Playbill Poll: The Greatest Plays of the 20th Century -- Part 2

News   Playbill Poll: The Greatest Plays of the 20th Century -- Part 2
The American Film Institute recently published a list of the 100 greatest American films "of all time," though the film industry is scarcely more than a century old.

The American Film Institute recently published a list of the 100 greatest American films "of all time," though the film industry is scarcely more than a century old.

Here is your chance to pick what you believe to be the greatest stage plays of the 20th century (musicals included). Submissions can be from any country, in any language. The original production must have occured during the 20th century. For ease of processing, please pick what you believe to be the FIVE best plays of the 20th century, with a brief description why. We'll be unable to post more than five choices per person, so make them good. Simple lists of titles won't be posted. You must briefly explain your choices. These will become a permanent part of the Playbill On-Line archive.

Please post responses to Managing Editor Robert Viagas.

Playbill On-Line thanks all who took the time to write. Owing the number of responses, we have created this second file of results:

From David10567:
WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? by Edward Albee- It's just as valid and shocking today as it was when it was first produced.
OUR TOWN by Thornton Wilder- A massive, heartbreaking masterpiece that gives importance to aspects of life we once considered minutia.
A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE by Tennessee Williams- Blanche: the most important female character of the 20th century. Not to mention the near-perfect poetic prose.
DEATH OF A SALESMAN by Arthur Miller- Willy: the most important male character of the 20th century. Representing an entire belief system of a generation is a quite a feat of drama.
LONG DAYS JOURNEY INTO NIGHT by Eugene O'Neill- The Tyrones: the most important dysfunctional family of the 20th century. The recent top-notch Alley production in Houston starring Ellen Burstyn spurred me to put this on the list.
Honorable Mentions: WEST SIDE STORY, THREE TALL WOMEN by Albee, WAITING FOR GODOT by Beckett, ANGELS IN AMERICA by Kushner, A RAISIN IN THE SUN by Hansberry
It's really unfortunate that IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST missed the cut-off by five years. That would have been at the top of my list.

From: Jeffrey Sweet (former co-editor of "Best Plays"):
STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE -- Very close to being the perfect American play.
THE VISIT -- The great fable of the post-war world.
OUR TOWN -- The simple made elegant.
PORGY AND BESS -- The peak of American musical theatre writing.
BEYOND THE FRINGE -- Along with Second City, the clear announcement of a new consciousness in comedy.

From Bonita Hammill, Australia:
I love musicals so my favorite stage plays are all musicals
1. The Phantom of the Opera - the best musical (ALW) of all time which gave us - the world - the wonderful performance by Michael Crawford and bought together the best of music, voice, scenery, costume, special effects and makeup. Most of all the ultimate rollercoaster experience of emotions for the actors and audience alike. Interestingly the original novel has had over 3 successful musicalizations which all do justice to the story in different ways.
2. Les Miserables - the large classic novel that was said shouldn't be made into a musical but exceeded all expectations and shown ultimately the voice of the audiences can outweigh that of the critics. A musical with so many "perfect" individual songs, and successfully covers a long time span in the relationship of two different men. Has a special message to go out and fight for what you believe in. A musical that Victor Hugo would be proud of.
3. The Sound of Music - A special place in my heart because it introduced me to theatre. The best of the partnership of Rodgers and Hammerstein 2nd, the best musical duo of the 20th century that could make a song an intrinsic part of the story and make their stage productions into movies to be remembered.
4. Beauty and the Beast - until I saw it on stage, I couldn't imagine how the classic cartoon feature could be transferred successfully from screen to stage. Disney more then succeeded, making a magical escapist musical journey to enthrall children and adults alike.
5. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat - the bible story the spans many different musical styles and is one of the most performed amateur musicals of all time. It is one of the best feel-good and colourful musicals there is.

