Friday, September 15, 2023

40 Years of Broadway: 1993 - 2003: The Standout Performances

 40 Years of Broadway: 1993-2003:
The Standout Performances

Over the years, I've had the great privilege of seeing some of the greatest performers in Broadway history. Some I've caught at the end of their career, while others I've seen at the peak of their careers. Probably my favorite scenario, though, is seeing a fresh new talent and recognizing early on that they are going to be big. And so, in mulling over the past 40 years of performances, I had a great deal of trouble narrowing down the list of "standouts."

Below are the 20 performers who gave truly remarkable performances from August 20, 1993 - August 19, 2003. During these years, out of college and with a steady income, I was able to see many more productions, as well as several repeated. As a result, I've also included a list of replacement performances. I'm sure there are many other worthy star turns, but of course, I can only share those I saw! Let me know if I missed any of your favorites!

Standout Actors

Matthew Broderick as
J. Pierpont Finch
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
He's always had that nebbish mischief maker quality, and he's really perfect for this role. His chemistry with his co-stars AND the audience was off the charts!
Andre de Shields as
"Horse" Simmons
The Full Monty
As we all know, Andre owns the stage and our attention no matter what he does - he's that good. But here, his comic timing was utter perfection, and his "Big Black Man" number stopped the show.
Jarrod Emick as
Joe Hardy
Damn Yankees
With a Tony Award to show for it, he took Broadway by storm with an innocently sexy performance and a sweet voice. One wishes he would come back to the New York stage.
John Glover as
John & James Jeckyll
Love! Valour! Compassion!
A truly astonishing accomplishment, playing twins with polar opposite personalities - often at the same time - changing before our very eyes with a simple turn of a chair.
Wilson Jermaine Heredia as
Angel Schunard
Breathtaking and groundbreaking all at once, he commanded the stage with every step Angel took. He provided a role model interpretation of a complex, yet endearing human.

Lou Diamond Phillips as
The King of Siam
The King and I
I'll admit that I had low expectations going in about a movie star playing the King. But the minute he appeared, he ruled the show and our hearts. No wonder Donna Murphy, his Anna, fell for him!
Douglas Sills as
Percy Blackney
The Scarlet Pimpernel
I am still mystified as to why Sills didn't become a go-to guy when casting Broadway shows in the 90s and beyond. He is the total package - superior voice, matinee idol looks, and the elusive "it" quality that shows he's equally adept at drama and comedy.
Gary Sinise as
Randle P. McMurphy
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
A superb actor, of course, but what an honor to see him perform live; theater is really a medium he is suited for. And not a single Jack Nicholson reference in his performance!
Stephen Spinella as
Prior Walter
Angels in America
I only had the privilege of seeing him in Millennium Approaches, but he blew me away with his unbelievable range and presence. This was truly a performance for the ages. I wish I had seen him in his 2nd Tony-winning turn in Perestroika.
Patrick Wilson as
Jerry Lukowski
The Full Monty
Has there been a better portrayal of a working-class man in a musical? One doesn't come readily to mind. Wilson was utterly compelling, whether his character was feeling desperate, doing crazy things to make ends meet, or caring for his son. "Breeze Off the River" remains one of my favorite Broadway ballads ever.

Standout Actresses

Carol Burnett as
Charlotte Hay
Moon Over Buffalo
A comedy legend, lovingly chewing the scenery as only she can. What a privilege to watch a master at work. Laughed til I cried.
Toni Collette as
The Wild Party
At the time, I had no idea who she was, but I knew the minute she opened her mouth that I would follow her career forever. Amazing.
Marin Mazzie as
Though I saw her make her Broadway debut about a decade before, it was this gorgeous performance that really made me love her. What a presence and force of nature.
Audra McDonald as
In a show full of star turns, hers was probably the most impactful for me. I wept at her raw, emotional performance. Unforgettable.
Idina Menzel as
Hers was a performance that I remember as clearly as if it happened today. From her exciting entrance at the end of act one to the finale, I could not take my eyes off of her. No wonder Mark and Joanne were so smitten with Maureen.

