2011: A year of so much theater!

Our New Year's resolution for 2012? Keep Super Awesome Broadway Ninjas more up-to-date! Whoops. Stay tuned for upcoming posts on Wild Animals You Should Know (only a month or so late), Anything Goes (kind of late), Seminar (less than a month late), and The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown (embarassingly late). But as 2011 comes to an end, Hillary and I are having a spectacular time looking back on the TRULY incredible theatre we've seen this year. Yes, we say that at the end of every year. But the past 365 days may take the cake from any other year in our theater-going history together. Celebrities of the stage and screen? Check. Off-Broadway productions and straight plays? Check. Throw in a summer in the city, a few underdog shows that stole our hearts, some Tony Award winners, many a late-night sing-along on the New Jersey Turnpike, and a healthy dose of spontaneity; mix well; and bake at 350 degrees until golden brown.

Since that metaphor only served to make me hungry, I'm off to grab some leftover Christmas cookies. We've had a wonderful year of thespian memories, and we hope you did as well. Without further ado, we present our top 10 theatrical moments of the past year, in no particular order:

1. The closing night performance of Next to Normal on Broadway.  We are in no way exaggerating when we say that this was one of the most special nights of our lives. The first of three closing nights we attended together this year, the conclusion of Next to Normal's run at the Booth Theater was the grand culmination of a two-year love affair. We splurged on great seats. We laughed (and cried) as Diana made sandwiches on the floor one last time. We cringed (and cried) as Dan broke Gabe's music box more violently than ever before. We cried (and cried) as Meghann Fahy choked out the line, "But something Next to Normal would be okay." We somehow met Tom Kitt, Brian Yorkey, AND David Stone. We nursed our sore tear ducts the next day. And we have never felt such an outpouring of love and appreciation in one room.

2. The incredible use of actors-as-scenery in Peter and the Starcatcher.  In case you haven't heard, Peter and the Starcatcher is scheduled to make its Broadway transfer this spring, and Hillary and I are preparing to claim temporary residence at whatever theater it claims. This gem, which ran at New York Theatre Workshop last winter/spring, is hands down the most imaginative piece of theater we've ever seen. Nearly a year later, I'm still overtaken with a sense of childish wonderment when I remember the scene in which Molly (played by Celia Keenan-Bolger) decides to explore the bowels of the good ship Never Land, and the wall of actors onstage instantly morph into a variety of scenes. Christian Borle's work as Black Stache is also more than worth a mention, and we dearly hope he'll be able to continue with the show, while simultaneously being dashing, intelligent, and awesome on Smash.

3. The closing performance of Catch Me If You Can on Broadway.  This high-flying show defined a large part of our Summer of Love, and although each performance we attended reinforced our admiration for its ridiculously talented and hard-working cast, the atmosphere of a final show always elevates things to a new level. One image that will never leave our mental photo albums: Norbert Leo Butz receiving so much applause after "Don't Break The Rules" that he began walking around the stage, trying to push down the raised arms of the ensemble members behind him. Another image that will never leave our mental photo albums: Aaron Tveit barely maintaining his composure during "Goodbye," a song that fit his current situation to the point of comedy, and commanding an instant standing ovation from the entire house upon the final note.

4. Ellen Barkin's monologue in the second act of The Normal Heart.  Among an impossible number of stellar performances, Dr. Emma Brookner's monologue, delivered upon being denied funding for AIDS research, stands out in my memory for its sheer intensity. An unbelievable level of commitment by the actor, but also by the audience, collided to produce one of the most exhausting performances we've ever seen - meaning exhausting for us as audience members, let alone the performers onstage. In a play that wasted no time letting us know exactly what each character believed, and in a production as well-cast as this one, brimming with moments of ferocity, it says a lot that Ms. Barkin's performance is the one chilling moment that vividly remains with me. We're still struck by the profound relevance of The Normal Heart and in awe at the emotional stamina required of Ms. Barkin to deliver such a scene night after night. (As it embarks on a national tour this upcoming summer, we BEG of you to see this show.)

5. Standing in line for 6 hours to see The Book of Mormon...and finding that it lived up to the insane expectations preceding it.  Some may call it crazy...we call it worth it! We didn't see The Book of Mormon until after it had already collected scads of Tony Awards and been deemed a show straight from the mouth of the omniscient God via word of mouth. But, as so rarely happens, everything we'd heard about this supposed magnum opus was TRUE! Never have we seen a show that uses the c-word so many times, that was simultaneously so offensive and so heartwarming, that featured tap-dancing Mormons and Starbucks coffee cups, or in which Bono served as the source of a quality theater joke. (Too harsh?) From opening our minds to South Park-style humor, to meeting some awesome fellow theater geeks in line, to the two-and-a-half hour ab workout from laughing so hard, our efforts to see the 2011 Best Musical were SO worth it. In fact, we would totally rush for standing room again. Just not when it's the temperature of Greenland outside.

