Four-time Drama Desk Award nominee Julie Halston, whose Broadway credits include On the Town, You Can't Take It With You, Anything Goes, Twentieth Century, Gypsy, Hairspray, The Women and The Man Who Came to Dinner, will join Brandon Victor Dixon, Julie Gold and more for the October 16 presentation of Jamie deRoy & Friends at Birdland Jazz Club. It's an especially busy time for the gifted comedic actress, who will also be seen on screen in Amazon's new Woody Allen series and onstage in Lincoln Center Theater's upcoming production of Richard Greenberg’s The Babylon Line, which begins previews in November at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. Here, Halston shares the performances that most affected her as part of the audience.
“First, it should be said that going to the theatre has been and remains one of the most enriching experiences of my life,” Halston told Playbill.com. “It is my church. So it is hard to pick my favorite theatregoing experiences because there have been many. However, I chose some that remain in my mind and heart long after they were seen and, of course, some recent experiences that thrilled me to the core.”
Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst in The Moon for the Misbegotten
I know Nathan Lane also cited the production of The Moon for the Misbegotten with Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst, and truly if you saw it, you never forgot it. We were studying O'Neill in school, and a friend and I came in to the city to see it. It took our breath away. The play we were reading became alive in front of us that night. Colleen Dewhurst and Jason Robards lived every moment of the poetic sadness, laughter and regret of these damaged lives. Unforgettable.
Irene Worth as Madame Ranevskaya in The Cherry Orchard
Again, as a student, I came into the city to see this production, which also featured Raul Julia and Meryl Streep! But it was Irene Worth's final tragic sweep around her property that destroyed me—elegant, grand, tragic and epic. You don't see performances like this often nowadays, and I am thrilled I witnessed it.
The original production of Dreamgirls
Oh my Lord, I remember it like yesterday. It was one of the last previews before opening and within the first 10 minutes of the show, we were standing! We knew we were experiencing Michael Bennett's genius, and the theatre was shaking with energy and excitement. Every song was a thrill and, of course, Jennifer Holliday destroyed the place as Effie. I immediately got the cassette tape (yes, the tape!) and played it until it literally exploded!!
I was poor as a church mouse in the early 1980's, but I knew I had to see Harvey Fierstein in his play Torch Song Trilogy. I had heard about the play from its beginnings at LaMama but saw it when it moved to Broadway. It was a revelation. The piece was bold and sometimes outrageous but also tender and heartfelt. Harvey's performance was daring and unique, and for anyone who ever felt like “an outsider,” it was inspiring.
Side Man by Warren Leight
This play featuring Frank Wood, Edie Falco and Robert Sella was gripping and heartbreaking. Edie Falco's alcoholic Terry scared the hell out of me, and Frank Wood just broke my heart. The play was inspired by Warren Leight's own father, who worked as a jazz sideman. It was directed by Michael Mayer and it was, dare I say, pitch perfect. It was so evocative of both the plight of musicians and the havoc that damaged but talented people can do in the world. It has stayed with me for years and as one who will work with Frank soon at Lincoln Center, I can tell you, this amazing actor is all you need on a stage. Brilliant, generous and kind.
The Heiress with Cherry Jones, Frances Sternhagen, Philip Bosco and Jon Tenney
I was dragged by my husband to see this 1995 production. I remember I was cranky and tired when we arrived, and the last thing I wanted to see was an adapted costume drama from a Henry James novel. Who cares?? Well, by the end, you care my dears, you care deeply. Philip Bosco’s stinging criticism of his daughter just wounded, and Cherry Jones’ silence at the end was so painful. The audience just sat stunned after it was over—we couldn't even applaud immediately. My husband and I always cite The Heiress as our mission to go to the theatre even when tired, cranky or broke.
Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes by Tony Kushner
This astonishing play, presented in two parts, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, is a masterwork. We experience American history, reality and fantasy primarily through the experiences of Prior Walter, who is dying of AIDS. At that time many of us had lost close friends and family to AIDS, and this piece beautifully and theatrically became a vessel for us to see the world in a larger context but also to allow us to articulate our shattering grief.
Do you sense I like epic!? This is a three-play piece about three generations of three families. Horton Foote is one of the theatre's finest writers and through his particular southern lens, he created works centering on families that resonate with us all. I also happen to be a major fan of his daughter, Hallie Foote, who always moves me with her simplicity and authenticity.
I saw a gypsy run before it opened, and I cried from beginning to end. I watched my friend Andrew Rannells give a star-making turn, but I also was blown away by how seriously subversive, cleverly profane and yet warm-hearted this musical is from beginning to end. I've seen it twice since then, and it simply rocks!
And, finally, Hamilton
It's a masterpiece from the first note to the last. Enough said.