Wednesday, May 28, 2008

SOB's Best Of 2007-08: Best Revivals Of Musicals

SOB's Best Of 2007-08: Best Revivals Of Musicals

During the 2007-08 Theatrical Season, I was in the audience for revivals of nine different musicals from Atlanta to Winnipeg.

If the tuner at the top of my list seems at all familiar, it's because as my all-time favorite musical, it made my list last year as well. And while its leading lady remains the same, this year's production simply blew me away, beyond all expectations.

Here's my personal "5 Best" list of the musical revivals that thrilled me over the past twelve months:

5 - Sunday In The Park With George (Studio 54, Roundabout Theatre Company, New York, NY)

Art isn't easy. But in the hands of director Sam Buntrock, an exquisite theatrical masterpiece literally comes to life, bit by dazzling bit. In the stunning revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Sunday In The Park With George, Buntrock's ingenious staging begins with a blank canvas, but Tim Bird and The Knifedge Creative Network more than effectively fill in the blanks with an enthralling, radiant projection design that is unequivocally the true star of this musical. This fictionalized account of the painstaking, lonely artistic process undertaken by neo-impressionist Georges-Pierre Seurat in creating his pointillistic painting "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte" benefits from Daniel Evans' manic, disciplined artist. An astounding Jenna Russell renders an impish, yet heartbreaking performance as George's simple-minded and attention-starved muse. As wonderful as this duo is, the performance that touched me the most was the luminescent Mary Beth Peil as George's long-neglected mother sitting stoically in a haunting display of dignified sorrow as her son steals away her chance to know her only grandchild.

Sondheim's memorable score wins the day and eventually helps elevate it to a glorious conclusion. As noted at the beginning of the year, Sunday In The Park With George rated as one of the five stage productions I most eagerly anticipated for 2008. This is unmistakably a great work of art.

4 - Nine (CanWest Global Performing Arts Centre, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada)

Winnipeg's Dry Cold Productions offered a gorgeous revival of Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston's wonderful Nine last summer featuring amazing Manitoba talent. Who knew? This stark, yet beautiful revival served as an astonishing, albeit frugal, showcase for its fine, amassed troupe. What I've always enjoyed about Nine is its ability to illuminate a man, Guido Contini, who's precariously on the precipice of middle age, afraid to relinquish his youth. This Guido was forcefully played with vigor by Kevin Aichele, whose ability to perfectly capture Guido's playboy rapscallion -- as well as his aching epiphany that's he's no longer the boy he once was -- was nothing short of captivating.

Dry Cold Productions' little musical may have been short-lived and seen by relatively few, but its Nine has loomed large with me ever since taking it in last Memorial Day Weekend.

3 - South Pacific (Vivian Beaumont Theatre, Lincoln Center, New York, NY)

From the moment Ted Sperling cues his 30-piece orchestra, commencing the initial swells from the overture for one of the 20th Century's most beloved musical scores, it's clear that this South Pacific is going to be a special island of enchanting entertainment. Bartlett Sher's surprisingly innovative yet entirely natural direction makes this a truly majestic revival. Sher successfully shakes and stirs a credible concoction with handsome Brazilian baritone Paulo Szot opposite Broadway's serious musical "It Girl" Kelli O'Hara; together, they make an attractive, completely credible pairing. In his stirring portrayal of an evolved expat, Szot succeeded in eliciting genuine tears and chills (from me) as he realizes Nellie's rejection in singing "This Nearly Was Mine."

There are still plenty of great lessons to be learned from South Pacific, which remains a groundbreaking and entertaining landmark musical.

2 - Dreamgirls (Fox Theatre, Atlanta, GA)

Tempting fate by returning once more to the role that made her a star over a generation ago, Jennifer Holliday succeeded in proving yet again that she is the quintessential Effie Melody White. In last summer's Atlanta revival of Dreamgirls, the incomparable Holliday seemed to relish further substantiating that she and Effie are not going to take a backseat to anyone. In a glorious and absolutely thrilling performance, not only did Jennifer Holliday triumphantly reclaim the mantle of Effie Melody White, but she reigned supreme. While Holliday alone would have made this Dreamgirls dazzle, she was not alone in providing some truly magical and electrifying performances. In fact, the moment I realized this revival would be otherworldly was at the onset of “Steppin’ To The Bad Side” when the foursome of Curtis Taylor Jr. (a superb David Jennings), C.C. White (Destan Owens), James Thunder Early (a mostly pitch-perfect Eugene Fleming) and Wayne (James Harkness) sent the first, palpable jolt of energized lightning ricocheting through the receptive audience, thanks in part due to Kevyn Morrow’s supercharged choreography.

With an audience already overcome with pure unadulterated excitement, Holliday’s delivery of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” became particularly potent on stage. Somehow, Holliday pulled this incredible outpouring of heartbroken anguish from the deepest, innermost recesses of her very being and spewed it forth in as chilling a show-stopping performance as I have ever seen. For me, seeing this Dreamgirls was a chance to once again witness one of the greatest live theatrical performances of all time and truly savor it.

