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 seventh 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.
1. Violet -- I went to the theatre with absolutely no idea what to expect, and I left exhilarated, irrevocably changed by a work of complete inspiration and beauty. From the direction to the score to the book to the performances- Violet was a theatrical work so rare and heart-rending that I will go to my grave trying desperately to explain to others what a brilliant, daring, life-affirming and yes, entertaining work of genius that a precious few of us had the privilege of sharing in the midst of the debacle that was musical theatre in spring of '97. The great tragedy of this past year is that Violet didn't transfer. What an embarrassment to our industry, and a grave loss to those who care about the elevation of art and the human spirit.
2. Side Show -- For those who moan and groan and lament about what Side Show could have been or should have been, I challenge them to take a second look at the show and see it for all that it is- a transfixing, complex, bittersweet and wholly satisfying celebration of life, love, family (stage family and genetic family), celebrity and kick-ass singing. Alice Ripley is devastating, Emily Skinner is stunning, Norm Lewis is other-worldly, and Henry Krieger's score is fierce and fun. If the rest of the cast and creative team are a tad underwhelming or erratic, pray to God to raise Michael Bennett, Ira Gershwin and a few other creative types from the dead. In the meantime, go see Side Show again.
3. A Doll's House -- The cast was breathtaking, the direction tight, and the translation riveting. Who knew that 3 1/2 hours of drama could be so entertaining, so spellbinding, so commercially successful and accessible. Good art is indeed good business.
4. The Young Man From Atlanta -- Shirley Knight and Rip Torn gave gut-wrenching performances as people that I think most New Yorkers would like to believe don't really exist, in a play that most New Yorkers just didn't want to see. Horton Foote so beautifully captured the limitations and paralysis of a generation that apparently we've already dismissed from our collective consciousness. The play, like its two stars' performances, was complex, subtle, and deceptively non-assuming. It's over-all affect was devastating, disturbing, and enduring. It stayed with me long after the curtain fell and the final bows were taken. Perhaps it didn't have enough one-liners, pop culture references, or vein-popping screaming from self-important "Actors" with a capital "A", but for my money, Broadway and Off-Broadway need more plays of this nuance and pedigree.
4. The Boys From Syracuse -- I have 2 words for you: Susan Schulman Susan Schulman Susan Schulman. Say them over and over again whenever you despair about the state of musical theatre, and your optimism and faith will surely be renewed. Then say Rebecca Luker Rebecca Luker Rebecca Luker, and kick yourself for not seeing The Boys From Syracuse. Tremendous score, inspired direction, energetic performances, flawless singing- and a supporting cast that was equally engaging. (Malcom Gets! Marian Seldes! Debbie Gravitte! Davis Gaines! Sarah Berry! An orgasmic ensemble if ever there's been one assembled.) Hats off to the folks at City Center Encores for consistently bringing such sterling productions of beloved musical theatre classics with top notch creative talent.
5. The Lion King -- Disney takes material that isn't worth twenty cents, spends over twenty million on it, and almost justifies it. Few theatrical experiences in my life can touch the chilling thrill of the opening sequence. Julie Taymor is a true theatre artist who takes a complete vision and creates a visual and aural feast that is uniquely theatrical. The magic she generates on the stage of the New Amsterdam can ONLY be generated on stage. That to me is the true brilliance and legacy of The Lion King; may it indoctrinate legions of young theatregoers and new audiences to the limitless potential of live performance.
From Christine Rudakewycz:
Here are my most memorable theater experiences of 1997:
1. Attending the 10th anniversary performance of LES MISERABLES on March 12. The show was nothing short of phenomenal. At the end of the show, red, white, and blue balloons fell from the ceiling. I grabbed a blue balloon, and my friend grabbed a white one. My balloon deflated the next day, but my friend's balloon, to everyone's amazement, NEVER deflated! It's just as full today as it was on March 12! It must be a magical balloon...and it's a perfect symbol of how magical that night was.
2. CHICAGO--I love this show!!! As lots of people have mentioned already, Bebe Neuwirth and Marilu Henner are excellent. I must add that Nancy Hess does a phenomenal job as well--her voice is truly incredible. I can't wait to see this show again!
