fix at New York University. Again, an album and score I've loved for years but never had the chance to see performed in full. The gritty, high-energy rock musical (based loosely on Caligula) deals with the ugly underbelly of American politics and the around-the-clock news media. A stellar cast of vocal performance students handled the grueling musical demands with ease, and John Simpkins' lively staging left a strong impression.

Robert Cuccioli's renditions of "Amsterdam" and "Fanette" in Jacques Brel Returns at the Triad took me back to the excellent revival at the Zipper Theater. A great reminder of how potent and theatrical Brel's music is.

Caroline, or Change at Gallery Players. Anytime there is the opportunity to see a well-done production of this musical, it is a highlight of my year. Terrific vocal performances and inventive direction to adapt the show to an intimate space.

Scottsboro Boys! (Enough said.)

Billie Joe Armstrong as "St. Jimmy" in American Idiot. The show revived my appreciation for Green Day's music, and to see the frontman/composer step into the show and play the role with such enthusiasm and love for the theatre was a real treat. The energy in that building was unforgettable.

Krissie Fullerton, Playbill.com Contributing Photographer The Scottsboro Boys (both off and on Broadway)
Jerome Kern: All the Things You Are at the Merkin Concert Hall
Everyday Rapture
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at the Public Theater
Joanna Lumley's entrance and Mark Rylance's first monologue in La Bête

Andrew Gans, Playbill.com Senior Editor

Viola Davis in Fences
photo by Joan Marcus

Viola Davis in the revival of Fences: The emotion that Davis can summon is astounding, and her reaction to the news of her husband's infidelity in the revival of the August Wilson drama pierced the heart.

Christine Jones, set designer for American Idiot: Jones' staggering set design, featuring a sky-high wall of TVs, speakers and assorted posters and stickers, brilliantly captured the mood of the characters' chaotic and struggling lives.

James Earl Jones in Driving Miss Daisy: The veteran actor, in a role that is a departure from many of his previous Broadway outings, once again proved his mettle, bringing great dignity and humanity to the role of Miss Daisy's driver, Hoke Colburn.

The Pitmen Painters: Lee Hall's depiction of this fascinating story movingly told raised more provocative questions about art than any play in recent memory.

Stephen Sondheim in Sondheim on Sondheim: The Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer/lyricist's filmed comments about his life and his art were simply fascinating. In fact, it's the only time I can remember ever wanting more talking and less singing in a Broadway musical — and that's saying a lot, since the singing was terrific.

For Gans' 2010 Diva picks click here.

David Gewirtzman, Playbill Special Projects

Stark Sands, John Gallagher Jr. and Michael Esper in American Idiot
photo by Paul Kolnik

American Idiot (St. James Theatre, New York). Michael Mayer shaped Green Day's music into one of the most exciting new musicals of the year.

The Divine Sister (Theater for the New City, New York). Possibly Charles Busch's funniest play. Definitely the funniest show of the year. "What is it you can't face?"

Jerusalem (Apollo Theatre, London). Mark Rylance's performance as Johnny "Rooster" Byron was truly spectacular. The final scene left me shaking.

A Streetcar Named Desire (Writers' Theatre, Glencoe). David Cromer's intimate production, with an unglamorous Blanche du Bois and the audience surrounding the tiny Kowalski apartment on all sides, was a revelation.

AND, AND, AND... Being blown away (no pun intended) by the blizzard Ariane Mnouchkine's Théâtre du Soleil created onstage in the four hour epic Les Naufragés du Fol Espoir; the bloody musical comedy goodness of Bloodsong of Love and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson; Raul Esparza, Sutton Foster and Donna Murphy in the Encores! production of Anyone Can Whistle (the best of all this year’s Sondheim celebrations); Kander & Ebb’s tuneful score for The Scottsboro Boys; and Lisa Emery's unexpectedly devastating performance in A Kind of Alaska.

Harry Haun, Playbill Staff Writer

Al Pacino and Lily Rabe take an opening-night bow at Merchant of Venice
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The last nine words of Next Fall.

The powerhouse tour-de-forces of Valerie Harper in Looped and Linda Lavin in Collected Stories.

Lily Rabe’s brave and brilliant opening-night performance in The Merchant of Venice three days after the death of her mother, actress Jill Clayburgh, and Al Pacino’s beautiful and magnimous gesture of cutting short his own curtain call by personally delivering her roses (dissolving her, of course, into tears).