1 - Gypsy (St. James Theatre, New York, NY)

Gangway world, get off of my superlatives! Suddenly, highfalutin words like "excellent," "superb" and "top-notch" just don't seem sufficient enough to adequately describe the unique experience of seeing the incredible Arthur Laurents-helmed revival of Gypsy now playing Broadway once again. Never have I enjoyed myself more or been so thoroughly entertained by a Rialto musical experience ever. This is most definitely a performance for the ages. To see it is to witness theatrical history being made.

The beauty of this fully-realized Broadway revival is that every breathtaking performance from start to finish matches that offered by the astonishing Patti LuPone, who makes her Rose at once sympathetic, conniving, sexy, funny, tragic and repulsive all at the same time. Add to that poignant portrayals -- the stunning metamorphosis of Louise offered by Laura Benanti in her best performance yet, and the completely credible, quiet dignity in Boyd Gaines' sympathetic take on Herbie -- and you get a classic musical the way it was truly intended to be seen.

What were the best revivals of musicals you saw over the past year? I invite you to join the conversation by sharing your theatre experiences with me.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Related Stories:
SOB's Best Of 2007-08: Best Revivals Of Plays (May 27, 2008)
SOB's Best Of 2007-08: Best Special Theatrical Events (May 24, 2008)
The SOB Five "Worst" Of 2007-08 (May 23, 2008)
SOB's Best & Worst Of 2007-08 Theatre Season (May 22, 2008)
SOB's Best Of 2006-07: Top Ten Of The Year (June 4, 2007)
SOB's Best Of 2006-07: Best New Musicals (May 22, 2007)
SOB's Best Of 2006-07: Best New Plays (May 21, 2007)
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)
The SOB Five "Worst" Of 2006-07 (May 14, 2007)
SOB's Best & Worst Of 2006-07 Theatre Season (May 14, 2007)
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #1 - Theater Of The New Ear (May 30, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #2 – Guys And Dolls (May 26, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #3 – Hedda Gabler (May 25, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #4 – A Blameless Life (May 24, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #5 – Reeling (May 23, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #6 – “MASTER HAROLD”…And The Boys (May 21, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #7 – Love Song (May 19, 2006)
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #8 - Billy Elliot The Musical (May 18, 2006)
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #9 - The Well-Appointed Room (May 17, 2006)
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #10 - Sweeney Todd (May 15, 2006)
SOB's Best and Worst of 2005-06 Theatre Season (May 12, 2006)
Flashback: Best of 2004-05 (May 26, 2006)
Flashback: Best of 2003-04 (May 25, 2006)
Flashback: Best of 2002-03 (May 25, 2006)
Flashback: Best of 2001-02 (May 24, 2006)
Flashback: Best of 2000-01 (May 23, 2006)

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At 28 May, 2008, Blogger Theatre Aficionado at Large said...

What, no "Grease"? ;)

I'll have to go with:

5. "A White House Cantata" (for its personal significance)
4. "No, No, Nanette" @ Encores (The greatest escapism I've ever experienced from a musical)
3. "Gypsy" (whose cheap physical production and lamb puppet keep it out of the top two)
2. "Sunday in the Park With George" (which moved me more than the rest who attended the first preview... and I was equally moved the second time around too)
1. South Pacific (which is, to my eyes and ears, the best revival of a musical I've ever seen)

At 28 May, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

TAAL, Thanks for sharing your top picks. I only wish I could have seen No, No, Nanette given the raves from you and other voices I trust.

Gypsy was my hands-down favorite because the performances were all uniformly excellent. But Dreamgirls and South Pacific were close behind.

At 28 May, 2008, Blogger Joseph said...

Sunday is my favorite revival of the season. What it brings to the Broadway stage is pure magic. No big names. Just wonderful direction and acting. Finally, a production that uses modern technology to emphasize the art and story of the material itself. Never before has technology and material been so reliant upon each other and infused together to make such a perfect blend of theater.

At 28 May, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Joseph, I'm with you on the breathtaking technological art that went into Sunday In The Park With George.

Now, if only the Roundabout could do something about ensuring everyone paying full price tickets could get an unobstructed view, it may have ranked higher on my list.

At 28 May, 2008, Anonymous dylan said...

You know what's interesting? I was able to get a front row center orchestra seat for Sunday w/George even though I'm no longer a Roundabout member. I find their ticket distribution system to be odd as a whole, and agree that full-price for an obstructed view is intolerable.

As to my choice for Best Musical Revival, I've got to go with Sunday w/George, though Gypsy is a VERY close second. I must be the only person who found South Pacific to be a bit, well, dull. City Center's No, No, Nanette was adorable. I'm hoping Damn Yankees is as magical this summer.

At 31 May, 2008, Blogger Dale said...

I mentioned to a co-worker that I was recently in NY and saw Patti Lupone in Gypsy. She asked "What's it about, some sort of gypsy caravan?". When I stopped crying with laughter I told her and she gave me a non-committal "sounds interesting". She didn't sell it like Patti and the gang did.

At 02 June, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Dylan, Had my seat been where yours was, I may have enjoyed Sunday In The Park With George much more. It was stunning. But I've never had a natural buzz in walking out of a musical the way I did with Gypsy.

Oh, and you're not the only one who was bored by South Pacific. Two of my
bloggers were less than impressed.

At 02 June, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Dale, Sometimes I forget that otheres may not know some of the theatre's biggest names. But Gypsy? Oh my God.


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