Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 in Review: The Unforgettables: Theatre Movers and Shakers

There have been a ton of big names on the boards in 2014.  Many of them made a big impact on the theater scene.  Others had surprisingly little influence. Be that as it may, I've whittled it down to the 12 men and 12 women that I feel really made the past year in theatre-going special and memorable, as well as 5 newcomers that I think made the very most of their Broadway debuts.  You may be surprised at who is on there (and who isn't).  I am surprised, myself, that for the first time everyone on the list is an actor!

Don't forget to let me know what you think - who you liked, who you think I was crazy to include, who I was crazy to leave off!  Email:  Twitter: @jkstheatrescene

The 24 Most Unforgettable Theatre People of 2014

Ian Barford (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time)  He gets my Broadway Father of the Year award for his gripping performance as Christopher's biggest champion.  An amazing performance full of warmth, humor, anger and dignity. I can't wait to what this terrific actor does next.

Laura Benanti (The Most Happy Fella) Long time readers of this blog already know of my adoration for all thing LB.  But she really made magic as Rosabellla in this Encores! triumph.  What a gorgeous display of  vocals and dramatic nuance!  Imagine how great this already beautiful performance would be had it had a chance to evolve in a longer Broadway run...

Heidi Blickenstaff (The Most Happy Fella) Another one of my favorites ever, she turned in one of the best supporting performances of the past several years. Funny without going overboard, everything she did was perfection.  And her chemistry with Laura (above) and Jay (below) was superb - a great BFF and a great love interest.  Please do more great work in 2015!

Nick Cordero (Bullets Over Broadway) I still remember sitting shell shocked at the conclusion of this atrocity.  And I remember feeling good that I got to see one of the best performances of the season in spite of the crap storming raining down around it.  He was smooth, funny, and blissfully low-key.  Cordero is a true triple threat - just the kind of Broadway guy I like.

Erin Davie (Side Show) I've been a fan of this more-than-an-ingenue blond beauty for years.  Loved her in Grey Gardens, and enjoyed her in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  But I'll admit even I was skeptical when they announced that she'd be taking on the Alice Ripley role in Side Show.  What a pleasant surprise! I loved ever second of her thoughtful, detailed (she has a way with using her face wordlessly to convey conflict) turn as the unassuming twin.

Gabriel Ebert (Casa Valentina) I remain as flabbergasted today as I was the night I saw this beautiful play with this amazing, versatile actor.  How could the same guy who was so over the top (in all the right ways) in Matilda, be the shy violet in this complex world of mid-20th century secrecy and quiet suffering.  Those moments where he was blossoming and running away in sheer terror will stay with me forever.

Claybourne Elder (Allegro) By necessity of script and concept, Elder was forced to be economical in his portrayal - no big "leading man" huge-ness here.  And the result was a riveting, touching performance of an everyman that grounded the entire production.  Here's another show I wish had had a longer future.  And this guy is a giant part of why.

Linda Emond (Cabaret) She barely moves when she's on stage.  Her face conveys more emotion than many actors manage with their entire bodies.  And the whole experience was riveting. Her performance was part of what made Cabaret one of the best shows of 2014.

Michael Esper (The Last Ship) I love watching actors' careers blossom.  And it continues to be my pleasure to watch this guy grow - in plays and musicals.  He's come a long way from that couch potato in American Idiot.  With this show, he proves that he can carry a show.  He did it the hard way, too - the anti-hero is hard for audiences to embrace.!

Sutton Foster (Violet) Everyone seems to love Sutton Foster.  And in the past, I've enjoyed her in a few shows.  But this time around, she was amazing.  Not a drop of special make-up or costuming to create the heartbreaking disfigurement of her character in sight, but I swear you could see it.  More importantly, you could feel the pain.  In my book, she's achieved the next step in musical theatre immortality.

Lena Hall (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) A mind-blowing transformation and a glamorous final appearance are just a little bit of why her Tony-winning turn will be one talked about for years.  Can this really be the same person who played the one-dimensional snooty bitch in Kinky Boots?  Her commitment to this complicated role was never more apparent than when you notice the small changes she makes to accommodate her leading man, no matter who he is.    

Michael C. Hall (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) The Broadway originator of this role was great, and a more obvious choice for lists like this.  But when MCH took the stage, it was a true revelation.  Not a trace of him was in sight for 100 minutes - only Hedwig.  Completely, totally. It is a performance that was a real privilege to witness.

