Playbill Poll: The Top Theatre Experiences of 1997 -- Part 1

News   Playbill Poll: The Top Theatre Experiences of 1997 -- Part 1
The season of Top 10 lists is upon us. As in previous years, Playbill On Line invites theatregoers everywhere to write their own Top 10 lists, or Top 5, or even the single most memorable theatre-related experience of the calendar year 1997.

The season of Top 10 lists is upon us. As in previous years, Playbill On Line invites theatregoers everywhere to write their own Top 10 lists, or Top 5, or even the single most memorable theatre-related experience of the calendar year 1997.

Here are the first of the results. Additional files will be posted daily through New Year's. Playbill On-Line thanks all those who took the time to write.

From connema:
I have seen 92 live productions this year in cities thru the US and Europe and here are my top ten:
"RAGTIME" I flew to LA to see this much hype show, thinking I would not like as much as the ads said I would. My plane was late arriving into Burbank and I just made the curtain. I was tired, angry and really not in a mood to enjoy the show. However, once the overture and opening number started, I was transported into another world. It is one of the best openings I have ever seen in my 50 years of theatre going. Brian Stoke Mitchel is one of the most charismatic actors, I have ever seen.
'STEEL PIER' no matter what, it is on my top ten of the years. The Kander and Ebb musical gave me a high as I left the theatre. I felt wonderful and I still think Karen should have won the Tony. Sorry but I cant put "Titanic" on this list and "Candide" just missed the top ten.
"KING LEAR" AND "PENTECOST" AT Oregon Shakespeare Festival. This is the best "Lear" I have seen in years. Done in modern evening dress, it was outstanding. James Edmundson was magnificent as Lear.
"Pentecost" had one of the best ensembles acting of the year. Every performance was a gem.
"NINE" a big surprise, this Maury Yeston musical at the Folies Bergere in Paris was head and shoulders over the NYC production. All of the women characters did not sit on the stage as in the original. I would hope Mr Yeston would bring this version to an Off-Broadway house.
"GUYS AND DOLLS' AND 'AMY VIEW' AT the Royal National Theatre in London were terrific. "Guys" as good as any NYC production. Sets terrific. All of Time Square on the big National stage. Clive Rowe as Nicely-Nicely brought down the large house in "Walking the Boat"
Dame Judi Dench the best actress of the year in "Amy View". Her manner, speech movement was a joy to behold. She held the stage when ever she appeared.
Our top regional productions in San Francisco were :
KISS OF SPIDER WOMAN' AND 'GROSS INDECENCY' Francis Jue as Molina made every second count while on stage. There were plenty of frill and fey poses in his apolitical part.
In "Gross" Michael Emerson stood out as Oscar Wilde. One of the best acting roles of the year. The play started the audience to attention and it never let us go. Mr Emerson was astonishing.
There were other great roles and plays such as Antony Sher as "Cyrano" or Sir Ian McKellan in "Enemy of the People" or even Rip Torn in "Young Man From Atlanta."

