Playbill Poll: Top Theatre Experiences of 1997 -- Part 6

News   Playbill Poll: Top Theatre Experiences of 1997 -- Part 6
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 sixth 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 Christina D'Angelo:
Gross Indecency, The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde -- It is so seldom one is witness to true art; an art which reaches another plane; an art that grabs you and thrusts you full force into a glorious transcendent realm. Mr. Wilde wrote in one of his prose poems that he could not be sent to Heaven because, "never, and in no place, have I been able to imagine it." I tell you I can imagine what it is like as I was there... in The Minetta Lane Theatre. Go.
The Lion King -- The opening scene was truly a religious experience. Like Moses and the burning bush, I have seen the face of God and I dare say it is the work of Julie Taymor!
The Life -- Amazing performances from the entire cast, jazzy score by Cy Coleman, and a strong gritty book that had me spell bound.
1776 -- This delicious musical about the signing of Declaration of Independence will have you on the edge of you seat. Fanstastic performances by Greg Edelman and Michael Cumpsty.
Side Show -- Touching story about conjoined twins with lush score and anthems of elevated deportment. Outstanding performances by Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley.
The Diary of Anne Frank -- The entire cast is so real that one feels privy not only to their day to day life, but also to the intrinsic longings of their souls. Bring tissues.
Bunny Bunny -- Hilariously touching off-Broadway show about Gilda Radner. Fantastic sets by David Gallo!
The Scarlet Pimpernel -- I did not expect to like this one but as it turned out I loved it. The bottom line is that the show is completely beguiling. It is a classic musical comedy that pleasantly amuses. It is also an enthralling drama that will have you on the edge of your seats for the final twenty minutes. In short, the production is a delicious dichotomy of hilarity and suspense whose sole intent is to entertain.
Cyrano De Bergerac -- Mr. Langella's has fleshed out his Cyrano with humanity, eloquent alexandrine rhythmic verse and grace.
(P.S> I loved reading what others had.

From Felix_Carlos:
Being a native Southern Californian you might think that would seriously limit ones chances of seeing those really memorable magical moments in theatre. However, besides making the occasional pilgrimage to the Great White Way, living in beautiful sunny Orange County, one can see some incredible theatre in San Diego (The Old Globe, La Jolla), Costa Mesa (South Coast Rep and The OC Performing Arts Theatre) and LA. For someone whose first two professional theatrical experiences were as a teen seeing the original LA production of A Chorus Line and O'Neill's Moon for the Misbegotten with Robards and Dewhurst, theatre has become a serious endeavor. And as for '97 this was truly one of those years of I will always remember.
Just some of the shows I got a chance to see this year were: In SoCal: Arcadia, Three Days of Rain, Golden Children, Master Class, Skylight, After Play, Harmony, Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake and Rent. On Broadway: Titanic, Forbidden Broadway, Jekyll and Hyde, Scarlet Pimpernel, Triumph of Love, 1776, Chicago and The Life.
The following four shows are my picks for the best of '97:
4. Three Tall Women (San Diego) - Albee's fascinating piece, examining a woman's life from the perspective of youth, middle age and the final years.
3. Side Show - A look into the world of two women whose questioned, "Who Will Love Me As I Am?". Amazing heartfelt performances by Ripley, Skinner, McCarthy and Lewis.
2. The Lion King - Congratulations to Disney, who against previously strong negative sentiments from the Broadway community, was able to conquer us all with an evening that has brought theatre to a whole new level!
1. Ragtime (LA) Not only does this show make number 1 on my list, it also makes number 1 by a longshot on my list of all-time bests. I have never been so enthralled from beginning to end dramatically and musically. An true American Classic! A historical segment of the beginning of this century which resonates into the present and well into the millennium. Living together in HARMONY, something we have yet to learn. Good luck to this production at Tony time!

