The Most Memorable Theatre Moments of 2010: Playbill's Annual Poll

Inside Track   The Most Memorable Theatre Moments of 2010: Playbill's Annual Poll
Every year, Playbill asks our friends in the community — actors, producers, directors, playwrights, journalists and readers — to tell us their favorite theatre moment of the year. 2010 was an especially interesting year.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Composer/Lyricist, In the Heights
The most heartbreaking and exhilarating moment of the year in theater was Josh Henry's stunning performance of "You Can't Do Me" in The Scottsboro Boys.  Also, I feel lucky to have been there to see Steve Sondheim's reaction to the unveiling of the Stephen Sondheim Theater on his birthday. Watching him from the audience as he was flanked by James Lapine and John Weidman… I will never forget that moment as long as I live.

Todd Robbins, performer and co-creator of Play Dead
The most memorable moment in the theatre for me was a personal one.  It happened on opening night of Play Dead when I brought Michael Riedel up onstage, unbuttoned his shirt, ripped open his belly with a straight razor and extracted handfuls of evil from his gut.  The audience of hard core theater people cheered as they witnessed this, but were disappointed when Michael lived through the ordeal.  Well, Play Dead is only 80 minutes long and there was only so much evil I could get out of him.  He still has a lot left.

Montego Glover photo by Deborah LopezMontego Glover, Tony-nominated actress, Memphis
Not surprisingly, I would say Memphis. A new and original musical, opening in a recession, with no celebrity starring names and first time Broadway producers, walking away with four Tony Awards including one for Best Musical and eight nominations.

Victoria ClarkVictoria Clark, Tony Award-winning actress
It's a tie. Throne of Blood at BAM: Ping Chong's stunning theatrical adaptation of Kurosawa's film Throne of Blood based on Shakespeare's Macbeth. It starred members of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and my friend AKO. A wonderful inspiring night, risky and innovative, with memorable performances. The Scottsboro Boys: Thrilling work from the cast and my all-time favorite Susan Stroman show. I loved her innovative and creative work on this fascinating and electrifying show.

Frank DiLella, theatre producer for NY1 News
My theater highlights for 2010 mainly involve Stephen Sondheim. It was a thrill to celebrate the musical master’s 80th birthday all year long. From Elaine Stritch Singin' Sondheim at The Carlyle to the Lincoln Center Birthday Celebration (with Patti, Bernadette, Audra, Donna and other notables); the unveiling of his new theater on 43rd Street; and finally, with his new book Finishing the Hat. My personal favorite? Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch returning to Broadway in the revival of A Little Night Music.  Both ladies reinvented their respective roles and gave performances that will go down in musical theatre history. In addition, London’s Donmar Warehouse restaged Passion to perfection (a production that needs to be brought to Broadway). Sondheim aside, on the Off-Broadway front, another genius of the theater – Tony Kushner – returned to the scene with his epic play Angels in America (compliments of The Signature Theatre Company). My brother and I did the marathon performance on a Sunday in October.  By the final hour we were moved, inspired, and – more importantly – changed by Kushner’s vision and text.
On a personal note, a childhood dream came true this past year when president of Disney Theatrical Group, Tom Schumacher, invited me to make my Broadway debut for one night only in Mary Poppins. The whole experience was taped for TV and I was supported by my co-workers, family and friends.

Chad Kimball, Tony-nominated actor, Memphis
Marian Seldes accepting a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement, glancing up and out to house right with a regal gaze, moving her attention back to an audience awaiting an enlightened speech, then, with a twirl of her cane, exiting stage left - without saying a word.

Charlotte St. MartinCharlotte St. Martin, Executive Director, The Broadway League
I have two moments…one from Alan Wasser as he was telling me the story I was very moved.  He went to see The Pitman Painters on the night when the last of the Chilean miners was rescued.  At the curtain, one of the actors came out and talked about it and Alan said it was quite moving to him.

For me, there were many great moments, but I do believe that at Broadway on Broadway, standing on stage at the closing of the concert, when Lin-Manuel Miranda and Karen Olivo were singing “Empire State of Mind,” and the crowd was joining in, and the confetti started flowing, and I looked out at what was a crowd of at least 40,000 singing, swaying and loving the show, that I knew why I do what I do.  Theatre brings everyone together.  A big burst of sun came out on what had been a misty dreary morning....and it had even rained lightly up until 5 minutes before the show began....then it stopped...and at the end, the sun came out.  WOW.

Phyllis Newman, Tony Award-winning actress and founder of The Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative
The highlight of my theatre year was November 1 when we did the annual Nothing Like a Dame [benefit concert]. This year it was a party for Comden and Green and a great Broadway cast sang their songs known and unknown. It was to benefit The Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Intiative of The Actors Fund and we found out that the great Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS gave us a 600,000 grant. So with music and joy, we got to honor my husband [Adolph Green] and his colleagues and help so many people who need us in these tough times. All good things came together.