3. A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM--I love this show too!! It's so hilarious--truly entertaining. I've seen Whoopi Goldberg, David Alan Grier, and Bob Amaral. Each one has been great. I wish this show weren't closing!
4. Meeting all the Broadway stars has been perhaps my all-time favorite theater experience. As others have mentioned, these performers are such nice people. I was able to attend both Broadway on Broadway and the Broadway Flea Market....and I have so many stories to tell! I'm especially grateful to Marilu Henner and Deborah Gibson who really went out of their way to make my day unforgettable.
5. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST--this is truly a classic. It's so much more than just a romance--the character development is amazing. What a great story! A highly entertaining show.
6. THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST at the Everyman Theater in Baltimore-- I could see this show a hundred times....it's so funny! It's really amazing how successful this show can be despite very simple sets. The dialogue is hysterical.
7. THE BROADWAY KIDS SING BROADWAY--okay, I happen to love kids! This is a great show to introduce young children to musical theater. It's even very entertaining for adults! Anyone out there with kids--take them to see this! I've also been fortunate to meet these kids and their families, and as I said in #4, everyone is so gracious and friendly. I'd like to acknowledge the entire Bowen family (all 8 of them!) for being so nice to me. I've never met kinder, friendlier parents! Honorable mention: Mrs. Zeidman, Mrs. Riegel.
8. ANNIE--another great kids show!
9. JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT at the Helen Hayes Performing Arts Center in Nyack, NY--I love the score, and Andrea McArdle was an excellent Narrator.
10. I can't decide!!! I loved BIG RIVER and CHILDREN OF EDEN at the Paper Mill Playhouse, HOUDINI at the Goodspeed Opera House, 42ND STREET at the North Shore Music Theater, 1776 at the Gershwin, PRINCE AND THE PAUPER at Queens Theater in the Park, and CRAZY FOR YOU at the Walnut St. Theater.
It's been a great year, and I look forward to 1998!
From Brian Pier:
The opening minutes of THE LION KING reminded me why I go to theater - for the thrill of perfect moments when music, costumes, staging, and performance gel.
Playbill On-Line backstage at the Tony's - thanks to POL, I watched the show AND asked presenters and winners questions via their online liaison. Where else could I have wished Mandy Patinkin the best in recuperating from his eye surgery, asked Bebe how long she would stay with Chicago ("...as long as my widdle wegs will wet me....") and thanked Maury Yeston for his intelligent score? I'll certainly not forget the 1997 Tony Awards!
The final scenes from SPACE at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago. SPACE (and the ending of Sunday In The Park With George) evoked an emotion I cannot even name.
CHICAGO (for the second, third, and fourth times)
The worst moments - a close tie between David Copperfield's tired performance at the Martin Beck and the downright boring THE LIFE.
From Ben Martin, Lee's Summit HS Theatre Teacher, Lee's Summit, MO (firstname.lastname@example.org):
1. Doing the Triple Crown--Somehow I was fortunate enough to hit the 3 most active theatre cities in the English speaking world within 12 months. New York in August, 1996; London in December/January and Toronto in August of 1997. That was fun. Especially since I'm on a teacher's salary and avoided bankruptcy.
2. Ragtime--Toronto. What a show! Hits on all cylinders and explores major American themes through an American musical motif. I think it will be the musical of the decade.
3. The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr: Abridged--London Pure fun from zany Americans and Londoners loved it. We had to scrape for tickets.
4. Master Class--New York w/ Patti Lupone A powerful look into the soul of an artist and performer. What a shame to have wasted such talent on opera (did I say that?) Also saw the road show with Faye Dunaway in Kansas City. Not quite as good especially in a huge road house.
5. Rent--New York and Minneapolis This is the show that is going to bridge the gap in generations. As a teacher, I encounter a lot of students who can't relate to current theatre offerings. But after experiencing Rent they begin to ask about what other shows are available and suddenly seem much more willing to give them a try. By the way, I though the Minneapolis cast was a more polished group of performers with more trained skill. I enjoyed their performance as did the students I took to see it. But I "lived" the New York cast's performance. The raw energy and commitment was so much more evident.
