What Was Your Favorite Performance of the 2013-14 Broadway Season? Over 20 Show Folk Respond

As the 68th Annual Tony Awards draw near, Playbill.com asked a host of theatre artists, "What was your favorite performance or production of the current Broadway season — and why?" Their responses follow.

Betty Buckley
Betty Buckley (Photo by Myriam Santos)

Betty Buckley
Kelli O'Hara is the loveliest, most gifted singer/actress! I was absolutely enthralled by her performance in The Bridges of Madison County. Her singing is ravishing, and her acting is so subtle and passionate. She is an instrument of Truth and Beauty, and I love her! I feel such rapture and relief about all things when I hear her sing. Jason Robert Brown's score is divine. Kelli is a perfect muse for Jason. I absolutely loved the show, and Steven Pasquale is a dreamy guy and singer as well. And, I would treasure any opportunity to hear Ms. Kelli sing.

Andrew Keenan-Bolger
I realize that I'm a little biased, but even if I didn't know anyone involved, I would still say my favorite production of the season was The Glass Menagerie. I don't think I've ever been swallowed so deeply into a world as I was peering into the Wingfield's St. Louis apartment. It's one of the most affecting productions I've seen in this or any season. Also, the girl they got to play "Laura Wingfield" was awfully good, too!

Joan Rivers

Joan Rivers
Over the years, I’ve seen lots of women stick a gardenia in their hair and pretend to be Billie Holiday. And now after seeing Audra McDonald’s spellbinding and heartbreaking characterization of the greatest of all jazz singers in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, you can rest assured that no one – I repeat no one – will dare attempt an impersonation again.

Audra inhabits this character with a stunning depth of feeling, and I’ve never seen anyone go deeper into a character. Peeling layer after layer off Billie as she descends into an alcoholic haze, Audra envelops us in Holiday’s incredible pain, along with the pride that enabled her to confront unrelenting racism, sexism and sexual abuse.

Billie Holiday’s singing displayed a depth of emotion and reflection that marked her as a great original. Transforming her silvery soprano into Billie’s bluesy, slow, emotionally charged sound, Audra accomplishes the miraculous. She convinces us that we are hearing Billie Holiday for the very first time. It takes a great singing actress to pull this off when confronted by such a death-defying challenge.

I’ve seen this performance twice (and paid full price both times), and it’s left me stunned on both occasions. Audra’s triumph transforms Billie Holiday’s tragedy into theatrical art.

George Salazar
I just had the honor of catching a performance of Gentleman's Guide, and I have to say that few performances in my time here in New York City have even come close to what Jefferson Mays is doing eight times a week. His character work, his energy, his physicality; it's like attending a master class, but while you're learning, you're laughing so hard that your vocal chords bleed. He slips in and out in different costumes with such ease that it'd be easy to forget you're watching the same actor. Needless to say, I am now an obsessed fan girl. Jefferson Mays, marry me? Or at the very least follow me on Instagram?

Randy Graff

Randy Graff
There are certain performances and specific moments on a stage that will remain indelible in one's mind. The moment Audra McDonald hits the stage in Lady Day is now one of them for me. I was at the opening, and the crowd was pumped to see Audra. She made her way through the set nightclub tables filled with adoring fans and whomever was lucky enough to get a ticket. She took the stage and was nowhere to be found. Her face and body was filled with pain to the marrow. That's all I could see. And, she just stood there in a hazy gaze, while the crowd cheered and screamed for their Audra...and she was gone! It was all Billie all the time, and she let us know from that very first moment. I can see it and feel it so clearly in my mind's eye as I write this. Brava!!!!

Nick Blaemire
My favorite performance of the current season was in my favorite production of the season: Tyne Daly in Mothers and Sons. Subtle, restrained and so full of insight at every turn, I loved the play and Ms. Daly's performance for the same reasons. She barely had to move to send the audience into guffaws with a well-placed look or shift of weight. It made me pay attention in a different way, listen more closely, and put the pieces together myself, which I think is much more fulfilling than being spoon-fed.