The long, deafening silence that greeted "Isn’t that right, Ozie?" from the brain-damaged member of The Scottsboro Boys.

Viola Davis batting back tears when Denzel Washington confesses his infidelity in Fences.

The superb ensemble work, from start to finish, in the Keen Company’s New York premiere of Michael Frayn’s Alphabetical Order.

Donna Murphy collapsing into a hysterical heap when they threaten to take away her backup guys in the Encores! rendition of Anyone Can Whistle.

Adam Hetrick, Playbill.com Staff Writer

Kate Blumberg
photo by T. Charles Erickson

The Lincoln Center Theater production of Andrew Bovell's When the Rain Stops Falling. Mysterious, haunting and moving, David Cromer's staging of the intricate play that spanned continents and generations left a lasting impression.

Viola Davis and Denzel Washington in one of my favorite August Wilson plays, Fences. The two stars shared a palpable chemistry, and Davis' performance was shattering.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson Off-Broadway at the Public Theater and on Broadway at the Jacobs Theatre. Irreverent, unexpected, funny, quick and sexy. Having the cabinet enter to the Spice Girls' "Spice Up Your Life" had me roaring. And, Michael Friedman's song "Second Nature," some of my favorite lyrics of 2010, gets lot of iPod play.

The Menier Chocolate Factory revival of La Cage aux Folles on Broadway. I had always loved Jerry Herman's score, but never felt the show really gelled for contemporary audiences until I saw this touching, lighthearted take (with a dash of threadbare realism) that put actors like Douglas Hodge front and center. The PBS "Great Performances" presentation of Sondheim: The Birthday Concert. Highlights for me include Joanna Gleason singing the line "You've changed" (with a big smile) to Chip Zien as they both sounded as pristine as ever on "It Takes Two." Bernadette Peters' shimmering entrance for "Move On," John McMartin's "The Road You Didn't Take" and the exchange between Patti LuPone and Elaine Stritch when LuPone asked, "Does anyone still wear a hat?" (Not to mention watching LuPone's facial expressions as she delighted in seeing her fellow leading ladies perform.)

Kenneth Jones, Playbill.com Managing Editor

Colman Domingo in The Scottsboro Boys
photo by Paul Kolnik

Sondheim: The Birthday Concert (New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall and on PBS' "Great Performances"): The reunion of Joanna Gleason and Chip Zien reuniting for "It Takes Two" (from Into the Woods), and Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin reuniting to sing "Move On" (from Sunday in the Park With George) gave me chills, reminding me how lucky I have been to be alive when such a songwriter as Stephen Sondheim was active.

Brief Encounter at St. Ann's Warehouse, On Tour and On Broadway: Director Emma Rice's bold reinvention of Noel Coward's one-act Still Life, later known as the romantic and melodramatic film "Brief Encounter," revealed the roiling passion and ache beneath the façade of middle-class British life. Unforgettable theatricality that set my mind and heart on fire.

The Scottsboro Boys on Broadway: Tuneful, raw, satirical, comic, heartbreaking, and, yes, sometimes imperfect, it boasted the Best Ensemble of the Year, the Best Orchestrations/Vocal Arrangements of the Year, the Best Score of the Year, the Best Direction and Choreography of the Year and is probably the Best Musical of the Year.

More Indelible Memories: Playwright Bruce Norris' funny-tragic Clybourne Park, about suburban change, inspired by A Raisin the Sun, was a welcome chapter in American theatre's conversation about the complicated question of race, at Playwrights Horizons; Jessica Hecht's haunted, lived-in Noo Yawk performance as a strained wife witnessing her brutish husband's meltdown in Broadway's A View From the Bridge; Raul Esparza's beautifully modulated, articulate work as madman Hapgood in the Encores! concert of Anyone Can Whistle (Sutton Foster provided the heartbreak and brio); the sheer artistry and muscularity of director Michael Mayer's vision for Broadway's American Idiot — a masterstroke of direction (naturally, the Tony nominators ignored him); Sherie Rene Scott finding the sad in the funny (and vice versa) of Broadway's Everyday Rapture, which she co-wrote; music director/arranger David Loud's concert Jerome Kern: All the Things You Are, a religious experience for Kern worshippers, at Merkin Hall; the October grand opening of Arena Stage's new $135 million Mead Center for the American Theater in Washington, DC, the start of something big for American plays and musicals; octogenarian singer-actress Marilyn Maye's jazzy and swinging Her Kind of Broadway cabaret, packed with show music, at the Metropolitan Room.