6. My tour of the still under construction Globe Theatre in London and then on the same day meeting one of my college theatre professors from Central Missouri State by chance in the Bookstore of the National Theatre. Even without a performance included this was a great day.
7. Seven Guitars--New York Intense, long (over 3 hours!?, but I didn't notice until afterward), well-acted. Plus I got to participate in a workshop with one of the cast members.
8. Tommy--London OK, so it was just a ball seeing the old concept album of my youth turned into a full production, but I really enjoyed this show. And the students I was with connected with this show, too! Don't worry about the greying hairs in audiences quite yet.
9. The Taming of the Shrew--Stratford, Ontario A day with other theatre teachers in Stratford, a guided tour of the Festival Theatre and a chance to talk to the actors after a fun-filled show made for a great time.
10. The International Thespian Festival--2,500 theatre students and teachers from all over the world who meet to play, perform and learn with one another. You know the stereotypes of high school theatre? Well, you can find those here, but there are also some things happening on the high school level that are astounding. Productions of Assassins, Beast in the Moon, South Pacific and more inspired us. Being able to direct and present Patient A for this audience with my students made the week even more special. They received it enthusiastically and, I hope, listened to the message.
11. Yes, I know I said Top 10. Martin Guerre--London This was our last show in London before we came back to the USA. And we got the tickets at Leicester Square on a whim. We were rewarded with a moving production. I really liked this show and would like to produce it at my school (we are blessed with an outstanding music department). I'm sorry that more people didn't respond to it with the same enthusiasm.
From Alan Forsyth:
Death of a Salesman - Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto
The Lion King - New Amsterdam Theater, New York
Doll's House - Belasco Theater, New York
Three Tall Women - Herbst Theater, San Francisco
An American Daughter - LCT at The Cort, New York
Three Lives of Marie - Tarragon Theatre, Toronto
Streetcar Named Desire - Steppenwolf Theater, Chicago
The Children's Hour - Shaw Festival, Niagara on the Lake
Equus - Stratford Festival, Stratford
The Glass Menagerie - Tarragon Theatre, Toronto
Side Show - Richard Rodgers Theatre, NY
Sunset Blvd (National Tour) - Civic Opera House, Chicago
From Julia Evins:
1. "Triumph of Love" on Broadway. This favorite moment is a continuation from last year when I saw "Triumph" premiere at Baltimore's Center Stage. Despite the fact that the musical went though serious recasting, and substantial book and song changes, it still remained a joyously charming and witty musical.
In fact, I loved most of the changes made (I still have a place in my heart for Mary Beth Peil's Hesione) and the best parts remained--witty songs and wonderful performances from Susan Egan and Christopher Sieber. Betty Buckley, F. Murray Abraham, Nancy Opel, Roger Bart, and Kevin Chamberlin were wonderful as well.
2. "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Center Stage, Baltimore. This staging by Irene Lewis was funny and completely enchanting with great performances from the entire cast. But truthfully, I thought actress Rebecca Creskoff's performance as Helena was a riot--she was funny from the moment she lopped onto the stage. Her performance was one of my favorites of the year. Too bad only Baltimore got to see it.
3. "As Bees in Honey Drown" off Broadway. I cant imagine anyone else playing Alexa Vere de Vere as brilliantly as J. Smith-Cameron. May the gods see fit to give her the lead if they make this into a film.
4. "When Pigs Fly" off Broadway. The most charming show after "Triumph of Love." I loved the entire cast but especially Stanley Bojarski who plays, you guessed it, Stanley. Mr. Bojarski has the biggest eyes in NYC and puts them to very good use.
5. "Titanic" on Broadway. Even from my seat in the nose bleed section, I was impressed with the scope and power of the staging.
Thanks to all the talented people who made the year in theatre a thrilling and memorable one.