From Michael Barret Jones, Bloomfield, NJ (
A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE by Tennessee Williams -- A true masterpiece from a playwright whose early works can ALL be considered masterpieces, STREETCAR fits the bill by having early examples of characters whose lives are made more complex by their raw sexuality. Blanche, Stanley and Stella are all mythical in their complexities and are nearly figures of Greek Tragedy in the way they think, react and ultimately succumb to the worlds in which they live.
WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF by Edward Albee -- Whoever thought that Noel Coward wrote the greatest drawing room comedies has obviously never seen VIRGINIA WOOLF. A brilliant study of character and back story, Albee's first major full length play is epic in its telling and grand in its portrayal of the already developing generation gap. Plus, it is hysterically funny and equally moving. The final moments are among the most dramatic and most touching in world drama.
A LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT by Eugene O'Neill -- How much needs to be said about this piece? A study of light and dark and the dissolution of a family who ignores its problems, LONG DAY'S JOURNEY is perhaps the most important play of the 20th Century.
ANGELS IN AMERICA by Tony Kushner -- Epic. Comic. Tragic. Topical. Timeless. This seven hour piece explores America in a way that America never wanted to be explored. It is a plea for tolerance of others, even when their views differ radically from your own. Kushner managed to infuse a sense of innate spirituality into a culture (gay) that had seemingly been doing fine without it. Kushner's play is heir to Williams' poetry, Arthur Miller's sense of social importance, the Greek's sense of epic style, and even Noel Coward's biting wit.
THE PERSECUTION AND ASSASSINATION OF JEAN PAUL MARAT AS PERFORMED BY THE INMATES OF THE ASYLUM AT CHARENTON UNDER THE DIRECTION OF THE MARQUIS DeSADE by Peter Weiss -- The only non-American play I've listed, MARAT/SADE is a breakthrough piece in terms of its style, the intentionally blurred lines of play within a play, and its reflections of history, both Napoleonic, and Nazi. Not only did the play break all the rules of storytelling, but its writing is thrillingly poetic and its direction (credit Peter Brook) set the stage for the last 30 years of experimental theatre (which had begun with Waiting for Godot).

From Erin McDougall:
Five of the greatest plays of all time in my opinion are Company, because it changed musical theater, Love Letters by A.R. Gurney I cry every time I read it. The Odd Couple, because it is timeless , The Heidi Chronicles, it was a great woman's play that is rare in the theater, and A Streetcar Named Desire, wow. Thanks for having this poll.

From Hudson, Gregory:
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett -- It dramatizes the quintessential situation in life with laughter, fear and your choice here -- hope.
Long Day's Journey Into Night by Eugene O'Neill -- The family drama of our century played out with love, anger, despair and understanding.
Loot by Joe Orton -- Greed, sex, a corpse, the powerful, the powerless --- savagely funny, a play for any era.
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams -- Everyone has dreams. The word poignant was invented for this play.
The Sound of Music by Rodgers & Hammerstein -- Corny, sentimental, good ultimately triumphing, kids and admit it you know the songs by heart.

From Alan Forsyth:
In no specific order:
Edward Albee's Three Tall Women, a celebration of living, a wonderful and insightful look at being alive
Lapine & Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George , a beautiful blend of music, words and art, a masterpiece.
Marsha Norman's 'Night Mother, a harrowing look at how we choose to leave, to end it all, "coming to the end of it"
Tennessee William's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, of all TN's work, this to me is the most powerful, angry -- families, relationships, betrayal.
Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, a classic look at the working man, as relevant today as the day it was written.

From Brian M:
Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap -- This is one of the most thrilling plays I have experienced. It never fails to amaze me.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Blvd. -- Memorable music, very eccentric and real characters. An exciting piece of musical theatre. Very faithful to the brilliant movie.
William Finn's Falsettos -- A unconventional musical. About a man discovering who he is, a broken family and a mysterious new virus. The musical achieves this while being both comic and heartwarming, and sometimes heartbreaking.

From Christopher P. Nicholson:
I know we're allowed five picks, but I'll bullet my vote for A Man For All Seasons, by Robert Bolt. It's what every historical drama strives for but few achieve. Bolt's ability to hone in on a few essential characters in a historical setting for a great moral conflict has been unparalleled. The Crucible came close, but Bolt's use of the "common man" to frame a complicated story and the strength of Sir Thomas' character combined with compelling dialog gives my single vote to A Man For All Seasons.

From Spud317:
RENT: I think that this musical is one of the most powerful in broadway history. It's message is real and it's an important one. There is so much I could say about this show, but I won't. It's one of a kind and deserves to be included in the list of best shows.
LES MISERABLES: This show is like no other. The music is so well written and the timeless message is conveyed beautifully. It is very emotional and really makes you think about life and true love.
JOSEPH...:A show with such variety and fun. It is a pleasure to watch and the tunes really make you want to sing along. Written by one of the great names-Andrew Lloyd Webber!
SECRET GARDEN: Although I've only seen a HS production of this show, it is one of my favorites. The music is hauntingly beautiful and the story line is great.
ASSASSINS: Although this show didn't go over very well in the US, I love the music and feel that it gives a very interesting perspective on important occurrences in US history.

