PLAYBILL PICKS: The Memory of All That! Playbill Contributors Choose Unforgettable Experiences of 2012
By Playbill Staff
Playbill staffers and contributors share favorite theatregoing memories from the year 2012. Broadway, Off-Broadway, London, cabaret, plays, musicals and more find a place on our subjective list. What are your favorite memories?
MATT BLANK, Playbill.com Photo Editor
The first-ever legit revival of the cult musical Carrie is a no-brainer for me. I'd been fascinated with the show since reading about its legacy and hearing recordings as a child. To finally see it polished up and re-introduced to the world by this top-notch ensemble was immensely gratifying. I had a blast every time I attended and was first in line to nab the subsequent cast album. Those tunes really hold up over the years, and the talent assembled onstage was as good as it gets.
Closing night of Merrily We Roll Along at City Center Encores! I had been in India the previous three weeks and actually scheduled my return flight so as to allow me to make it to the final performance. I stumbled off the plane at JFK after 20 hours in the air, shoved my way through Customs, got a car to midtown and showed up at City Center (with luggage in tow) 15 minutes before curtain. I was deliriously tired and so happy. Could not have asked for a better welcome back to the States.
Seeing Laura Osnes really come into her own as a solo concert performer, first in her lighthearted, eclectic evening at the Cafe Carlyle and more recently with her sophisticated powerhouse performance of Maury Yeston's December Songs at 54 Below. The latter had me weeping in public... on a Wednesday.
The current Broadway revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? strikes me as something that may never be matched. It is simply three hours of brilliant people saying terrible things to one another in the most riveting ways. I would happily sit through another three acts, had Edward Albee chosen to keep the party going. Seamless four-person cast, but Tracy Letts and Carrie Coon in particular have become the quintessential George and Honey in my mind.
The revised Diane Paulus production of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess was another unforgettable evening. I'm familiar with (and greatly appreciate) the original opera, but this abridged "musical theatre" version was plenty for me. Another triumph in a long line of breathtaking Audra McDonald roles, with a breakout leading man tour-de-force from Norm Lewis. And, as is my rule in life, if you put David Alan Grier onstage, I will sit and watch everything the man does.
Special mentions to: Shuler Hensley's devastatingly beautiful turn as a 600-pound man in The Whale (which should win every award in existence). James Corden and the under-appreciated Oliver Chris redefining comedy for me in One Man, Two Guvnors. Gabriel Kahane's surprising, elegantly infectious score to February House at the Public. Syesha Mercado leading a pitch perfect ensemble in Paper Mill's excellent revival of Once On This Island. Falling in love with Love Story all over again as Will Reynolds and Al Silber gently tore my heart out in Walnut Street Theatre's U.S. premiere of this gorgeous new musical. Becoming part of the action while seated onstage with Michael Gioia at Harlem Rep's "immersive" Dreamgirls. Seeing Barbra Streisand perform live for my very first time and fully understanding what all the hype is about. Two completely different and equally stellar Judas performances by Josh Young and Jeremy Kushnier in Broadway's Jesus Christ Superstar. The high-flying kinetic and musical energy of Bring It On and quadruple threat leading lady Taylor Louderman. Seeing Rock of Ages four times in 2012 (various reasons) and realizing that I will never get sick of the show. Christina DeCicco as Eva and Max von Essen as Che. Anne Hathaway's Fantine taking it to a deep, dark place. Welcome home, Forbidden Broadway... never leave us again!
ANDREW GANS, Playbill.com Senior Editor
The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess: Though I knew much of the classic Gershwin score, I had never before seen a full production of Porgy and Bess, and the much-in-the-news Broadway revival — starring Audra McDonald, who deservedly nabbed her fifth Tony Award for her soaring work as the ill-fated Bess, and the golden-voiced Norm Lewis — was a gorgeously sung, thoroughly moving one.
Linda Lavin in The Lyons: Lavin never fails to impress, and she brought Rita Lyons to full life, wringing every ounce of humor from Nicky Silver's script. The Tony-winning actress also managed to be extremely touching, especially in her scenes with the terrific Michael Esper.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: Pure emotional fireworks may be the best way to describe this Edward Albee revival that boasts a spectacular cast headed by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tracy Letts, who proves he's as gifted an actor — providing a new take on George — as he is a writer.
