Playbill Members Pick Best Theatre of 1995

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The year 1995 was a golden age of divas, according to members of Playbill On-Line who responded to a request for their greatest theatre experience of the year by lauding "Sunset Boulevard" with both its leading ladies Glenn Close and Betty Buckley. Many also hailed Patti LuPone in her one-woman concert, and Carol Channing in "Hello, Dolly!".

Responses came from all of Playbill On-Line's forums, and from members in every corner of the U.S., plus Canada and Europe.

Some members filed an official "Top 10" or "Top 4"; some just told of a single moving theatre experience. Here are some of the most interesting posts, presented in no particular order.

Entries may have been edited for space, and spelling corrected. Where material has been added, it is set off in brackets: From Joanne L.Bihr:
Here are my "bests," keeping in mind that 1995 was the year of my first real trip to New York and my first Broadway shows!
1. "Patti LuPone on Broadway"-- The greatest diva in modern theatre performing a collection of incredible songs. An electrifying evening to say the least!!
2. "Sunset Boulevard" with Betty Buckley-- The third time was the charm for this show, after two times enduring Glenn [Close].
3. "Buried Child" at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago: I had many problems with the production, but the final, stunning/horrifying image of Tilden carrying the buried child upstairs stayed burned inside my brain. And Ted Levine's performance was remarkable.
4. "Company"-- New production, Boyd, and all. It's still Sondheim's greatest musical and my all-time favorite show. And I was one of the fortunate few who got to see it.

From Murray S. Marchant:
My picks for the 1995 season? Here goes:
* "How To Succeed [in Business Without Really Trying]," definitely. I'm glad I got there in time to see Matthew [Broderick]. He was absolutely amazing. Really great show -- a highlight!
* "Master Class": Zoe Caldwell, what can I say? A truly excellent actress who completely owned the stage. Terrence McNally wonderful as usual.
* "Hamlet" with Ralph Fiennes -- now that was an experience. Another of my favorite actors in another amazing performance.
* "Arcadia," just because I love Tom Stoppard, and that is such a well written play. I saw it in London with a great cast.

From Ted Murphy:
Without a doubt THE most memorable moment of 1995 for me was near the end of Patti LuPone's one-woman show [ "Patti LuPone on Broadway"]. The lights went out. It looked as if it was over and then the pianist began the strains of "With One Look", the spotlight landed on LuPone and she began her rendition of "As If We Never Said Goodbye." It brought tears to my eyes to hear and watch this woman give a performance without the benefit of scenery, costumes, etc. I was not impressed with Glenn Close's interpretation of the role and watching LuPone for that brief time I could only think of what might have been had she played Norma on Broadway.

From Scott Merritt:
These are in no specific order of enjoyment. #1 will be, however, the best, I think:
10. "Sunset Boulevard" - A great "show", with not-so-great music. The talent was outstanding (Betty Buckley).
9. "Damn Yankees" - Saw it with both Victor Garber and Jerry Lewis. Lewis was funny, but Garber took the cake. The best Applegate I have ever seen.
8. "Sylvia" - Sarah Jessica Parker was outstanding as the troubled, but lovable Sylvia. Mariette Hartley was also a pleasure to see. A great show!
7. "A Christmas Carol" (Paramount [Theatre]) - What an enjoyable event for the entire family. We have seen it two year in a row now. We will continue to see it as long as it runs.
6. "How to Succeed . . ." - Matthew Broderick as Finch. A Marvelous production of a good show. The show as a whole was wonderful.
5. "Victor/Victoria" - Julie Andrews back on Broadway. Need I say More???
4. "Love! Valour! Compassion!" - A serious play about the lives of gay men. Fantastic. With an outstanding performance by John Glover.
3. "Rob Becker's Defending the Caveman" - A truly funny comic genius. I'll never regret seeing that one.
2. "Moon Over Buffalo" - You can be sure you'll love it if Philip Bosco and Carol Burnett are the stars. One of the funniest shows I've ever seen. Ms. Burnett outdoes herself. Mr. Bosco was nothing less than spectacular.
1. "Smokey Joe's Cafe" - The most entertaining show I have ever seen. Sheer enjoyment for the duration. The cast shines. No one is better than the other. A wonderful ensemble!!! BEST MUSICAL OF THE YEAR!!!!! WE LOVED IT!

From Arturo Aguilar:
I have lived in Texas all my life and it has been my dream to visit New York City and watch a Broadway show, especially "Les Miserables." I finally had the chance to go this year and I loved every moment of it. I saw two Broadway shows: "Company" and "Les Miserables." Both were great shows, but I seemed to have liked "Company" better than "Les Mis," even though I knew every word to "Les Mis." When I heard that "Company" was closing due to some arguments, I was extremely disappointed. I couldn't believe that such a witty and entertaining musical would close because of such an argument. Anyhow, I am just very happy and thankful that I got to see the revival of "Company"; it was one of the best experiences of my life that I will never forget.

From "Vcteach":
Carol Burnett in "Moon Over Buffalo" made me howl with laughter. Philip Bosco was no slouch either. The set was incredible, the story hysterical, and well worth a trip to NYC while she's still in it.
Carol Channing as Dolly. Need I say more? This oldster does more to breathe life iîto Broadway than the big, flashy helicopter flying musicals of late. She's [a] gem.

