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He Says: My Top Ten Theatrical Experiences of 2019

He Says: My Top Ten Theatrical Experiences of 2019

So here goes. I’m not that good at making lists, especially in an order that defines saying one thing is slightly better or somewhat worse, because on any given day, the order and assigned number might shift around quite dramatically.  But on this cold NYC morning, this is what I was thinking. Of course, my special mentions are as long as this list of my top ten (by twice), but so be it.  I feel grateful every time I walk in the theatre, particularly since becoming an Outer Critics Circle voting member. There is just so much to love about New York City’s dynamic and eclectic theatre scene, and although I wanted to add a few from London, England, Washington, or Toronto, I tried my hardest to keep it tuned in to what is happening on Broadway and Off this calendar year. So disagree or agree. It’s all good, and let me know your thoughts. I always love hearing about someone’s passionate loves.

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J.D. Mollison (center) and the cast of Octet. Photo by Joan Marcus.

10: Octet

“This one certainly got under my skin and had me thinking late into the night. It also forced me, quite intensely and wisely, to think twice before each and every impulse I had to look at my phone…It’s insanely beautiful and achingly real emotionality that forces itself on me even as I attempted to fall asleep after I got home from this enlightenment…The simpleness of this musical has one of the more important messages that the world seems to be desperate to hear and learn.” Full Review 

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Danny Burstein. Photos: © Matthew Murphy, 2019.

9: Moulin Rouge!

“Truth. Beauty. Freedom. And above all things, Love. That’s what is splashed before our hungry eyes and ears at the Moulin Rouge! – The Musical decadently and gorgeously mashing together with high-wired spectacular spectacular-ness…Within this new musical, directed dynamically and deliciously…” Full Review

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MaYaa Boateng and Roslyn Ruff. Photo by Henry Grossman.

8: Fairview

“Utterly fascinating and forceful play. Like a good food fight, it wildly throws out implied conventions and disturbing vantage points…It transitions dramatically into a heady examination of race, strongly held expectations, and white privilege. Layered on top is an upsettingly accurate internal dialogue…Directed with resolution and unabashed confidence…the piece pounds us forward dramatically, challenging us to overcome.” Full Review 

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Heidi Schreck. What the Conststution Means to Me. Photo by Joan Marcus.

7: What the Constitution Means to Me

“As directed with a free-flowing and creative hand by Oliver Butler, it hits us deep and sharp, almost as complicated as the ripples of distrust and pain that strike through Schreck, shaking and overwhelming her composure that feels, most definitely, out of the box…It lightens my load, seeing the smart and funny ‘What the Constitution Means to Me,’ although my broken heart stays confused and perplexed in these trying times.” Full Review

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James Jackson, Jr., John-Michael Lyles, Jason Veasey, Larry Owens (in red jacket and hat), Antwayn Hopper, John-Andrew Morrison, L Morgan Lee. Photo by Joan Marcus.

6: A Strange Loop

“Directed with crafty ingenuity…The thrills of that first number sent me into joyous giggles of delight and surprise. And it just kept getting deeper and smarter, wittier and wiser with each effervescent and boundary-free song. The show is like no other…There are times we don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or clap along to the sounds of this collision of hurt and humor, as the players all bring forth an authentic slap to each well crafted song.” Full Review 

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Eva Noblezada, Andre De Shields, Reeve Carney. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy.

5: Hadestown

“The ‘Road to Hell’ has never been finer…With Mitchell’s spectacular retelling of the old Orpheus myth…It’s clear from the hot and fiery opening that…Chavkin has a pure vision of tense and muscular motion…The songs are beautiful…’Hadestown’ delivers a deeply resonant and defiantly hopeful theatrical experience, filled to overflowing with passion, artistry, and love, even as are hearts are crushed in the end by our human frailties.” Full Review 

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Zawe Ashton, Charlie Cox, Tom Hiddleston in Pinter’s BETRAYAL at London’s Harold Pinter Theatre. Photo by Marc Brenner.