From DHPiano:
1. SideShow
Easily the best show of 1997. I was completely involved from the very first sounds coming from the orchestra pit. Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner are brilliant and deserve a special Tony Award. I strongly urge people to ignore the title and the unfortunate lack of marketing skills surrounding this show and GET OUT THERE AND SEE IT!!!!! It would be a real theatrical loss if this show closed.
2. Titanic
I was one of the many skeptics who thought this would never work. Imagine my surprise when I was on my feet cheering at the end!!! Besides having glorious music, it boasts one of the finest ensemble casts ever assembled. This show also gets my vote as the best cast album of the year.
3. The Life
This is another show that snuck up on me. After hearing the incredibly tacky and unpromising concept CD, I found myself completely moved and transfixed when I saw the original cast last spring. It is always a pleasure to hear a Cy Coleman score and this cast made the most out of it.
4. Jekyll and Hyde
I seem to be the only person alive who liked the original concept for the tour better than the final product at the Plymouth Theatre. But it is still a very involving and sweeping production. Frank Wildhorn's music never gets weary on the ears, especially sung by Linda Eder and Cristianne Noll.
5. The Lion King
The most amazing spectacle I have ever seen on Broadway. The sets, costumes, and staging put this on the top ten. Not a great score, and the story seemed to work better in an 80 minute cartoon, but the opening number is the most exciting three minutes I have EVER spent in a theatre.
6. Dream
Once again, I stand alone in saluting the people who threw this short lived revue together. While not always working as a non- problematic show, it boasted one of the most talented casts I've seen in a long time. The dance arrangements and choreography were terrific. I'm sorry the show was never recorded for CD. Many people hated it, but I was charmed and thoroughly entertained.
7. The Diary of Anne Frank
A very moving production of a timeless classic. Worth the price of admission alone for Linda Lavin's second act monologue and George Hearn's closing one. A very problematic set is the show's one drawback, but otherwise an incredibly engaging and well acted revival.
8. A Doll's House
Speaking of well acted revivals, what else needs to be said but Janet McTeer?
9. Proposals
Not one of Neil Simon's most well received plays, but I found it very charming and sweet. A memory play covering a day in the life of a beautiful home in the Catskills and it's inhabitants kept my interest and made me laugh and cry. Great performances and a gorgeous set.
10. Triumph of Love
This closes out my top ten for one reason and one reason alone....Betty Buckley. The show has huge problems, the music isn't memorable, and the script is stock full of cliches, but from the moment the curtain rises on Ms. Buckley, she owns the stage and all of it's inhabitants. Pay the money just to see a master at work.

From Thomas Golden, Age 14, Willison, ND:
My most memorable moments in the theatre during 1997 were as follows: January: I fell in love with the musical, Godspell
February: I went with the first all-children production ever to go to regional NoDAKTA competition and I won the award for the best actor.
July-August: I played the role of Motel in Fiddler. And one of our little theatre's best actors and also a good friend moved away.
September: I played one of the Proteans in Forum here in Williston.
November: The day after Thanksgiving, V.F., a talented actress in our theatre and a good friend to all, killed herself the opening night of A Tuna Christmas, in which she had a lead role.
December: I originated the title role in Ragtime Cowboy Joe' by Jack Dyville.
My year was filled with joy, laughter, pain, and sorrow.
One thing I did not mention is that this year I wrote my first full-length play.

From RedCatsNap:
One incredible weekend stands out in my theater experiences this year, topping all other years for me personally. It was simply a perfect weekend.
Without a doubt, topping anything I could have hoped for or imagined, getting to see the 10-year anniversary, original-cast reunion concert performance of "Into the Woods" still is a memory that looms large for me. This experience would have been a highlight no matter what, but add in the fact that I never saw "Into the Woods" on Broadway with it's original cast and also the fact that we got front row seats AND were able to donate to a worthwhile couple of charities, and it made for an evening like no other.
For a sincere fan of both the music **and** the message of this unusual musical, this could top just about any theater experience I could think of (for me personally). To see what had always been a "laserdisc performance" for me come to life before my very eyes with Bernadette Peters and Joanna Gleason was nothing short of thrilling. The cast seemed to be having so much fun, as if they were as happy to see each other and the music as we were. I just don't know if theater gets better than that.... wonderful music, the cast enjoying the performance as much as the audience, and front row seats.
My second favorite memory would by no means fall short of a wonderful evening. I'm all for big musicals with plenty of hype and skyrockets and large casts, but it's sad that today's audiences are so accustomed to this that they overlook a musical that is enjoyable through and through for it's music and it's sharp ensemble cast. A musical like "Triumph of Love" --- it simply sparkled with wit, luscious harmony, and character. To see Betty Buckley and Susan Egan and the rest of the topnotch cast buoy a classic tale of love, with nothing more than a minimal set and wonderful music... no special effects or tragedy, no death or strife or over-the-top finale, no hoohah or hoopla... just wonderful music.... I'd line up for that every time. It will be sad indeed if no cast CD captures this memorable evening of theater.
A most memorable weekend of exciting and captivating musical theater.

