Playbill Poll: Top Theatre Experiences of 1997 -- Part 4

News   Playbill Poll: Top Theatre Experiences of 1997 -- Part 4
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 is the fourth part 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 sparsons:
1. TITANIC After the typical reaction of "What?" when seeing the advance adds, I saw excerpts on Rosie and the Tonys and became intrigued. The cast album preserves one of the most intricately constructed scores in recent memory, as well as a stunningly emotional ride. After seeing the show's elaborate yet abstract staging with the entire original (wonderful) cast, I was hooked.
2. 1776 I was always put off by the poor singing of the original cast, but a fine singing AND acting revival cast made me enjoy this show, and its stirring history lesson.
3. CHILDREN OF EDEN Although I loved the London cast recording, the new production at Paper Mill presented a show that had gone through changes for the better. Probably Schwartz's most fully developed, mature score, I am thrilled that the new version is to be recorded in January, so that more people can experience it.
4. CHICAGO Another show that didn't hook me in its original version, seeing the revival brought me into contact with the wonderful performances of Bebe Neuwirth, Marilu Henner, Joel Grey, and Marcia Lewis.
5. A CHRISTMAS CAROL No, not the Madison Square Garden version, or the Legrand version, or even the Bricusse version. Instead, 1997 brought the writing of my first major musical, and I feel it deserves mention. (A soon-to-follow cast recording and licensing deal doesn't hurt, either.) While not a remotely original idea, the commissioning of this work allowed me to develop Dickens' characters in ways that interest, but don't deviate from his intentions for them.
My worst theatre experiences of 1997:
1. JEKYLL AND HYDE Yes, this show has its defenders, but they fall mostly into the "Webber" Top-40 crowd. A tuneful score does not a good show make, especially when it has nothing to do with the dramatic situations. An over-praised lead doesn't help. Even to the pop singer-fed, unknowledgable folk, Cuccioli's singing shouldn't be categorized in the "good" column, much less the "Tony eligible" group.
2. THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL Wildhorn should stick to what he, admittedly, does very well: writing pop ballads for Linda Eder. Please don't try to tell me that his scores are remotely theatrical, since they are most definitely NOT.
3. RENT The score is decent, the idea is decent, the cast is great. Unfortunately, the execution is rather crude. I only wish Larson had been around to continue to shape the work into a better form. I am not so much disappointed in this, however, than I am in the static, bland staging. Surely a "groundbreaking" piece deserves better blocking than: "Okay, you just stand there and sing. Got it?"
4. STEEL PIER Let's just say that I expected better from Kander and Ebb. (Especially when the title song is merely a brighter version of Cabaret's title number. "Come to the...Steel Pier, old chum?")
5. SIDE SHOW Not really good, but not really bad. I find some elements that I like in this show, but bland lyrics and generic sentiments don't do much for me. Krieger's music, while nothing special, does have the value of being genuinely theatrical. I've never been a big fan of his Dreamgirls or other work, but he does write solid pop scores that actually contribute to the whole work in a way that Frank Wildhorn apparently can't conceive of. Pop CAN work in theatre, but only when it makes sense to use it. That doesn't always work in Side Show, but the music is never the detracting element.
In general, thank God 1997 had enough new material to write about. Theatre is certainly NOT dead, in spite of the lofty critical view!

