Friday, December 31, 2021

Best of 2021: Performances

And so ends another trip around the sun. As theater fans, I'm sure you'll agree that the last two years have been brutal. Here's hoping that 2022 brings us even more live theater to enjoy and celebrate.

We end our retrospective week with a look at our favorite performances of the year.

THE BEST OF
PERFORMANCES


BEST GIRL GROUP: 
The Ladies in Waiting of Six
What's a queen without her entourage? At Six, the band is as much a part of the show as the actors. Oh boy, can they play!




BEST ENSEMBLE CAST: 
The Queens of Six
Precision, sass, and a show so tightly packed with dance moves, transitions and poses is rarely this well-executed. That you literally feel the "girl power" radiating off the stage, and a pervading confidence that these women fave each others' back makes the experience all the more satisfying.



BEST SUPPORTING ENSEMBLE: 
The cast of Diana
Sometimes campy, sometimes serious, and always a triple-threat, this group does it all with royal finesse. Surely they were exhausted after every performance, having completed Christopher Ashley's precise staging and Kelly Devine's energetic choreography!



BEST PAIR: 
Etai Benson as Paul and Matt Doyle as Jamie in Company
There wasn't a weak link in the entire cast, and each couple had their charms, but Etai and Matt were magic. Their palpable chemistry was off the charts, so endearing and so honest. One of the best things about sitting as close as we did was being able to see them have that same level of relationship evident in side glances, in passing and even across the stage.

BEST REPLACEMENT: 
Heidi Blickenstaff as Mary Jane in Jagged Little Pill
The role - and its Elizabeth Stanley legacy - is an enormous undertaking. Heidi made the role her own, and brought out an intensity and self-loathing that was painful to watch, which made watching her decent all the more emotional, and her personal reconciliation all the more cathartic.






   
Erin Davie (right) and Caissie Levy

      
Kevin S. McAllister, Samantha Williams (right) and Rashidra Scott

BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE: 
Erin Davie (Diana), Caissie Levy, Kevin S. McAllister and Samantha Williams (Caroline, or Change), Rashidra Scott (Company)
All five of these actors were stand-outs on stages filled with stand-outs. Their dedication to bringing their individual characters to life with strength and specificity is matched by their commitment to being just one part of the bigger tapestry of their respective shows.


ICONIC PERFORMANCE: 
Patti LuPone as Joanne in Company
A performance years in the making in a role perfectly suited to the actor. Thousands of words have been written on this very topic, and I doubt I have anything to add to the discourse. All I will say is this: it was a privilege to witness every second she was on stage.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Best of 2021: Showstoppers and Special Moments

Even with a limited number of shows under our belts in 2021, there were plenty of showstopping numbers and some very special moments to enjoy. We have moments from new musicals, dazzling revivals, a re-visit to a favorite, and a wonderful family holiday show. Did any of your favorites make out list?

THE BEST OF
SHOWSTOPPERS AND SPECIAL MOMENTS

CAROLINE, OR CHANGE:
"16 Feet Beneath the Sea":
A promising opening number, the mysterious tone and the troubling symbolism of the song's metaphors give the audience plenty to think about. We hung on every word.

"The Dryer":
Sensuous and sinister, the red-glowing Dryer (Kevin S. McAllister) brings an edge to Caroline's basement friends.
COMPANY:
"Tick Tock":
Hilariously brought to life as a door-slamming farce, this number revels in the panic of Bobbie's commitment issues. Plus, a feathered nightie-clad Patti LuPone taking an exhausted dump (art imitating life once again, dolls), and a scorching hot Clybourne Elder shaking off after a pee are two images I never thought I'd see, but here we are.

"Getting Married Today": 
Sure Matt Doyle sings (and acts) this classic tongue-twister perfectly. But what really makes this number stop the show is his chemistry with Etai Benson, gorgeous interludes by Rashidra Scott, and some really funny staging. Organized chaos that we are here for!

