The best and worst of 2011? Well, not really. But here are the moments we wish we could pack up and put in our pockets and save forever.
Favorite Act I Surprise: The First 10 Minutes of Godspell
The opening is totally strange—actors wander the stage dressed in contemporary dress, spouting the words of history’s great philosophers. It is disorganized cacophony and then a horn blows, and then Jesus arrives. Seriously, what? But there was something about those moments that took my breath away. Yes, the water set is cool, and yes, Hunter Parrish turns up in his underwear. But my awe was more about the show itself—that its creators were content to let all that abstraction stay abstract in a world where many musicals, new and revived, are painfully plodding and literal. It even made me a little jealous of those audiences in the early 1970s who would have seen Godspell with new eyes, and without knowing all the songs. I was happy for that backward glance, and to see an old show in a new way.
Favorite Audience: The Insane People Who Love Newsies
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show where the audience broke into applause in the middle of a song—not because a dancer did some fantastic leap or because a character had a riveting moment of truth, but because the songs were fucking awesome. That happened at Newsies, during its pre-Broadway run at the Paper Mill Playhouse. It happened like six times. In a single show. Fueled by nostalgia and hormones and the loveliness of Jeremy Jordan’s belt-y high notes, the crowd lost their minds every time the music started. It was ridiculous, and completely fun, and… weirdly moving. If the crowds on Broadway are even half as nuts as those kids in New Jersey, we’re going to be spending a lot of time at the Nederlander this spring, not just to see the show, but to be a part of the best peanut gallery ever.
Favorite Moment of Greatness in a Bad Show: Don’t Break the Rules
So, Catch Me If You Can was totally, disappointingly lackluster. Aaron Tveit was a beautiful, golden zombie. The set looked like someone spray-painted a big stack of popsicle sticks. Even the chorus girls’ wigs were snaggly tangles of extreme failure. And then for a few beautiful moments, Norbert Leo Butz came on stage and fixed everything. In what has got to be the most singularly odd song-and-dance number of the season, Norbert flailed himself through a number called “Don’t Break the Rules.” Wearing a fat suit and surrounded by scads of jaunty chorus boys and girls, the impression was so awesomely incongruous, and chock-full of two things that the rest of the show could not muster—energy and courage. How good was that number? Hand Norbert his second Tony Award, because he gave Catch Me If You Can an instant of transcendent, wondrous greatness, and the best dance number of the year.
Favorite Moment of Theater-y Perfection: Rooster Byron and His Friends, the Giants
Jerusalem was all about the power of the story—how words can evoke something stronger and bigger than truth. As played by Mark Rylance, lead character Rooster Byron was the king of the storytellers. He hooked up with the Spice Girls and conversed with giants—if you believed him, that is. Late in the show, the giants make their second “appearance.” There is no gimmick, no amazing stage trickery, but you feel their presence. Maybe because the biggest giant of them all, Mark Rylance, is tasked with conjuring them.
Favorite Production I Think I Dreamed Into Life: Misterman
I’m not entirely certain it’s possible to create theater that pushes more of my nerd buttons—experimental, cerebral, Irish drama exploring a character imprisoned by his very Irishness, starring a disgustingly talented, disgustingly handsome Irish actor. I mean, it’s almost like Misterman—written and directed by Enda Walsh—was created for me. In a way, I was probably destined to love it. But the exquisite quality of the material and Cillian Murphy’s steamroller of a performance elevated Misterman beyond mere nerd-love material. I have never seen one man so completely fill such a cavernous space, or so embody so many characters—honestly, it was like he was possessed by them. Misterman was more force-of-nature than monologue and I feel blessed to have witnessed it. I know I’ll be talking about it—ad nauseum—for the rest of my life so my theoretical grandchildren better start preparing themselves for repeated retellings right about… now.
Favorite Brit on Broadway: Tom Riley
There’s been a lot of buzz about Brits on Broadway these days. They’re acting, they’re sending their productions, they’re trying to take credit for the Great White Way’s general existence and success wherever possible. But the only Brit on Broadway who really had my heart this year was Tom Riley who knocked me sideways with his deft turn as Septimus Hodge in this spring’s revival of Arcadia. (Sexiest character in all of drama? I think so. Especially as played by Riley.) One scene into the play and I was already smitten. There was no turning back when I discovered Riley is also intelligent, witty, and stupid handsome even when he’s not wearing a frock coat and high-waisted trousers. With a literature degree, some really sexy freckles, a deadly accent, and a potential ginger beard, he ticks basically every box on this girl’s wish list. And incidentally, he owns the best interview in Craptacular history—y’all, he was so game to talk about his underwear it’s amazing—for which he will always own a place in the Mick’s heart, even if he never comes to Broadway again.
Favorite Downtown Discovery: ShakesBEER
Two of my favorite things on this earth are theater and alcohol. And one of my favorite playwrights—this will shock you—is William Shakespeare. So when I discovered there was such a thing as a Shakespearean Pub Crawl, it seemed like a sure sign that god does exist I immediately snapped up some tickets. For $30 I got three drinks in three bars, a beer cozy, and four scenes from Shakespeare’s canon imaginatively interpreted by The New York Shakespeare Exchange and their talented actors. In a bar. I cannot recall a better Saturday afternoon in my life. There’s something incredibly original about this idea, but also, incredibly authentic to Shakespeare’s origins. We audience members, and a handful of unsuspecting bar patrons, were like groundlings—intoxicated and right up in the action—and there’s nothing like seeing Shakespeare in a totally new, totally unconventional setting to give you new perspective. Plus. Like I said, we were intoxicated, and that offers whole new kind of perspective in and of itself.
Favorite Theatrical Comfort Food: Arcadia
Sometimes, when you’ve had a really bad day, or week, or month, you just need to see a show. For me, that show is usually a musical (read: Rent, Hair) but this year, with so many lackluster musical options—Mormon doesn’t count because you can’t get in the doors more than once without being a very famous billionaire—it was a play. Arcadia, to be exact. Which I saw approximately ten times during its limited run this spring. David Leveaux’s beautiful, subtle revival allowed both Stoppard’s play, and the actors’ fine performances to shine. Sitting in that dark theater, my brain and heart had the chance to escape a bad day at work or some other such personal drama, and ponder the world’s biggest questions. It was amazingly healing, even when I was pondering the ultimate heat death of the universe. Plus, any play that can make me weep about the beauty and joy in mathematics, and not just literature, is doing something remarkable.
Favorite Quiet-but-Powerful Performance: Steven Pasquale
Steven Pasquale broke my heart this spring in Tony Kushner’s The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism & Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures at the Public Theater. Playing Gus Marcantonio’s youngest son V, the family’s black sheep of sorts, Pasquale didn’t have the biggest part in the play, but his expressive blue eyes and vulnerable take on the Marcantonio family’s everyman was powerful through and through. He made the most of every minute on that stage, and in his final, climactic scene with his father—played by Michael Cristofer—Pasquale moved me to tears sobbing. I actually had to hold my mouth closed so I wouldn’t make noise in the theater.