From Srrurhino:
From a theatre preservationist's perspective, here is my 1997 Top Ten:
1. Discovering, through AOL and Playbill OnLine, that there is a significant interest in seeing historic theaters restored as THEATRES, and in helping to organize that interest into a group known as "Friends of the Biltmore," currently working to save the Biltmore Theatre from becoming a nightclub or a building lobby.
2. The fact that FOB will move forward in 1998 not only on behalf of the Biltmore, but possibly also on behalf of the four historic 42nd Street theatres that will be largely dismantled in favor of so-called "adaptive re- uses" (which, as a practical matter, means they will never be used as theatres again).
3. The restoration of the Republic (New Victory) and New Amsterdam Theatres.
4. The planned restoration of the Selwyn Theatre as the new home for the Roundabout Theater Company.
5. The Roundabout's revival of "1776"--it's wonderful to see this show finally getting the respect it so richly deserves.
6. The Roundabout's planned revival of "Cabaret," which will briefly bring the former Henry Miller's Theatre back to life as a Broadway venue.
7. The revised edition of Lost Broadway Theatres by Nicholas van Hoogstratten (Princeton Architectural Press), something anyone interested in theatre preservation and the history of Broadway and Times Square must have (the photos alone make this book priceless).
8. The news in the latest Variety that both Disney and Livent are looking for a second Broadway venue; perhaps one of them can bring the Mark Hellinger back to life.
9. Being able to look at the theatre ABC's in the Times two weeks ago and see listings for 35 Broadway shows, with more unable to find venues (so much for the argument that they should become delis, discos, wax museums and who knows what else).
10. A heavily qualified entry: Livent's Ford Center, which recycles parts of two historic theatres, the Lyric and Apollo. The bad news is that the Lyric and Apollo were demolished to produce this result. Was this necessary? It's a moot point. One can only hope that the new theatre is worthy of its older predecessors.
Anyone interested in joining FOB can e-mail me at And a Happy New Year to us all!

From Jorge:
I don't have a Top 10 or even Top 5, just a Top 3.
This year I saw nine musicals on stage, eight on Broadway and one in Lisbon. This one was a Portuguese version of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd". I was pleasantly surprise with this production.
To begin was thrilling for me to see this wonderful score played on stage for the first time. I always loved the Broadway Cast album, so I was afraid of hearing it sang in Portuguese, but it worked well. An opera company played the characters, doing a good work and I loved the expressionist staging.
I'm sad to know that "Side Show" is closing, this musical was the most emotional experience I have this year regarding stage musicals. I saw it during the previews and I believed it would became a great hit. It seems I was wrong. This show is bizarre, original and disturbing. From the powerful overture with "Come Look at the Freaks" to the moving end with "I Will Never Leave You", we know we are seeing something different from the usual Broadway stuff. The cast is perfect, specially Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner, both deserving a Tony award for they fabulous performance. Please go and see it, don't let this show closed, it really is unforgettable.
The other memorable show I saw, was the revival of "Chicago". The score from Kander & Ebb is my all time musical favorite, so seeing it on stage was a dream come true. This production is everything it should be and even more. A true masterpiece, it have a sensual and fabulous cast, with Neuwirth and Henner being the queens of the night, but the supporting cast also shines brightly. Reinking's choreography is riveting and deserve all the awards it had won. For me this was one probably the most exciting show I ever seen. I hope I will be able of seeing it again and again.

From Cheerios:
The Number One theatre experience of 1997, without a doubt, is seeing 'Side Show.' Side Show is the best of 1997 and the best show I've seen on Broadway period. It is an amazing and heartfelt look into our deepest thoughts. It attempts and succeeds in making us examine our own prejudices against others deemed 'freaks or different.' The music was some of the best heard on Broadway in a long long time. The performances by the twins, Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner, were both heartfelt and truly amazing. The two both deserve the Tony. The other performers in the show were equally amazing. It has one of the best ensembles ever to grace the stage. Please support the show even though it is closing. Honorable mentions: Steel Pier (day before closing night), Titanic, Jekyll&Hyde, attending the Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall, and Broadway on Broadway 97'.

From Steve:
Martin Guerre - I had the opportunity to see this wonderful show twice. The first time in its original form and then several months later in its revised form. It is a moving show with absolutely gorgeous music. The revised version was better but I missed the three old ladies singing "Sleeping On Our Own".
Sunset Boulevard - I saw the touring company and thought that it was excellent. I would have loved to have seen Betty Buckley but Linda Balgord was good. I have always thought that this is Lloyd Webbers best score. I enjoy Sunset more than Phantom.
Beauty and the Beast - I know. I know. It isn't great theater, but any show that can turn my children on to musical theater is not so bad.
Miss Saigon - I have seen it several times and it still moves me to tears.

