Wednesday, December 31, 2008

SOB's 8 Singular Sensations Of '08

SOB's 8 Singular Sensations Of '08

As regular readers of Steve On Broadway (SOB) know, while others use the end of the year to provide their lists of the top shows of the past year, I wait until the conclusion of the entire Theatrical Season to provide my official tally.

Instead, I'm once again devoting the end of the calendar year to celebrate SOB's Singular Sensations -- those magical live performances that have stayed with me throughout the year. While it's easy to bid "good riddance" to a year that has been fraught with economic, man-made and natural catastrophes, I took refuge in once again being truly wowed and ultimately inspired by an extraordinary display of excellent performances from some of the theatre world's best actors, singers and dancers of our time.

Before I launch into my mini-countdown, I'd like to offer a few personal observations on my own year. Without a doubt, one continuing highlight has been the enormously gratifying opportunity to meet a wide cross-section of fellow theatre bloggers.

Thanks to Esther at Gratuitous Violins for getting the ball rolling as 11 bloggers with a predominant focus on theatre became friends and family as we joined together for a freewheeling brunch at Angus McIndoe's -- one of the Broadway theatre district's more renowned hot spots. That list included Aaron at ‘kül That Sounds Cool, Alicia at Things You'll Learn To Love About Me, Chris at Everything I Know I Learned from Musicals, Jan at Broadway & Me, Jimmy at Third Row, Mezzanine, Kari at Casual Heap, Mike at The Lunar Gemini, Patrick at Just Shows To Go You and Sarah at Adventures in the Endless Pursuit of Entertainment.

But as the year progressed, it was a high honor meeting several other vital bloggers, including Andrew and Philip at West End Whingers, Angel at The Theatergoer, Eric at Man In Chair, Gabriel at Modern Fabulousity, Kevin at Theatre Aficionado At Large, and, of course, the man responsible for my wonderful new photo, the incomparable Ste at The Stephen Mosher Blog.

To all my blog friends, let me say I am proud to know you and count you among my friends.

Now, dear readers, I give you SOB's 8 Singular Sensations of 2008:

#8 - Francis Guinan - While most of the rest of the August: Osage County ensemble headed off to London this fall to reprise their celebrated performances, one notable principal from Steppenwolf's Chicago and Broadway casts did not make the journey: Fran Guinan.

The actor who singlehandedly delivered the tenderest performance and arguably the most heart in this year's Tony Award-winning Best Play as Charlie Aiken had a couple other projects and a whole host of characters to handle back in Chicago. Guinan enjoyed some delicious scene-stealing roles as Colonel Sanders and Johnny Walker in Steppenwolf's Kafka On The Shore, but it was his extraordinarily touching take as Sharky in Steppenwolf's just-extended production of The Seafarer that completely blew me away.

It's because he seems to effortlessly imbue each and every one of his wide-ranging characters with limitless shadings and nuance, I'm looking forward to seeing this sensational actor next in Steppenwolf's early 2009 mounting of Art.

#7 - Martha Plimpton - Is there nothing Martha Plimpton cannot do? First, as the wine-swilling pontifica-ting, pompous Pope Joan and then as an English teen, both as part of Caryl Churchill's Top Girls, she was simply mindblowing.

But as Gladys Bumps in the current Broadway revival of Pal Joey, Plimpton proves nothing short of a complete revelation. We already knew this Tony-nominated actress had the dramatic chops, but who knew she also possesses such an sensational singing voice? Her "Zip" alone is worth the price of admission. Along with her sly moves, it truly does appear that there's nothing Plimpton can't do.

Look for another Tony nod in the New Year for this sensational actress.

#6 - Lois Smith - Shame on me for missing Horton Foote's The Trip To Bountiful during its celebrated Signature Theatre Company run a couple years back. Fortunately, for me (and countless others), Chicago's Goodman Theatre chose to honor the works of the great nonagenarian with a festival that enabled the incandescent Lois Smith to reprise her lauded Off-Broadway turn as Carrie Watts.

Smith's astonishing luminescence burned brighter and brighter throughout her performance as she brilliantly captured Carrie's yearning to return home, one last time, to a place called Bountiful. Smith's impeccably drawn portrayal proved one transformative power.

The always sensational Lois Smith was nothing short of excellent.

#5 - Daniel Breaker - I have yet to see what he can do in Shrek The Musical.

But Daniel Breaker The Actor is one exception-ally gifted talent worth watching, thanks to his truly astonishing breakthrough role as Youth in my favorite new musical of the past year: Passing Strange. Breaker has the ability to convey so much more with a simple roll of his eyes than many actors have with their entire portayals. He possesses a natural presence found far too infrequently on the stage.

