Image of The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Kevin Berne
Note: This list is by no means representative of all of American theatre during the past year, but instead a compilation of some remarkable moments this writer saw across the country.
- The finale of Cabaret on Broadway
The production of Cabaret now playing on Broadway isn’t new to American stages—director Sam Mendes staged it originally back in 1998. But 16 years later, the show’s finale brings new meaning to the concept of a “show-stopper,” with a peek into the future of Nazi Germany that brings both the literal show (Cabaret itself) and the hedonistic era portrayed in the show to a halting, shiver-inducing, conclusion. It’s the kind of moment that reminds you of the tremendous power theatre has as an art form.
- The finale of Pippin on tour in Los Angeles
Director Diane Paulus’ production of Pippin (which closes on Broadway 4 Jan) is a phenomenal take on composer Stephen Schwartz’ 1970s coming-of-age tale about Charlemagne’s son, featuring now-classic songs like “Magic to Do” and “Corner of the Sky.” And while the whole production is astoundingly well done, there’s something particularly haunting about seeing the finale of the touring production in the City of Angels. L.A. is a city where it’s easy for that little voice in the back of your head to turn sour and entice you to do things that aren’t in your best interest, and Pippin’s finale showcased the dangers of the demons in your head with finesse.
- The song “One Second and a Million Miles” from The Bridges of Madison County on Broadway
Plain and simple, this song by Jason Robert Brown may be the best song written for a musical in a long time, and was powerfully performed by Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale on during the show’s run on Broadway this spring. And the chords at the end, chiming away the seconds left for the duo? Heartbreaking. You can listen to it here.
- The war monologue from An Iliad at the Broad Stage
Denis O’Hare’s one-man version of Homer’s Iliad isn’t new—it played off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop in 2012, and has been produced at various regional theatres since then. But the Broad Stage brought O’Hare out to Santa Monica, California in January to perform the show, and the tale of the Trojan War is as haunting as ever. The part that really makes it hit home, though, is when O’Hare recites every single war from the Trojan War to present, reminding the audience that the horrors he’s just described are not exclusive to the past.
- The dream ballet in Little Dancer at the Kennedy Center
Dream ballets aren’t as much of a staple of musicals as they used to be (see: Oklahoma, Singin’ in the Rain), but Little Dancer makes a fine case for their return. As Tiler Peck dances the show’s story out, it both reminds the audience of what’s happened so far and what lies ahead for the titular dancer. And just as Agnes de Mille intended with Oklahoma’s dream ballet, as Peck dances, she expresses what words and music can’t quite communicate.
- The song “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame” from South Pacific at the Asolo Repertory Theatre
South Pacific is a prototypical old-fashioned musical, and the Asolo Rep in Sarasota, Florida, acquitted their production quite nicely. The show was full of nice moments, but the best was the youthful virility of the Seabees as they exclaimed the virtue of women. As the men dance out Ralph Perkins’ choreography, it’s a charming blast from the past.
- The song “Always True to You in My Fashion” from Kiss Me, Kate at the Pasadena Playhouse
Speaking of blasts from the past—Cole Porter’s song “Always True to You in My Fashion” can be a tricky song to pull off. It’s endlessly repetitive, four verses that don’t really say anything that the other three verses haven’t already said. But Joanna A. Jones, who played Lois in the Pasadena Playhouse’s production of Kiss Me, Kate in California this fall, pulled the song off with aplomb, hitting all the right comedic notes and singing it with a charmingly brassy quality, turning her into exactly the kind of dame the Seabees sang about in South Pacific.
- The songs “Mama Who Bore Me” and “The Bitch of Living” from Deaf West’s production of Spring Awakening
Spring Awakening is a pretty popular show right now. The 2007 pop/rock musical, based on an 1890s German expressionist play, has been produced at universities and regional theatres all over the country. But director Michael Arden found something new in his production of the show, which added another layer of repression to the lives of the sexually-frustrated youths: many of them are deaf in a society where the adults are trying to create a perfect, hearing world (the repercussions of which are shown in Cabaret). Under Arden’s direction, the actors sign out the words, while shadow versions of the characters sing and speak the book and lyrics. The sign language adds another layer of fragile beauty to Wendla’s “Mama Who Bore Me,” but moments later, is unapologetically bawdy in the crass number “The Bitch of Living.”
- The final fight from Rocky on Broadway
As a whole, Rocky the musical (based on the Sylvester Stallone movie of the same name) was middling. The show, which played on Broadway this spring, wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t particularly memorable—with one exception. The fight at the end of the show, a showdown between the titular protagonist and professional boxer Apollo Creed, was amazing because it did something unexpected. Shaking off any preconceptions about what a Broadway musical “should be” (an occasionally stuffy affair where people in nice clothes sit quietly in the dark for two and a half hours, staring at the action behind a proscenium arch), part of the audience was escorted on stage as the boxing ring rolled out over their seats, giving everyone in the theater a close-up perspective on the showdown. It was a nice reminder of interactive potential of theater.
- The song “Rhythm of the Tambourine” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame at La Jolla Playhouse
Another less-than-astounding musical, the U.S. premiere of The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the La Jolla Playhouse in California was visually striking, but in need of repair elsewhere. However, a bright spot for the show was Esmerelda’s introduction, as she sings and dances, enticing everyone who watches. Ciara Renee was resplendent as the Gypsy girl—it’s a shame she wasn’t given better dramatic material to work with throughout the rest of the show.