From Ward Saxton:
A show that would definitely make the top ten list, and perhaps should be placed at #1 due to it's sad, but imminent, closure is "Triumph of Love." How devastating that a small show with a great score, and the tremendous talents of Betty Buckley, Susan Egan, and Nancy Opel, should be snuffed out so soon! And we should all bow our heads in shame if no recording is produced. That would be egregious and unforgivable.
"Triumph" is really a wonderful show that deserves better than to be hastily discarded and forgotten - yet again giving credence to the idea that all Broadway musical audiences want is the spectacle of slinky cats and sinking ships - when a small show can't run on a great script, score, and cast, alone!

From MrTartuffe:
1. Stonewall Jackson's House--The smartest and most grossly underrated play of recent years. May it have a long and prosperous life in regional theater.
2. A Doll's House--Janet McTeer saved hundreds (maybe thousands) of people hours of psychiatric treatment in her amazing performance in a dazzling revival that proved that art can indeed be therapeutic.
3. Into the Woods Reunion Concert--Though Robert Westenberg was missed, it was heaven watching this reunion with a loving audience wholly appreciative of the show and the score and the cast. And Danielle Ferland needs to be given another show!
4. Gross Indecency--Textbooks turned into theatre. Amazingly theatrical.
5. The Lion King--Unlike the film, when I was disappointed that Simba escaped the stampede, this version of The Lion King turns that treacly story (and one of the worst animated films ever made) into an amazing production. True, Elton John's horrible music remains, but the new songs are beautiful, and "Circle of Life" is the basis for one of the best opening numbers I have ever seen in any show. No one can tame the Taymor!
6. 1776--Having loathed American history in high school, I did not want to go, but this show was the biggest shocker of the year: great music, superb performances, and a brilliant book.
7. Titanic--Peter Stone conjured up two shockers this year, because I thought I was going to see a bomb. Instead, and to my delight, it had a beautiful score and a great ensemble.
8. How I Learned to Drive--David Morse and Mary-Louise Parker stormed the stage and left permanent marks.
9. Ivanov--This is the toughest Chekhov play to do, and the cast was magnificent, particularly Marian Seldes.
10. The Capeman--Yeah, this show will make the list because I can't stop singing the score. Still in previews, this production has a lethal second act, but the music, the music, the music! The cast is game and talented, and the potential is there.
1. A Dybbuk--Shame, Tony Kushner, Shame! This play, horrible as it is, remains memorable: it is the first one I ever walked out of at intermission.
2. Mud, River, Stone--Putrid, pedantic mess. I could kill Playwrights Horizons for marketing this stinker as a comedy.
3. Jackie--Oh! A Broadway show? Methinks not.
4. Side Show--I want, I want, I want to forget those lyrics. I need, I need, I need to escape from Jeff McCarthy. Toss him in the tunnel of love without a lifejacket, SVP.
5. Cyrano--Vanity, thy name is Langella, whose ego is larger than his nose.