Joseph P. Benincasa, President & CEO, The Actors Fund
Most memorable moments? Two. To help The Actors Fund get through the recession, three people stepped-up to lead a special campaign to raise almost $11 million. Annette Bening, Kevin McCollum and Jonathan Tisch.  These spectacular leaders united Hollywood, Broadway and the business community to make sure that 12,000 colleagues across the country could be helped by The Actors Fund. We are grateful. And consistent with his remarkable leadership – seven years as Actors Fund Chairman - Brian Stokes Mitchell allowed us to honor him in Los Angeles.  Many people paid tribute to Stokes including Lorna Luft who sang to him, SAG President Ken Howard who ‘coached him’ in The White Shadow and Annette Bening who presented him the Julie Harris Award.  It was a wonderful for a spectacular leader.

Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, actor, A Little Night Music
My pick would have to be Carol Channing opening Gypsy of the Year with her signature songs "Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend" and Hello, Dolly! The audience leaped to their feet both performances and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. (Next to me were Cherry Jones and Judith Light who were  weeping). It was incredible to see a true Broadway legend "back where she belongs" and celebrating her 90th birthday onstage!

Richard Jay-Alexander, director
I would have to say, in all honesty, that the most seismic moment I had this past year in a theatre was seeing Bernadette Peters play Desiree in A Little Night Music.  I missed the "official" opening of the new cast, being on a summer vacation, and went alone when I got back ... and was utterly enthralled.
It was an evening where I was truly "transported,” and, having worked with Bernadette for many years, this was a bit of an epiphany.  Bernadette taught me everything I know about "truth" onstage and I got to tell her that at dinner, after the show.

Susan Blackwell, actress, [title of show]
My most memorable theatrical moments of the year... That's tough, dude. I've got a four-way tie: 1. Joe Iconis and his merry band of weirdos in Bloodsong of Love at Ars Nova. I particularly loved the relationship between Lance Rubin and Eric William Morris. That show rocked my booty. 2. Sutton Foster at the Carlyle. It was as if Sutton opened a Ball Mason canning jar full of fireflies and cool country air at the Cafe Carlyle. So natural. So intimate.  Again, my booty was rocked, but in a different way. 3. David Cromer's Our Town at Barrow Street. Direct, authentic, immediate and magically delicious. The kind of theatre I aspire to. Booty rocking again, in yet an entirely different way. 4. In The Wake at the Public. Lisa Kron's brain is so big and juicy. And that ensemble rocked booty, that is.

John Buzzetti, agent at William Morris Endeavor (WME) Entertainment
Next to Normal winning the Pulitzer!



David Cote, Theatre Editor, Time Out New York
Scott Shepherd in Gatz. It's hard to pick out a single moment in his epic, central performance as an office drone who becomes enraptured by The Great Gatsby, but here goes. There's a point, late in this eight-hour marathon, where Shepherd is hunched over, reading his battered paperback copy of the Fitzgerald classic. As he reads, without missing a beat, Shepherd starts flipping and fanning through the book, not taking his eyes off it, still reciting the text. It's one of those bravura, look-ma-no-hands moves that makes you just want to spontaneously applaud. But you don't—because it's a small, quiet moment, reflective. By flipping backwards and forwards through the book, Shepherd reminds us the hours we've spent in the theater, the sense of pastness and the strange, ephemeral quality of Gatz. In the end, it was only a book. And we got lost in it.

Alton Fitzgerald White, actor, Mufasa in The Lion King (Broadway)
A truly memorable moment of 2010 was at the funeral for Shannon Tavarez (Young Nala in The Lion King). Many family members, teachers and friends spoke about her life but the most powerful words came from Shannon's classmates. They all shared different stories about how Shannon encouraged them to never doubt themselves and to be the best that they could be.  I thought, wow, in just 11 years, this brave little girl not only made it to Broadway to live out her dream but regularly inspired those around her well before her battle with Leukemia. Shannon's life has taught me to deeply appreciate the gift and quality of time.