From Mike Wilt (
CATS #6138 June 19,1997
Unfortunately I am not able to attend many Broadway shows, so I am not able to post a "top 10" list, but one event stands out to me. Ironically, it was in regards to a performance I did not even attend! It was the 6138th performance of Cats, which became the longest-running Broadway show in history.
I would have loved to have attended that show, but I was not able to get tickets. However, after hearing that there was going to be a celebration afterwards outside the Winter Garden Theater, I drove up to New York from Philadelphia to witness it. After the performance, the entire cast, creative team (including Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber), as well as the audience for the evening poured out of the theater for a few post performance remarks by the creative team, a few words by NY mayor Rudolph Guliani (who proclaimed the day "Cats Day"), and a laser show on the giant marquee outside the theater.
I had waited outside the theater for a few hours before the celebration began, which lasted only about 15 minutes, but it was definitely worth the wait-and the trip to see such an event!!

From Dalissa Vargas:
1. Kristina from Duvemala - I had the opportunity to experience one of the best stage productions of my life and in a language I don't speak or understand. While in Sweden this past February friends, knowing I liked Chess introduced me to this musical, explained the story and I rarely go a week without listening to some portion of the Swedish recording. Like great operas this musical transcends language barriers, with themes of love, loss and faith that prevails. The complex story is based on 4 novels of the struggles of it's main character Kristina from her tranquil life in Sweden that turns harsh with famine and forces her and her family to immigrate to the United States, and eventually migrate out to the Midwest plains. Rather than brushing over these events the musical develops and explores her fear and sadness of all that she knows and loves. We watch as her undoubting faith often serves as her only comfort. One of the show's many highlights is when she finally questions God's existence in the face of her greatest tragedy, ultimately concluding he must because her entire life is based in that belief. The score is haunting, tender and spiritual and evokes memories of styles from Aaron Copland to their earlier work in Chess. It is rare that a musical is spellbinding. Kristina from Duvemala is that and I can only hope that a translation to English occurs for state side production.
2. Ragtime - This side of the Atlantic the best musical currently running. It's a complete musical, which is difficult to come by. Superb casting simply justifies a wonderful book by Terrence McNally and music/lyrics from Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens. Having been lucky enough to see the Toronto production in its final weekend, fans of the recent recording will find and expanded musical with pivotal music additions, especially for Audra McDonald. Ragtime does what Titanic failed to do. It creates multiple stories of individuals showing how their lives are connected, yet separated by class and race. It deserves all the accolades it is about to receive.
3. Violet - The musical that had no where to go. Probably the best product out of Playwrights Horizons since Floyd Collins, Violet was small, intimate and one of the most honest shows I've ever seen. The simple story of a girl painfully scared in the face looking for a miracle in an evangelist preacher, turns out to be a journey for the entire audience towards looking at the fears in life that control you to the point of immobility. The direction complements a brilliantly stark set, weaving flashbacks with active scenes in Violet's journey, allowing us depth to her character and background to strengthen the shows climax. I do not believe a recording was done and that is a shame, because Violet serves as a vivid reminder of the beauty and power of simplicity and a well told story.
4. Into The Woods - The Reunion Concert - Yes Robert Westenberg and other original cast members weren't there, yes there ever amazing Joanna Gleason was sick, and yes lines were flubbed and forgotten. BUT, the Into the Woods reunion concert was a chance to see an incredible ensemble on stage once more ten years later, and laugh, cry and sing along to favorite parts as though you were among old friends. Sondheim is one of our most prolific and inventive songwriters, which made it an opportunity to celebrate one of America's most celebrated. But above all it was one of the great moments this year, because from the moment Chip Zien sang the first line of "No More" to Joanna Gleason's "No One Is Alone" the reality and intimate connection the benefit for Friends in Need had to the musical was clear in not only defining the dignity of this cause, but the power of music.
5/6. Ivanov - Although not my favorite Chekhov play, the astute casting on both sides of the Atlantic make it a tie for me. Ralph Fiennes in London and Kevin Kline in New York evoke range and emotion that goes beyond the dialogue given. That alone made both productions soar and become an exhilarating performance.
7. Streetcar Named Desire - One of the most explosive roles staged for a man with a history of actors who have played it and a preconceived vision of Marlon Brando you would think what chance does anyone have (look at Alec Baldwin). Yet, Gary Sinise exploded in this role, not in the famed "Stella" scene, but upon his entrance to the play. He commanded the stage from his entrance and never let go. This Streetcar was fresh, energized and at a fever pitch that gave a place among it's predecessors. Gary Sinise is simply one of the most honest actors we have, and in this role it elevated the character to places we haven't seen Stanley go before. That alone made it worth the trip to Chicago.
8. Romeo and Juliet (Washington DC Folger production) - The Shakespeare Library did something in Washington this fall that Hollywood miserably failed at a year ago, a modern telling of Shakespeare's tragedy. This production melded the innocence and blind impulse the text reveals with an early 90's setting, which made the play accessible and real, in a way Zefferelli's film could not. This is not a fairy tale gone wrong so much as it is an exploration of heightened emotions that the eyes of teenagers see life through. The modern setting made what is the weakest of the tragedies tangible and fiercely serious at times. It made you pay attention and remember why Shakespeare sustains, especially in a time when we are so quick to use the oxymoron "Instant Classic" for new works being done.
9. Forever Tango - It is a musical without words and the fact that Luis Bravo has brought storytelling to Spanish Dance is enthralling, romantic and sensual in the way that Noise and Funk was raw, enthusiastic and defining. The show flows with a pacing similar to that of simple storytelling, where the stories are merely interesting within themselves rather than pushing a plot forward.
10. The Last Session - Uplifting and beautiful, who would of thought a musical about AIDS and not about AIDS could evoke tears of joy, not sadness. I saw this show in workshop and the fact that such a simplified concept like a final recording session could be so profound and positive is no only hopeful, but gives a new face to shows dealing with difficult subject matter and not manipulating an audience in the process.

