In response to Time magazine's Top 10 list for theatre in 1996, Playbill On-Line asked members to pick their own Top 10, or Top 5, or just single memorable theatre experience of the year.
Here is the second part of the results. To accomodate as many correspondents as possible, additional files of results have been posted. Playbill On-Line thanks all those who took time to answer.
From Tommy Fallin:
One moment in RENT affected me as no other moment in a show ever has. The reprise of "I'll Cover You" is not only one of the most beautiful and intense songs to surface in a show in recent years, but the staging of it just floored me. When Collins started his outcry quickly followed by the entire cast retaking their places from the beginning of the act at the stage's edge, I was moved. Then the lights slowly faded up revealing the entire cast in an energetic emotional outpour. It was a moment that has stayed with me ever since.
From Martin Denton:
These are my picks for top ten theatre experiences in 1996 (note that 2-10 are in no particular order):
1. Rent: the best thing currently on Broadway: passionate, moving, melodic.
2. Roger Rees in The Rehearsal, especially that moment when he breaks the glass in Act II.
3. Judith Ivey in A Fair Country: an intelligent, measured performance in an underrated play.
4. Chicago: entertaining and oh, so pertinent; I especially loved Ann Reinking & James Naughton's "We Both Reached for the Gun"oabsolutely chilling.
5. Once Upon a Mattress: a wonderful, witty production, especially the costumes and sets. I loved the moment when the Queen's assistant shows up serving cheese at the ball.
6. A Delicate Balance: the best directed, best cast play this year: huzzahs for Elaine Stritch, George Grizzard, and Rosemary Harris.
7. Moon Over Buffalo, which deserved far better reviews, especially the brilliant comic performances of Carol Burnett, Phillip Bosco, and Randy Graff.
8. The great revival of The Boys in the Band: sadly hardly dated at all except that AIDS looms as a spectre in their futures.
9. Al Pacino's great production of Hughie at Circle-in-the-Square, which seemed to distill O'Neill's great themes into a wise and funny hour.
10. Jean Smart in a great performance in a play that I hope will not disappear.
From Ronni Krasnow:
Four Words: Elaine Paige in America
From Daniel Block:
RENT and BRING ON DA NOISE BRING ON DA FUNK are simply amazing! It is so wonderful to bring stuff to the stage that people of my generation are interested in. It proves that Broadway isn't about old, stuff people! It's about effecting people's lives and transforming them to new and exciting places.
I am so happy that LES MIZ has been re-cast. It's about time! That show (my favorite) is in need of some freshness.
I finally saw BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. I regret it. I had more fun at ZOMBIE PROM (why'd it have to close?) that night, and it didn't last two weeks. What a pity.
From Mary Morris, Ocala, FL:
Our best Theatre experience was when we were in London last February. We were able to see shows at a much lower price than in Florida. Our favorite was "Blood Brothers". What an emotional show. Brought even the men to tears. Our Civic Theatre had wanted to do this show next season but to our amazement the script they had sent us must have been when it was first produced. After going over the script and music, because of the language, our reading commitee decided that our main season ticket subscribers would not like it. This was not the show I saw in London. There was no bad language in the production we saw. Anyway, it was very disapointing to us because rarely are there any new and exciting new musicals that a Civic Theatre can do and we were so hoping to produce that one. We did however see a wonderful show in Orlando called "Jeykle and Hyde" staring Linda Eder. She was faboulous and so was the show. When we were in London we asked it it had been there and they had not heard of it. We found out recently that it will make it's Broadway Preview sometime in March of 1997. It will surely be a hit!
From Josh Ludzki:
There's nothing like waiting out in the freezing cold for 13 hours to sit front row center at Rent. Whether we kept ourselves occupied by singing through the original cast album or chatting about our favorite actors, it was anything but a bore! Then, of course, we spontaneously broke out into the song "Christmas Bells," best known for the hook-line "and it's beginning to snow," when it did just that!
From cheerios (email@example.com):
I would have to say that seeing "Big the Musical' on Broadway was the #1 highlight of theatre for me this year. It was fantastic and great. I'm sad to see it closed. The next would have to be "Show Boat." It was one of the greatest musicals of all time and the way it was shown was just great.
The next best moment was getting the Rent CD. It had to be the best music for the theatre in quite a long time. My next best moment is seeing A Funny Thing Happened... It was hilarious and Nathan Lane was a comedic genious. The last best moment of the year was buying tickets for both Jekyll and Hyde and Rent. I have waited year to see Jekyll and Hyde and was excited to hear it will be opening next year. Rent will most likely become one of the best musicals I have ever seen. This has truly been a banner year in theatre.
My best theatre experiences in 1996 are as follows: (In no particular order):
A Delicate Balance
Major disapointment: RENT
In my opinion, here are the best 3 musicals of 1996:
1. RENT- A totally unbelievable show. That's the only way to describe it. The cast was just incredible. Jonathan Larson will alwyas live on. Congrats to anyone involved in this production for a tremendous job. Rent will always be whatever you make it. Viva la vie Boheme!