Clybourne Park: This Pulitzer Prize-winning play had a circuitous route to Broadway, but it was certainly worth the wait. Witty, achingly human and at times hilariously funny, Bruce Norris' "sequel" to Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun was a thought-provoking gem.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood: This thrillingly sung and acted revival, led by a cast of musical theatre pros, is a simply enchanting theatrical evening. The fun starts the moment one enters the theatre and continues through the audience vote and rousing finale.
Golden Boy: A stellar cast, including Seth Numrich, Tony Shalhoub and Yvonne Strahovski, in her Broadway debut, prove that this Clifford Odets drama remains a powerful piece of theatre. Terrific sets and great period music also add to the proceedings.
There may have been no more moving piece of theatre this past season than Nina Raine's hit family drama Tribes, which beautifully explored the challenges faced by a deaf man and his family as they all fought to, literally and figuratively, hear each other.
MICHAEL GIOIA, Playbill.com Staff Writer
Dogfight: I'm such a sucker for contemporary musical theatre songwriters, so I knew right away that I was going to fall in love with this material. By the end of the first act, Lindsay Mendez's touchingly beautiful performance as the out-of-place and charmingly awkward waitress Rose Fenny left me teary-eyed. It was then that I texted my teenage sister and told her that we had to see this show together — we nabbed tickets for closing night! I loved everything about the production, especially the second time around. (It was the only production I returned to this year.) I thought the staging was fluid, the performances from Mendez, Derek Klena, Annaleigh Ashford and the rest of the Off-Broadway company were inspiring, and the eclectic score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul was infectious. When will we see a cast recording?!
Porgy and Bess: Audra McDonald is, by far, one of my favorite performers, and Norm Lewis always proves to be outstanding. By intermission of the Broadway revival, I was completely blown away. McDonald was stunning as Bess, and the 2012 Tony Award for her performance was well deserved. Lewis blew my mind with his physicalization of Porgy. I felt so much for his character during those two-and-a-half hours at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Aside from their performances, the production was gorgeous, the score was beautiful and the story was moving.
The opening nights of Paper Mill Playhouse's Once On This Island and A Chorus Line: I had never seen Once On This Island, and my first experience with the musical at Paper Mill Playhouse was thoroughly enjoyable. Syesha Mercado's "Waiting For Life" was unforgettable, and the opening-night audience was electric. The Chorus Line onstage reunion of alumni, performing a reprise performance of "One," was thrilling. Chatting with a teary-eyed Terre Blair Hamlisch, the wife of the late songwriter Marvin Hamlisch, following the performance was quite the experience. I told her that A Chorus Line was life-changing; she hugged me.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood: Thus far, this production is my favorite of the 2012-13 Broadway season. The cast is incredible, and it was the most fun I've had at the theatre all year! I knew nothing of The Mystery of Edwin Drood before stepping into Studio 54, and now I want to return to see a new killer, detective and set of lovers.
Once: The Broadway production was brilliant, and Cristin Milioti and Steve Kazee were so wonderful. I cannot get enough of this score, and my mother cannot thank me enough for taking her as my date!
Other high points of the year include Tracie Bennett's tour-de-force performance in End of the Rainbow; the high-flying choreography and stunts of Bring It On; experiencing Mike Tyson's opening night on Broadway with Blake Ross (my favorite line was when Tyson said, "I was 'ho-less and homeless"); watching friends — old and new — make their Broadway debuts (Nick Gaswirth in A Christmas Story and Kara Lindsay in Newsies); revisiting the magic of Peter and the Starcatcher for Broadway; the Broadway Sings… concerts (featuring Michael Jackson and Beyoncé tunes — ah-mazing!); watching Into the Woods be performed in the woods, at Central Park's Delacorte Theater; the Off-Brodway revival of Carrie; experiencing an audience-immersed production of Dreamgirls at Harlem Rep with Matt Blank; and covering my first Tony Awards.
DAVID GEWIRTZMAN, Playbill Special Projects
Two productions this year left with a big smile on my face. The first was the Broadway production of Peter and the Starcatcher, which happily lost none of its charm in the transfer to a larger theatre. With a ship created with little more than a rope, a fabulous music hall mermaid song, and of course Chistian Borle's comic genius, it's one of those wonderful shows that lets adults revisit childlike wonder. The second was the Roundabout's joyous revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Specifically, at the end of the first preview performance when the audience voted for Deputy (played by 14-year-old Nicholas Barasch) to fall in love with The Princess Puffer (played by not 14-year-old Chita Rivera). Both the audience and the cast were in absolute hysterics.