From AndiWeaves:
Without even taking time to think about who I'd vote for, I know already that TITANIC is clearly the best musical ever put on Broadway and for 1997. I had the pleasure of going on Nov. 8th to see it with my parents ( I'm 13 ), and I loved every second of it! The music is rich and one-of-a-kind. There's something powerful about it that touches my heart and brings me to tears every time I listen to the beautiful songs. Not to mention that it has a brilliant cast of actors portraying *real* people who went aboard this "unsinkable ship of dreams" and ended up going down with the radiant ship. My favorite songs from the musical are "In Every Age", "The Blame", and "Mr. Andrews' Vision" ( basically 'cuz Michael Cerveris who plays Thomas Andrews, the ship builder, is my all-time favorite actor and *idol* on Broadway- he's fantastic!! ) To anyone who hasn't seen this play, GO SEE IT!! Otherwise you're missing out on the chance of a life time! Godspeed Titanic--may it sail on and on!!

From caclaw:
1. CHICAGO- I love Bebe Neuwirth. In the song "I Can't Do It Alone" she did her split finale THREE times--woo-hoo!!
2. A FUNNY THING HAPPENED...- "Comedy Tonight" was so funny. Loved the old guy running around the hills--great character.
3. PHANTOM- It will always be a classic
4. VICTOR/VICTORIA- I just hope I look as good as Julie Andrews at that age.
5. STEEL PIER- I love when they all dance on the boardwalk during the contest. Great choreography.

From Redhamilla:
Hey, my name is Laurie and I am from NY. I always go to see broadway shows in the city and this is my top ten list from less to most favorite (but I loved all of these shows, that is why they are on my top ten list.)
10. Jekyll and Hyde: I liked it cause Linda Eder has the most amazing voice. Even if the show had been awful, (which is wasn't) I could sit and listen to her and still enjoy myself.
9. A Funny thing happened on the Way to the Forum: The whole show was just so much fun to watch.
8. Miss Saigon: I live for AMERICAN DREAM and I still love that helicopter.
7. Les Miserables: The music is wonderful, the cast is great. Even though I have heard "ON MY OWN" ten trillion times it still remains my most favorite song!
6. King and I: I was in the show, so I guess I am biased!
5. Phantom of the Opera: That crazy chandelier freaks the hell out of me! It's great.
4, Rent: 2 words ANTHONY RAPP! He is brilliant. He fills the entire stage with his energy and presence.
3. Chicago: The dancing was awesome and the cast was great.
2. Beauty and the Beast: I love this show. I can't comprehend how they are able to fit all of that STUFF onto one stage. It's incredible. It's totally magical.
1. Triumph of Love: EVERYONE MUST SEE THIS SHOW! Every single person in the cast was incredible. You had Betty Buckley and Susan Egan who are both AMAZING! The set was so fabulous. It was very simple yet the way it was lighted made it seem totally FABULOUS! Everyone MUST see this show! It was one of the best shows I have ever seen on Broadway.

From Jon Billig:
Well, not really a Top Ten, but here are my most memorable moments, by category:
BEST MUSICAL OF THE DECADE, AT LEAST: RAGTIME in Toronto - Perfection. Thrilling - what more can I say?
MOST DAZZLING INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE: KAREN ZIEMBA in STEEL PIER - she gave the performance of a lifetime - too bad the rest of the show didn't measure up.
FUNNIEST NIGHT AT THE THEATRE: WHEN PIGS FLY - a perfect way to forget your troubles. Runner Up: MERE MORTALS
LEAST IMPRESSIVE SET DESIGN: TITANIC - they sing about the opulent decor, but all I see are painted flats. We're supposed to be impressed that the stage floor actually tilts? Excuse me, but weren't elevators invented about a hundred years ago?
BEST DISAPPEARING ACT: BUNNY BUNNY - where is this marvelous play? There was talk of an L.A. production and a tour, but so far, nothing...
BEST EXAMPLE OF THE LOST ART OF PLAYWRITING: LAST NIGHT OF BALLYHOO - A perfect blend of comedy, sentiment, and social message - a traditional "well-made play" like our parents used to enjoy.
THE "BIGGER IS SOMETIMES BETTER" AWARD: The Chicago installation of BLUE MAN GROUP - I was lucky to see it in opening week, with the three original Blue guys. The theatre is much larger than the Astor Place in New York, and they take full advantage of that. The lobby alone is worth the price of admission - with Blue Man versions of art masterpieces, kinetic sculpture, miles of tubes to listen to and talk through, a concession stand with a "Tee Shirts and Snacks" song blaring away, and bathrooms with their own "This is the Blue Man Barthoom" song!

