As the curtain comes down on 2018, the Playbill staff reflects on the highs and lows of the year through the headlines that kept the news desk busy. Take a look below to revisit the top stories, trends, and topics that took center stage: from milestone celebrations and Broadway firsts to small screen domination and Lin-Manuel Miranda's exponentially growing to-do list.
The Year(s) of Bernstein
August marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein, and the world has been celebrating in what has basically been the longest birthday party ever. What was originally announced as a two-year celebration seems to have expanded, as a new Broadway West Side Story directed by Ivo van Hove—and a new film adaptation—are both on the way. The composing legend even got a massive shoutout at the Grammy Awards this year, as Dear Evan Hansen star Ben Platt performed “Somewhere.” Tinseltown is also getting in on the Bernstein brigade as not one but two biopics—one with Bradley Cooper and another with Jake Gyllenhaal—are reportedly in the works.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Star is Still on the Rise…
…and also in cement. As Hamilton continues its record-breaking run at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, around the country, and in London, the Tony and Pulitzer Prize–winning stage mastermind has laid out plans to dominate Hollywood as well. Catch him on the big screen in Mary Poppins Returns. Look out for his In the Heights bringing the carnaval del barrio to cinemas. Mark your calendars for his Fosse/Verdon miniseries on FX, the Sony-animated Vivo, his reprise turn in Hamilton in Puerto Rico, and Freestyle Love Supreme’s Off-Broadway bow. There is even more news on upcoming projects for the Kennedy Center Honoree—which you can track here. He’s kept busy online, turning his tweets into books, dropping new Hamilton content every month, and spearheading humanitarian efforts. Even for a man who’s non-stop, it’s a bit much.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantastic, Divine, Jellicle Birthday
Bernstein and Miranda aren’t the only composers enjoying a banner year. Andrew Lloyd Webber rang in his 70th birthday in March, and he’s not celebrating another decade by taking a break. In January, The Phantom of the Opera commemorated 30 years on Broadway. In September, the composer reached EGOT status with an Emmy win for NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert. This month, he announced a new production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. As if that wasn’t enough, the movie adaptation of Cats—which, yes, is actually happening—began filming. It’s a lot to take in, but fortunately there’s also a musical retrospective in the works to help keep track.
Broadway Hits the Airwaves
Theatre’s influence on television is nothing new. Yet, 2018 ushered in a new era of stage cred on the small screen. The aforementioned Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert marked the first live musical broadcast to earn Emmy nominations for a performer (it earned nods for three performers, in fact). Lin-Manuel Miranda and his Hamilton squad—plus Dear Evan Hansen’s Steven Levenson—will bring the Kander and Ebb era to FX with Fosse/Verdon. Wicked celebrated 15 years on the Great White Way with a swankified TV special, complete with an Idina Menzel/Kristin Chenoweth reunion and a parade of former Wicked witches. The showtunes—specifically, showtunes you may or may not have hid from your parents in high school—will continue to roll in in the first few months of 2019, with live broadcasts of Rent and Hair heading to Fox and NBC, respectively.
A New Era of Ensemblists
In an effort to break from cultural insensitivities, the Broadway community revisited some of its traditional terminology. In April, Actors’ Equity announced it would assign a new name to the “Gypsy Robe,” the hodgepodge garment passed from show to show and bestowed to the ensemble member with the most Broadway credits. As Head Over Heels readied for its opening night July 26, Justin Prescott adorned the robe under its new name: the Legacy Robe. Earlier this month, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS celebrated its first Red Bucket Follies competition, replacing the moniker for the annual Gypsy of the Year event. The movement to abandon the slur has reached Indiana, as well—or, at least it has in Broadway’s The Prom, as perennial chorus member Angie tells a diffident Emma, “Not everybody gets a chance to step out of the chorus. You got to do it for all us people who used to be called ‘gypsies.‘”
Those We’ve Lost
The Broadway community suffered the losses of several theatre luminaries in 2018, from prolific writers and composers (Neil Simon, Galt MacDermot) to producers who found ways to bring theatre to the masses (Craig Zadan) to those whose impassioned performances will stay with us. In some instances, peers and fans raised their voices to ensure those who died received proper tribute with a theatre district tradition: the dimming of marquees. After appeals from social media and appeals to the Broadway League and Committee of Theatre Owners, theatergoers saw Marin Mazzie, Jan Maxwell, and more have their name in lights—albeit darker than before—one final time.
Breaking Broadway Boundaries and Binaries
Drag performer and activist Peppermint made Broadway history this year as the first woman who openly identifies as trans to originate a principal role on Broadway. As the non-binary oracle Pythio in Head Over Heels, she explored gender identity and fluidity, helping bring an unexpectedly subversive quality to the Go-Go’s musical. Just across the street, trans icon Kate Bornstein and Ty DeFoe, who identifies as two-spirit, took the stage as People in Charge in Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men. Later in the season, Transparent’s Alexandra Billings made her Broadway debut in The Nap. Here’s to more steps toward representation and parity in 2019.