From Dan Walsh:
Here are my personal top ten moments in 1997:
1. Sitting in the audience at the New Amsterdam Theater and realizing my jaw wide open watching two elephants come down the middle aisle. The Lion King was an amazing theater experience
2. Robert Evan and Linda Eder in Jekyll and Hyde. If this guy is the understudy, I can not imagine Robert Cuccioli. They were both amazing.
3. Standing outside the Imperial theater waiting to get my picture taken with Ivan Rutherford(Jean Valjean in Les Mis). Ivan not only took a picture but invited my to walk with him and talked to me for a half an hour about breaking into theater and the show itself. It's nice to see an actor go out of their way to talk to someone who just paid 70 bucks to see them. He was nothing but pleasant.
4. 1776--just a great show. If anyone is looking for a good character actor or 20, try the stage of the Gershwin.
5. Rent, a year and a half after it opened, with as much passion and intensity as opening night. Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal are Roger and Mark. I pity anyone who has to follow these two. Adam Pascal's voice blew the roof off the Nederlander. Go watch a cast love what they are doing.
6. The production of Jekyll and Hyde(not the Broadway version) that was at both Starlight Theater in KC and Houston's Theater Under the Stars. It is too bad this is the same story as the Broadway version because this one is also excellent. A beautiful score.
7. When Pigs Fly--I know it's a year old but I had never seen it. That is funny!!
8. The Midwest Revival Premiere of the Cocoanuts. This Marx Bros. show is a lost American Treasure. Thank you Martin City Melodrama in KC for putting it back on.
9. The "Love Me As I Am" song from Side Show. What a beautiful Diva song. If you haven't heard it, go get it. It's worth buying the whole disk for. Too bad the show is closing.
10. CATS--Whether you like it or hate it, it is forever. The fact that it is still running says something. Hey, tell me another theater that has kept 20 or so actors and that many technicians working for almost 15 years. It should be applauded for that alone.

From Jeff and Jay in Michigan:
1. Steel Pier-Broadway
2. Side Show-Broadway
3. The Life-Broadway
4. A Fair Country-Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater
5. Chicago-Broadway and Touring Cast
6. The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde
7. Never the Sinner
8. The Gin Game
9. Triumph of Love-Because of Ms. Betty
10. Three Days of Rain

From MIKEZ12:
My number one theater experience of '97 (or any year for that matter) is SIDE SHOW. Anyone who misses this brilliant work is quite foolish. SIDE SHOW is masterful both physically and creatively. Of course, Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner are THE most SUBLIME DIVAS in quite some time. Their performances set a new standard of perfection, and they should be cherished always. SIDE SHOW has a profound message that it tries valiantly to convey every night. If you miss it, it truly is a shame (and I mean that sincerely).

To be included: seeing Side Show with Alice Ripely and Emily Skinner, seeing Susan Egan and Betty Buckley in Triumph of Love and seeing Deborah Gibson As Belle in Beauty and the Beast were my top three. Honorable Mention: THE Life!

From Gayle in Penna:
Who determines these lists anyway. I can not believe Jekyll & Hyde is not there. This is, without a doubt the best show I have EVER seen.

From FALA3:
I don't have a top 10 list, but I do have one special experience to share. I went to Betty Buckley's Stamford concert and had a special experience. Before the show, I asked the house matron if I could meet Betty after the show. She told me she would ask her and to see her at intermission. I saw her and she told me Betty had said she would gladly meet me afterward. (I had told the matron it was my 16th birthday gift, which it was!) I went through the show and at the end of the 2nd act, Betty was doing her thank you's and she looked at her prompt and said, "I understand there's a 16th birthday out there". Then, she told me to stand up and she introduced herself, then told the rest of the audience to help her sing, "Happy Birthday" to me. Afterward, I went outside, awestruck by what had just happened. I did not ask for it or anything. I was asked by many people how I got her to do that, but I didn't ask. It was the house matron who wrote it into the prompts. Anyway, I met Betty and got an autograph and picture with her. It was the best experience of my life as she is my favorite actress. I hope to see her again (Betty, if you're reading this!) and meet her again in two weeks in "Triumph".

From Sage Howard:
The single best theater experience of the year, and probably of my life, was seeing RENT at the Nederlander theater in New York. I've seen in performed in other places, but there is something about seeing the OBC (well, some of them) and knowing that they've grown into these roles; that they've developed them. And seeing the show in the Nederlander was so different than anything I've ever experienced. The theater seemed so small, making it an incredibly intimate experience. It is one I will never forget.

From Amy Thurber:
The one show that stands out for me is The Scarlet Pimpernel. The music, actors, lights, just everything, made the show an unforgettable experience for us. I have bought tickets for January and am planning on returning again in March to see this delightful and fun show.

