In addition to all the great (and not so great) musicals and plays I've seen throughout the 2006-07 Theatrical Season, there are a number of concerts, readings and individual performances that defied neatly fitting into categories. Since the Tony Awards define those types of shows as "special theatrical events," I'll do the same.
In my personal "5 Best" list of the greatest special theatrical events of the past year, you'll notice a vast and eclectic array of acclaimed talent. Here's the list:
1 - Barry Humphries & Friends: Back With A Vengeance! (Arts Centre, State Theatre, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia)
Barry Humphries made a triumphant return to his hometown of Melbourne, soundly disproving the theory that you can't go home again. His new production that stretched a quick three hours not only solidly engaged Dame Edna Everage devotees, but provided first-timers with an outstanding introduction to his most beloved character along with two who are primarily known only to Aussies: Les Patterson and Sandy Stone.
Rather than allowing his "gigastar" housewife to call the shots, Humphries was clearly in charge with plenty of biting humor involving the audience. Yet this production also featured the ribald, spitting satire of Humphries' Les Patterson skewering Aussie politicians, along with the poignant subtlety of the "deceased" Sandy Stone, whose watchful eye on his wife from above provided an insight into today's Australian psyche one never quite learns from the Great Dame -- but then, there she was in all of her glory.
Despite the nearly three hours running time, this was one must-see show that I didn't want to end thanks to the ingenious wit and wisdom from one of Australia's true treasures, Barry Humphries. And fortunately, Humphries himself took the final curtain call bow.
Click here for The SOB Review of Barry Humphries: Back With A Vengeance!
2 - Come Be My Love...Love Spoken Here (Westport Country Playhouse, Westport, CT)
Just before Valentine's Day, I was thrilled to be among the relative few fortunate enough to enjoy one of the loveliest, tastiest confections to come along in a long, long time. Bigger than the largest chocolate kiss, this mega-bite Valentine was served up at Connecticut's venerable Westport Country Playhouse in the form of romantic poetry written by such giants as Maya Angelou, Noël Coward, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Dorothy Parker and William Shakespeare, among others.
The romantic in me wondered what could have been any tastier than Come Be My Love...Love Spoken Here, which came in a luscious seven course benefit at and for the Westport Country Playhouse. Indeed, the evening’s generous, heaping helpings of amore would have sated practically every kind of lover thanks in large part to its seven stellar cast members, who made each work come alive with humor, humility, lots of humanity and most of all, heart.
Miraculously amassed for this one-time-only event, Joanna Gleason, Charles Grodin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eartha Kitt, Paul Newman, Chris Sarandon and Joanne Woodward offered their own unique, individual voices on the ecstasy and agony that arguably make love life’s ultimate affection. Wow! To call this breathtaking would be a major understatement. With the megawatt cast’s refrains reverberating throughout the theatre, this audience member was left reeling as though Cupid had shot another arrow through his heart.
Click here for The SOB Overview of Come Be My Love...Love Spoken Here.
3 - An American Icon: Kitty Carlisle Hart (El Portal Theatre, North Hollywood, CA)
Eight months prior to her April death, I had one of those truly unique opportunities to see the doyenne of Broadway society for most of the 20th Century: Kitty Carlisle Hart, an astonishing film, stage and television figure whom I’d admired from the days of her long stint as a panelist on TV’s “To Tell the Truth” during my childhood.
In the sold-out An American Icon, Mrs. Moss Hart (then nearly 96 years of age) remained sharp as tack, graceful as American theatrical royalty and the epitome of class and sophistication. There she stood, poised on the stage of North Hollywood’s El Portal Theatre for more than one hour, regaling the enthusiastic audience with an erudite cross-section of her illustrious, captivating life including vivid recollections of her friendship with a veritable “Who’s Who” of the Great White Way’s Golden Age: Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Kurt Weill, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe, and of course, the great playwright and director whom she’d marry in 1946 until his death in 1961, Moss Hart -- and each fascinating vignette included a song or two.