Patrick Pacheco, theatre journalist, contributing reporter for “On Stage” and The Los Angeles Times
The singular theatrical pleasure of 2010 for me was the revival of Passion at the  Donmar Warehouse. Director Jamie Lloyd's haunting production, starring an elfin Elena Rogers, was a revelation as well as a vindication. During a rocky preview period prior to its Broadway bow in May of 1994, some members in the audience greeted the show with audible snorts of derision and ridicule. It won the Tony for Best Musical that year (as did Donna Murphy for her brilliant Fosca). But  its only real competition came from Beauty & the Beast and even then Passion, as unloved as its central heroine, eked out only seven-month run. On the autumn night I saw it at the Donmar, the reception was polite rather than ecstatic. I sensed that some in the audience still had a problem wrapping their heads around the notion that a hunky Italian soldier would throw over voluptuous Clara for the wraith-like Fosca. But Lloyd's lovely dreamscape made that jump easier. And Rogers, in her trajectory from succubus to savior, made the entire production a transcendent experience. For one, the song  “Loving You” (all one minute and forty-five seconds of it) proved to be more satisfying than  the entirety of many musicals. And for another, Passion in this incarnation struck me as an allegory between God and the soul. No, I don't mean between Sondheim and a musical theater geek like me.  I mean the Big Guy (or Big Girl). I don't believe in organized religion. You might even call me an unconvinced agnostic. But prior to going to London this last fall, I spent a lot of time in Tuscany and Umbria. And I couldn't help but think of the mystics and saints I'd seen in so much of the great art there while  hearing: “For now I'm seeing love like none I've ever known/ A love as pure as  breath/as permanent as death/ implacable as stone/a love that, like a knife, has cut into a life, I wanted left alone...” Among the many emotions the show evoked in me was the image of a God who, like Fosca, is an obsessive stalker.  But one bearing a gift of grace, a gift of  “Love without reason, love without mercy/ Love without pride or shame/Love unconcerned with being returned/No wisdom, no judgment, no caution, no blame...” Now that I can believe in.

John Gruen, author, Dancing Fools
I have seen quite a bit of theater in 2010, but there is no question in my mind that the revival of Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge gave me an evening of greatest emotional satisfaction. Quite apart from the fact that this 1956 play had clearly become an American classic — a kitchen sink drama of high-voltage subject matter — the performance of Liev Schreiber as Eddie Carbone, the play's tragic hero, offered any number of profound "memorable moments." A man driven by conflicting feelings for his 17-year-old niece, Catherine (amazingly well portrayed by Hollywood's Scarlett Johansson), Mr. Schreiber gave precise intonation, weight and  psychological nuance to a role requiring a full gamut of withheld feelings.  So closely observed was his Eddie Carbone, that when explosive emotions and situations could no longer keep him reined-in, the outcome became devastating.  Wonderfully supported by Jessica Hecht, as his wife, and directed with clarity and vigor by Gregory Mosher, this View from the Bridge gave the word "theater" a whole new meaning.

Jan Buttram, Artistic Director, Off-Broadway's Abingdon Theatre Company
My most cherished memory was watching from the wings of Abingdon's Dorothy Strelsin Theatre. Because the show must go on (with one day's notice), Grant Chang stood in for James Chen in Abingdon's production of Reggie Cheong-Leen's wonderful three-hander play, The Nanjing Race. The talented and gorgeous James Chen was cast in his first role on "Law & Order SVU." The film shoot ran long, and the brave and talented Grant Chang stepped in with little rehearsal (book in hand) and saved our sold-out performance. He was wonderful. Proving that there are no stronger nerves than those possessed by New York actors who inhabit the precarious world of not-for-profit theatre. Thanks to James Chen and all the wonderful performers that lift new plays from the page to the stage.

Mary Beth PeilMary Beth Peil, actress, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
I would just like to say that the "highlight" of Women on the Verge… for me personally was meeting and listening to Pedro Almadovar during both workshops...knowing that he was very excited about the process but nervous about the outcome. And then seeing his face opening night and watching the joy and pride and gratitude with each he embraced and supported each and every member of the cast. It was truly moving for all of us to know that he felt we had delivered his "child" into the world...and he was not only happy but proud and in admiration for all that went into the production and delivery.

Joe Traum, reader
My most memorable theatre event of this year was in September when I saw A Little Night Music for the second time (after seeing it in April with the original cast).  I was seeing two shows that day thanks to student rush tickets, and had finished seeing La Cage aux Folles when I went to the Walter Kerr Theatre.  From getting a student rush ticket there before, I expected it to be the same, where the tickets were standing room only.  As such, I didn't look too closely at my ticket until I walked through the door and found out that my student rush ticket was front row center.  And so I ended up being very close to the stage watching Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch in one of the most moving theatrical experiences I have been to so far.  It was a fantastic day in the city.

Elliot Pollack, reader
I am a theatre junkie...some of my most memorable moments of 2010
1. The Orphans Home Cycle: Time flies when there is so much to care about on the stage 2. Angels in America: Geatness only gets better with age 3.  Spider-Man: Will go down in the theatre annals...but for the wrong reasons 4.  A Little Night Music: Both casts and a performance with understudy Jayne Atkinson (genius never falters). 5. Chicago Steppenwolf’s production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe..Tracy Letts and Amy Morton..beyond is being cheated if this doesn't transfer  6. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and The Scottsboro Boys: Broadway cries out for new fresh material, then the audiences don't come. As Stephen Sondheim has said, the only thing they like is what they know.

