My Ten-Best Musical Theatre Experiences of 2016
2016 has been a rough year for many people, but one cannot deny that it has been an exciting year for theatre. Looking back, I realized I saw many pieces of theatre that moved and affected me with their artistry and their honesty. Once and a while, I was even entertained for entertainments sake (transported) and those are sometimes my favorite theatre experiences.
So... counting down, here were my top-ten theatre experiences of 2016.
Though the James Lapine directed revival of William Finn’s Falsettos wasn’t everything that we hoped it would be, missing some of the angst and emotional electricity that make the musical spark and crackle, this Lincoln Center revival featured a top-notch cast and several moments that got at the emotional heart of the show. Andrew Rannells, Anthony Rosenthal, and Stephanie J. Block were particular standouts in a strong ensemble that expertly conveyed the truths behind family and love. Looking forward to seeing this production’s airing on PBS. [ORIGINAL REVIEW]
9. The King and I (with Marin Mazzie)
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, an opulent production on the spacious stage of the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, directed fluidly by the often imaginative and always daring director Bartlett Sher, was always an event. Add Marin Mazzie as the replacement Anna Leanowens and I couldn’t get to the theatre fast enough. Mazzie is a consummate musical theatre actress: a riveting stalwart performer who makes interesting choices, who is never afraid to nuance her characters with humor, self-deprecation, and vulnerability, and is possessing of a golden voice that both soars and throbs. Witnessing her take on Anna was eye-opening, a rare treasure to see that a great deal can still be mined from this complex character when an actress worthy of her depths takes the stage.
8. Broadway and the Bard
Len Cariou has proven himself, time and again, as a great musical theatre and classical theatre actor. How wonderful was it, then, to see his intimate Broadway and the Bard, a little revue wherein he combined great musical theatre songs with great monologues from Shakespeare. The pairings often brought deeper meaning to each other, songs illuminating text and vice versa. For example, a monologue from Richard II sewn together with “If I Ruled the World” from Pickwick helped their partners to resonate more deeply. And, of course, there was Cariou himself, reminding us that the best musical theatre comes from an actor who brings his superior acting skills to the stage and doesn’t merely rely upon over-amplification to confuse audiences into feeling impact.
7. Tuck Everlasting
I will continue to advocate for this sweet little show that, though not perfect, is so full of charm, whimsy and catchy melodies that I will remember it fondly for years to come. Tuck Everlasting, based on the popular young-adult novel of the same name, may have had a very short stay on Broadway, but it will live forever in my heart. Repeated listening to the Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen score has only made the piece grow on me even more, particularly the haunting “Time” which, for me, wins the award for Broadway Song of the Year. I look forward to this musical living on in productions all over this country where it will undoubtedly be produced wherever family fair brings in the crowds. [CAST ALBUM REVIEW]
6. Cabin in the Sky – Encores!
The idea of resurrecting (in concert form) dated, problematic, or difficult to produce musicals from our rich musical heritage, especially those with superior scores, has always been inspired and important work. In 2016, Encores! gave us a thoroughly engaging and lovingly restored (and revised) staged concert of this musical that has little hope of ever receiving a full-scale revival. The Vernon Duke (music) and John Latouche (lyrics) score still bursts with as much melody and humor as it did back in 1940. This twist on the Faust legend may not hold up, but Encores! made its best possible case. A thrilling evening. [ORIGINAL REVIEW]
5. Fun Home
I have to admit that I was extremely late coming to the Fun Home table, and I am not even sure where my reserve stemmed from, other than the fact that I had a hard time trying to figure out what the show exactly was from its ads and even its television appearances. I sure am glad, however, that I ventured over to the Circle in the Square and experienced the Bechdel family first-hand. It affected me profoundly, helped me to laugh at both the deepest of my own personal wounds and the darkest of my family demons. It was the first time that a score by Jeanine Tesori has really stuck with me and moved me with its nuance and melody. [REFLECTIONS ON FUN HOME]
4. Trip of Love
People make fun of me, perhaps, for falling in love with this campy jukebox musical that celebrated the 1960s with a thin plot about three couples in search of love. Laugh all that you want, because Trip of Love brought me such great joy through its colorful, larger than life, unapologetic corniness. From its melodramatic opening of “The Windmills of My Mind”, through its cleverly staged “Wipe Out/Where the Boys Are” sequence, to its delicious interpretations of Petula Clark’s “Downtown” and “It’s a Sign of the Times”, I grinned from ear-to-ear and I think I have to give due to a show that did that for me each of the seven times I saw the production. [SAYING GOODBYE TO TRIP OF LOVE]
3. She Loves Me
This Bock and Harnick musical was the most eagerly anticipated revival of 2016, and with Laura Benanti at the top of the bill, it was hard not to see why. This charming little piece about employees in a Hungarian parfumerie, two of which who are at odds, but in love with each other as anonymous pen-pals, was both magical and perfectly produced, acted, directed, and designed. Of course, Benanti did not fail to deliver the musical’s most glorious number “Vanilla Ice Cream”, finding every opportunity for humor and heart. [ORIGINAL REVIEW]
2. The Robber Bridegroom
The Roundabout Theatre had a particularly spot-on year with their revival of the above She Loves Me, and even more so with their Off-Broadway revival of The Robber Bridegroom. Though the piece’s musical styles were not for everyone (country/folk/bluegrass) it was expertly performed by a band of game and glorious actors who brought life to this folk legend of the Mississippi Territory. Director Alex Timbers found so many unconventional ways of telling the story using props, scenery and carefully-places cast members. [ORIGINAL REVIEW]
1. The Woodsman
It wasn’t a musical, but everything about it felt musical in nature and that was predominantly thanks to the luscious Edward W. Hardy music that underscored the entire event. The story of Nick Chopper (a.k.a. the Tin Woodman from The Wizard of Oz) as told by playwright and puppeteer James Ortiz, along with the show’s eclectic and talented ensemble of actors/puppeteers, The Woodsman was a breath of fresh air. An antidote for its overblown heir apparent Wicked, employing simple theatre convention and magic in place of spectacle and power belting, The Woodsman reminded us that some of the best theatre tricks are the ones of puppetry, poetry and subtlety. [ORIGINAL REVIEW]