Joseph Marzullo, Playbill.com Photographer

The revelatory performance by Sean Hayes in Promises, Promises brings him to the forefront of Broadway leading men. Rarely have I seen an actor connect with an audience in such an intimate way. Sean has an amazing presence on stage. I hope to see him return to Broadway before long.

Blake Ross, Playbill Magazine Editor

Benjamin Walker in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
photo by Joan Marcus

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. From its multi-extended triumph at the Public Theater last year, to its powerful but short-lived Broadway bow this year, this little rock-show-that-could featured something some new "rock" musicals lack: a good book! Librettist-director Alex Timbers and composer-lyricist Michael Friedman expertly shaped this musical—a bizarro take on the life of our seventh president—into a clever and comical gem.

The Scottsboro Boys: The harrowing true story of nine African-American teenagers falsely accused, tried and convicted of raping two women in the 1930s, as told in the new musical The Scottsboro Boys, was one of the most poignant and unique productions of the season. John Kander, the late Fred Ebb and director-choreographer Susan Stroman resurrected the abandoned theatrical device, the minstrel show, to brilliantly depict the injustice of this notorious piece of American history. Sadly, the show shuttered at the Lyceum Dec. 12, but producer Barry Weissler hinted at a limited spring return should enough fans show interest.

The Normal Heart Reading: 2010 marked the 25th anniversary of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart. To recognize the milestone, producer Daryl Roth shepherded a one-night-only staged reading of the play as a benefit for The Actors Fund and Friends in Deed. Joel Grey, who starred as Ned Weeks in the Public Theater’s production in 1985, expertly directed the cast littered with stars. Standouts included Joe Mantello as firebrand Ned Weeks, Glenn Close as the intrepid Dr. Emma Brookner and Michael Stuhlbarg as Mickey Marcus. I ran into Roth and Grey at a party after the production, and both happily hinted at a possible Broadway transfer. I’ll be crossing my fingers.

Sondheim, Sondheim, Sondheim!: Legendary composer Stephen Sondheim received one hell of an 80th birthday present from the Roundabout Theatre Company: an entire Broadway theatre! On March 22 (the evening of Sondheim’s birthday) at the curtain call of a performance of the revue Sondheim on Sondheim, longtime collaborators James Lapine and John Weidman announced the dedication of the theatre. Watching a stunned Sondheim burst into tears after hearing the news was an incredible and historical moment I’ll never forget.

A Lie of the Mind: Sam Shepard’s 1985 gritty play, A Lie of the Mind, bounces back and forth between the dysfunction of two very dysfunctional families in America’s heartland. In February 2010, it received a beautiful makeover courtesy of director Ethan Hawke at the Acorn Theatre. The cast was phenomenal—namely Frank Whaley, Josh Hamilton, Laurie Metcalf, Keith Carradine and Marin Ireland—and the entire production left the audience uncomfortable and shaken (perhaps not a "feel good" evening of theatre, but highly effective and stunning nonetheless).

Seth Rudetsky, Playbill Contributing Writer

Sean Hayes in Promises, Promises
 

Norm Lewis: End of "Being Alive" from Sondheim on Sondheim. The singing, the acting so beautiful. And quite frankly, the face, too!

Sean Hayes: So relaxed and so creative in Promises, Promises.

Julie Halston in The Divine Sister running offstage looking CRA-ZA-ZY (you have to see it to know why) and proclaiming that "she'll be the sane one."

Katie Finneran kicking her leg onto Sean Hayes' shoulder in Promises Promises and then immediately intoning a progressively louder "Ow, ow, ow, ow" as it got further stretched out.

Ann Harada: Her consistently hilarious one-night performance of Christmas Eve with Christmas Eve. How can something be so non-stop funny without weeks of previews????

Mark Shenton, Playbill.com London Correspondent

Richard Briers, vibrating with indignation in London Assurance at the National Theatre.

Entering the Young Vic auditorium for a new production of Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane and being rained on while moving into the seating area.

Seeing Elena Roger in Sondheim's Passion as part of the Donmar's Sondheim at 80 season.

Derek Jacobi's whispered storm scene in King Lear at the Donmar Warehouse.

Being on a sushi and then airport luggage carousel as part of You Me Bum Bum Train, an interactive theatrical experience at the LEB Building in Bethnal Green.

Elena Roger and David Thaxton
Elena Roger and David Thaxton
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