From bstiskal:
Here are my top ten theatrical experiences of this wonderful year:
1) Seeing STEEL PIER (the first time) with my family.
2) Seeing STEEL PIER (the second time) with my friends. This show is SO wonderful! I love Ziemba, McDonald, Monk, and Harrison! I recall crying: when I saw the show, then again when I heard it was closing, then one last time when I heard the OCR and could not imagine how something as amazing as this show could not be adored by everyone.
3) SIDE SHOW was so darn good that I am seeing it a second time this week before it comes to its premature demise.
4) THE 10th ANNIVERSARY CONCERT OF INTO THE WOODS was divine! What a fantastic treat for someone who never got to attend the original show. I must say that it was a bit unorganized, but I loved it just because it was a great reminder of the past.
5) CHICAGO (the first national touring company) was far better than the Broadway production in many aspects. BUT (in the end) both productions were splendid, and the Fosse choreography is to die for!
6) SUNSET BOULEVARD for the fourth time with Elaine Paige (March 22) was so amazing, but it was my favorite last year when I saw it the third time with Elaine, so I figured it was time for a change.
7) TRIUMPH OF LOVE was just so cute! And Betty and Susan were sublime, so it is unfortunate that this charming show is closing next week.
8) THE LIFE had some brilliant performances, but the music was not that wonderful. Lillias White, Chuck Cooper, and (my favorite) Pamela Issacs all turned in stellar performances.
9) THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK was a powerful play, but the children ruined the show. Linda Lavin and George Hearn gave Tony-worthy performances, but someone needs to get Natalie Portman off the stage.
10) The final show to make my list is the Speakeasy Theatre Company (of Boston) presenting, MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG. The show was sensational for regional theatre, and was a very moving experience. Happy theatre going in 1998!!!

From JJRiveraR:
BEST: Without a doubt, the phenomenal Elaine Paige as Norma Desmond in SUNSET BOULEVARD. Nothing compares. Let's have her back for PIAF so we have something to really look forward to in 1998!

From CPatriarch:
1. Jump Cut (Faust)- The Builders Association at the Thread Waxing Space (NY)
2. Pearls for Pigs Directed/Designed/Written by Richard Foreman at Tribeca Perf. Arts Center (NY)
3. Time Rocker-Directed by Robert Wilson, Music by Lou Reed at BAM (NY)
4. Hajj-Presented by Mabou Mines- at Toro Con Nada (NY)
5. The Hairy Ape by Eugene O'Neill, Presented by The Wooster Group at the Selwyn Theatre (NY)
6. Damfino-presented by Collapsible Giraffe at The Performing Garage (NY)
7. Bedfellows-by Herman Denny Farrell at The Flea Theatre (NY)
8. FNU LNU by Mac Wellman at Soho Rep (NY)
9. The Caucasian Chalk Circle- by Brecht- Royal National Theatre (London)

From bbbach:
How could the [Time Magazine] top ten fail to mention the two best shows in town?? Jekyll and Hyde and The Scarlet Pimpernel are by far the two most exciting new shows. Best scores by far and Linda Eder...Wow... she alone should put any show in the top 10!