Perhaps most touching, especially considering that this was one of her final performances, was Mrs. Hart’s rendition of the Kurt Weill/Maxwell Anderson classic “September Song.” Kitty Carlisle Hart's descriptions of her personal relationships with the legends who made Broadway such a powerful medium proved a testament to the amazing life she herself led with such style and dignity. I was honored to have one infinitely memorable opportunity to bask in her glow (and even meet her in person when I took the above photo) -- I continue to feel all the richer for the experience.
Click here for The SOB Review of An American Icon: Kitty Carlisle Hart.
4 - Pet Shop Boys (Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis, MN)
Given the unusually high theatrical quotient in last October's amazing, entertaining concert by electronica-pop duo Pet Shop Boys -- right down to elaborate set, lighting and projection design to choreography, as well as to an intermission during a performance on a stage typically reserved for Broadway productions -- it seems entirely apropos to include their show here.
In this case, through the assistance of three outstanding back-up singers and two breathtaking dancers, their music of the last twenty years came to life. While there's more cheekiness than bite to their lyrics, the Pet Shop Boys delved into fertile political satire with fare like “I’m With Stupid,” which lampooned the unflinchingly blind support of British Prime Minister Tony Blair for the policies of U.S. President George W. Bush through an engaging video backdrop of whirling imagery including the Union Jack, Stars and Stripes and close-up shots of both leaders’ eyes and mouths.
The second act of the Pet Shops Boys’ dazzling concert included a steady stream of some of their biggest hits, including “West End Girls” and “It’s A Sin,” along with anthemic turns on such borrowed hits as “Always On My Mind,” “Where The Streets Have No Name/Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” and their rousing finale, “Go West.” Each number was brilliantly staged with eye-popping choreography against a versatile backlit series of white boxes that framed movement with a visually arresting projection design. Because the set, lighting and projection design, as well as choreography, were so innovative, about my only regret with this oh-so theatrical presentation was that there was no Playbill to tell us who was responsible for each component.
Click here for The SOB Review of Pet Shop Boys.
5 - Sandra Bernhard IS Plan B From Outer Space (Rossi's Blue Star Room, Minneapolis, MN)
In Sandra Bernhard IS Plan B From Outer Space, it wasn't so much not knowing where the Flint, Michigan native was coming from, but it was wondering where she was taking you. Just when you thought she'd whirled you out of orbit, she suddenly came back to the original point with style and finesse. It was quite a ride.
Her voice has certainly come a long, long way from its rather raw beginnings. Most of her music, accompanied by a tight three piece band, served to bookend her nearly non-stop two hour performance, starting with playful R&B takes on a memorable Jennifer Holliday tune -- along with Monica and Brandy's "The Boy Is Mine" and a poignant tribute to Nina Simone -- and concluding with her rocking out to Guns N' Roses ("Welcome To The Jungle"), Led Zeppelin ("Whole Lotta Love") and Prince ("Little Red Corvette").
Along the way, Bernhard easily swayed from the irreverent to the reverential. With riffs on everyone -- from Madonna and Malawi babies to Angelina Jolie's adoption addiction to the Britney Spears/Paris Hilton/Lindsay Lohan/Nicole Richie capers to designer Tom Ford's new ad campaign to, of course, President George W. Bush -- and everything, including her own study of kabbalah, her Manolo Blahnik shoes and Larry King's 50th anniversary party, Bernhard packed it all in with her biting trademark humor. While the title of her act may suggest she's from another planet, Ms. Bernhard thankfully came back down to earth to entertain us once again.
Click here for The SOB Review of Sandra Bernhard: Plan B From Outer Space.
What were the best special theatrical events you saw over the past year? I invite you to join the conversation by sharing your theatre experiences with me.
SOB's Best Of 2006-07: Best Revivals Of Musicals (May 18, 2007)
SOB's Best Of 2006-07: Best Revivals Of Plays (May 16, 2007)