Monday, October 9, 2023

40 Years of Broadway: 2013 - 2023: 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." And this past decade was jam-packed with amazing, thrilling and dazzling work from a wide range of superb talent.

Below are the 30 performers who gave truly remarkable performances from August 20, 2013 - August 19, 2023. 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 20 actors originating roles, including some real dynamic duos. 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 Actors

Dynamic Duo - Sunday in the Park with George (2017)
Annaleigh Ashford as
Jake Gyllenhaal as
Even from the far reaches of the balcony, you could feel the chemistry between these two. He was, I admit, a complete surprise to me. I knew he was a good screen actor, but I had no idea he could sing like that. Annaleigh, on the other hand, I knew had the Broadway caliber chops, but her depth here - particularly in act rwo - was a pleasant discovery. Her rendition of "Move On" was devastating.
Sara Bareilles as
The Baker's Wife
Into the Woods (2022)
Talk about tough shoes to fill! But, boy did she! A curious combination of youthful folly and an air of wisdom from experience, her take on the role was both comfortable and refreshing. I look forward to many more performances from her, and, I hope more original scores.
Jenn Colella as
Beverly & Others
Come From Away
I've never seen Ms. Colella give less than an amazing performance. Here, in multiple roles, she expertly blended in the cast as the portrayed the Gander community, and, as befitting a Captain, she commanded our attention. By all accounts, she took great care to lovingly create the true-life heroine, Beverly Bass. I'm always looking forward to seeing what Ms. Colella does next!
Cynthia Erivo as
The Color Purple (2015)
This was one of those performances that we theater love to collect in our memories - performances of a lifetime. Ms. Erivo's star turn as Celie was a complete revelation. Such power! Such captivating bravery.
Sutton Foster
as Violet
Violet (2014)
I was (and still am) stunned by Foster's bravura performance as a disfigured woman on the bus trip of a lifetime. Without a stitch of make-up on her lovely face, not a prosthetic in sight, you'd have sworn she was disfigured. A musical comedy natural, it was wonderful to see her sink her teeth into a dramatic role. Kudos to whoever cast her. And kudos to her for her bravery. More of this please, Sutton.

Dynamic Duo - Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Anthony Boyle as
Scorpius Malfoy
Sam Clemmett as
Albus Potter
These two gentlemen were utterly beguiling, and yes, magical. Their affection for each other as their characters' friendship grew was unmistakable. Their playful ease with each other gave the entire performance a freshness. As carefully staged as it is, I still felt as if it was all happening for the very first time. I would love to see either of these actors in new roles, of course, but it would be wonderful to see them together again in a new show.
J. Harrison Ghee as
Some Like It Hot
We saw this show fairly early in its run, and in turn fairly early in the season. But even then I knew it was their Tony Award to lose. After 40 years, sometimes you just know. A full out triple threat, they are really the whole package: a first rate dancer, singer, comedian and dramatic actor. And charm to spare.
Jane Houdyshell as
Deidre Blake
The Humans
When you share a stage with a flawless ensemble, as Ms. Houdyshell certainly did with the cast of the play, it takes a lot to really stand out. She really did. Playing a complicated mess of a woman, she was firing all cylinders, by turns pathetic and volatile, it was hard to look elsewhere. What an actor!
Celia Keenan-Bolger as
Scout Finch
To Kill a Mockingbird
Another actor whose work is consistently excellent, Ms. Keenan-Bolger simply was Scout Finch. While she has played youthful characters somewhat frequently, she really outdid herself this time - her Tony was much deserved.
Nathan Lane as
Roy Kohn
Angels in America (2018)
If I'm being completely honest, Nathan Lane is an actor I appreciate, but don't always love. He is certainly funny, but with him, a little goes a long way. I'm ashamed to admit that it never really occurred to me that he'd be a good dramatic actor. So I was completely unprepared for what I witnessed during that whole day at the Neil Simon Theatre. He was brilliant. Utterly brilliant.

Dynamic Duo - Kimberly Akimbo
Victoria Clark as
Justin Cooley as
This pair's story, already the stuff of Broadway legend, sounds like the plot of a feel good movie. She, a lady of a certain age, creates a role that is certainly a pinnacle of her long Broadway career; he, a Broadway novice, auditions on a lark and gets the male lead role, finding out while on the way to starting college. I think history will tell that Ms. Clark and Mr. Cooley are one of the great pairings of Broadway. My goodness, they are superb, and so believable. And joyous to behold.
Katrina Lenk as
The Band's Visit
Here was a performance so perfectly matched to the actor that it seems impossible to think of anyone else in the role. Others will be great, I'm sure, but just as there is only one definitive Dolly, Emcee or Tevye, there will only be one Dina, and that is Ms. Lenk.
Casey Likes as
William Miller
Almost Famous
The minute he opened his mouth at the start of the show, I knew I was witnessing the birth of a new generation of Broadway talent. Mr. Likes has that rare, undefinable "It" factor. All things being fair, I hope that we'll have years of seeing him trod the boards.
Sydney Lucas as
Small Alison
Fun Home
Another brilliantly talented young actor, I had the same feeling about Miss Lucas as I did about Mr. Likes. She has that "it" thing for sure. Once she finishes her schooling (If she hasn't already), I sincerely hope that she'll return to the New York stage, and that we haven't lost her to Hollywood completely.
Gaten Matarazzo as
Tobias Ragg
Sweeney Todd: The Demon
Barber of Fleet Street (2023)
If you had told me this time last year that this young man would be on any "best of" list that I'd create, I'd have said you were crazy. I cannot stand him in Stranger Things (I don't care for the show, either). But he is nothing less than a revelation in Sondheim's masterpiece. I've seen and been a part of several productions of Sweeney Todd, and he is my absolute favorite Tobias.