DIANA: Let's face it, this score is a soon-to-be (if not already) guilty pleasure classic. Like the show, the score has two tones, serious musical theater and total camp. And as the kids say, each and every song is a bop that slaps. Completely fun, and so bad it's good, we were able to narrow down our favorite moments to two in each, er, camp...


CAMP: "This Is How Your People Dance" and "The F**k You Dress":
It will be some time before we get the image of a Diana strip down and a neon cello out of our head, and damn if the tune of the former isn't an ear worm! Meanwhile, the latter is sure to become a staple in drag shows. We've never hear the f-word sung so well!


SERIOUS: "Snap, Click" and "If": 
 Dance numbers (the former) as social commentary aren't new, but there is something chilling about watch the paparazzi swarm the Princess, knowing her eventual demise, and the trench coat as Cursed Child cape swirls are both thrilling and horrifying. Beautiful anthems (the latter) as ironic finales are also not new, but there is such a bittersweet mix of person triumph and tragedy here that it's hard not to get emotional, and watching Diana fade away into flood of flash bulbs is a striking final image.

EMMET OTTER'S JUG-BAND CHRISTMAS:

"The 1st Annual Talent Contest":
Well, this one is really a sequence of numbers, but it's a showstopper nonetheless. Any 10 minute thing that enthralls small children who squeal in delight throughout and has the adults belly-laughing certainly qualifies. This perfectly executed piece blends traditional musical theater, vaudeville and the magic of first-rate puppetry. Bravo to all who made this happen.

JAGGED LITTLE PILL:

"Smiling" and "Uninvited":
Both of these numbers are showstoppers for two very good reasons. One, Diane Paulus' staging and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's choreography/movement are spectacular. And two, Heidi Blickenstaff gives a stellar powerhouse performance in both. I'd be remiss not to mention the truly stunning dancing done by Heather Lang in "Uninvited." These are theatrical moments I'll remember forever. I miss them already.

SIX:
"Get Down":
The catchiest of a score full of catchy numbers, Brittney Mack is a powerhouse, emulating Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea, Charlie XCX and a dash of Beyonce. I still can't get "And you can't stop me 'cause, I'm the queen of the castle, get down you dirty rascal" out of my head!

"All You Wanna Do":
Britney and Ariana better watch out, there's a queen looking to take your throne! Courtney Mack (at our performance) as Katherine Howard, oozed pouty siren as she sang about all the men she seduced. A lot of fun!

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Best of 2021: Design and Direction

Despite having seen just six new productions in 2021, we did get to see some truly noteworthy stagecraft, design and direction. Will any of these worthwhile contributions to Broadway history be among the best of the entire season? We shall see. In the meantime, we will celebrate and be thankful for what we did get to see. 

THE BEST OF
DESIGN AND DIRECTION

BEST SHOW ART RE-VAMP - PLAY: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
The original logo was great, especially for fans of the book and films. It had a certain "insider" feel to it. Now it looks like the exciting, thrill-packed play that it is.

BEFORE:                                       AFTER:

BEST SHOW ART RE-VAMP - MUSICAL: Diana
The less said about its pre-Broadway logo the better, I think. While I really like the original Broadway logo, I do like what they ended up with. The colors, the image, the tagline. All attractive and classy, like the princess deserved.

PRE-BROADWAY:                          BEFORE:                          AFTER:

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY: SIX - Carrie-Anne Ingrouille
Girl group power moves that owe a lot to The Supremes and The Spice Girls, performed with a precision that the Rockettes would envy, Ingrouille has turned the six queens in their rainbow of colors into a non-stop kaleidoscope of patterns and exciting formations.


BEST DIRECTION: MARIANNE ELLIOTT - Company
Patti LuPone is right. Marianne Elliott is one of the best in the business, and we've loved her work on War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. With Company, she has taken a venerable classic in a whole new direction, and the show (and we) are all the better. Perhaps the show hasn't been this timely and poignant since the original production. Under her guidance, the show is fast-paced and hilariously funny. Great stuff!