What is it about Steppenwolf that makes it so good at doing productions of plays that I thought I had already seen definitive productions of, and then proving me wrong? Watching Tracy Letts and Amy Morton's unique take on George and Martha in the Broadway revival of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf was the most exciting take on the play I've seen. And the production of David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People at Steppenwolf's Chicago mainstage, though performed with a different acting style than the original Broadway production, proved every bit as good, and had me on the edge of my seat through the entire second act, wiping away a sentimental tear at the end.
Signature's production of Athol Fugard's My Children, My Africa managed to make a political statement without feeling forced, was incredibly moving (especially because of James A. Williams' beautiful performance as Mr. M), and also just felt like one of those plays that was inspiring to the point that it felt like it should be required viewing. A Whistle in the Dark was the middle play in the Druid Murphy marathon, and the best of the three. The inevitable, yet brutal and shocking final scene left me slack jawed and unable to move after the play ended.
Director David Cromer once again flexed his brilliant directing skills with Nina Raine's Tribes, assembling a perfect ensemble cast and one of the least intrusive sets of supertitles I've seen. Samuel D. Hunter's original and moving drama The Whale was perhaps most memorable for Shuler Hensley's physically and emotionally draining performance as a 600-pound man. Christopher Durang's hilarious Chekhov-inspired comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike had two unforgettable solo moments in the second act: an unexpectedly moving phone call for Kristine Nielsen, and a fantastic rant for David Hyde Pierce.
The West End production of Matilda was by the far the best new musical I saw this year. Bertie Carvel's evil Miss Trunchbill was comedy perfection. And Tim Minchin's score is one of the most tuneful and witty I've heard in a long while - and not just because there was a "Doctor Who" reference in one of the songs. Thank goodness for the cast recording, because it's all I listened to for weeks after I saw the show.
HARRY HAUN, Playbill Staff Writer
The rat-a-tat-tat Broadway arrival of Luke Spring in 30 jaw-dropping seconds of frenzied tap-dance in Broadway's A Christmas Story, The Musical — a nine-year-old star is born.
Laila Robins' anguished death-cries, on stage and off, literally screaming some overdue distinction into Edward Albee's The Lady From Dubuque, Off-Broadway.
A fragile 84-year-old Albee taking an opening-night bow for his 50-year-old Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, on Broadway.
Norbert Leo Butz's cuddlesome pedophile in Off-Broadway's How I Learned to Drive.
The gloves-off acting style by all hands in Broadways' Golden Boy, just the way they used to do it.
Rob McClure's endless bag of tricks as Chaplin on Broadway.
The Off-Broadway debuts (Dogfight), then Broadway debuts (A Christmas Story), of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, two old-school twentysomething tunesmiths with futures.
Christian Borle's very last "Omigod" aria in Broadway's Peter and the Starcatcher.
The return of reason to the Broadway community: Forbidden Broadway, knowing and nasty as ever.
Costumer William Ivey Long's giddy get-ups for Broadway's Don't Dress for Dinner.
Pratfall of the Year: Tom Edden, 33 playing 87, sailing with helpless, uncertain abandon over the railing in One Man, Two Guvnors.
Merritt Wever's Sonya heading off the suicide plans of Reed Birney's Uncle Vanya at Soho Rep, downtown.
Cate Blanchett's constantly nuanced Yelena in the uptown Uncle Vanya.
Ryan Steele executing the choreographic surprises of Christopher Gattelli in Broadway's Newsies.
ADAM HETRICK, Playbill.com 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.
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.
KENNETH JONES, Playbill.com Managing Editor
Amy Herzog's The Great God Pan opened at Playwrights Horizons Off-Broadway Dec. 18, making it the last great play of 2012 (or the first great one of 2013?). In it, a thirtysomething journalist named Jamie (played by an appropriately distant Jeremy Strong) unspools when struck by newly dislodged repressed memories of possibly being the victim of sexual abuse at age five. A beautiful play about wading through the murk of your childhood in order to find clarity in your adulthood. The sensitive direction is by Carolyn Cantor. I suspect the title will be a Pulitzer Prize nominee in 2013.
Laura Osnes holding a pristine, little-known Rodgers & Hammerstein gem called "Everybody's Got a Home But Me" up to the light in the Encores! concert revival of the sub-par 1950s musical Pipe Dream. (Osnes is headed to Broadway as R&H's Cinderella in 2013.) The yearning number, preserved on a live Encores! concert cast album (visit PlaybillStore.com), is a reminder that simpler is often better in songwriting, and that even in a swamp of a show, there could be gorgeous lilies.
