Thursday, December 27, 2007

My top theatrical moments of 2007

I loved all of the shows I saw too much to pick out a Top 10, but since everyone's making lists at this time of year, I wanted to have one, too. (Yes, if everyone jumped off the bridge, I would be right there in line waiting for my turn).

When I think about it, these are my favorite moments of 2007. There are many more performances and songs and shows that I haven't mentioned. Some shows I really enjoyed didn't make the cut. I loved the energy and inventiveness of "Spring Awakening," but when I think back, I can't single out one defining moment in the show. (Well, I did cry at the end). And I tried to stick with the absolutely most awe-inducing moments. So here's my list, in chronological order:

1. Listening to "For Good" for the first time. I've said before how much I love "Wicked," the first show I saw this year, way back in January. The song's poignancy carried all the way up to the mezzanine of the large theater where I saw the touring production. I cried when I heard it the first time, and 20 years from now, I'll still cry. It is an absolutely beautiful song about the enduring power of friendship and a testament to the power of theater.

2. Eve Best bursting through the door of the ramshackle farmhouse in "A Moon for the Misbegotten" and Kevin Spacey's entrance. From the moment Eve Best burst through that door at the very start of "A Moon for the Misbegotten," I was hooked. Her Josie Hogan exuded such toughness and physicality and strength, yet had an underlying tenderness. I believed that she could have run that farm pretty much singlehandedly while keeping her father, brothers and anyone else in line. And then, a half-hour into the play, Kevin Spacey's Jim Tyrone comes walking down the road. I couldn't believe it. The whole reason I'd come to Broadway, and there he was, right before my eyes!

3. The ending of "Curtains." I don't want to give anything away, so I'll keep this brief. When Lt. Frank Cioffi, played by David Hyde Pierce, comes back on stage at the very end of "Curtains," well, it was just about the funniest thing I've seen on stage, screen or television in a long time. It's a great entrance by an actor with great comic timing. Davide Hyde Pierce gave one of my favorite performances of the year.

4. Angela Lansbury up close in "Deuce." I know I'm in the minority, but I thoroughly enjoyed Terrence McNally's "Deuce." I loved spending 90 minutes in the presence of Angela Lansbury and Marian Seldes. I loved listening to their two characters talk about their lives as professional tennis players, and what happened after their playing days were over. My seat was on the right side of the orchestra, about 10 rows back. At one point, Angela Lansbury stands up and speaks, and she was on the right, practically in front of me.

5. "I Know Where I've Been" from "Hairspray." Yvette Monique Clark's rendition was so powerful, so emotional when I heard it in the touring production of "Hairspray." The song really evokes the civil-rights anthems of the 1960s. At the end, black kids and white kids, standing from one end of the stage to another, are holding hands. It was the first time I ever felt like giving a song a standing ovation.

6. Hearing Audra McDonald's voice for the first time. Before I heard Patti LuPone in "Gypsy" or Christine Ebersole in "Grey Gardens," I heard four-time Tony winner Audra McDonald sing in "110 in the Shade." What a revelation. While I'd heard Audra sing on the Tony awards, it doesn't begin to capture what it's like to hear her live. I don't think I'd ever heard such a beautiful voice in person before. I'm so glad I saw this show. (And I think its a great example of when colorblind casting works perfectly).

7. Magical "Mary Poppins." I loved Matthew Bourne's exuberant choreography in numbers such as "Step in Time." But watching Gavin Lee's Bert dance upside down across the proscenium and Ashley Brown's Mary Poppins fly through the air were truly exciting, jaw-dropping moments. I envied all of the children in the audience at "Mary Poppins" who where seeing their very first Broadway show.

8. "I'm Here" and the ending of "The Color Purple." Saycon Sengbloh was terrific in "The Color Purple" as poor, downtrodden Celie, who learns to love herself and overcome her circumstances. I was deeply affected by her story, especially as she sings "I'm Here," and the emotional ending. I truly felt like I had witnessed a transformation. By the end, I had been on a journey with her, and I was crying.

9. Patti LuPone singing "Everything's Coming Up Roses" in "Gypsy." By the end of "Everything's Coming Up Roses," I was on my feet cheering with everyone else at New York's City Center. I'd never been part of a standing ovation for a song before, but she deserved it. What a powerful, thrilling, moment. And unless there's a cast recording someday, I probably won't hear it ever again. Luckily, LuPone, Laura Benanti and Boyd Gaines are set to reprise their roles in "Gypsy." The revival is scheduled to open March 27 at the St. James Theatre. Maybe I'll get that cast CD after all.

10. Hitchcock cameo, chase on a train in "The 39 Steps." This show, which I saw in Boston during its pre-Broadway tryout, is so hilarious, it's hard to pick out just one moment as my favorite. So I'll give you two: the scene on the train when Richard Hannay, who's been wrongly accused of murder, is trying to escape the authorities, and a cameo by the master of suspense himself. "The 39 Steps" starts previews at the American Airlines Theatre on Jan. 4.

11. Amy Morton's outburst in "August: Osage County." There's a point in this absorbing, masterful play when Amy Morton's character realizes that she has to take charge, and she has an outburst that took my breath away. It's a moment that happens to many people, especially to many women, when the child becomes the parent. It certainly resonated with me, as did much of Tracy Letts' witty and emotional writing, and the amazing Steppenwolf actors. Don't miss "August: Osage County."

12. Kevin Kline's entrance and sword fighting in "Cyrano." Ok, in my admittedly short theatergoing career, I've developed a love for nontraditional exits and entrances - ones where the actors come and go through the orchestra or the balcony. Kevin Kline has a great entrance in "Cyrano." Plus, I saw my first sword fight on stage. What could be better!


Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther - I was thrilled to share many of those wonderful moments with you, if not always in person, at least in spirit.

And you know, yesterday as I was flying home, I listened to the inflight Broadway station and heard "For Good" and couldn't help but think of you. Talk about bringing a smile to my face!

Here's to another great year!

Esther said...

Awww, of course I'm so happy we shared them, too! And I think "For Good" is just an absolutely perfect song. It makes you yearn for the day when Broadway show tunes were America's Top 40.

Many of these experiences I never would have had without your excellent recommendations! You really made my first year of theatergoing a memorable one.

There are so many others I could have mentioned - the concert at the end of "Mamma Mia!" Christine Ebersole's transformation in Act 2 of "Grey Gardens." Really, the list just goes on and on! Listening to the "Young Frankenstein" CD today I was reminded how much I enjoyed "Roll in the Hay" and how hilarious Andrea Martin was in "He Vas My Boyfriend."

Two more thrilling moments were when you called me at the intermission of "Moon" to tell me how much you loved it and when I opened up my Christmas present and saw the autographed opening night Playbill, framed and ready to hang on a wall! Thank-you! I'm so moved that you took the time to talk to Kevin Spacey and Eve Best about me. What a perfect way to remember my very first Broadway show.

I'm hoping to have a list that's just as great in 2008!