BEST LIGHTING DESIGN: Tim Deiling - SIX
Combining traditional stage lighting, full venue beams of light, and vibrant digital light panels worked so perfectly together to create a Tudor-style disco/rock concert. All of it fun and all of it befitting royalty.


BEST COSTUMES - William Ivey Long - Diana
The man may be scum, but his costume work here is pretty spectacular, not only in recreating some of her most iconic looks, but also filling the stage with a wide variety of costumes that instantly define place and class. And those costume changes are mind-blowing. Special shout out to the "F**k You Dress."


     

BEST SCENIC DESIGN: Bunny Christie - Company
What's not to love? Neon framed boxes that compartmentalize action, surreal letters that glide around the stage replicating the New York subway system and the hustle-bustle of midtown Manhattan. With the main character on an Alice in Wonderland adventure of the single life, there are over-sized objects, shrinking apartments and "drink me" bottles of Maker's Mark that range from piƱata sized to airplane miniature sized. And there's the super fun "Where's Waldo?"- esque hidden 35s in each scene. A design that matches the fun tone of the direction of the show makes it a winner.

   

BEST OVERALL CREATIVE PRESENTATION OF DESIGN: Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas
Don't let the fact that the show is aimed at families with young children fool you. This production represents the very best in current design techniques theatrical creativity and the magic of puppetry. And the very best came together to make this happen - Anna Louizos on sets, Gregg Barnes on costumes, and the incomparable Jim Henson Company providing an array of puppets. Rumor has it, the show may be back next year. It'll dazzle your senses and warm your heart.


Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Best of 2021: Debuts

Every New York debut is a momentous occasion for an actor, be on or off or off-off Broadway. Accomplishing this career highlight is no small task, maybe even more so in these trying times. Today, we celebrate six such actors, congratulate them, and look forward to seeing their careers take off!

THE BEST OF
DEBUTS

Sharon D. Clarke (
Caroline, or Change
) As the title character in the revival of this Tesori-Kushner musical, Clarke's portrayal of the stoic maid brings audiences to their feet nightly. Her strength pervades the entirety of Studio 54. An established actress in Britain, we are indeed fortunate that she was able to share her performance with us here in the United States. I'm already looking forward to seeing her again, and hope it will be sooner rather than later.


Morgan Dudley (Jagged Little Pill)
Taking over an acclaimed (and Tony-nominated) performance is a daunting, Herculean task, and no 
doubt it's even more challenging when, on top of it all, you are also making your Broadway debut! Dudley certainly made their presence known with a powerful turn in the challenging role of Frankie. Here's to more of them on stage and screen!



Roe Hartrampf (Diana)
What a delicious way to make your Broadway debut! Not only on stage at the Longacre, but to have your debut captured in a pro-cut film on Netflix, too? An embarrassment of riches, to be sure. A great singer, he cuts a dashing figure and manages to make a spoiled, entitled brat of a prince captivating. Surely, it won't be long before he's back on the Rialto.
Brittney Mack (Six)
She's one of those actors that I found myself watching even when she wasn't the focus of the performance. As Anna of Cleve$, she is all kinds of sass, style and power. With a voice angels surely created, and a presence that has that "it" factor, we can't wait to see what comes next for this Queen of the Castle!





Adi Roy (Jagged Little Pill)
Though his time on Broadway was unfortunately cut short, I am certain we will see him again soon. This 19 year-old is currently studying acting at NYU, which will only make him better. He has a natural ease on stage and a remarkable chemistry with his cast mates! Best of luck to him!





Colin Trudell (Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas)
Even through a ton of makeup and a huge furry costume, we could tell that this young man is going places! He's the real deal - a triple threat - who made us believe he was a conscientious young otter. One thing I particularly appreciated about his performance was that despite this being a children's holiday show, his performance was sincere and never pandering. Can't wait to see him play a human! Soon, please, casting people! 
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