Megan Mullally as
Rosemary Pilkington
How to Succeed in Business
Without Really Trying
This was actually the second time I saw the future Karen Walker (Grease was the first). She nailed the satirical version of a 60s working girl, walking that delicate like between sincerity and sarcasm. If you can find a video of her singing "Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm," you'll see exactly what I mean.
Donna Murphy as
No matter what you thought of the show, there was no denying that her performance was legendary from the first preview. Complex and deeply felt, she had me hanging on her every word, moan and sigh.
Alice Ripley as
Violet Hilton
Side Show
Even though she was the quiet, introspective sister, Ripley dared us not to pay more attention to her; she was compelling and brave. A beautiful performance in a beautiful show.
Emily Skinner as
Daisy Hilton
Side Show
The gregarious, heart on her sleeve sister, Skinner made not paying attention to her a challenge. Conveying such a lust for life whose tragic end was inevitable made me feel hopeful for her Daisy and made her sad ending all the more gut-wrenching. I can't imagine one of them without the other.
Marissa Jaret Winokur as
Tracy Turnblad
A star was born the minute the spotlight hit her face. There was no turning back, and she turned Tracy into a hero for all of who are different. It would be wonderful if she came back to Broadway. Her effervescent energy is definitely missed.

Standout Replacements

Betty Buckley as
Norma Desmond
Sunset Boulevard
This may be the single best replacement performance I have ever seen. Ms. Buckley was a seething mass of ego, fragility, mania and sensuality. A masterful singer with masterful acting to match. The only time in 40 years where I saw the matinee, went directly to the box office and saw the show that same evening. That's how utterly taken I was with her.
Replacement Cast
David Cassidy as
Blood Brothers
A play about brothers played by (half) brothers adds a layer to the plot, and the Cassidys were absolute perfection. David, with a soulful voice and an aching vulnerability, played the poor sibling with a brash yet endearing power.
Shaun Cassidy as
Blood Brothers
The fortunate brother, raised with all the societal privileges, Eddie was in great hands with the still-sweet faced Shaun, whose velvety voice made the character approachable and sympathetic.
Petula Clark as
Mrs. Johnstone
Blood Brothers
As their much-suffering and sacrificing mother, Ms. Clark was astounding - fearless yet on the edge. At the end of the show, with her sons dead on the ground in front of her, she's turned upstage when she begins the finale, "Tell Me It's Not True," Clark's voice catches as grief has overwhelmed her. Cue the waterworks. It was truly overwhelming. And perfect.
Sandy Duncan as
Roxie Hart
It has been decades and dozens of replacements since Sandy Duncan made her triumphant return to Broadway, and all these years later, I still have vivid memories of her performance. To date, she gave what I consider to be the best rendition of "Roxie" that number has ever done.

Michael C. Hall as
The Emcee
Over the years, I've gotten to see several Emcees of the Kit Kat Klub. Some were funnier than others, some were more dramatic. But none have stuck with me as much as Mr. Hall's version. Creepy, sensuous, carefree and sinister, but fully captivating, he was villainous and appealing. The most complex portrayal I've seen of that character.
Replacement Cast
Howard McGillin as
Kiss of the Spider Woman
I loved the way McGillin took on this beguiling role. Decidedly less femme than others in the role, he used all of Molina's affectations not only as a protective shield, but as weapons against injustice. His gorgeous voice complimented that of his co-star.
Brian Stokes Mitchell as
Kiss of the Spider Woman
"Stokes'" booming voice rolled through the Broadhurst, shaking the rafters. A curious mix of masculine bravado and sensitivity, his take on a revolutionary allowed us to see the full range of his devotion to the cause. His chemistry with McGillin was unmistakable.
Vanessa Williams as
Aurora/Spider Woman
Kiss of the Spider Woman
Ms. Williams' star turn in the title role was remarkable in that there was no inkling of the creator of the part. It was as if the part was completely rewritten. The beauty of it is that the character is so well-written that two completely different interpretations were not only possible, but valid as well. She was sensual and riveting - she indeed used her considerable talents to draw us in like a spider draws in a fly.
Brooke Shields as
Hard to imagine a fluffier show than Grease, let alone think of any performer in it that would stand out from it some 3 decades later. Well, here we are. Ms. Shield was dazzling in her Broadway debut, playing against type as the gritty yet soft Rizzo. Sadly, I haven't had the chance to see her again, but I'm still hoping!

Contest Question #4:
How many of the recognized performances above were in revivals?
(Catch up on the previous questions and all of the contest rules HERE.)

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