My most memorable moment was when I was in West Side Story. It was in April at my middle school. We were doing our dress rehearsal performance ( it was being taped). About 1 minute before I was supposed to go on, for the beginning of the scene, I realized I was in the wrong dress. I had to strip down back stage and then my dress broke and the other one wouldn't come on!!! While I was changing all the Jets were watching me change! I got on stage, but the zipper on the back of my dress broke, so part of my dress was open! That is a stage experience that I will never forget!
My top five are:
1-Titanic. This show deserved EVERY Tony is got in June. It's incredible, I can't describe how much I enjoyed it. Honorable mentions: a-The Queen Victoria Clark who played Alice Beane and is the nicest lady on the GWW. She is the best Smitty and rocks the world! b-Brian d'Arcy James, whose voice is just awesome. c-Michael Cerveris, who is the best ship's architect. d-Melissa Bell as the bellboy. She was FUNNIER than Mara Stephens ( sorry Mara! ). e-Martin Moran--dit dit da dit dot dit, no one can play Harold Bride like him. f-Clark Thorell as the hot Jim Farrell, he's absolutely gorgeous!
2- Side Show. This show is awesome!!! Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner ROCK as Daisy and Violet. They both have the awesomest voices ( Emily wins over Alice in my book, even though Alice is the only Betty Schaefer ) and are incredible actresses. Ken Jennings made me cower in my seat as the ringmaster.
3- Scarlet Pimpernel- Guillotines, guys with swords in weirdo costumes, these are the highlights of this awesome musical that replaced the closed Sunset Blvd. I loved Scarlet, full of action and wonderful songs. I will like to mention the following: a Terrence Mann as Chauvlein. He is absolutely fabulous! A true villain. b-Gilles Chiasson as Armand St. Just. He's just too awesome.
4- Steel Pier. This show was so short lived, but it was so awesome. I love these sorts of stories, that's the first thing. Second thing, the music was wonderful, and Karen Ziemba rocked as Rita Racine.
5- The Last Night of Ballyhoo. I'm only a young 'un, but I loved this show all the same. It's dramatic, it's funny, it's a must see. It deserved the Tony for best play--Dana Ivey and Celia Weston deserved it too. They were great!
Well, I can't list many, but The King and I should definitely be in the top 10. I am a theatre student, so it is very rare that I can become totally engrossed in the action on stage. More often than not I'm noticing the lighting, costumes, scene changes, etc.. and thinking "I wonder if I could do that?" However, Prince and Gray were able to draw even me, a critical theatergoer, into their story, and I loved every minute of it. It is the first time in a very long time that I have enjoyed just watching a production.
10. Lypsinka is Harriett Craig- Funny, funny, funny! A wonderful vehicle for Lypsinka and Varla Jean Merman. If you missed it, shame on you. It was a riot!
9. Triumph of Love- This was the most underrated show of the year. It got lots of bad reviews, but the night I went, the audience was having a great time. Susan Egan was wonderful and really got to show her stuff as she kept switching her identities. The costumes and scenery were beautiful, and Betty Buckley stopped the show.
8. The Diary of Anne Frank- This show draws you in before you realize it, and once its got you, you are hooked. Natalie Portman is appropriately giggly and the rest of the cast also shines. The last 10 minutes will keep you from sleeping tonight. It is chilling.
7. Play On!- Why did this close so early? It was so good. Play on was clever and funny, the music was great and the actors were excellent. It deserved a much longer life.
6. The Cider House Rules Parts I&II- I saw this production in Seattle. Each part is four hours and there are about twenty actors playing over 90 characters. It was one of the most powerful things I have ever seen. A moving and stylized dramatization of a wonderful book.
5. As Bees in Honey Drown- Wonderfully constructed! J. Smith Cameron is fabulous. This play really confronts the question, What is the price of fame? The supporting cast is great. Also, directed by Mark Brokaw.
4. The Lion King- To quote the papers, it really was unlike anything I had ever seen. Although I thought that the book and lyrics left a lot to be desired, the chorus wonderful, and the staging and costumes were unbelievable.
3. How I Learned to Drive- I saw the original cast, and was blown away. The play deals with some very difficult issues and never lets up. I know several people who had to leave during the performance. Paula Vogel has crafted a magnetic "Lolita"ish story and Mark Brokaw is my new favorite director.