The entire first season of "Smash," the NBC hourlong soap-with-music created by Theresa Rebeck, with original songs by Tony winners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, was must-watch TV for its arresting musical numbers (choreographed by Joshua Bergasse, who won an Emmy for his work), its hot-mess storytelling and its sheer love of musical theatre. Though it was inconsistently plotted and filled with head-scratching dialogue and gaps in logic, you could not look away from this backstage drama, which featured an A-list cast including Christian Borle, Debra Messing. Anjelica Houston, Megan Hilty, Jack Davenport, Katharine McPhee, Brian d'Arcy James, Will Chase, Michael Cristofer and more. The first season is available on DVD soon, and a second season begins Feb. 5 (and promises to be smarter, thanks to a new story "showrunner"). Read up on Playbill's episode-by-episode recap with commentary, "The Smash Report," starting with the season-one finale.
Kate Baldwin, Katie Thompson and Mary Bacon playing Texas wives dishing — in two songs and a monologue — about middle-age blues, men, marriage and mortality in an unforgettable Act Two sequence in the restless Michael John LaChiusa-Sybille Pearson musical Giant, which closed Dec. 16 at The Public Theater. A cast album will preserve the work of the ambitious show based on Edna Ferber's sprawling novel about a married couple struggling to connect in a time of change in the Lone Star State.
Also Excellent: David Cromer's immersive staging of Nina Raine's Tribes, about a deaf son leaving the insular world of his quirky bohemian family, at Barrow Street Theatre…The gorgeous new three-venue home of Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre Company, the Pershing Square Signature Center on West 42nd Street...TACT/The Actors Company Theatre's Off-Broadway, Drama Desk-nominated revival of Lost in Yonkers, directed by Jenn Thompson…Clybourne Park and Porgy and Bess on Broadway (both won Tony Awards)...Anything that Anne L. Nathan is doing, but especially playing the frisky, passionate, accordion-playing Czech mama in Broadway's Once (shame on the Tony nominators for not paying better attention)…Marya Grandy, expressing heartache, sass and joy (and a crystalline voice) in the Off-Broadway revival of Closer Than Ever…The site-specific, two-character Civil War drama Amelia, set in a 19th-century gunpowder magazine on historic Governors Island (why isn't every theatre with a second-stage booking this?)…Annie Baker's translation of Uncle Vanya, brimming with modernity in a close-quarters production directed by Sam Gold at Soho Rep…Septuagenarian Tony winner Len Cariou singing Sondheim's "The Barber and His Wife," "You Must Meet My Wife" and "Pretty Women" (also Lerner and Strouse's "There's Always One You Can't Forget") in his cabaret act at 54 Below…Nick Payne's If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet, a dysfunctional-family drama about not having all the answers, by Roundabout Theatre Company Off-Broadway...Kathleen McNenny as the tender, strident, worried, supportive woman married to An Enemy of the People on Broadway...Douglas Hodge's noisy entrance in Cyrano de Bergerac on Broadway, announcing himself by crashing through the 43rd Street house-right exit door of the American Airlines Theatre...Atlantic Theater Company's renovated new mainstage home Off-Broadway...Sally Wilfert, one of theatre's pure voices, at 54 Below...The deliciously acidic, pitch-pefect evening of downtown cabaret featuring Tori Scott, who (with co-conceiver Adam Hetrick) mixed wickedly funny personal adventures with affecting original songs and thematically appropriate pop tunes (more, please!)...Every moment of the glittering Golden Boy, directed by Bartlett Sher, now at the Belasco Theatre.
JOSEPH MARZULLO, Playbill.com Photographer
Ari Graynor in The Performers. She has flawless comic timing and delivery. Ari is my choice to play Louise in the new film version of Gypsy.
Judith Light in her devastating portrayal and deservedly multi-award winning performance in Other Desert Cities.
Rob McClure, so brilliant as Chaplin. A performance that stays with you long after you leave the theatre.
Adored the Off-Broadway musical Dogfight. Lindsay Mendez and Derek Klena gave incredibly moving performances.
Jim Parsons and Jessica Hecht in Harvey, I do not remember laughing and crying so hard during a show.
Other stand outs: Clybourne Park, Venus In Fur, One Man, Two Guvnors and End of the Rainbow.