From arlenee:
I don't get to the Big Apple often, if ever, but I have experienced some quality theatre here in Boston in the past year.
The Diary of Anne Frank: A fantastic production, I went only to see the cast, but left with a much deeper message. I was thrilled when I heard that it would be previewing in Boston and was not disappointed in the least. For all you New Yorkers, if its the last thing you do, see this show, the feeling you get after George Hearn gives his heartbreaking monologue is indescribable, and incomparable to any theatre experience I've ever had.
Show Boat: I saw it on tour. The cast featured Tom Bosley and Karen Morrow. It was great to see Bosley after being a fan of his TV work for so many years, and equally as thrilling to see Karen Morrow, a performer who definitely hasn't gotten the credit she deserves...yet. It's a big show, but a fun one with a great score, set and costumes. Not a complaint here, just another happy customer.

From HaoDeeDoo:
10-Victor/Victoria closed-I really did not like this show at all and I think it is now proved that the Tony shut out other than the nomination for Julie Andrews was truly deserved.
9-Steel Pier-A bit hokey in parts, but with a great performance by Karen Ziemba. The music was enjoyable and I thought Running in Place was a very exciting number.
8-The Tony Awards-though I really wish The Life had won best musical I am happy that they moved the awards to Radio City and opened them up to the public.
7-Misalliance-a charmingly witty play with a few misguided performances. Overall it was entertaining.
6-Play On!-Okay. Okay. It got trashed in reviews, closed quickly and didn't really make much of itself, but I found it extremely entertaining. Tonya Pinkins has an amazing voice put to good use in Duke Ellington's songs and Cheryl Freeman did a fine job as Viola/Vyman. I thought the show was cute.
5-Elaine Paige in Sunset Boulevard-a great diva in a great show. I'm not a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber but I think he did an amazing job on this show and what could be better than this for London's musical star's debut on Broadway?
4-The Life-I love this show. I am still trying to figure out why the character Jojo was created like he was, but other than that it was great. Lillias White is at turns hilarious and touching and what a voice! The story was cliched true, but there is such energy in this show.
3-Chicago-I never saw Ann Reinking so I can't judge her but her understudy did just fine. Bebe Neuwirth is fantastic and the show is brilliant.
2-Janet McTeer in A Doll's House- What can I say?This performance was beyond words.
1-Side Show-such an amazing piece of work. I ordered my tickets using the Playbill online deal and got amazing seats for the final preview performance. Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner are two of the most astounding Broadway performers I have ever seen and the show was frequently stopped by the applause. Really a shame that it is closing.

From Ilana M. Schikler:
My List of the Top 10 of the Year is as follows...
1. "Titanic" Although this show was sinking fast both technically and with the critics, it was miraculously rescued to become the top selling show of the year. ("What a Remarkable Age This Is!"). Who was the savior? .....Rosie?.....the myriads of Tony awards it won?...the extremely talented cast and beautiful score by Maury Yeston and book by Peter Stone?....or maybe just the subject matter itself? All I can say is, "Sail On Ship of Dreams!"
2. "Ragtime" As our century is spinning and our era is exploding we have this "new music" to welcome us into our new millennium. Hopefully, this brilliant show will become the next mega-hit musical.
3. "Candide" Although a short run, I thought this revival was absolutely wonderful! I felt as though I was on a two and a half hour ride in the likes of a Disney World - as I whirled through different countries watching the adventures of Candide. I am extremely surprised that this faded away into history so quickly. I feel that it truly was the "Best of all possible worlds!"
4. "Lion King" Julie Taymor was able to make an amazing spectacle without making it "Too Disney." Almost every effect is eye-popping to both children and adults alike. Luckily, however, the cast is not overshadowed by these special effects due to their strong talents.
5. "Steel Pier" Sadly enough, this Kander and Ebb musical was not able to run the crazy marathon.......perhaps it wasn't cynical enough compared to their two hit musicals that are both going to be sharing a spotlight on Broadway. All that remains is an enjoyable cast recording to a show that I believe should get a "Second Chance."
6. "Dealer's Choice" (Manhattan Theatre Club) This brilliantly cast play by Patrick Marber goes into the relationship between a father and son, and how sadly enough, only a game of cards could bring them together.
7. "The Devils" (New York Theatre Workshop) The futile hopes of Russian revolutionaries came to life in this nearly four hour drama by Elizabeth Egloff, based on a novel by Dostoevsky.
8. "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" Alfred Uhry, and the wonderful cast of this play, brought both laughter and tears to the audience, as they portrayed this wealthy Georgian family who slowly learn to accept their Jewish roots from Joe Farkas (Paul Rudd).
9. "The Life" The great music takes everyone on a trip back to when their was No Mickey Mouse ruling Hell's Kitchen.
10. "Triumph of Love" A very cute show that perhaps would have made more of a triumph in an Off-Broadway Theatre. A cast recording would definitely be welcomed by theatregoers as it contains some very uplifting and beautiful songs. (My favorite being "Serenity," in which Betty Buckley sings to perfection..........and perhaps if a recording is made they'll put in that second act song for Ms. Buckley that was cut.)
Other shows that are not on this list, but should be noted in my opinion are: "Collected Stories" (MTC) and "Jackie." ....and there's my list! : )

