Monday, September 25, 2023

40 Years of Broadway: 2003 - 2013: The Standout Performances

40 Years of Broadway: 2003-2013:
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 30 performers who gave truly remarkable performances from August 20, 2003 - August 19, 2013. This list reads like who's who of modern Broadway performers. Like the previous decade, this list includes some stunning debuts, as well as career changing roles that solidify these actors' place in history. There are 10 actresses and 10 actors originating roles, and 10 terrific replacement performers.. 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 Actresses
Ellen Barkin as
Dr. Emma Brookner
The Normal Heart
One of the greatest performances I have ever seen. The actor disappeared in the role completely. Her fiery passion created a rallying cry for a crisis that continues today, but no longer gets much in a way of any press coverage. The revival, like Ms. Barkin's performance was flawless.
Kristin Chenoweth as
Fran Kubelik
Promises, Promises
There was, I recall, a lot of chatter about Ms. Chenoweth being "miscast" in this role, but I dismiss this completely. This was a brave choice for the actress, definitely playing against type. Instead of sticking with her trademark bubbly sweetheart comfort zone as audiences (and her shockingly closed-minded "fan" base) expected, she took on a challenge and summarily won! I hope we get to see her in more roles with dramatic depth and seriousness. I loved her in this show!
Christine Ebersole as
"Little" Edie Beale
Grey Gardens
She was absolutely riveting as this world-famous eccentric, her choices so specific and detailed. And she was just as brilliant as her mother at a younger age. What was so great about this performance is not that she absolutely nailed the impression of "Little" Edie (she did), it's that she imbued her with such humanity that the audience could feel a wide range of emotions about this woman.
Patti LuPone as
She was brilliant. It is no surprise at all that she was. This is the perfect example of an actor and role becoming one. She was born to play Rose. What a privilege to have witnessed it.
Jan Maxwell as
Phyllis Rogers Stone
Speaking of privilege, witnessing this all-around magnificent actor in her prime and giving a show-stopping performance. On a stage full of some of the greatest Broadway talents around, she was still who you looked at. That says so much.

Cristin Milioti as
I was smitten with Girl the moment Ms. Milioti took the stage, making the story that played out all the more real for me. Though the way it all turned out was inevitable, her final scenes had me a weeping mess (think "ugly crying"). She was simply wonderful. Heartbreaking and wonderful.
Patina Miller as
The Leading Player
Sinister and sexy. Dangerous and alluring. Ms. Miller was the complete package. Perfect for the Leading Player, and delightful to watch. Singer, dancer, actor, a true triple-threat. Unforgettable.
Laura Osnes as
Bonnie Parker
Bonnie and Clyde
No matter how things have turned out, her performance in this woefully underappreciated musical was thrilling. Watching her evolve from a dreamer to a murderous criminal was as exciting as it was disturbing. Her solo, "How 'bout a Dance" remains one of my favorite numbers of all my 40 years of Broadway shows.
Bernadette Peters as
Sally Durant Plummer
Something I will never ever forget is her entrance in this gorgeous revival. Watching her face as she rushed in, eyes full of excitement and expectation, and within seconds, it all vanished, replaced with sadness, doubt and anxiety. It is the best performance I've ever seen of hers, and I have seen several. She is largely why I spent nearly the entire performance holding back tears. Exquisite.
Alice Ripley as
Diana Goodman
Next to Normal
I remember the first time I saw Alice Ripley. She was going on as Mrs. Walker in Tommy. I knew then that she was going to be an important Broadway actor; my initial impression was verified after her performances in Sunset Boulevard and Side Show. Nothing prepared me for her ferocious, unyielding star turn as Diana in this Pulitzer Prize-winner. I will never forget it.

Carolee Carmello as
Donna Sheridan
Mamma Mia!
I know a lot of people write off this show as a jukebox fluff piece, and it is fluffy. But it is also joyful and appropriately heartfelt, and in the right hands it is all that and more. I've seen this show numerous times, and a couple of times it was really exceptional. Turns out that those extraordinary times were dependent on who played Donna. When I saw Ms. Carmello in the role, I found myself curiously, deeply invested. She was funny and gave depth to it in places I'd never even considered before. And, of course, that voice... mamma mia, indeed.
Replacement Cast
Jason Danieley as
Dan Goodman
Next to Normal
When they announced the second cast of one of my all-time favorite shows, I was hopeful instead of skeptical. I couldn't wait to see what an actual married couple would bring to this family drama. I was not disappointed. The highs were that much higher, the poignant moments all the more so. Mr. Danieley's chemistry with his wife added a surprising level of emotion. And his relationship with "his children" felt just as real.
Kyle Dean Massey as
Gabe Goodman
Next to Normal
The subtle differences between his performance and that of his predecessor were what kept this performance fresh. What voice and what presence! His scenes with Danieley and Mazzie were all the more intense, as he elevated his part to match theirs.
Marin Mazzie as
Diana Goodman
Next to Normal
Here's a performance that was completely its own entity. The songs, costumes and blocking were all the same, but this was a completely different Diana than ever before. I think a good part of it was Ms. Mazzie's innate ability to modulate her performance and to work so brilliantly with the rest of the cast, but also the unspoken natural connection with her actual spouse as it was imposed on this fictional, complicated marriage. An uncompromising take on the role of a lifetime. Oh, how I miss seeing her work, and how grateful I am that I had the honor to see her.
Mandy Gonzalez as
She was my second Elphaba, and if I'm honest, I don't recall exactly what made her performance stand out to me. All I know is that ever since then, I've been a big fan and I always look forward to seeing her again, green or not.