SETH RUDETSKY, Playbill Contributing Writer
Forbidden Broadway is back! My depression has lifted! It's always so fun for me when they parody someone I've never seen anyone else do therefore I must give a big brava to Marcus Stevens' imitation of Matthew Broderick. It is effing hilarious.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood! I've always been a fan of the show and this revival is delish. The show is so well-cast! A special shout out to Gregg Edelman who often has to play serious roles and finally has a role that gets to show people how funny he is.
Patti LuPone at 54 Below. What a show! So many great songs and each one had phenominal high notes. She's still got it!
The Book of Mormon national tour. Jared Gartner was hi-lar as Elder Cunnigham and it was a thrill to see Gavin Creel be so funny while hauling out his dreamy voice.
The revival of Closer Than Ever (I went twice!). I saw a different cast each time and they were fantastic. Plus, the songs Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire wrote are so beautiful/funny/moving/perfect!
Luke Spring who does a show-stopping tap solo during the song "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out" in A Christmas Story. I never felt older and/or less talented.
Zachary Unger, the 9-year-old in Chaplin who does a spot-on British accent and hauls out real tears throughout the show. Again, never felt older and/or less talented.
Old Jews Telling Jokes. Literally laughed the whole show...and never felt younger!
MARK SHENTON, Playbill.com London Correspondent
2012 was dominated in London, of course, by the staging of the Olympics (and then the Paralympics) in July and August. It had a massive impact on the economy of the city, and not always favorably — at least for the theatre, where advance publicity of how unmanageable transport would be over the period (and the fleecing of tourists by hotels who hiked their rates) kept both locals and foreign, non-Olympics tourists out of central London alike. It meant that long-runners like Blood Brothers and Chicago finally closed in the wake of the Olympics in their 24th and 15th years respectively.
On the other hand, the year's two most unforgettable live shows took place for one night only each: the opening ceremonies of the Olympics (directed by Danny Boyle) and the Paralympics (co-directed by Bradley Hemmings and Jenny Sealey). I was in the Olympic stadium myself for the latter, and can testify to the thrill of seeing this stunning show live; while the Olympics saw a stand-in stunt-double for the Queen flying into the stadium with Daniel Craig's James Bond, the Paralympics had an even more extraordinary and moving sight, as Royal Marine Commando Joe Townsend — who lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan — flew the Paralympics torch into the stadium. The rest of the theatre year couldn't match it those ceremonies for spectacle or budget (the combined price tag was a reported £81 million, even more expensive than Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark). But there was still plenty to celebrate in the theatre, too:
The National provided several of the most unforgettable shows of the year. The stage version of Mark Haddon's book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, adapted by Simon Stephens and directed by Marianne Elliott (co-director of War Horse), was one of the most electrifying: a study of a 15-year-old boy suffering from a behavioral disorder making sense of the world from his own point of view, spellbindingly played by the extraordinary Luke Treadaway; it transfers to the West End's Apollo Theatre from March 1. Lucy Prebble's The Effect, directed by Rupert Goold, took us into the heart of a clinical drugs experiment and into the minds of its volunteer participants. Also at the National, artistic director Nick Hytner did brilliantly with both Alan Bennett's People, a perceptive look at the heritage industry and the desire to preserve the past, while also sending Shakespeare's Timon of Athens, with Simon Russell Beale in the title role, hurtling into the present.
Beale was also seen at the end of the year in another guise (and disguise) entirely; that of a cross-dressing officer who leads a British army entertainment unit in late 40s Malaya in Peter Nichols' Privates on Parade, launching the new Michael Grandage Company's year-long residency of star-studded productions at the West End's Noel Coward Theatre. Still to come in the season: Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw in a new play by John Logan; Daniel Radcliffe in a revival of a Martin McDonagh play; and Sheridan Smith, David Walliams and Jude Law in Shakespeare. The West End may finally give the subsidised sector a run for its money — in every sense.
Shakespeare's Globe provided the year's most extraordinary Shakespearean festival of the year, offering all 37 plays, each in a different language, by companies that came there from around the world. Then the Globe saw returning hero Mark Rylance — previously the theatre's artistic director —reprising his previous turn as Olivia in Twelfth Night and newly performing Richard III. Both transferred to the West End, where they are now running at the Apollo through Feb. 10, 2013.
The best musical productions of the year were on the fringe, where there were stunning revivals of Adam Guettel's Floyd Collins (at Southwark Playhouse) and Frank Wildhorn's Jekyll and Hyde (at the Union), as well as a stunning U.K. premiere for Marvin Hamlisch, Craig Carnelia and John Guare's Sweet Smell of Success at the Arcola. The biggest musical belly-up (and ache) was Viva Forever!, the new jukebox show constructed out of Spice Girls songs, which is likely to be Viva Gone in the not-too-distant future.