From Marc Levenson, Bay Shore, NY:
The number one show i saw this year was Les Miserables: I thought this was the best show because i liked the way the complex plot and the scenes was expressed on stage through the simple set and the lighting. I thought the music to this was extremely beautiful and touching and the portrayal of each actor in their role was outstanding and plausible.
The second best show i saw this year was Jekyll and Hyde: In this beautiful musical i found myself mesmerized by the story that unwound itself onto the small stage of the Plymouth Theatre. I liked the complex set and the special effects such as in the confrontation scene when Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde struggle for the procession of the mind and body of Jekyll.
My number three favorite show was the long-running musical Cats: This show was just a fascinating experience from the minute i walked into the theatre. One gazes around the auditorium and is transfixed by the giant piles of garbage such as giant shoes and boxes, that appear to make the audience feel like they're the size of a cat. The lighting if astounding and the music, while a little old, is still effective better than ever.
The last show I'll discuss is the happy little musical Annie. I was a little worried at first, having read the reviews, but i was not disappointed at what appeared on stage in the show. I thought the scenery was astounding and the singing was great and the music as good as it's ever been.

From Johnny:
< I'm clearly in the minority my saying LOUD AND CLEAR that THE LIFE was by FAR the BEST!!!! I even will go so far to say it got me through some of the best and worst times of my life and it is what the musical theatre is all about....I feel TITANIC was very good as well but didn't have the staying power with me that the LIFE did......I also had the good fortune of seeing the 2 of them in the summer and I cant understand everyones "ANGST" with THE LIFE....all I can particular with the last message in the poll, LIGHTEN UP....sit back, relax and enjoy....and as far as Steel Pier goes..."let it go"....Bring back Kiss of the Spider Woman!!!!

From Faisal Al-Juburi:
My name is Faisal Al-Juburi and I am 13 years old. I realize that someone has already written about Sunset Boulevard as their favorite moment , but I also wish to write about it. I actually saw Sunset in December of '96 but I still needed to express my feelings about it. Seeing this production with Elaine Paige truly sparked my interest in the theatre. I have now become a major theatregoer being able to pack in some ten musicals in the last year. I'll never forget the moment I heard Elaine Paige sing "With One Look".
Right then I knew that this was the profession for me. Her performance really grabbed my attention and drew me into a life which I know will be filled with theatre. I never got to meet Elaine Paige, but I do hope that I will be able to one day. New York has lost one of the Best actresses in the world. I only hope that she will decide to reprise her role of Edith Piaf in the musical "Piaf"in New York. I actually hear that she might reprise her role of Eva Peron in Evita and if she does I will most certainly be the first one on the plane to London to catch her performance.

From Gidget McGreggor:
10. Steel Pier
9. Steel Pier
8. Steel Pier
7. Steel Pier
6. Steel Pier
5. Steel Pier
4. Steel Pier
3. Steel Pier
2. Steel Pier
1.Steel Pier
What can I say? I absolutely loved it and was devastated it closed!

From David Breslin:

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