6. Everything about The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown.  We've made it quite clear in our blogging thus far that we adore the work of Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk. We've seen their songs performed in concert settings and been blown away by the intelligence and insight they put to music. So to see Samantha Brown come to life in a stage production? Kind of unreal. The show's month-long run in Chester, Connecticut this past August was like a Starbucks frappuccino with gobs of whipped cream on top - a culmination of way too many things we like a whole lot. I vividly remember where I was when the cast list was announced (in the Minneapolis airport, typing away a snow storm of text messages to Hillary, should you be curious), and reading official confirmation that Meghann Fahy would play Sam was only topped by watching her be a star from our seats in the tiny Norma Terris Theatre. Also cramazingly awesome? Watching this little show we'd been obsessed with five songs from morph into a truly special and moving piece of theater.

7. Seeing Anything Goes and finally realizing why everyone is obsessed with Sutton Foster.  Call me a lackluster theatre fan, but before this year, I'd never understood the *ZOMG SUTTON FOSTER!!* mentality. Hillary was a huge fan, but I just didn't get it. But then she cried over her dresser during her Tony speech. And then we saw her as Reno Sweeney. And suddenly, everything clicked. Conclusion: Ms. Foster is our freaking hero. She can tap dance her ass off for eight minutes and belt like it's nothing. She has stage charisma like you wouldn't believe. She has a strong penchant for wearing a pony tail. She is living proof of someone who hasn't been jaded by the business. She's won two Tonys by the age of 36. She is Sutton Foster, ladies and gentlemen, and watching her breeze across the stage in the act one finale of Anything Goes made our faces hurt from smiling so much.

8. Watching Lin-Manuel Miranda rap "Finale" during the closing weekend of In The Heights.  Although I was fortunate enough to see Mr. Miranda during his initial run as Usnavi back in 2008, returning to the Richard Rodgers Theatre to see him close out the show that he wrote, and that made him a bright green pushpin on the map of Broadway, was pretty amazing. Other Usnavis were wonderful in their own right, but to see the man himself? Irreplaceable. The show's final number has always been my favorite, for a variety of reasons, and I'm drawing a blank when it comes to describing Mr. Miranda performing it. All I can describe is the image in my head: the man in a single spotlight, surrounded by his cast in the shadows, rapping his heart out about what "home" truly means.

9. Mark Rylance doing a headstand in a water trough and chugging a raw egg in Jerusalem.  Sometimes there are actors, and sometimes there are ACTORS. Mark Rylance transcends both of these categories. Eccentric in his Tony speeches and admirably insane in his performances, Mr. Rylance is an actor who seems to define the craft with his OH-so-powerful presence onstage. We admittedly left Jerusalem a bit shaken by the play's ending, but walking on air from witnessing the phenomenon that is Mr. Rylance.

10. Laura Osnes, Jeremy Jordan, and the AMAZING cast of Bonnie and Clyde.  We were originally going to title this one "the flop that stole our hearts," but you know what? To us, Bonnie and Clyde was anything but a flop. And we know a lot of people who agree with us on that point. (Unfortunately, though, no one who had a small fortune available to keep the show alive.) From the second we watched the rehearsal footage videos back in October, we knew we'd fallen hard for this one. We first saw Bonnie and Clyde a week into previews, and by the time we arrived home that night, we'd already made up our minds to go back the next week...and the next...and the next. We've literally been living and breathing this show for seven weeks now. It's been incredibly inspiring to watch the cast both onstage and off, give their heart and soul to the show, even with the bleakest of outlooks. Each time we've taken our seats in the Schoenfeld Theatre, the opinions so bluntly expressed by the critics are the FURTHEST things from our minds, because we've witnessed the entire audience get caught up in the magic happening onstage. Those moments where hundreds of people are holding their breath together, or gasping in shock, or quietly laughing in collective acknowledgement of a tender moment, don't happen in every show. And while it is, in our humble opinion, an absolute shame that the show is set to close just a month after its opening night, we can't help but be grateful for the beautiful songs Frank Wildhorn has written (read: THANK YOU JESUS TWICE FOR THE CAST ALBUM BEING RECORDED ON MONDAY), the stellar performances that elevated a solid book beyond itself, and the passion that this show has elicited among those who put aside their Wildhorn bias and judged the material for itself. Each and every member of this cast is going on to amazing things and we can't wait to follow them on to new projects.

Honorable mentions: Watching a post-Next to Normal Adam Chanler-Berat shine in the revival of Rent at New World Stages. Taking part in an enthusiastic audience reaction as Daniel Radcliffe was lowered from the ceiling at the beginning of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and subsequently having Brotherhood of Man inked into our brains for a month. Walking into the Foxwoods Theatre to see Spider-Man...and realizing that Jennifer Damiano was out. Attending Johnny Gallagher's solo show in Delaware at a venue where the crowd actually paid attention to him.  Seeing Alan Rickman live and in person, even if it was from the last row of the mezzanine. And, last but not least, becoming semi-groupies for Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk's You Made This Tour celebration for their debut album.


Anonymous said...

Ok, I am SO with you guys on the Sutton Foster thing. It didn't click for me until I saw the rehearsal footage of her tapping/belting Anything Goes - then the massive lightbulb went off. HOWEVER, I saw the show while Stephanie J. Block was in for 3 weeks and (minus a few splits), she was every bit as amazing as Sutton.

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