2. BIG- Despite the negativity surrounding this show, Big was still highly entertaining and FUN. The cast, especially the children, is remarkably talented and will go far. Perhaps if the critics of Big would have seen the show from the eyes of a child, the way it was meant to be viewed, Big might still be here.
3. BRING IN DA NOISE, BRING IN DA FUNK- Another unbelievable show. The raw talent of this cast will never be able to be reproduced. Savion Glover and Ann Duquesnay received most well-deserved Tonys. Hopefully, this show will be around for a long time.
From Craig Radow:
My best theater experience is when me and my friend got tickets to the Tony Awards at the Majestic theater. The show was lackluster, but just just being among all those theater personalities was very exciting.
From: Andrew J. Fox:
1) Donna Murphy/The King & I
Donna Murphy's brilliant performance combined with a great supporting cast, a gorgeous design, and a beautiful score adds up to the best theatrical experience of the year. Lou Diamond Phillips certainly holds his own, but the show belongs to Murphy, which is fine with me.
2) Bernadette Peters/Carnegie Hall
Possibly a once-in a-lifetime opportunity. A truly thrilling concert with one of the great musical theater performers of our time. "Some People" was one of the most exciting songs I have ever experienced as performed by Peters.
3) A Delicate Balance
Elaine Stritch and Rosemary Harris as sisters. What could be better than watching these two spar onstage? Elaine Stritch is one of the true treasures to watch on stage, and seeing her is a privilege. A testament to the cast and director Gerald Guiterrez is the way they truly captured the Albee spirit: make you laugh one second, make you cringe the next.
4) Chicago/City Center
The crowd in the City Center waiting for Chicago to start was simply electric. There was an energy swarming around the place, in expectation of the performances. The cast did not disappoint, and the concert was an experience in itself. Have yet to see the Broadway incarnation, but I don't feel like I need to, although I certainly want to.
By no means a perfect, or even near perfect show, but nonetheless a thrilling one. When the cast throws itself into the music, chills abound. Still, when they speak some of those atrocious lyrics, suppressed giggles abound. I am done with Rent for now, having seen it 4 times when people from out of town begged to go. I'd be interested to see what a new cast would do with it. Not that I think that the original cast was that phenomenally good, but I think that they went through a lot, and there is something about them that I doubt will ever be duplicated. Also, having seen it off Broadway, it has one of those "I'm part of a select few" aspect to it, much like Chicago at Encores, the Peters concert at Carnegie Hall, as well as actually having seen all the musicals to open on Broadway last season, including the fascinating Chronicle of a Death Foretold and the boring Swinging On A Star.
A troubled show, and yet, incredibly easy to sit through. It was fluff, but not in that mindless Crazy for You way. This show had a lot of heart and energy, and good performances from most of the cast (excluding Jon Cypher). The opening number was one of the best in recent memory, and the dancing was energetic. The show was, God forbid in today's theater, fun.
7) Master Class
A show that I saw in it's original tryout in Philadelphia only got better the second time around. Seeing Audra MacDonald more than hold her own against the amazing Zoe Caldwell was inspiring. Zoe Caldwell's performance left little to be desired, and I could listen to Audra MacDonald belt out arias all night long.
8) Valley Song
A simple show, and very moving. Lisa Gay Hamilton added her name to the list of truly great performances by female actresses this year.
9) "Fit To Be Tied" and "Present Laughter"
Two very uneven productions, yet I can't remember laughing so hard in a theater than at these two. Fit To Be Tied had the great Jean Smart, Present Laughter has the great Frank Langella. Both could have used stronger supporting casts (no pun intended in Smart's case). Fit To Be Tied made my jaw ache and tears stream down my face from laughing so hard, and Present Laughter was smart, although I'm not sure if it was as much a great Noel Coward play as much as it was a so-so farce.
10) Juan Darien
One of the most unique experiences you'll ever have in a Broadway theater. Taymor's use of puppets, and even more so, masks, was fascinating. A hard to describe show. You had to be there.
From Richard Gist, Baltimore:
The 1996 year of stage productions in the Baltimore Washington region simply could not have been finer. The following shows on area stages were considered by this reviewer to be the very best of the best, however. Please note that a few of these productions actually took place in the closing months of 1995, when I was just getting underway with my reviewing schedule, so I took the liberty of including them, too.
And now, the envelope, please . . .
Top 10 Overall Best Productions of the Year (in order of excellence)
1. Passion at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA This production simply blew me out of my seat! The sinewy but gorgeous Sondheim score and the powerful characterizations and singing by Lewis Cleale, April Harr Blandin, and Anne Kanengeiser were more than enough to hold me in awe and make me cry. A moving experience I will not soon forget.
2.Triumph of Love at Center Stage, Baltimore
Another musical eye-opener, this one takes a highly unlikely book adaptation and, thanks to some terrific song, dialogue and lyrics writing and the hard-working verve of its cast and star, Susan Egan, turns it into one of the most promising new shows I've seen in a long time.
3. The Dance of Death at the Arena Stage in Washington
Henry Strozier and Tana Hicken were simply resplendant in this haunting treatment of the Strindberg classic that was both irksome and poetic with JoAnne Akalaitis' signature direction.