From CRobin4548:
My single best theater experience for the year without a doubt was seeing the final performance of Sunset Blvd. I had been listening to the music since the summer of 1995 and dreamed of someday seeing the show, but never had a chance to see it until 1997. To say the least, I was amazed - Elaine [Paige] brought so much to the part, the audience had no hope not to love her. The sets, the performers, and the emotion of the audience and the cast knowing it was the last performance, truly made that performance my best memory of 1997.

From David Leck:
The evening of Saturday March 22 1997 will, for me, remain one of those occasions we experience all too rarely in the theatre. The closing night of "Sunset Boulevard" and the end of Elaine Paige's long awaited Broadway debut.
(It's only the fact that New Yorkers displayed such enthusiasm and grace in welcoming EP to the Great White Way - and confirming what we Brits have know for the best part of two decades - that I feel able to nominate the great lady without fear of national prejudice).
It had been over a year since I had seen Paige's closing performance as Norma Desmond in the London production of "Sunset", and what struck me more than anything that bitterly cold Manhattan night as I left the Minskoff Theatre was how far she had travelled vocally, dramatically (and literally) in bringing her Norma to New York.
It was like rediscovering the awesome talent of Elaine Paige all over again. Through the years she has never stopped surprising audiences in the UK. Her supreme standing as our finest musical performer (from "Evita" to "Cats" and "Chess" to "Piaf"); a thrilling concert artist able to fill some of Britain's most prestigious venues and as an all-too rarely seen dramatic television actress have made Paige possibly the most versatile and exciting star to have come out of Britain in the past 30 years.
This was a much stronger, more assured, more thrilling (if that were possible) performance than the one which delighted London audiences for a year. Obviously swept along by the successful completion of a Broadway season that had escaped her for far too long, Elaine Paige was in devastating form.
Especially thrilling for this Brit, who has been privileged enough to attend most of her opening and closing nights, and to witness many concert milestones over the years, was the enormous warmth and appreciation of the unique talent that makes this lady so special.
This was that rarest of theatrical evenings. The combination of an emotional closure for a much underrated show; the rediscovery of that unique sense of occasion that is the essence of Broadway theatre..and, of course, "our first lady of musical theatre" successful established on the Great White Way is, for me, the undoubted highlight of 1997.
Not that we want to lose her again, but I hope New Yorkers do get the chance to see her "Piaf" in a future season.

From SuprPumper:
Here Goes:
TITANIC: a moving and thrilling peek into a part of history that makes you want to change destiny
SIDE SHOW: a classy, musically emotional look into a world undiscovered by most of us, thrilling and human, sensational performances
SUNSHINE BOYS: what can u say, its one huge evening of laughs, the best medicine
1776: a musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence? Musically fabulous, and an intelligent book to make us proud of who created this country
CHICAGO: something to show us how creative a show can be without tons of scenery and costumes, great performances and choreography, and oh that score, sensational
THE HEIRESS: a good old fashioned book play, sensationally produced, acted and lit. Cherry Jones deserved a Tony, IN FACT she should win every award in creation for this beautiful portrayal.
FOLLIES: the all time champ, intelligent, musically thrilling, perfectly cast, this is what broadway is all about, a true award winning winner in every category
TOMMY: a razzle dazzle musical to treat the eyes as well as the ears, beautifully written staged and conducted. A fabulous rock score that makes broadway stand on its ears, emotional and heartfelt.
SHE LOVES ME: probably the one musical with the best book music and lyrics to ever grace a broadway stage. Lovely to look at, emotional and that Christmas spirit. Can u ask for more than that and Barbara Cook at the same time. Marion the librarian has finally come home,. the show is a treat for all.
BLACK AND BLUE: a revue of such class and entertainment values that it makes all other revues look anemic and sad. The music is to die for and the choreography so sensation you can hardly sit still watching those lucky people up there dancing their hearts out. An elegant evening of sensational music and dance.

Log in Dec. 29, 30, 31 and Jan. 1 for more Top Ten's from Playbill On-Line members -- and don't forget to Send us yours!

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