4: Betrayal

“A triangle built with a ballet-like precision within a circle against a long rectangular wall. This is the essence of this masterful revival. They are poised for interaction from that first visual, one by one, in pairs (for the most part), as directed with tight thoughtfulness by the gifted Jamie Lloyd.” Full Review

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The full cast of SLAVE PLAY (On Ground L to R): Ato Blankson-Wood, James Cusati-Moyer, Sullivan Jones, Annie McNamara, Joaquina Kalukango, Paul Alexander Nolan. (In red boxes L to R): Irene Sofia Lucio and Chalia La Tour. (photo by Matthew Murphy)

3: Slave Play

“It’s provocative and uncomfortable, pushing boundaries and buttons that are hidden within every single soul in the theatre, daring us with staggering urgency to take notice and check our own prejudicial thoughts and politics…So sign up for this sexy and dynamic experiment and become engaged in a conversation that will likely continue long after the last group member leaves the stage.” Full Review

2: The Sound Inside

“The piece floats forward in segments, delicately ushering in the ideas of encapsulated loneliness and the acceptance of praise that resides within, ever so quietly…The two come together in a (Tony deserving) way that will haunt your imagination as you try to make sense of the imagined.” Full Review 

1: The Inheritance

“‘The Inheritance’ truly surprises us, moment to moment, with its tender power and strong parallel story-telling. It slides in almost unsuspecting, finding a way to deliver a heart breaking truth and an emotional reality that sends me, almost, over the edge. ” Full Review 

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Steven Skybell, Jennifer Babiak in Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Honorable Mentions (in no particularorder):

NYTW’s Sing Street, LCT’s Greater Clements, PH’s The Thin PlaceLittle Shop of Horrors, St. Ann’s Warehouse’s History of Violence, PH’s Heroes of the Fourth TurningFiddler on the Roof in Yiddish, ATC’s Blue Ridge, Public’s Sea Wall/A Life, ATC’s The Mother, St. Ann’s Oklahoma!Gary: A Sequel…, Public’s White Noise, Rattlestick’s No One is Forgotten, LCT’s The Rolling StoneBroadway Bounty Hunter, MCC’s The Wrong Man, 59E59’s Square Go, TNG’s one in two. I did not get a chance to see Fleabag or many others, as I only have me, and I do need to work occasionally and make some money to live and eat…And I have yet to see The Lehman Trilogy, but I will get my chance in the Spring. Along with the new West Side Story directed by Ivo van Hove and choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker that started previews early December. I’m guessing they might make my Best of 2020.

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9129 - Jonathan Groff and Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors (c) Emilio Madrid-Kuser
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Heroes of the Fourth Turning Written by Will Arbery Directed by Danya Taymor FEATURING Jeb Kreager — Justin Julia McDermott — Emily Michele Pawk — Gina Zoë Winters — Teresa John Zdrojeski — Kevin Scenic Design: Laura Jellinek Costume Design: Sarafina Bush Lighting Design: Isabella Byrd Sound Design: Justin Ellington Fight Direction: J. David Brimmer Production Stage Manager: Jenny Kennedy Assistant Stage Manager: Madolyn Friedman
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The company of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish (c) Matthew Murphy
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White Noise By Suzan-Lori Parks Directed By Oskar Eustis David Diggs Sheria Irving Thomas Sadoski Zoe Winters
Greater Clements LCT 11-09 257 Greater Clements, written by Samuel D. Hunter and directed by Davis McCallum Lincoln Center Theater 11/13/19 Lighting Design: Yi Zhao Costume Design: Kaye Voice Scenic Design: Dane Laffrey Sound Design: Fitz Patton Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography tcepix@comcast.net
Renata Friedman and Sarah Nina Hayon in the World Premiere production of NO ONE IS FORGOTTEN - Photo by Paula Court (1)
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16 - Annie Golden in Broadway Bounty Hunter (c) Matthew Murphy
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37_Laurenz Laufenberg and Renato Schuch, Photo by Teddy Wolff
Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes
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0159.Joshua-Henry-in-MCC-Theaters-THE-WRONG-MAN-photo-by-Matthew-Murphy
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Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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