4. Arcadia at the Arena Stage in Washington
Intelligence, wit, acting virtuosity -- how much more could one ask of a production? Douglas Wager's treatment of Stoppard's masterpiece (so far) borders on the reverent.
5. Candide at the Arena Stage in Washington
Hal Prince directs the Broadway revival coming up this spring. It will take a miracle to surpass Doug Wager's inventive take on this Leonard Bernstein classic, full of comic touches and sparkling musicality.
6. Volpone at The Shakespeare Theatre, Washington
Pat Carroll starred in this truly memorable acting clinic, a production that was as bright and singular as one could possibly be. From the time the lights come up at the beginning, there was an on-stage electricity that held the audience transfixed and roaring throughout.
7. The Gigli Concert at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Washington
In a triumphant return to the Woolly stage by actor Howard Shalwitz, together with Tom Prewitt's masterful direction, this highly comic and strangely Faustian examination of three post-absurdist characters was interpreted with singular acting skill.
8. Cymbeline at the Washington Shakespeare Company, Alexandria, VA Kudos to Joe Banno and all the members of this terrific production for seeing the wonderful humor in this rarely performed Shakespeare play and for putting it on the long red Clark Street "runway" for all to enjoy
9. Quills at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Washington Playwriting supercraftsman Doug Wright back at the outer fringe Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington on the heels of "Watbanaland." This time around it was vivisection -- as Mr. Wright and director Howard Shalwitz took us into the realm of pure human depravity in recounting the final years of the Marquis de Sade, as only Floyd King could play him.
10. Private Lives at the Center Stage, Baltimore, MD There was a surprise glut of three Noel Coward plays on area stages at one point this past spring, and the clear winner of them all was this stylish and hilarious offering from Center Stage. Melinda Mullins as Amanda had all the sass and charm one could ever ask of someone playing this exquisite comic role.
Top 10 Serious (or mostly serious) Plays*
1. The Dance of Death at the Arena Stage in Washington
2. Arcadia at the Arena Stage in Washington
3. The Gigli Concert at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Washington
4. Amadeus Rep Stage in Columbia, and Everyman Theatre in Baltimore
5. (Tie) The Birthday Party at the Washington Shakespeare Company (95-96)
5. (Tie) Galileo at Center Stage, Baltimore
6. Henry VI at The Shakespeare Theatre, Washington
7. Nora at the Round House Theatre in Silver Spring (95-96)
8. Two Trains Running at the Studio Theatre in Washington
9. From the Mississippi Delta at the Rep Stage, Columbia, MD
10. Mrs. Warren's Profession at the Olney Theatre Center, Olney, MD
*Please note that I was unable to attend "Three Sisters" at the Studio Theatre. From what I hear, it easily would have made this list at or near the top.
Top 5 Musicals
1. Passion at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA
2. Triumph of Love at Center Stage, Baltimore
3. Candide at the Arena Stage in Washington
4. The Mikado by the Interact Theatre Company, Folger Theatre, Washington
5. Cinderella at the Olney Theatre, Olney, MD
Top 5 Comedies
1. Volpone at The Shakespeare Theatre, Washington
2. Cymbeline at the Washington Shakespeare Company, Alexandria, VA
3. Quills at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Washington
4. Private Lives at the Center Stage, Baltimore, MD
5. (Tie) Brecht's "The Wedding" at the Experimental Theatre, Washington, DC
5. (Tie) The Loman Family Picnic at the Source Theatre, Washington, DC
Top Dinner Theatre Productions
1. My Fair Lady at Toby's Dinner Theatre, Columbia, MD
2. Crazy for You at the Burn Brae Dinner Theatre, Burtonsville, MD
3. Hot Nostalgia at Toby's Dinner Theatre, Columbia, MD
4. Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? at the West End Dinner Theatre, Alexandria, VA
Top 5 Touring Productions or Pre-Broadway Runs
1. Mrs. Klein at the Kennedy Center, Washington, DC
2. Jekyll & Hyde at the Morris Mechanic Theatre, Baltimore
3. Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the National Theatre, Washington
4. A Chorus Line at the Morris Mechanic Theatre, Baltimore
5. (Tie) Whistle Down the Wind at the National Theatre, Washington
5. (Tie) The Gate of Heaven at the Ford's Theatre, Washington
From Alan Forsyth:
A Delicate Balance - Lincoln Center Theater, NY
The Heiress (again) - Lincoln Center Theater/Ahamson Theater, LA
Sweet Bird of Youth - Stratford Festival, Canada
Three Tall Women - North American Tour/Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto
Jane Eyre - Royal Alexandra Theatre/Toronto
Sunset Blvd (Betty Buckeley's last show) - Minskoff Theater, NY
Master Class (Zoe Caldwell) - Golden Theater, NY
The Monument - The Canadian Stage Company, Toronto
Two Weeks With The Queen - Yonge People's Theatre, Toronto
Skylight - Royale Theater, NY
To read more responses, see Part 3 in Theatre News,