André De Shields

Andre De Shields
My favorite production of the current Broadway season is After Midnight . . . because of its Dap, Dip and Choke quotient. For those unfamiliar with the parlance of The New Black, Dap is the quintessence of style, Dip is the no diggity of disciplined dance, and choke is what you do as you witness the razor-sharp skill of the musicians, singers, dancers and actors who drop it like it’s hot into knee-deep phunk, elegance, eloquence and élan eight times a week After Midnight. After all, the production is more than just an entertaining show whose curtain happens to be 8 PM; rather, it is a state of intellectual posturing, physiological posing and emotional voguing than it is an hour of the clock. Linear time ceases to exist during After Midnight; everybody’s timepiece reads “eternal.” In other words, the Harlem Renaissance is as high as America has ever been. A lyric of J. J. Cale's composition comes to mind: "After midnight, we gonna let it all hang out."

Kevin Massey
My favorite Tony nom performance so far has been my buddy James Monroe Iglehart as the Genie in Aladdin. He absolutely killed it, bringing the crowd to their feet after "Friend Like Me" and had us in the palm of his hand until the very end. It makes it especially poignant having gotten to know him during our time in Memphis and now getting to see him live his dream in such a big way. He's a huge personality and a truly humble man who deserves such great success!

I'm most looking forward to seeing my girl, Lena Hall, in Hedwig. We go way back, and I'm so proud of how far she's come!

Victoria Clark

Victoria Clark
I wasn't able to see too many shows this season, but in my opinion, it's a tie between The Glass Menagerie and The Bridges of Madison County. Of course, it is impossible for me to be impartial because each features exquisite performances by dear friends Celia Keenan-Bolger and Kelli O'Hara. The beauty and nuance of these two performances will inspire me for a very long time, along with the transforming work of their masterful and deeply moving co-stars, Cherry Jones and Steven Pasquale. And, although they were not on Broadway, the virtuosic performances of Jeff Blumenkrantz and Brett Ryback in Murder for Two knocked me OUT!!

Douglas Lyons
Due to our show schedule at Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, I've only been able to catch a few performances this Broadway season, but I have some favorites. The score of The Bridges of Madison County is quite glorious. It gave me chills multiple times in the theatre. Steven Pasquale's voice is angelic. And, last year I saw A Night with Janis Joplin, that female ensemble of belting divas deserve their own Tony Award.

Telly Leung
photo by Henry DiRocco

Telly Leung
There was so much great work on Broadway this year. Hard to narrow down one, so I will go with the most recent: My buddy Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig. It's a tour de force, and no one works a crowd and wins them over like Neil. What he's doing up there is so skillful and all the theatrical elements just... work. Left me speechless. Bravo to Neil, Michael Mayer, Spencer Liff and the entire Hedwig team.

Georgia Stitt
I think it goes without saying that my favorite production on Broadway this season was The Bridges of Madison County, which included the best story-telling music I’ve heard in ages. But I also think Marsha Norman’s contribution was bookwriting at its finest. I got to witness the work she and my husband, Jason Robert Brown, did over the years of development, and they were a formidable team, finishing each other’s thoughts, crafting a show out of mutual skill and mutual respect. It is a collaboration to be admired. And while Steven Pasquale and Kelli O’Hara were celebrated for their marvelous performances (though, of course, I think Steven should have been nominated for a Tony Award), I think the unsung hero of the show is Hunter Foster, who gave exquisite and nuanced performances night after night. Every time I saw the show (which was many, many times) I noticed some little thing he had discovered that added to the complexity of the relationships. Those who got to experience this show enjoyed a rare little piece of excellence. If you think my response screams favoritism, you’re probably right. I am sure I saw Bridges over 30 times. But if it makes more sense for me to exclude my husband’s show from my answer, I’ll tell you that Warren Carlyle’s work on After Midnight made me swoon, and I’m glad he’s not competing against JRB in any of the categories. Because Warren Carlyle should win everything in all of his categories. The end.

