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 singing actress Emily Skinner, a Tony nominee for her performance in Side Show, who will be part of The Broadway Musicals of 1915-1939, which kicks off the 14th season of the Broadway by the Year series Feb. 24 at 8 PM at Town Hall.
(Clicking on a name bolded in blue will take readers to that actor or show's entry in the Playbill Vault.)
"In 1982 my father took me to NYC for the first time. We stayed at the Algonquin Hotel and saw Walter Cronkite in the elevator. And he took me to
Cats, which literally blew my little adolescent mind. When
Terrence Mann came out as the Rum Tum Tugger and did his thing, I think I may have peed a little in the seat.
Betty Buckley breaking my heart with "Memory." And then the tire went up to the sky….ooohhhh, magical! I loved it all. Bought the Original Cast Album in the lobby and had the entire score memorized within days."
"On that same visit, we saw
Amadeus, which at that time had a cast that included
Frank Langella. I believe it was his performance in this where I first understood the phrase 'chewing the scenery' — and I mean this in the most excellent way. A completely fearless, bold, brave performance. Although the spooky effect they included of a gigantic shadow that kept appearing did give me nightmares.'"
"When I was a sophomore in high school, our class trip was to New York City. We stayed at the Vanderbilt YMCA on the East Side, and I'm fairly certain there were hookers on our floor working out of some of those rooms. Exciting! But I digress. The school took us to see the original
The Mystery Edwin Drood, which was pretty much a piece of musical theatre perfection. Played with complete commitment and sung in a way that gave me chills, the cast found the tone of the piece perfectly without ever camping it.
Patti Cohenour, Betty Buckley…I'm swooning just remembering it."
"In February of 1988, my mom accompanied me back to NYC to audition for theater schools. Huge snowstorm!!! But we were not to be deterred: We were gonna see some shows if we had to stand for hours at TKTS in the freezing arctic tundra. Which was pretty much what we did. Yeesh. But the payoff was that we got tix for
Penn & Teller On Broadway, where they selected me from the audience to levitate. I know, I know! (Listen, I was really cute back then, with long blonde hair. I would have picked me, too). I still have the polaroid somewhere that they gave me of that levitation. And I still have no idea how they did it. Greeeeeaaaat show. Totally irreverent and subversive and funny and inspired. Love those guys. Wish they would come back to Broadway."
Angels in America - Millennium Approaches and Perestroika
"In 1993, I was lucky enough to see Tony Kushner's
Angels in America — both parts (
Millennium Approaches and
Joe Mantello, Ron Liebman, Jeffrey Wright,
Marcia Gay Harden,
David Marshall Grant,
Ellen McLaughlin — it's impossible to single out any one performance in the original cast of these two incredible productions as each was so astoundingly full and committed and multi-dimensional. One of the most visceral, raw, intellectually and emotionally stimulating experiences of my theater-going life, that's for sure. The kind of theater that makes you go, 'Oh! THAT'S what theater is!'"
"2002 found me sitting in a seat in the Music Box Theatre watching an
Ivan Turgenev play called
Once again I was knocked out by the phenomenal Frank Langella's bravado/skill/fearless chewing the paint off the walls…but Alan Bates gave a performance that will sit with me the rest of my life in a 25-minute scene around a dinner table where he got progressively drunker and drunker. Absolutely astounding acting that blew my head off. Virtuoso acting. Never seen the likes of it since and don't expect I ever will. Feel profoundly lucky to have witnessed it."
"I was lucky enough to see the Jeanine Tesori/Tony Kushner musical
Caroline, or Change when it was at the Public and also (twice!) when it transferred to Broadway. I loved it so much, I think I was a walking advertisement for the show ad nauseum. Everyone I came in contact with for those months that it ran got a lengthy diatribe from me on how they
had to buy tickets or miss out on seeing one of the smartest, most impactful pieces of contemporary musical theater ever.
Tonya Pinkins! Oh Good Grief. Freakin' phenomenal.
Tony Kushner, please oh please won't you write for the musical theater again?!?"
"I also saw
Elaine Stritch at Liberty in its pre-Broadway run at The Public and later at the Neil Simon Theatre.
John Lahr's terrific shaping/construction of her story was a master class in how an autobiographical show should be done. And what the hell is left to say about Elaine Stritch? The woman is one of a kind. A total blast to watch such a masterful, commanding, charismatic stage performer work her magic."
Passing Strange, with a book by Stew and music by Stew and
Heidi Rodewald, was a miraculous theater piece that seemed to come out of nowhere. Breaking all sorts of rules, I found it both profoundly creative and appealingly simple in its presentation. Lots of rough magic, where it was all about the glorious performers and the material and little else. Kind of an underground gem that (amazingly!) made it to Broadway, it's difficult to define or describe (which is possibly why I was drawn to it). I suppose you could say it was a rock musical about a young black man's journey of self-evolution. Spike Lee made a film version of it — go check it out!"
Jerome Robbins' Broadway may very well be the Broadway musical theater experience that is the most indelibly stamped upon my tiny withering brain. Even as I was watching it back in 1989, I somehow knew I would never see the likes of it again. To call it a revue show doesn't feel right — it was a celebration of the best of classic Broadway that was either staged or directed by
Jerome Robbins. Every single number made my jaw drop. My face literally hurt afterwards from smiling so much. The cast got 4 curtain calls when I was there, the audience was so bananas for what they had just witnessed (and rightfully so). I remember thinking, 'How are they doing this eight times a week?!?' Please imagine the very best Broadway dancers and performers in one show together doing some of the most amazing, athletic, demanding, genius numbers the musical theater has ever seen and then let your head explode. Yeeeesssss.
JRB would sadly never be produced now as it would be waaaaay too expensive, but boy, am I grateful to have seen it."