2. The Life- I went into the life and expected to be disappointed, but I found myself cheering the performers, and drawn into the story. Lilias White and Pamela Isaacs are two of the most talented women on Broadway right now.
1. Neat by Charlayne Woodard- I saw this production twice in Seattle, and it was thrilling. Charlayne held a packed house of over 800 on the edge of our seats for over two hours. She is a fabulous actress and amazing storyteller. Neat was simply the best.
First the plays:
1) A DOLL'S HOUSE -- a thrilling production that blew the cobwebs off of a play that everyone thought they knew and didn't care to see another production of. It made me want to read Ibsen again...something I haven't done in 15 years.
2) HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE -- a fascinating presentation of a difficult topic, one that has been presented on TV, film, video, in theater, etc. Playwright Paula Vogel is a genius.
3) The four plays I saw in London during a trip to Europe this summer with my lover. Two plays in the West End, two more at the National. TOM & CLEM with Alec McGowen and Michael Gambon; THE HERBAL BED, based on an incident in the life of Shakespeare's daughter with some similarities to Arthur Miller's THE CRUCIBLE; Pinter's THE HOMECOMING, a fascinating play given a brilliant production by the National Theatre; THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMANN (soon to open in New York), a very funny piece by an up and coming new playwright Martin McDonagh. Some of his other works are about to be produced in the states for the first time.
4) THE GIN GAME -- A chance to see two consummate professionals at work. Julie Harris is a national treasure.
5) STANLEY -- Terrific performances, an interesting play and, sadly, Circle in the Square's last production (and just as it appeared that they were getting back on their feet)
6) MOJO -- A wildly thrilling and entertaining first effort by Jez Butterworth with dazzlingly frenetic performances. An Atlantic Theater Company production.
7) MINUTES FROM THE BLUE ROUTE -- Another Atlantic Theater Company effort. A gripping family drama.
8) THE BATTING CAGE -- I will see Veanne Cox in anything! I will never forget the moment when she is standing in the motel room, having just gotten severely sun-burned, staring out the window...I've never witnessed an actor convey loneliness in a more powerful manner.
9) IVANOV -- Max Wright steals the show. His performance alone is worth seeing this production.
10) LONDON ASSURANCE -- Brian Bedford. He may have been way out there, but he made a choice, stuck with it and carried it off. And that's what makes him a pro.
Now the musicals:
1) Dollar for dollar, the best musical entertainment in town is the City Center Encores! series. This year's productions included SWEET ADELINE (which featured possibly the most beautiful song every written "Some Girl Is On His Mind"); PROMISES, PROMISES (with Kerry O'Malley, Martin Short and Christine Baranski, some great sounding music and Go-Go dancers!); and THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE (featuring Rodgers & Hart's most memorable score and the best ensemble in town). Coming on the heels of last year's productions of ONE TOUCH OF VENUS and CHICAGO, this program goes at the top of the list.
2) THE LION KING -- Imaginative stage-craft is alive and well at the New Amsterdam Theater. Julie Taymor's efforts make up for the weak Elton John/Tim Rice score.
3) WHEN PIGS FLY -- You don't need to spend $10 million to create a memorable and entertaining evening of musical theater. All of the Broadway musicals of this past year should take a note....
4) 1776 -- "Momma, Look Sharp" and the last scene were so incredibly moving. I actually started to cry...how often does that?
And that is where I have to end my 10 Best Musicals list. Every major Broadway musical was a major disappointment. Sure, there was an interesting performance here, some nice melodies there, but not one offered me enough to warrant singling it out. Let's hope that 1998 will restore my hope in the musical.
From TW in NYC:
My absolute favorite performances of 1997: 1. Side Show - Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner are absolutely astounding!! I think it's devastating that most of the public is missing this one completely because of the bad PR work. The music and the performances are unbeatable, despite the mediocre lyric work on some songs.
2. Triumph of Love - with Michele Pawk as standby for BB. I'm sorry for those die hard Betty fans, but Michele is the best Broadway performer I've ever seen! I hope she gets something worthy of her talents soon.