Curtis Holbrook (If/Then) I have been a fa of this guy since the first time I ever saw him. Shortly after that first time, I saw him go on for Cheyenne Jackson, and I was impressed. This time around, I saw him take over the lead role, in a situation that was unenviable - taking over for a guy people wanted to see re-paired with no less than Idina Menzel.  He was terrific.  Better, actually, than the guy he took over for.  What a pro.

James Monroe Iglehart (Aladdin) A force of nature.  Magical.  Inspiring.  Funny and heartfelt.  The role and the actor. What more can I say?

Jay Armstrong Johnson (The Most Happy Fella/On the Town) My admiration for this guy has only grown after seeing him grow in two star-making turns this year.  Both characters are similar - positive, high energy optimists.  And in the hands of a lesser actor, it might seem like he's a one trick pony.  Far from it.  What a singer! What a dancer! What a guy.

Andy Karl (Rocky: The Musical) Here's another actor whose career I've enjoyed watching grow and grow.  The show might not have lasted as long as hoped, but he shined nonetheless.  And that he made an iconic part all his own was great to see.  But I'm not surprised - he's the real thing.

Caissie Levy (Les Miserables) It's funny.  When they cast her as Fantine, I really had my doubts.  I feel ridiculous for feeling that way now.  She was the lone bright spot in this dismal revival.

Audra McDonald (Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill) Duh.  The greatest stage actress of her generation offered a complete transformation. Audra McDonald left the building the minute Billie Holiday made her entrance.

Kelli O'Hara (The Bridges of Madison County) How could any list of great performances not include the supreme and sublime O'Hara.  A breathtaking performance, and the best sung role in any show in years.  If you didn't see it, you really missed out on something special.  Get the Tony ready for Broadway's next Mrs. Anna.

Emily Padgett (Side Show) How could this list not include both of the twins?  As inseparable as their predecessors, these gals were impressive.  Padgett's charisma reached the back wall of the St. James.  Can't wait to see what she does next.

Steven Pasquale (The Bridges of Madison County) Another amazing performance by an amazing guy.  Anyone who can hold their own against the force of nature that is Kelli O'Hara deserves a place on this list.  But he also soared on his own.  Captivating and sexy, smart and touching.  Here's hoping that his upcoming sure-to-be triumph in Carousel lives beyond regional theatre.

Taylor Trensch (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) Okay, I'll admit that I was disappointed when I found out that I'd be missing the critically acclaimed performance of Alex Sharp.  After all, how this guy go from Matilda to this.  Shame on me.  Turns out he ave one of the best performances I've seen in 30+ years of seeing Broadway shows. Bravo, Taylor!

Alysha Umphress (On the Town) As I said in my review, I knew she'd be something when she turned a small moment in a chorus role into a star turn in American Idiot.  This star-on-the-rise filled the enormous Lyric Theatre with her magnetic performance as the taxi driver with the heart the size of Manhattan.  

Mare Winningham (Casa Valentina) It would be really easy to be barely noticed in a play that featured a dynamic group of men in very showy, amazing roles.  But this former Brat Packer ended up being the emotional center of the show. Unforgettable in the most amazing way.

The 5 Most Influential Newcomers of 2014


Whitney Bashor (The Bridges of Madison County) She had one song.  She sat on a stool and accompanied herself.  She shared the stage with two forces of nature.  And still, I can't forget her.  She is going places.  Mark my words.

Megan Fairchild (On the Town) Sweet and unassuming.  And certainly not bombastic like some of her over-acting co-stars.  But then she danced. Oh. My. God.  I smell a Tony Award.

Collin Kelly-Sordelet (The Last Ship) The second he took the stage, I knew I was seeing the birth of a star.  He has that undefinable "it" factor,

Margot Seibert (Rocky: The Musical) The second she took the stage, I knew I was seeing the birth of a star.  She has that undefinable "it" factor, I am smitten.  Please come back soon!

Michelle Williams (Cabaret) Oscar nominations don't always guarantee a successful time on Broadway.  But she's got the goods and then some.  One of the best Sallys I've ever seen, her take on the title song was one of those moments that makes seeing Broadway shows my biggest passion.


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