Alison Fraser

Alison Fraser
At the opening night of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, I was seated next to a handsome young man. After watching the totally delightful show, we went to the very posh post-show bash together. We got to chatting, and somehow the subject of my late husband Rusty Magee and the circumstances surrounding his death by cancer came up. The young man, Bobby Steggert, stopped in his tracks and said, "You should see my show." I really knew nothing about Big Fish other than that it had been dismissed by critics and was closing very soon. But something about the tone in Bobby's voice and the look in his eyes convinced me to purchase a full-priced house seat (something I rarely do) for the next Thursday. As soon as it began and the mermaid appeared, I knew I was in for something unique, and, oh lord, was I ever right. Fifteen minutes before the end, I started sobbing, heaving so hard people asked me if I was alright. And, I didn't stop until 20 minutes afterwards. I didn't know if it was my personal experience with a loved one's untimely death, the stunning visuals, the top-rate Andrew Lippa score, the incandescent, non-sentimental leading performances by Bobby Steggert, Norbert Leo Butz and Kate Baldwin, the thrilling choreography or the all-around excellence of a beautifully wrought original American musical that caused my gut reaction, but never before had I been so emotionally and physically affected in a theatre.

And then it came to me. Always considered one of our finest directors and choreographers, Susan Stroman, in this piece, gave the audience a gift. She brought her heart to that stage, and it beat loud and strong and as a result broke ours. Her personal story so infused Big Fish with depth and humanity and the inevitability of loss that it was actually hard to watch. The press seemed to kill it with a special glee, which I will never understand. And in this time of Tony talk — Who will win? Who should win? Who was snubbed? — Big Fish was shut out and rarely deemed worthy enough to even be categorized as snubbed. Of all the shows I saw this season, a few were terrific, several just fine, more than a few forgettable, and one really, really bad. Big Fish, a show that because of the across-the-boards negative reviews, was not even on my list to see, and it turned out to be splendid and indelible. It dared to deal in a very deep, personal, emotional manner with the nature of the death journey. Its hopeful assumption that it would be accepted was perhaps overly ambitious. It is a lot easier to not be artistically confronted with the spectre of a loved one disappearing a little bit more every day than to sit in a theatre and be viscerally overtaken by a brilliant piece of musical theatre, wrought authentically by a woman who knows of what she speaks.

Thank you Susan Stroman for sharing your heart with us. I am so, so sorry Big Fish was not hailed for the major achievement it was, and is. The river of tears I gushed after Big Fish was not only for the impact of a night in theatre that touched my soul but also for the sad realization there is little hope of survival for a show of its unusual ilk in today's commercial theatre environment.

Lauren Molina
Every performance in the glorious production of The Glass Menagerie was impeccable. I was so moved by the beauty and honesty of each actor. Celia Keenan-Bolger was especially transcendent. 

Hunter Ryan Herdlicka

Hunter Ryan Herdlicka
My favorite performance of the season probably comes as no surprise  — Jessie Mueller in Beautiful. The production is certainly my favorite musical of the season, thanks to Marc Bruni’s impeccable direction and the brilliant cast, spearheaded by Jessie. She’s a true representation of the honesty, simplicity and spontaneity that one should bring to every musical.

Margot Harley
Twelfth Night. The company was amazing: Samuel Barnett as Viola, Mark Rylance as Olivia. Paul Chahidi was the best Maria I have ever seen, and Stephen Fry’s Malvolio was a revelation. I loved the way they prepared on stage. The whole experience was so joyful. I feel Shakespeare must have meant it to be just like that.

Max von Essen

Max von Essen
For me, without a doubt, the stand outperformance of the season came from the cast of The Bridges of Madison County. However, it was a combined effort. It was the pairing of Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale that provided one of the most thrilling onstage love affairs I have ever witnessed. The combination of their acting acumen and absolutely extraordinary vocal power proved to be almost more than I could handle. Layer that with one of the most beautiful scores in the last decade and I was rendered breathless, ugly-crying most of the show. The production may have been short-lived, but I'm thrilled that there is a cast album to preserve those heartbreaking performances.