On a more personal front, my own most unforgettable theatrical encounter of the year was my headline-making confrontation with Bianca Jagger, who had taken flash photography regularly throughout the Barbican premiere of Philip Glass and Robert Wilson's Einstein on the Beach in May. Afterwards, I challenged her (summoning my inner-Patti LuPone) to ask, "Who do you think you are?" The fact that I didn't actually know the answer at the moment I asked her probably startled Jagger even more than being challenged on her role as an unofficial production photographer. It made national U.K. news, and led Wilson to tweet his support of her — a bizarre thing for a director to do for a person who had undermined the audience's enjoyment of his production so brazenly.
MONICA SIMOES, Playbill.com Photographer
I remember getting the news Once was going to be made into a Broadway show my sophomore year in college. Being able to take photographs of two of my favorite things, The Swell Season and Broadway coming together was the highlight of my year. The way they were able to transform the film and adapt it for the stage was seamless and seeing the new take on the music/roles was a joy to watch.
Seeing Tracie Bennett in End of the Rainbow was one of my favorite theatre moments this year. I've never seen someone play Judy Garland so real before. There were moments in the show in which I forgot I was at a Broadway show and imagined I was seeing Judy live in concert. It was in those moments, that I knew I was seeing a brilliant performance.
Now. Here. This. is new, original work at its best. It was the show that left me most inspired and hopeful for what new musical theatre could be.
Peter and the Starcatcher was the most visually stunning show I saw all year. The show brings us back to our childhood and stretches our imagination with its original way of story telling.
I was one of the lucky ones that got an opportunity to see the hilarious show The Performers before it closed. I didn't stop laughing once. Ari Graynor also gave one of the best comedic performances I saw all year.
BLAKE ROSS, Playbill Magazine Editor
Death of a Salesman: Director Mike Nichols was 18 in 1949 when he saw Elia Kazan's original production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. The event, he says, is credited with pointing him toward a life in the theatre. Over a half-century later, Nichols returned to the masterwork for a celebrated revival this past spring starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Linda Emond, Andrew Garfield and Finn Wittrock as the Family Loman. Nichols went on record saying the revival paid homage to Kazan's vision: recreating Alex North's original compositions for the haunting incidental music, designer Jo Mielziner's sets, and even some of Kazan's staging. When I saw it in March 2012 at the Barrymore it was almost like going decades back in time to the Morosco Theatre and witnessing theatrical history. In those first few moments when Hoffman shuffles toward the Loman house — in a rumpled suit, cases in hand, shoulders collapsed forward — I immediately recognized the iconic image from the '49 Playbill cover. Was is it a coincidence or was it Nichols' meticulous direction? I'd like to believe the latter.
Water, Water Everywhere: If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet, by Roundabout Theatre Company Off-Broadway, was one of those rare productions where the design concept made the entire play. Sure, I liked Nick Payne's script. And the cast led by Annie Funke and Jake Gyllenhaal was smashing. But it was scenic designer Beowulf Boritt's unbelievable use of water and a literal pool of sorrow in front of the stage that left me in awe of the production. I still can't figure out how the heck that crew cleaned up the stage every night!
Daisey-Gate 2012: Mike Daisey and his now infamous fudging of facts in his critically acclaimed show The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs provided weeks of fascinating debate about truth in documentary theatre. Did Daisey do a horrible disservice by making up facts? Should artistic license protect Daisey? Did the end (i.e. people caring about working conditions at a factory in China) justify the means (i.e. lying)? Either way, it created a national discourse about a piece of theatre — a rare thing nowadays.
James Corden in Broadway's One Man, Two Guvnors: My night at One Man, Two, Guvnors was one of the most delightful evenings I've had at the theatre in a long time. The entire London-based cast, including Oliver Chris, Jemima Rooper and Tony nominee Tom Edden, were wonderful! But it was James Corden's loveable loon Francis Henshall that stole the whole show — and eventually the Tony Award for Best Actor away from "sure bet" Philip Seymour Hoffman.
A Return to The Lion King: It had been over a decade since I had last seen The Lion King. I definitely felt like a kid again when I got the chance to return to the show as an adult last month. I was reminded that Julie Taymor created one of the finest opening numbers in Broadway history!
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