THEIR FAVORITE THINGS: Director-Producer Richard Jay-Alexander Shares His Theatregoing Experiences

Favorite Things   THEIR FAVORITE THINGS: Director-Producer Richard Jay-Alexander Shares His Theatregoing Experiences
 
Playbill.com's feature series Their Favorite Things asks members of the theatre community to share the Broadway performances that most affected them as part of the audience.

This week we spotlight the choices of celebrated director-producer Richard Jay-Alexander, whose latest project is Broadway & Beyond, an evening featuring a host of Broadway talent that will be presented Nov. 15 to launch the opening of The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando, FL.

Richard Jay-Alexander
Richard Jay-Alexander Photo by David Vance

Mame:

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I will never forget the impression that Angela Lansbury, Beatrice Arthur and Jane Connell left on me. It must be when I first understood the fire power of what makes a live musical star on stage. And then, of course, the glamour!

Promises, Promises:

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“Electrifying” is the word that first comes to mind. I had never seen the movie of "The Apartment," so the story was fresh to me, and Jill O'Hara broke my heart. The dancing made me crazy with excitement, and that's where I first laid eyes on Donna McKechnie. I remember I wrote Jerry Orbach a fan letter... and he wrote me back!

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby:

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A historic event on Broadway and in theatre history. It was an eight-and-a-half hour event divided into two parts, and you either ate dinner in between shows or scheduled yourself for two different days or nights. Directed by Trevor Nunn and John Caird, who I never could have imagined I would be working with in the future. The show also had unforgettable performances from Roger Rees and David Threlfall.

A Little Night Music:

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I saw this musical 11 times and was in awe of Harold Prince and what he and Stephen Sondheim had accomplished. Patricia Birch was the choreographer and, once again, who could have imagined that she would choreograph the first Broadway show I appeared in: Zoot Suit at the Winter Garden Theatre.

The Wiz:

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I will never forget my first Friday night as a New Yorker. I bought a standing room ticket for $6 and cried my eyes out watching Stephanie Mills sing "Home." I remember thinking to myself, "...If I don't work here, I don't know what I'll do with my life."

Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music:

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This was another "break the rules" Broadway event. What started out as a limited run, ended up being an unprecedented run of 333 performances at the Nederlander Theatre. She was probably the first "life force" of a performer I had ever witnessed on a stage. Truly unforgettable.

A Chorus Line:

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This was also the year I moved to New York and A Chorus Line moved into the Shubert Theatre. I had the last seat on the left — in the last row — in the last balcony... and I didn't care one bit! I was witnessing something I knew would never happen again in time... and I was right. The one thing people forget about A Chorus Line and the Original Cast is that, collectively, they represented chorus members ”…who had appeared in 88 different shows in which they [had] given a total of 37,095 performances. Collectively they have had 612 years of dance training with 748 teachers.” (Taken from the original show’s Playbill.)

Chicago (The Original):

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This musical completes the trio of the shows playing in the fall of 1975 when I moved to New York. Once again, as I had no money, I bought standing room and as Gwen Verdon came up out of the pit on the piano with her gin flask, I seriously thought I was going to pass out.

Purlie:

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I was in high school and was staying with my brother, Frank, in Greenwich Village, and I talked him into coming to a matinee of Purlie with me. Neither of us had any idea what it was about or what we were going to see, but I liked the artwork. When Melba Moore sang "I Got Love" ...bedlam... BEDLAM would be an understatement as to what occurred in the Broadway Theatre. My brother and I both knew we were witnessing history. Little did I know that Melba Moore would be in my “future.”

The Gin Game

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Forever burned in my brain because of its stars Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. I saw the play at least 15 times. It was just the two of them and that crackling script, but I swear to you, every time I saw it, it was different. That, of course, was the genius of both their individual skill and their potency together as a couple.

Sunday In The Park with George:

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I saw Sunday In the Park with George on a rainy Saturday afternoon, and I remember there was nowhere I would have rather been. It was perfection and, of course, came along with Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin. At that time, I could only have dreamed that I would ever be working with Bernadette Peters in the years to follow.

Dreamgirls:

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I remember being at Dreamgirls on opening night, and out of the corner of my left eye I could see Michael Bennett sneaking down the theatre's left side wall to get a view of the full house, orchestra section and balconies, just as "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" was starting. It didn't take long to figure out what he was up to and, after the number, he got exactly what he hoped for: an ovation that went on.. forever .. for Jennifer Holliday.

Evita:

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I was lucky enough to be in the Opening Night audience of Evita and will never forget Harold Prince's magnificent staging. I had never seen anything like it. Mesmerizing. Patti LuPone's curtain call was unforgettable. You could see sheer joy, triumph and exhilaration electrifying through her entire being having survived the drama leading up to that opening night (now part of Theatre History).

Sweeney Todd:

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I will never forget walking into the Uris Theatre (now the Gershwin Theatre) and seeing that industrial revolution factory set. It was overwhelming. So was the experience. Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou led the uniformly excellent cast on a ride we had never seen the likes of. When I play the Original Broadway Cast Recording, the factory whistle still freaks me out. Genius and, once again, Harold Prince masterminding Sondheim's epic operatic work.

Honorable Mentions:
Hollywood Arms
Jesus Christ Superstar (the Original)
Rent
Applause!
Follies (the Original)
1776 (the Original)
Company (The Original)
Liza! (at the Winter Garden Theatre, ’74)
Shirley MacLaine (at the Palace, ’76)
An Evening with Diana Ross (at the Palace Theatre, ’76)
Hair (The Original)
Ain't Misbehavin'
The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas
Ian McKellen: Acting Shakespeare
Annie (The Original)

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