3. Chicago (Okay, it's '96) - but it's still sharp and classy.
From Erin L. Haines, Pittsburgh, PA:
5. Seeing my first opera, Carmen, at the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh.
4. That moment when the entire B'way cast of Chicago stops during "All That Jazz" and they simply twirl their right index fingers. (Bebe Neuwirth and James Naughton were sublime in the show I saw, even though I was in the very back row up in the balcony)
3. Robert Cuccioli during the Confrontation in Jekyll & Hyde. You had a picture of it up on the front page. His talent is beyond comparison.
2. Being able to see the OBC of RENT in June minus Idina Menzel (didn't matter, Kristen Lee Kelly was excellent) and Daphne Rubin-Vega (sorry, Marcy don't cut the butter). I had agreed to come with a friend, and had no expectations whatsoever. I knew it had won a Tony and would be nice to see. I was (and still am) in awe. During intermission I couldn't move, I was breathless and couldn't wait for the curtain to go up (OK, there's no curtain, but I couldn't think of a better expression).
1. Since June becoming a bona-fide RENThead. It's simple messages have changed the way I live. It sounds stupid, and that's what I thought when a friend of mine told me Forrest Gump brought her out of a depression. There are just certain works of art that celebrate life and the human condition in a way that make you believe. I have since seen the Angel tour three times, twice in the front row, once SRO (second to last performance in DC). I'm planning a trek to Toronto in three weeks, and I will continue to feed my little addiction until RENT is gone from the touring circuit all together. Of course, by the then the movie will be out, and I can feed my habit everyday for a lifetime.
From Richard Hinds 15, Fairfield, CT:
1) The Lion King -- When I heard of its opening I thought that it would be terrible because how could they transform a fantastic Disney movie onto Broadway. Well I found out. This was the most amazing show I have ever seen put on stage. I commend Julie Taymor greatly. When those two giraffes first entered the stage I had chills and I started applauding just like the rest of the audience. From that point on the show just kept getting better. If you don't see it you haven't seen theatre!
2) Jekyll and Hyde -- One word to describe this show. FANTASTIC. I was thinking about making this my number one but Lion King was better. Christiane Noll, Linda Eder, Robert Evan and the whole rest of the cast made this show superb. Robert Evan was absolutely amazing and kept me on the edge of my seat. The way the set was constructed and the fantastic costumes made me wonder why this didn't win best revival. I recommend you see it and be filled with the same feeling I was filled with.
3) Titanic -- Who ever thought a musical about a sinking ship could be good? But when the ship really sinks I realized why this won best new musical of 1997. I loved it and it was amazing. I thought some of the cast should have received some Tonys for the excellent work in portraying this story. I loved it and I hope you get a chance to see it. Alice Beane (Victoria Clark) was delightful and I loved her performance. She was absolutely amazing and so is the rest of the case. See it!
4) CATS -- Though it has been on awhile it hasn't lost its flame. I have seen it twice and I love it. It is amazing and though many people say it is old, I still love it. If you don't see it you will be missing a great show. Great sets, costumes, dancing, singing, etc. SEE IT!
5) Once Upon A Mattress -- This was a great show. Sarah Jessica Parker was great and did a wonderful performance. It had great scenery and the cast was great. Good costumes and like the music material they added to the musical. I am sorry that this show closed. I loved it and I hope you got a chance to see it!
5. Smokey Joe's Cafe - tour - great entertainment
4. Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back- hysterical spoof off-broadway
3. Forever Plaid - clever and funny revue
2. Carousel - tour - stunning
1. Ragtime - in Toronto - the next great American Musical
5 and 4 - I like every show I see except for the following.:
3. Phantom of the Opera - tour in Green Bay - cast lacked pizzazz - this is my fourth time for this one - maybe it took me this long to realize there is nothing to this show
2. Titanic - It took the entire first half to hit the darn iceberg - zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
1. RENT - what is this show about? A Major disappointment - trendy, shock value musical - thinks it is daring (just like Madonna) - my all time worst show. yuck
TRIUMPH OF LOVE