David Abeles
My favorite this season would have to be The Bridges of Madison County and the glorious performances given by Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale. I was blown away by their honesty, passion and talent. And, Jason Robert Brown's score is unbelievably rich and moving. I'm sad that more people won't get the chance to see these incredible artists sing this music on a Broadway stage. But I'm grateful I was among those who did.

Andrea McArdle
photo by Robert Mannis

Andrea McArdle
There's so much to discover this Tony season, it's a really varied buffet of shows and performances for 2014, and the surprising mix of nominations reveal there is no clear favorite in most categories. I've tried to see as much as possible, I'm now living right in the heart of Times Square and close to all the action...but I've been traveling the last few months, so I haven't been lucky enough to see everything. I have to say the one show, and its kickass stars, are what stood out for me, and that show is Hedwig and the Angry Inch. WOW!! I've been a fan of John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask's show and that sublime score since its days at the Jane Street Theatre, but I was not prepared for the thrill of its Broadway mounting. BRAVA to Michael Mayer and the entire team for how they shaped and adapted it for Broadway, it's raw and 100 percent alive and kicking.

And I cannot say enough about Neil Patrick Harris and Lena Hall — they are the hottest (and funniest) couple The Great White Way has seen since Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick soared and roared in The Producers. I was completely blown away by the power of Neil's Hedwig; he is such a master of the stage, but he's totally surrendered his expert skills to the piece to reveal a raw magic that is, for me, the single best performance this season. A close second is the gale-force vocals and inspired turn the incredible Lena Hall is doing each and every night. She is the real f'in deal, I'm loving me some Miss Hall and I hope she scores big on Tony night. My best wishes to everybody nominated, but this rock-and-roll lady will be keeping my fingers and my "wig in a box" all crossed for that beautiful angry inch! Happy Tonys!!!!

Elizabeth A. Davis
I've been in the Jessie Mueller fan club since I heard her perform at the NCTF Gala two years ago. The down-to-earth, soulful performance she's giving in Beautiful is as pretense-less, yet riveting as anything you'll find on a stage in this city. Her voice is a miracle. Speaking of miracles, Cherry Jones in The Glass Menagerie did me right on in; the whole cast. They're still finding bits of me on the floor in The Booth.

Alice Ripley

Alice Ripley
Having only seen a selection of the shows this season, I missed out on a few gems. However, I was lucky enough to see Rocky, and it made me feel so happy! As a longtime fan of the story about an underdog hanging in for the duration, I left the Winter Garden feeling exhilarated and glad to be alive.

Jessie Mueller's soulful and nuanced portrayal of Carole King in Beautiful is one for the history books. What a gift that score is!

Alex Wyse
My favorite of the season is Andy Mientus as Marius in Les Miserables. In a show filled with high-octane belting and big majestic moments, Andy found the subtlety. He was simple, sincere and really showed us how the young dreamer in love survives and becomes a man. I was moved!

Natalie Weiss

Colin Hanlon
Bryan Cranston. Bryan Cranston. Bryan Cranston. I've been lucky enough to have seen many amazing performances this season, but nothing compares to his portrayal of LBJ in All the Way. The amount of energy and time he has put into that performance was mind blowing to me. At the same time, he was so heartbreaking and so hilarious. It's amazing when an actor can really make you believe that they are someone so iconic. Then you add that he's making his Broadway debut on top of that!!!? Forget it. I only hope he enjoyed his time on Broadway and he doesn't stay away for too long. Walter White forever.

Natalie Weiss
I have a few favorite performers of the season, three of whom were Tony-snubbed: Amber Iman in Soul Doctor, Jessie Mueller in Beautiful, Norbert Leo Butz in Big Fish, Steven Pasquale in Bridges of Madison County and Kelli O'Hara in Bridges of Madison County.