From Randall Cook:
Here are the best five shows I had the good fortune to see in 1995:
1. "Indian Ink" by Tom Stoppard in London: Beautiful staging of a multicultural tale, Stoppard actually shows some heart. Perfect ensemble.
2. "Hapgood" by Tom Stoppard in New York: Exhaustingly cerebral,
but in an exciting way. If only Stockard Channing would never [leave] the stage!
3. "Hello, Dolly" with Carol Channing in Atlanta: The theatre was half
full, but Channing, of course, didn't even notice. To see this legend
in this show was almost overwhelming.
4. "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You" by Christopher Durang at the Trustus Theatre in Columbia, South Carolina: Trustus presented the sweet nun at a midnight show, and this show has more relevance in the Bible Belt, although the good sister is a Catholic and not a precious Southern Baptist.
5. "Shock Treatment" by various artists in Paris: A young theatre ensemble did French interpretations of works by young American playwrights, and the energy and excitement was tremendous. Interesting to see how the French played out American social problems.

From Brent D. Murphy:
First: Seeing SUNSET BOULEVARD. with Glenn Close and the entire original Broadway cast. Then meeting the Ms. Close and cast after the show. Truly a great experience.
Second: Seeing KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN in Pittsburgh, Pa. Then meeting Chita Rivera, the legend, after the show. I was the only fan who waited to see her. She talked with me for about 10 minutes. And this was after opening night. A great, classy lady.
Third: Seeing PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in Toronto with the original Toronto cast. That is, Colm Wilkinson, the only Phantom for me, and Rebecca Caine, the loveliest Christine I've ever seen.

From David Hilder:
I have to say that the New York Theater Workshop's production of "Quills," by Doug Wright, was one of the finest and most intense evenings of theater I've ever experienced. Alternately hilarious and gruesome, and very often frightening on many levels, "Quills" was definitely the highlight of my theatrical year.

From Jim Chern:
Without a shadow of a doubt, the year of 1995 belongs to "Sunset Boulevard," which a year later continues to shine. I have seen "Sunset" three times so far -- twice with Glenn Close and once with Karen Mason. In all the different scandals/soap opera-like situations that have haunted the show, from LuPone being bumped to Dunaway's being dumped, to fudging with box office grosses, everyone appears to have overlooked one important thing: Lloyd Webber has created yet another masterpiece of Musical Theatre. A show that will continue to survive whatever diva may come down that staircase.
Which brings me to my point. I absolutely Loved Glenn Close as Norma Desmond. She was fascinating, enthralling and added depth to a musical role -- the first time I can actually say that I saw an actress Perform in a musical, not merely sing. But, for curiosity's sake, I decided to venture in to see Karen Mason, who played the role differently, and definitely had vocal power, and must say that when she sang "With One Look" and "As If We Never Said Goodbye," I have yet to hear an audience cheer as they did for her. Whatever pressure she might have sensed from some disgruntled patrons upset they weren't going to see a famous actress was blown out of the theatre by a true superstar.
Which proves my point, that this is, simply an excellent musical. I cannot wait to finally see Betty Buckley descend that staircase, aîd look forward to the many other women who will have the honor to don the turban in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Sun-sational" Boulevard.

From Hal Moose:
My wife and I had the most rewarding theatre experience this Thanksgiving as we made the fortunate choice to catch Patty LuPone's concert. Never have I seen so much sincerity in performance -- she shone throughout. There were many songs in the first half of the evening which were new to me. And her ability to fill each moment, invest each moment with meaning and music was, hands down, the most vivid experience since seeing Lily Tomlin's "Search for Signs [of Intelligent Life in the Universe]." Thank God the producers hadn't taken this opportunity away before we had a chance to see her (foolish of them to close early -- it was, by far, a much better piece than anything else we suffered through. I hope that Ms. LuPone knows that she is, perhaps, one of our national treasures!

From "Liza":
The current first national tour of "Miss Saigon" is an excellent show, with four excellent performers. Joseph Anthony Foronda (Kevin Gray's replacement) is a *WONDERFUL* Engineer, and Keith Byron Kirk and Charles Azulay as John and Thuy are great as well. Melinda Chua is Kim at certain performances, and she is very, very, good.

From "DHend71160":
"The Tempest" with Patrick Stewart. I was front row at the Broadhurst [Theatre]. It was the best play I have ever seen. Mr. Stewart deserves a Tony.

From "MHelf70883":
The best play -- make that [best] show -- of this year is going to have to be David Mamet's adaptation of J.B. Priestly's "Dangerous Corner." The cast, under Mamet's direction is brilliant. Go see it before it closes of the 31st of December

From Josh Israel:
Seeking relief from the summer heat in New York and the opportunity occasioned by Betty Buckley's return to Broadway starring as Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard," I was off to the Minskoff and to the 'boulevard of broken dreams' suggested by "SB." The treat of the year for me, a magical moment in the theatre was the production of "SB" with Betty Buckley, Alice Ripley, Alan Campbell, George Hearn, Bryan Batt and a wonderful cast who make theatre come alive. On stage, Ms Buckley really seems to be transformed as Norma; her voice conveying the various deceptions, joys, passions of Norma D.; and the cast, set and music transporting us all into a nether-land of dreams on which the sun never sets, on Sunset Boulevard.
My greatest experience was that in June I had the terrible misfortune of learning that "The Who's Tommy" was going to close earlier than its scheduled September end. On very short notice, I gathered a group of family and friends to make the long trek from Rhode Island to NYC to see "Tommy" one final time during its final week. The amazing level of intensity and energy seemed even greater than usual and the performance was absolutely incredible! Broadway is truly worse off with this show gone. I hope that future shows can generate anywhere near as much excitement as Des McAnuff and Pete Townshend in this one.

If this compilation has inspired you to add your own "Best" to Playbill On-Line's survey, and you're reading this on one of our on-line services, go to the Bulletin Board or Message Board topic "BEST OF '95," and post away.

-- By Robert Viagas

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