PLAYBILL PICKS: The Memory of All That! Playbill Contributors Choose Unforgettable Experiences of 2012

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21 Dec 2012

Brian d'Arcy James in Giant.
Photo by Joan Marcus

ADAM HETRICK, Staff Writer

Tribes. Nina Raine's play is the stand-out of the season. Deeply honest and powerful. It's rare for me to sit in a theatre and completely forget that I am watching actors. Thanks to director David Cromer and one of the most compelling and talented company of actors and designers, I believed in this family. This play about a dysfunctional, yet deeply loving clan and their deaf son, touched so many emotions for me. It spoke directly to the human need to connect and to feel that each of us are understood. Intimately staged in-the-round at the Barrow Street Theatre, I felt like I was sitting down to dinner with cast members Russell Harvard, Mare Winningham, Susan Pourfar, Gayle Rankin, Will Brill and Jeff Perry. For me, it's the play of the year.

Once. I have to confess I really didn't like the film and was unsure of how I would feel seeing these characters on stage. Turns out, they bloomed on stage as if they belonged there all along. Director John Tiffany and an extraordinarily talented creative team and cast have created not just a musical about a love story, but about a love of storytelling and musical traditions. It feels deeply personal and yet oozes with theatricality. The integration of actor-musicians in musicals reached a pinnacle with this production as the ultimate mode of communication and confession.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood. I haven't had this much fun at a Broadway musical in a long time. Rupert Holmes' score, its intricate harmonies, and those orchestrations (the pizzicato strings during "Perfect Strangers"!), are among my favorites. It's a joy to be swept up in the atmospheric production that Holmes dreamed up and director Scott Ellis delivers. The entire cast, including Stephanie J. Block, Will Chase, Chita Rivera, Jim Norton, Jessie Mueller and Betsy Wolfe, all seem to be relishing the experience, which sweeps the audience along into the performance.

Giant. I'll follow composer-lyricist Michael John LaChiusa anywhere. His ability to bring text and music together in a way that rings true emotionally, is rare. It's also refreshing to see that he and librettist Sybille Pearson are writing musicals that take the form seriously — without irony, comment or cannibalizing previous musical templates — to explore new ambitious pathways of storytelling. Giant had a fantastic leading trio of Kate Baldwin, Brian d'Arcy James and P.J. Griffith, but it was Katie Thompson's performance as Vashti Hake Snythe that will stay with me for a long time.

Celia Keenan-Bolger, Colin Donnell and Lin-Manuel Miranda in Merrily We Roll Along.
photo by Joan Marcus

Merrily We Roll Along. I don't buy the widely-accepted notion that this Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical doesn't work. I've seen a perfect college production that stole my heart and James Lapine's staging for Encores! last winter did it again. The opening images alone, which conjured decades of public life in Merrily's central trio through magazine covers and newspaper images, told me the show was in capable hands. I returned to see it several times with the hope it would get a Broadway transfer. Unfortunately, it was not to be. The cast's transformation over the years, all the way back to that rooftop for "Our Time" was poignant, haunting and often very funny. It might be an unlikely valentine to theatre, relationships and making it in NYC, but it's my favorite.

Patti LuPone at 54 Below. This evening transported me. First of all, 54 Below is a dark, inviting and well-conceived new space. The sound, sight-lines and an atmosphere that manages to be both casual and posh, make this a stand-out among New York's nightlife music venues. It also helped that LuPone opened the space in June with her new act Far Away Places, which found the Tony winner in great voice. Her rousing rendition of Weill's "Bilbao Song," the rollicking beer hall number from Happy End, is fixed in my mind. Her performances of "I Cover the Waterfront," "Invisible" and "Pirate Jenny" were also indelible. From Broadway's biggest theatres, to an intimate setting like 54 Below (at only 140 seats), LuPone is in control and consistently has the audience in the palm of her hand. It was one of those nights that left me saying, "Only in New York City."

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Pam Mackinnon's staging of Edward Albee's biting classic finally delivered the Broadway revival I've been waiting for. Tracy Letts and Amy Morton traded in the gargoyle archetypes audiences have come to expect and created two very real people on stage. This was the first production I've seen where I believed no one would get up and leave that living room as the action reaches a fever pitch. It was also the first time I was moved to tears as Martha and George are left alone at the play's crushing resolution.

Other notable moments include seeing Barbra Streisand's dress rehearsal for her Back to Brooklyn concerts (my first time seeing her at long last); Peter and the Starcatcher (a favorite from last season) getting its Broadway due; Tracie Bennett's tireless performance in End of the Rainbow; Linda Lavin's completely filled-out performance in The Lyons; Bridgett Everett's knock-out solo shows at Joe's Pub; the promising Williamstown Theatre Festival production of Far From Heaven, a new musical by Scott Frankel, Michael Korie and Richard Greenberg.


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