Dynamic Duo - Parade (2023)
Ben Platt as
Leo Frank
Micaela Diamond as
Lucille Frank
Ben Platt has never been this good, and Micaela Diamond was his perfect match. I can't think of anything else to say that hasn't already been said, except to reiterate that the entire production was perfection, and that I hope someone can find a vehicle for them to be in together. I'd love to see what else they can do together.
Elaine May as
Gladys Green
The Waverly Gallery
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: this was the single greatest performance I have ever witnessed. I'm still not convinced she wasn't mentally incapacitated for the entire two and a half hours. Once in a lifetime. And I am forever grateful.
Bonnie Milligan as
Aunt Debra
Kimberly Akimbo
When I saw her in Head Over Heels, I became an instant fan, and I knew she'd be a Broadway star. As good as she was in that, she is masterful as Aunt Debra in this show. She steals nearly every scene she's in. It amazes me, too, that as outrageous as she is, Milligan still manages to create a character that you root for, no matter how criminal her actions.
Alex Newell as
Here is another performance that has entered the Broadway pantheon of star turns. People will certainly remember the historical implications of their work here, and they should, but what I will remember is just how damn good they are. Ground-breaking, sure. And amazing, too.
Elizabeth Stanley as
Mary Jane Healy
Jagged Little Pill
Electrifying. Not since Alice Ripley in Next to Normal. The full gamut of emotions. Superb. What will I remember most? Her eyes. You could feel everything she was feeling just by looking into her eyes. Now, that is acting.

Standout Replacements

Heidi Blinkenstaff as
Mary Jane Healy
Jagged Little Pill
Just when I thought it could never be as good without Elizabeth Stanley, they went and hired Heidi! Every bit as great as her predecessor, Heidi was amazing! And her voice - I get chills just thinking about it.
Andrew Barth Feldman as
Evan Hansen
Dear Evan Hansen
I'm still not a fan of the show, but this kid certainly pleaded its case valiantly. His performance was just so real and down to earth. Not a trace of affectation, and certainly no crazy self-indulgence, Feldman presented a real high school kid, traumas, doubts, awkwardness, bad decisions and all. A messy, heartwarming portrayal. The tears flowed from his eyes, and from mine, too.
Tamyra Gray as
Papa Ge
Once On This Island (2017)
OMG! What a skilled performance here. Evil personified, skulking about the set as a foreboding presence, she was mesmerizing. More from this talented actor, please!
Michael C. Hall as
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
We saw three Hedwigs over the course of this revival's run, and he was easily the best of the bunch. (Sorry NPH.) Hall completely disappeared into Hedwig with a bold and sometimes heartbreaking performance. And I thought he was amazing as the Emcee in Cabaret (he was), but nothing prepared me for this!
Heather Headley as
Shug Avery
The Color Purple (2015)
In a show with Cynthia Erivo, it means a lot that Ms. Headley stood out. But she did, and I'm so glad I got to see her! She commanded the stage every second she was on it, embracing the showmanship demands of the character, while still being profoundly...human. Brava!

Rebecca Luker as
Fun Home
Over the course of her career, the late actress played so many great roles, but it was her final one that touched me the most. Helen's palpable heartbreak over her family came through with Ms. Luker's quiet dignity and exquisite presence. What a privilege to have witnessed it.
Michael Luwoye as
Alexander Hamilton
Damn, can this man sing! And swagger. And emote. All with such honesty, grace and grandeur. He added a layer of much needed emotion to a show, that for all its pomp and circumstance, is pretty straightforward and, well, cold. Who knew there was so much meat on Hamilton's bones?
Ingrid Michaelson as
Natasha, Pierre, and the
Great Comet of 1812
Maybe it's because I'm such a fan of hers in general, but I really adored her in this show. This was no pop star resting on her laurels and fan base. She gave as full and committed a performance as anyone on that stage. And I loved how even when she was not even in a scene she was fully into the experience. Can't wait for her new show!
Bradley Dalton Richards as
Scorpius Malfoy
Harry Potter and
the Cursed Child
His predecessor was brilliant, and so was he. His lanky awkwardness was endearing, and the power of his growing confidence was thrilling. Add the innocence of a budding sexuality, and the unmistakable love of friendship, and you have Mr. Richards' masterful portrayal.
Ryan Vasquez as
George Washington
This guy is on my "one to watch" list, so terrific he was as the father of our country. Magnetic and sexy, were Mr. Vasquez leading an army, I'd follow, no questions asked. He's the real deal of stage performers. Looking forward to seeing him again soon.

Contest Question # 11:
Of all the roles listed above, how many were listed as our favorites as BOTH the originator AND the replacement?

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