His sensational Tony-nominated performance made Passing Strange come alive, and it will be the reason I go see Shrek.

#4 - Jim Norton - Actors from two different productions of the same outstanding play land on my list.

Back at #8 was Fran Guinan as Sharky from Steppenwolf's current run of The Seafarer. The acting genius who originated the role of Sharky's brother Richard in London and reprised his performance again on Broadway lands at #4. The breathtaking Jim Norton earned very well-deserved Olivier and Tony Awards for his incredible work. His superb portrayal more than convinced me he had literally drunk himself blind. I really thought, "this man truly is without sight." Of course, only at the curtain call did I realize he could see.

I'm so looking forward to seeing this sensational actor once again in New York City Center's March mounting of Finian's Rainbow.

#3 - Mark Rylance - For a British actor, Mark Rylance sure has the Midwestern accents down pat (perhaps it's because, like me, he lived in Mequon - Thiensville, Wisconsin, during part of his formative years).

Shortly before making his Broadway debut, this master Shakespearean actor returned to a Guthrie stage in Minneapolis in the title role of Peer Gynt. This retelling of Henrik Ibsen's play began with Rylance portraying a modern-day Minnesotan on the receiving end of a surprise party for his 50th birthday.

Soon thereafter, Rylance took Broadway by storm with his Tony-winning farcical turn as a Wisconsinite named Robert in the revival of Boeing-Boeing. He's still keeping them laughing through Sunday at the Longacre via his absolutely masterful turn.

Given his wide range, there's no telling where the sensational Rylance will land next.

#2 - Elena Roger - As the only artist from last year's SOB Singular Sensations lists to make a return, the marvelous Elena Roger is a major force to be reckoned with. Her bravura performance as Eva Peron in the recent London revival of Evita was more than enough to land her at #4 one year ago. In the current West End production of Piaf, this abundantly assured and captivating actress dazzles once again. Roger proves a true sensation.

Succeeding in eerily channeling Edith Piaf, Roger soars to make for one of the year's most extraordinary and magical performances, almost in spite of the ill-conceived production around her.

I for one can't wait to see what this sensational talent does next and can only hope that Broadway is finally paying attention.

#1 - Patti LuPone - I know, I know. Patti LuPone easily earned the number one spot two years ago on my year-end list for her electrifying/terrifying performance as Mama Rose in Ravinia's concert version of Stephen Sondheim, Jule Styne and Arthur Laurents' best musical of all time, Gypsy. How could I possibly give the same artist the same pole position for the same role yet again?

Easily. Laurents' current Broadway mounting of Gypsy is no ordinary revival. Just when I thought LuPone couldn't get any better, she manages to eclipse her own jawdropping performance with a Rose who is at once sympathetic, conniving, sexy, funny, tragic and repulsive all at the same time. Brava, Patti! Brava!

I was so mesmerized by LuPone's sensational performance of a lifetime that I'll be there to cheer her on once more before Gypsy closes on January 11.

Happy New Year!

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 31 December, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

Hey Steve,
I'm so glad I was able to bring everyone together and help us all make so many new friends. It definitely was a highlight of my year, too.

I had a feeling Patti would be Number One! I know firsthand how mesmerized you were, so I'm glad you'll get a chance to see her turn as Mamma Rose once more. What a trio of unforgettable performances with Ms. LuPone, Boyd Gaines and Laura Benanti!

I really am sorry I missed Mark Rylance. And Elena Roger is definitely on my list of West End actors I'd love to see come to New York.

At 31 December, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

And happy new year, my friend! Best wishes for a happy, healthy year filled with wonderful times for you and for everyone you love.

At 31 December, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thank you Esther! Happy New Year!

At 01 January, 2009, Blogger jan@broadwayandme said...

Hey Steve, this is a terrific list and I wish you and yours a terrific new year. Cheers, jan

At 02 January, 2009, Blogger paul said...

It's so great that you included Lois Smith in your list. What a performance she delivered. Before I saw Lois, I was convinced that no one but Geraldine Page could bring the character to live. Was I wrong. Thanks for giving her the attention she deserves. Also, another thankyou for a great blog. Always a thoughtful, intelligent post. Looking forward to your thoughts in 2009.

At 03 January, 2009, Blogger kari said...

You saw Patti at Ravinia, too? Just think: we were all there together and didn't even know it. Amazing!

Happy '09, SOB -- looking forward to seeing you all over the place.


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