Ruthie Henshall as
Roxie Hart
She was fabulous as Velma, and even better as Roxie. I'd go so far as to say she's my second favorite behind Sandy Duncan. Hers is a more street wise, tougher edged manipulator. Her timing is utter perfection, and she found unique laughs throughout.
Megan Hilty as
Does anyone ever forget their first Glinda? And how great to discover a new talent that has gone on to a stellar career! She was charming, silly and even a smidgen sinister. Loved her!
Judy McLean as
Donna Sheridan
Mamma Mia!
See what I wrote about Carolee above, and add this: Ms. McLean brought a savvy pathos to this mother with a secret. Her "Winner Takes It All" made the seats rumble with her power. I also saw her as Tanya, also completely fabulous! Why isn't this woman a bigger star? (If you get a chance to see her on tour in Company, I'm sure she will be terrific.)
Jennifer Simard as
Rona Lisa Peretti
The 25th Annual Putnam
County Spelling Bee
The first time I saw this future star was in this role at the opening night of the show's national tour. She was great then, and even better by the time she got to Broadway and made her debut. As you can imagine, she was genuinely hilarious, and you can imagine how in her element she was with the show's improv sections. I knew all those years ago she'd be the Broadway icon she has become.
Emily Skinner as
Mrs. Wilkinson
Billy Elliot
Yes, I am a serious Emily Skinner fan, but nothing prepared me for just how great she'd be in this part. I never thought anyone would be as wonderful as Haydn Gwynne was, but she was terrific. She looked like she was having a ball, and she had charming chemistry with her Billy.

Standout Actors
Raul Esparza as
Here was a Bobby who was urbane and sexy, stoic and intense. A straight man that all the other characters got to play off, at once crucial to each relationship andyet superfluous. Enigmatic and yet intriguing. I couldn't keep my eyes off of him.
John Gallagher, Jr. as
Spring Awakening
Heartbreaking and profound. All I wanted to do was protect this fragile boy. His most outstanding performance to date.
Joshua Henry as
Haywood Patterson
The Scottsboro Boys
What can I say? If you missed this show, you really missed out. And for Mr. Henry, here was the performance that turned him from a great utility player to a full-fledged Broadway star.
Jeremy Jordan as
Clyde Barrow
Bonnie and Clyde
His passion and intensity as this real-life killer made you understand why Bonnie followed him so willingly. I've never seen him so gritty and yet vulnerable. I hope he makes it to Broadway in The Great Gatsby. I bet he'll be fantastic!
Trent Kowalik as
Billy Elliot
Billy Elliot
I got to see each of the original Billys, and they were all wonderful, but I found Mr. Kowalik to be the most convincing and endearing. His big soulful eyes revealed a boy who had a hard life and a spark. And I felt like his take on it really showed a progression of his dancing talent.

Rob McClure as
Charlie Chaplin
Here was a show that I unexpectedly loved, flaws and all. It was creatively staged, the score was good and the cast was wholly winning. It helped that they had a real ace in its lead, one Rob McClure, at the time originating his first lead role. He was fearless and complicated, charming and funny. I've been a fan ever since.
Lin Manuel Miranda as
In the Heights
Before he was everywhere and an entertainment juggernaut, he was leading the company of his very first show. He's not nearly as good a singer or actor as he is a writer and composer. But here, he was raw and sincere, and you could tell it was personal for him. That made his performance remarkable and the show his best so far. By far. Sorry, Hamilfans.
Billy Porter as
Kinky Boots
Sometimes you just know you are seeing an iconic Broadway portrayal. Merman in Gypsy, Lansbury in Mame. Porter in Kinky Boots. Fierce and fabulous, here was more than a drag queen. Here was a shift in musical theater history. Like the Pied Piper, she led all of us willingly from the factory floor to a brave new high-heeled world.
Aaron Tveit as
Gabe Goodman
Next to Normal
My goodness, he was great in this show. Sure he was great to look at, but man, can he sing. I'll never forget him skulking about the top of the set, observing and commenting. Nor will I forget the moment when the audience collectively realizes what is going on with his character. From that point on, he was even more intense and magnetic.
Benjamin Walker as
Andrew Jackson
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
In his musical debut, Walker brought sexy back to Broadway (or so the billboards said. Okay, he did. But he also really understood the assignment of a tough, stylized show that was probably ahead of its time (not unlike his later American Psycho). He has that illusive, undefinable "it" factor. Now he divides his time between the stage and screen. Here's hoping he comes back soon (and brings the sexy, too).

Contest Question #7:
Which roles made the above standout list for both the original performer and the replacement actor?

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