2014 marks my 39th year of attending theatre. As you might imagine some shows stick out in my memory more than others. The word unforgettable can be taken two ways. Some shows are unforgettable because of a standout performance or musical number. Some shows are so bad; they leave you walking out of the theatre stunned. The shows on this list, for better or worse, are my top ten unforgettable moments of theatre going.
10- Surf City– Surf City was a 1985 off-Broadway jukebox musical utilizing the music of the Beach Boys. I saw it in high school and I still remember how inane it was. The idea of a kid obsessed with surfing being called on to save Surf City from the Terror of Tracus was bad enough but you could see the crew trying to keep the parachute material waves moving during the show. The producers got smart with this one and closed it before the NY press could get to it. Good call!
9- Foxfire– Foxfire was a Broadway play about a woman who lives on a mountaintop in Appalachia. She speaks to the spirit of her dead husband and despite being offered a lot of money from a developer, refuses to leave her home. This show was unforgettable for me because it starred one of the great couples of the theatre Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn. I actually saw this one twice. The play might have been a little melodramatic but the Cronyn’s made it something great. The play was filmed as a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV special on location so if you can find it, you can watch two of our greatest actors in action.
8-The Fantasticks (Sullivan Street Playhouse Production)- The Fantasticks is the world’s longest running musical and has been performed all over the world. For me the best production of it will always be the one that started it all downtown in Greenwich Village NY at the Sullivan Street Playhouse. The intimate setting served as the perfect venue for the quintessential off-Broadway musical. Jones and Schmidt’s score is still one of my favorites, and I met Virginia Gregory one of my dearest friends and my first Luisa on the closing night in 2002. That alone makes this production unforgettable.
7- They Call Me Q– Here is a solo show that regardless of me having worked on it, would have made this list. Qurrat Ann Kadwani delivers one of the best hours you will ever spend in the theatre as she talks about growing up Muslim in the Bronx. The show is currently playing at St. Lukes Theatre in NYC. Please make every effort to go!
6- In My Life– People of the older generation talk about musicals like Portofino and Ari as the worst musical ever to hit Broadway. In My Life IS the worst Broadway musical I’ve ever seen for so many reasons. Joe Brooks wrote and directed this monstrosity about a musician with Tourette ’s Syndrome who falls in love with a girl with OCD. I don’t need to say anything else. The giant lemon that flew in at the end of the show said it all.
5- 1776– Here is a musical that I have seen done in two different venues. The first was at Williamstown Theatre Festival in 1991 and featured my friend of many years Don Perkins as John Adams. He played the role 1,783 times in his career starting with the second national company in 1970. The second was at Ford’s Theatre and featured some of DC’s best actors. This show has a great score by Sherman Edwards but if you took the songs out and left Peter Stone’s book all by itself, it would play just as well. This can’t be said for any other show.
4- A Chorus Line (Original Broadway Production)- From the time Zach said “Let’s do the whole combination facing away from the mirrors…from the top… 5,6,7,8.” and that first big orchestra hit happened I fell in love with A Chorus Line. Saw it originally more times at the Shubert Theatre than I care to mention and on tour four times as well. The story of dancers fighting for their next job just did it for me and when one particular Cassie named Laurie Gamache took the stage for her feature “Music and The Mirror,” it was one of the best dance moments for me ever.
3- King Lear– A few years back Shakespeare Theatre Company in DC did a production of King Lear that starred Stacey Keach. Keach had recently had a stroke while on tour in Frost/Nixon and this was one of his first shows after recovering. You never would have known he was sick. One of the best Shakespearean performances ever.
2- Sweeney Todd- (Signature Theatre production) Signature Theatre in Arlington VA has presented some pretty incredible musicals but there is a production that really stood out for me. Signature is well known for presenting Sondheim musicals and a few years back there was a production of Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street that was truly unforgettable. It starred Ed Gero as Sweeney Todd and Sherri L. Edelen as Mrs. Lovett. The whole cast was excellent but music director Zak Sandler did something I never thought would be possible. He took Jonathan Tunick’s full set of orchestrations and reduced it to just four players (keyboard, reed, cello and percussion.) If you think this was a bad idea you would be wrong as Sandler managed to get all the voicings of a full orchestra into a tiny ensemble.
1-War of The Roses– In 1983 my first job in the theatre was an internship at New Jersey Shakespeare Festival in Madison NJ. The production they presented was Shakespeare’s War of The Roses which was presented over three evenings. This is the production that made me want to work in the theatre. I distinctly remember the one and only marathon performance of all three plays in one day. We started at 2:00 pm and finished at 1:30 am. The audience gave the show a well deserved standing ovation. Paul and Ellen Barry made me appreciate everything that went into that show and the cast including Annalee Jeffries, Lisa Barnes, Michael Tolaydo, Don Perkins, J.C. Hoyt and everyone else on the production made it one of the best experiences I’ve had working in the theatre and 31 years after I still remember it vividly.