Jeffry Denman—whose Broadway credits include Irving Berlin's White Christmas, for which he was nominated for a Fred & Adele Astaire Award; Munkustrap in the final cast of Cats (original Broadway production); and the original company of The Producers, which led him to pen the memoir, A Year with The Producers—is currently featured as Bob Hope in the Off-Broadway musical Cagney. Here, the singing actor recalls the 10 theatrical performances that most affected him as part of the audience.
Michael Shannon in Mistakes Were Made, Barrow Street Theatre
This was the first time I got to see Michael Shannon perform live. I was blown away. He has the ability to represent the Everyman coupled with this inherent darkness. Craig Wright's writing was taut, philosophical, brash, and crushing. And who doesn't love a fish puppet?
John Douglas Thompson in Tamburlaine the Great, Theatre for a New Audience
This is the most thrilling piece of theatre I've seen in New York City. (I could also just list everything I've ever seen John Douglas Thompson do, and that'd be my list.) He is such a powerful, commanding, yet vulnerable actor in everything he does. But Tamburlaine was like a theatrical wave that tossed you around and flooded every part of you, and JDT was at the center of it.
Harry Groener in Crazy for You, Shubert Theatre
A seminal piece and acting performance for any song-and-dance man. Harry's blend of song, dance, acting, and clowning was pretty much everything I wanted to do and be as a young song-and-dance man. [Susan Stroman]'s choreography was thrilling and funny and rhythmically unlike anything that was on the boards at the time, drawing from the Astaire style I was entrenched in.
This is potentially "rule-breaking" because I was in this, but thanks to John Doyle's staging, the soldiers were onstage for much of the piece so I got to watch quite a bit of Judy's performance. Judy deftly handled the task of making Fosca repulsive yet sympathetic, never falling into broad caricature. She just played her honestly, powerfully, and heartbreakingly broken. I'm making it sound easy, and it likely wasn't. Judy just made it look that way.
Easily one of the most entrancing aspects about the revival was watching these two incredibly talented ladies play off each other as the Baker's Wife and Cinderella, respectively. Both of them funny, vulnerable, sexy, relatable, and just damn awesome.
Sleep No More, McKittrick Hotel
Such a transportative (did I just make that up?) evening. I think when theatre professionals go to theatre, we tend to see the strings. With SLM I didn't care. I was transfixed. A theatrical event that truly makes you all at once part of the art and an observer of it is a very special experience.
Adding Machine, Barrow Street Theatre
This was my introduction, unknowingly, to a number of Chicago-theatre folk I would end up happily collaborating with: David Cromer, Josh Schmidt, and Timothy Splain. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. A piece and a style that was so singular and accessible, straight-up theatre, honest, sometimes brutal, and always illuminating.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Imperial Theatre
The first Broadway show I ever saw. I was on a school trip and I had been listening to the cast recording, so I knew it all backwards and forwards. It was the first time I experienced that contrast between what I had imagined the show looked like (while listening to the CD over and over) and what the show actually was. Howard McGillin, Donna Murphy, and Alison Fraser were in the cast at the time, plus a host of other amazing folk. I was suitably blown away.
Hinton Battle in Miss Saigon, Broadway Theatre
“Bui Doi.” This was the most inspirational singing performance I had ever seen at that point in my young life. So powerful. And I knew Hinton was an amazing dancer as well, so it just inspired me all the more.
Vanessa Redgrave in Long Day's Journey Into Night
Quite simply, the greatest acting performance I think I have ever seen. That is all.