From JRom6:
1. I think Chicago the broadway musical is the best musical of the century because of the great score and book.It is a beautiful show,with great characters,and a great plot.
2. Dancin',Is also a great musical because it was an evening of beautiful dance by the best dancers broadway had.
3. Guys and Dolls is also a great musical.It has a great score,a great book,and great characters.
4. Sweet Charity. A great musical with a great score.(What can I say,Bob Fosse Musicals are the best around)
5. Cabaret. a wonderful show that is nicely put together with a great score and book.

From James M Kiniery:
1. Les Miserables: Because of spiritual themes and many showstopping songs.
2. Death Of A Salesman: Family values gone haywire, ungrateful children and ageism in the workplace. Classic for the future.
3. Les Blancs by Lorraine Hansberry: Promotes dialogue between races, especially important coming from a black playwright.
4. Arcadia: Must have an interest in outcome of life to remain engaged in living.
5. Love, Valour, Compassion!: Pain in homosexual relationships is real and compassionate

From MizPhan1:
1. Les Miserables- The story, the passion, the characters, the music- they're all flawless. It's a winner of 8 Tony's. And, like the rest of my pics, it is not a typical "American" classic where cheesy dialogue reigns and the whole show is based on two characters with conflicting personalities that grow to love each other.
2. The Phantom of the Opera- Beautiful music and arguably the best male role in the business. A show that keeps you intrigued and was Broadway's breakthrough technically.
3. Miss Saigon- Again, wonderful music, and the story was fresh to the Broadway stage. A definite breakthrough at the time and definitely robbed of the Tony.
4. The Nerd- This is one of 3 plays written by Larry Shue before his tragic death. The most drop-dead funny play ever written!
5. Jesus Christ Superstar- A new look at the story of Christ. It's definitely original and it is probably best known for its movie version.

From Jeremy M. Boegel (
Here they are in no particular order:
1.WEST SIDE STORY(1957) -- Leonard Bernstein's entrancing music combined with Stephen Sondheim's beautiful lyrics make everyone "feel pretty." Also Jerome Robbins' brilliant choreography makes the show dynamite.
2.LES MISERABLES(1987) -- Beautiful songs. Beautiful voices. This is a true musical. 3.OKLAHOMA!(1940) One of the first collaborations between Rodgers & Hammerstein paved the way for many more to come.
4.A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE(1949) -- A masterpiece penned by Tennessee Williams. Blanche Du Bois became one of the most famous and analyzed "Southern Belles." Not unlike characters in novels by Faulkner or Fitzgerald.
5.AMADEUS(1980) -- Peter Schaffer's amazing drama about competition. Salieri's determination combined with Mozart's spontaneity make one rivalry you could watch forever.
Thanks for listening

From SabFair379:
DIARY OF ANNE FRANK This was one of the first plays to address the horrors of the holocaust. The fact that it was a true story really touched all audiences.
WEST SIDE STORY This was another groundbreaking play. It addressed racial issues and changed the way musicals where made. Before WSS musicals where "light", this was had substance.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA This musical dazzled the eyes, mind, ears, and the heart all at the same time. To this day, I have never seen a musical that amazed me as much as Phantom did. it's a true spectacle from beginning to end.

From David Mahler, Laguna Hills, CA (
It is said MUSIC is a universal language...this could not be truer than on stage- a good musical's score helps accentuate the inherent drama and/or comedy of the book that supports it...therefore, a couple of my favorite theatrical works are from that genre...
1). SHOW BOAT. Ultimately, this will prove to be the greatest musical ever conceived. It's amazing that after almost 70 yrs, everything about this show is fresh and timeless- from it's story and characters to one of the most beloved scores ever written.
2). THE BOYS IN THE BAND. Mart Crowley's landmark show ran the gamut of emotions- one minute hysterically funny and the next, sad and moving. It daringly opened the closet door to theater audiences of the shadowed lives of gay men in a frank and adult manner- despite its stereotypical characters, it was (and is) honest and relevant.
3). EVITA. Harold Prince brilliantly focused Webber & Rice's concept pop opera into an involving and sophisticated biography of Argentina's multi- faceted former first lady Eva Peron. All the elements of stage come together to give this penultimate musical biography a place in theater history.
4). THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK. The story of a young Jewish girl and her family in hiding during WWII takes its source material and fleshes out one of the most tragic yet inspiring true stories ever written.
5). CAROUSEL. While most of Rodgers & Hammerstein' music is immortal- alas, the books of their shows are not. The exception is CAROUSEL, with its haunting score and timeless love story. It never fails to move an audience.

