I spent the first 8 years of my adulthood in the UK, first training in Glasgow at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and then working in the West End in London— so many of my early, endemic theatre experiences are from those years. There were countless performances I’d describe as “wonderful,” but the one that sticks out as unspeakably thriling. That was Charles Dance as C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands at the Novello in 2008.
I was performing in Fiddler on the Roof (because, yes, it is the only show I do…) down the road at The Savoy so I took in a mid-week matinee and scarcely had any tears left for my own show that evening.
I was so overwhelmed by the entire production that I returned a second time (something I had, up until that point, never done before) and was, in fact, moved even more intensely upon re-viewing.
Incidentally [*crazy alert*] later that week, I happened to see Charles Dance purchasing (of all things) a meat pie in Covent Garden. I tried with all my might to muster up the courage/language/scrap of dignity to speak to him, thank him, be even remotely articulate. But alas, I hid behind a pillar starring at him like a stalker and just watched him buy and eat that pie… what a weirdo... Clearly, he truly left me speechless.
It is/was my favorite performance I have/had ever seen in London.
2. American Idiot
I can’t even talk/write about this one— woof (look: animal noises are a more apt description of my emotions than human language). It is so fascinating because AI isn’t really my “aesthetic” (I tend to enjoy classics more than contemporary things), nor is rock really my thing. But 9$84yo3h&l@ksjdnb*%clka¢sj¡, it didn’t just move me: IT TOTALLY DESTROYED ME.
How much you ask? It is the only time I have ever been obliterated so completely by a piece of theatre that the ushers came up to the puddle that was me after the theatre had cleared out and said “Um, miss? Uh, everything…okay? [*sobs more*] Okay well, um, we’re closing up…”
That music was the un-intentional soundtrack to my adolescence. And I know those people. They are my people.
3. The entire original cast of Ragtime
There is no other piece of theatre that meant more to my family. The Original Cast recording pretty much orchestrated our lives in the late 90s, and no other piece of contemporary theatre has ever rocked me like it. I think you could say that long before I ever saw Ragtime live, it had already formed and shaped my personal connection to, my aesthetic, and my feelings for and about, the theatre. So when my father made it his mission to take our family to New York to see it, suffice it to say: WE MELTED. We cried a lake of tears and it not only met our expectations, it exceeded them.
Anyone who even REMOTELY knows me personally, or follows me on social media, or happens to casually see my iPhone wallpaper knows that I have a mild (read: ridiculously-out-of-control) obsession with my only idol: Angela Lansbury. Can you believe it took me 26 years to see her live on stage?
Having admired her on television, in films and on every cast recording she EVERMADEINTHEHISTORYOFEVER, the very first time I saw her live on stage was as Madame Arcadi in the 2009 revival of A Little Night Music and… I died a little.
Could I meet her afterward at stage door? Nope. I’m actually quite shy, and I also would never have known what to say… it was pretty magical to be 25 feet away from your only idol for the first time, and also? She was marvelous and classy and beyond beautiful in the role.
5. The Seagull at Lake Lucille
In between Acts 2 and 3, you eat a gigantic potluck meal in a field. Actors enter from across the lake, they swim when they exit. Live music accompanies a parade that walks the crowd to the following scene. Mind. Blown.
It didn’t hurt that my treasured pal Gabriel Ebert played Konstantin with such depth and vigor, who is absolutely the best Kostya I have ever seen live (and I’ve seen a baker’s dozen).
We were in the presence of genius there, folks, and anyone who saw it knows it. I don’t think there is anything else to say other than it is a performance that was so out-of-this-world I’m still not quiiiiite sure it was real.
I saw Bart Scher’s revival in October and while the entire production was wholly spectacular, Hoon Lee blew my brains out. Allow me to quote from the email I sent him 45 minutes after seeing it:
Hoon. I just wanted to tell you that I saw the matinee of The King and I today and the entire production, but particularly your performance absolutely blew me the f*** away. I was wiping tears from my NECK. What you did was so incredibly nuanced, genuine, funny(!), overwhelmingly powerful, and detailed— a true work of art, not to mention beautifully sung. You moved me so deeply— I just absolutely had to reach out! You're turning something out that is SO classy and breathtaking.
Hoon is an amazing guy too— a Harvard grad, humble, funny, nerdy, a family-man, and one OUT OF THE WORLD KING OF SIAM.
You can still see him through February.
Run to see it.
Oh my Lordy loo. (Pun intended) All of it.
Like: what the actual HECK Original Cast of Urinetown? I'm gonna need you to dial the awesome down because us mere mortals cannot cope.
Theatre legends paying to pee, schooling us in irony and nuevo-farce, and off course, John Cullum, Jeff McCarthy, Hunter Foster, and Nancy Opel belting Zs. It was painfully hilarious, not to mention oddly poignant.
I saw it with Michael Arden in limited view seats and still, when it was over I wanted to press proverbial ‘rewind’ and just see the spectacular insanity again.
I was lucky enough to see Alan (fellow RCS alum doncha know) in both the 1998 revival (and the 2014 revival [of the revival?])
The 1998 viewing rocked me—and not only had me thinking outside the box, but it blew UP the box and likely scorched my previously-held, teenaged “aesthetics” to ash. His was the first time I had ever seen an actor dare to not just “get dirty” (and not—though definitely appropriate—in the sexual sense). I mean he was b*lls-to-the-wall, cover-yourself in muck and glitter and disgrace and don’t give a solitary f*** what anyone thinks: just get out there and put it all on the line without a scrap of fear or shame.
Not a worry.
Not a speck of fear.
Just tons of grit.
It left me awestruck.
The cheating answers:
|from Oedipus at Colonus|
Okay. I know they are not On, Off, or Off-off Broadway, but they might be anyfreakinsecond. I have the honor of being an acting professor at Pace University in the extraordinary School of Performing Arts, and what I have witnessed in these bright, beautiful, open and glorious young people is the future of our industry and nothing short of miraculous.
My class specializes in classics, so the work I’ve witnessed and lead has been primarily in five (mind-melting) ancient Greek tragedies, The Seagull, and The Spoon River Anthology. I could never select just one performance, but suffice it to say that Hammerstein’s words ring true:
“It’s a very ancient saying, but a true and honest thought, that if you become a teacher, by your pupils you’ll be taught.”
11. Tyne Daly in Master Class
I know it is sort of cheating to talk about an actor one has shared a stage with, but Tyne’s performance as Maria Callas in Terrence McNally’s Master Class revival in 2011 is one that rises to top of best stage partners I’ve ever had the honor of playing with.
Tyne treated me like an equal (on and off stage), and I endeavored to deserve that honor. Her “game” improved mine, and what we alchemically created together was one of the greatest, and most precious creations of my life.
Her Callas was towering, tender, monstrous, human, vulnerable, honest, and ultimately, incandescent.
As long as I live, I shall never forget it.