Jennifer Lau, reader, Queens, NY
My most memorable theatre moment would have to be watching Douglas Hodge transform himself into Albin/ZaZa [in La Cage aux Folles] bringing his own interpretation to the role — his "I Am What I Am" is breathtakingly powerful.

Stan and Marcia Fefferman, reader, Whitestone, NY
My wife and I go to four to five Broadway shows a year. We saw a preview of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. We saw it in previews, and both of us found the show to be unique in that the show was stopped about 15 minutes into the first act in order to correct an error. We also were very impressed with the acrobatics of the Spider-Man character flying back and forth over the audience.

Alan Harris, reader, Jersey City, NJ
My most memorable theater moment of 2010 was Mark Rylance's brilliant 20-minute monologue in act one of La Bete.

Domenica Marie, reader, New York
Without question, [my favorite moment was] Bernadette Peters' phenomenal performance as Desirée Armfeldt [in A Little Night Music]. She effortlessly moved from the hilarious comedy of the “You Must Meet My Wife” scene to the tear-inducing tragedy of “Send in the Clowns” and was so wonderful that it almost felt like the role was written for her. Her return to Broadway was a thrilling experience and Sondheim couldn't have been more accurate when he said that Ms. Peters would make a great Desirée. 2010 was certainly an exciting year - but no theatre experience can compare to her performance.

Allyson Cashdollar, reader, Pennsauken, NY
My memorable theatre experience from this year is dancing onstage twice at Hair with my favorite actress Diana DeGarmo. It was amazing.

Stacey Hofberg, reader, Pennsylvania
My most memorable theater moment of 2010 was seeing Next to Normal for the forth time with Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley in the leads and finding it even more powerful than the three previous times! My other most memorable theater moment was seeing Women on The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown — Pattie LuPone is amazing in person (it was my first time seeing her perform live) and Laura Benanti was hysterical (Tony Award predicted!).

Blair Howell, Cedar Hills, UT
Sorry, Broadway. But the best theater moment of 2010 was in a 300-seat theater in Orem, Utah: Audra McDonald singing "Is It Really Me?" Showing their commitment to community theater, McDonald and Will Swenson played Lizzie and Starbuck in 110 in the Shade to raise funds for the non-profit Hale Center Foundation for the Arts and Education. Lucky theatergoers were reminded why we first fell in love with live theater. On a postage-stamp-sized, 320-square-foot stage.

Kim Coyle, reader, Lawrenceville, NJ
My most memorable theatre moment of 2010 was the opening and (sadly) closing of Come Fly Away. The first Broadway show I ever saw was Movin' Out, and I completely fell in love with it and with Broadway. I absolutely love Twyla Tharp and all of her dancers, and as a dancer myself I admire them all so much. Over the past few years I have seen them in most of the Broadway shows they have been in, so I was thrilled to hear about Come Fly Away bringing them all back to Broadway!! A few weeks before the show opened this March, I won tickets to the show through an online contest. I was thrilled. Seeing dancers like John Selya, Keith Roberts and Karine Plantadit performing together again reminded me of why I fell in love with Broadway back when I was 15, because they have an ability to make you feel so much without even speaking a word. Not to mention how incredibly talented they are! I saw the show a few times over the summer and was lucky enough to attend the final performance, which was one of the most beautiful and memorable theatre experiences of my life. Seeing the cast putting their heart and souls into that final performance moved me to tears and is something I will never forget. And meeting Twyla Tharp was also pretty exciting! It was really a dream come true!

Lauren-Tara Weinman, reader, Tarzana, CA
The reopening of A Little Night Music with Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch is a night I will never forget.  Not only was it Peters’s return to Broadway after 7 years, but she was made to play Desiree Armfeldt.  She gave Desiree so many layers.  As a character, Desiree is a scorned lover, a concerned mother and a hassled daughter, but Peters brought so much more to her.  Her Desiree was desperate, but not overtly so desperate for her mother’s approval, and for a family with her daughter and her true love.  She managed to convey all of this while at the same time making Desiree be hysterically funny, yet not a caricature.  Her character would have been so easy to hate, but Peters made Desiree someone you wanted to get her happy ending.  Her “Send in the Clowns” brought the woman who had, prior to the song, refused to really show her emotions let them all out.  In a heartbreaking rendition, the audience was finally made aware of what Desiree had suffered for 14 years.  She put us through a rollercoaster of emotions and I was reminded that night of what I love about the theater.  She made an absolutely beautiful gesture at the curtain call when she bowed down to Stritch. The respect and love in that gesture was so evident and it was an added joy to that unforgettable night.

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