From James Douglas:
1 The Lion King (Broadway)-Even from the Balcony it was very emotional.
2-J.C. Superstar (West End)-center, eye to eye with Jesus for Gethsemane. What an emotional Rush
3-Rent (Broadway)-The second time I saw it. Front row and a surprising emotional performance, to me, from Adam Pascal.
4-Titanic (Broadway)-Went in expecting nothing(before Rosie and the tony's)and received a great show and score.
5-Martin Guerre (West End)-Another great show from the french group.It received a Bad rap from the press.
6-Side Show (Broadway)-An enjoyable show with great music.
7-Steel Pier (Broadway)-Another enjoyable show that received little attention like Side Show. (The curse of Chicago?)
8-Present Laughter (Broadway)-I am more of a musical fan but this show was very entertaining especially Frank Langella
9-Joseph... (Gateway Playhouse)-A better production, with far less money, than the production I saw on Broadway with Micheal Damian.
10-Broadway on Broadway and Flea Market-I had a great time at both these events enjoying what theater has to offer the theatergoer.
Least Favorite
1-Tommy (Bayway Arts Center)-I know it is community theater, but Donny Osmond as Tommy, need I say more.

From Babbs smile:
I'm limited to New York theatre (since that's where I live) smile But here goes:
1 - SIDE SHOW (hello! - SEE THIS NOW!!!)
2 - JEKYLL & HYDE (catch this right after you see SIDE SHOW. They're located a block apart!)
3 - CHICAGO (Bebe Neuwirth - need I say more?)
4 - BARRYMORE (too bad it closed, but Christopher Plummer was INCREDIBLE!)
5 - A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (I laughed until my sides split and then laughed some more)
6 - Broadway On Broadway Concert - Times Square, September 1997. It's a great way to get a little sampling of everything.
7 - LES MISERABLES (with the Tenth Anniversary cast. Marvelous - especially Ivan Rutherford, Robert Gallagher, Juliet Lambert, Stephen Buntrock, and Fuschia Walker. I saw it twice in one weekend! It's also near SIDE SHOW and J&H!)

From Matt Zytko:
I've seen dozens of Broadway musicals in the past but I've only seen one this year and it was SIDE SHOW. It was great! The concept, production, and music just blew me away. Though the reviews were good, it appears that the "big productions" are the ones that will survive . . .too bad.

From Pete Delaney:
1. Jekyll & HYDE (Plymouth Theatre)
2. Scarlet Pimpernel
3. Phantom of the Opera
4. Miss Saigon
5. 1776 (Gershwin Theatre)
6. Les Miserables
7. Me and My Girl (Lenape Valley Stage)
8. Children of Eden (Papermill)
9. Rent
10. Guys and Dolls

From Dr David Franklin
2. THE LIFE being named Best Musical
3. meeting Pamela Isaacs and Lillias White after seeing THE LIFE for a second time
4. Lillias White and Chuck Cooper winning Tonys for THE LIFE
5. release of the original cast recording of THE LIFE
6. The first ten or fifteen minutes of THE LION KING
8. Kate Nelligans's overlooked performance in AN AMERICAN DAUGHTER
10.Christopher Plummer winning the Tony for Barrymore

From Ed:
-- Anne Reinking - Her performance in (and choreography for) Chicago was simply amazing. Her fluid dance moves were a marvel.
-- Sharon Wilkins - She was the stand-in for Lillias White as Sonja the night I saw The Life. Her voice absolutely rocked the Barrymore Theater with "The Oldest Profession." It was a religious experience. And her duet with Pamela Isaacs at the show's end brought tears and chills.

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