From Clair Sedore (
I would like to make my choices for the top five plays/musicals of the 20th century.What a difficult task:
1. Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" which still plays well today and that to me is a prime requisite - it is definitely Miller's best
2. Tennessee William's "Streetcar Named Desire" - Williams best play and probably one of the greatest ever written
3. "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" - Edward Albee's great 20th century drama and his only claim to fame
4. Leonard Bernstein's "Candide" is by far the greatest musical ever written
5. "Showboat" which again seems fresh by today's standards and has wonderful melodies Thank you for giving me the opportunity to choose. 10 would have been simpler.

From Gandhi022:
I have loved the theater my entire life. I can not begin to describe how the theater has changed my life, through the pleasure it has brought me. That is why it is so hard for me to narrow my choices of the top 5 theater productions of all time. However, I seemed to be attracted more so to musical productions than to straight plays. Musical theater seems to fill the emotional gaps and show the deeper meaning that no straight play can fill. It even gives musical comedy meaning beyond the surface of the book. It captures the production value of ballet and combines it with the play... Besides that, what is more fun than a production number! For all of these reasons I have devoted my life to theater and the excellence in theater performance. Therefore, here is my list of my top 5 theater productions of all time.
The two top productions on my list are The Life and Kiss of the Spider Woman. These two productions are so unique and moving that they will remain in my life forever. They bring stereotypical characters a life and personality of their own. I have never been so touched by a production and deeply moved by actors, music, and a heartfelt book. Every scene in these two production has meaning and provokes deep thought about life... But these two shows never suffer the boring melodrama that some straight plays are faced with... These stunning scores bring life and fun to what could be a dreary drama. When these two productions had their run on Broadway the directing and acting was so focused and unforgettable that every song and scene has never left my mind. Everything was so vivid from the costumes and scenery to the very last production number. I have never seen a combination of such talent in the designing, acting, directing, and music. In my mind, no show has the dramatic capabilities of The Life and Kiss of the Spider Woman.
Next on my list is The Will Rogers Follies. This show is in a long line of excellent vaudeville shows that did not quite make my list... Such as Chicago, Cabaret, and Follies! These productions, especially The Will Roger Follies show the meaning of theater, music, and life through an experience of theater and life. These shows make no effort to hide the fact that they are merely performances for an audience but that makes it so much easier to relate to the characters and destroys any distance from actors and the audience. (In most productions I feel a distance from the characters.... Because the are actors on a stage trying to pretend like they are not actors on a stage.) This production denies the fact that they are just actors on a stage... If theater is supposed to reflect life, then why not make theater and life the same! The reason that I am drawn to this show is because it is so genuine. The other shows suffer from the fact that all their characters are a little bazaar! (This doesn't mean that they aren't fun to watch but it doesn't have the genuine feeling that The Will Roger Follies has!) Besides that, the costumes, music and dancing contribute to keep the show alive and always entertaining. What a good example of what theater is supposed to do... Entertain while it reflects life!
The last two productions on my list are 42nd Street and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. These two productions demand excellence in almost every area of the theater. These two productions are so involving to every theater goer that the superior value of these productions can no be denied! These two shows have obvious different styles in their productions, but with such ease these two shows give everyone a good time. These two shows may not be as moving or as touching as other theater productions, but in their two unique styles they entertain on a different level! 42nd Street's amazing dance numbers, vivid costumes and demanding scenery could give ANY production the key to success. But 42nd Street is not ANY production. It gives much more to enjoy. Like Will Rogers the genuine feeling and human nature of the show inspires everyone to shoot for the stars. This show gives everyone hope to be better than who they are. The best part is you are so entertained you didn't realize that it had a meaning until it was too late! Next is The Mystery of Edwin Drood. This is different than any other audience participation because it has class, but does not deny the humor, character and musical capabilities of conventional musical theater. Without such an engaging style, The Mystery of Edwin Drood would still be an excellent show with an interesting story, memorable characters, and beyond most shows, one of the best scores I have EVER heard! The plot twists and style are an obvious bonus and that is why this show is so much FUN! I have never left the theater with such a feeling of joy... This is a good show because I had a good time, and I think just about everyone who saw this show had a good time also!
Thank you for letting theater goers state their opinions, and I am proud that the movie industry has not monopolized entertainment. There is so much good theater in the world and I am glad that people will be able to recognize great theater.

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