On the (Hamil)Tonys

The (Hamil)Tonys are fast approaching, and this year promises to be an especially spectacular edition, not just because of the Hamilton juggernaut, but because of the diverse range of talent on display across all the nominated shows – can you imagine another Tonys year in which there was so much quality that the always-brilliant Audra McDonald didn’t get a nomination? How lucky we are to be alive right now.

And for those who question whether Hamilton is really that good, I offer an emphatic yes; I’ve catalogued everything I’ve seen on Broadway, in the West End, at the Globe, the National Theatre or at the Royal Shakespeare Company (both Stratford and London) over the past decades for comparative purposes. It took something truly amazing to move the most perfect production of A Little Night Music off the top spot, but there you are.

Without further ado, some theatrical reminiscences; I’ve left out opera, touring productions, college shows and children’s theatre for the sake of some attempt at brevity, but still largely failed. Art isn’t easy.

Holy Cats, That Was Amazing

Hamilton, Original Broadway Cast, 2016 Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs, Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Christopher Jackson History is happening in Manhattan
A Little Night Music, Royal National Theatre, 1995 Judi Dench, Siân Phillips, Joanna Riding, Patricia Hodge Best Sondheim production ever
Fun Home, Original Broadway Cast, 2015 Michael Cerveris, Beth Malone, Sydney Lucas, Judy Kuhn, Emily Skeggs Amazing cast and show; I hope it runs forever

Truly Great

Assassins, Broadway Revival, 2004 Neil Patrick Harris, Michael Cerveris, Denis O’Hare Fact: Michael Cerveris wins a Tony every time I see him
Richard III/Twelfth Night, Globe Theatre on Broadway, 2014 Mark Rylance, Stephen Fry, Samuel Barnett, Paul Chahidi, Kurt Egyiawan Mark Rylance! Also, one of several productions featuring an alum from The History Boys
Henry V, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1995 Iain Glen, Daniel Evans, Tony Britton Or, where I first discovered Iain Glen. Excellent St. Crispin’s Day speechifying
Henry V, Globe Theatre, 2012 Jamie Parker, Kurt Egyiawan Another great Henry V, and another History Boy to add to the collection
Company, Broadway Revival, 2006 Raúl Esparza He could drive a person crazy; everybody rise
One Man, Two Guvnors, Original Broadway Cast, 2012 James Corden Some of the best physical comedy you’ll ever see
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, Original Broadway Cast, 2013 Jefferson Mays, Bryce Pinkham Jefferson Mays is a national treasure

Really Quite Good

Equus, Broadway Revival, 2008 Daniel Radcliffe, Richard Griffiths Really nicely observed production
Avenue Q, Original Broadway Cast, 2003 John Tartaglia, Stephanie D’Abruzzo, Ann Harada What do you do with a BA in English? Work toward your EGOT
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Original Broadway Cast, 2005 Celia Keenan-Bolger, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Dan Fogler I do love some William Finn, and this was an outstanding cast
Hamlet, Almeida Theatre, 1994 Ralph Fiennes, Francesca Annis, Damian Lewis, Tara FitzGerald, Paterson Joseph, Rupert Penry-Jones, Nicholas Rowe Before internet scalping, before Tennant and Cumberbatch, this was the Hamlet people were looking for
The Clandestine Marriage, West End Revival, 1994 Nigel Hawthorne, Finty Williams Fun with Molière
Cabaret, Broadway Revival, 2014 Alan Cumming, Michelle Williams How did Alan Cumming look fitter and stronger, all these years later?
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Broadway Revival, 2011 Daniel Radcliffe, John Larroquette, Tammy Blanchard Yes, Daniel Radcliffe is quite a good singer and dancer, even with his clothes on
The Light in the Piazza, Original Broadway Cast, 2005 Victoria Clark, Kelli O’Hara, Matthew Morrison Well worth the price of admission
Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway, Original Broadway Cast, 2012 Hugh Jackman Yes, please
Henry IV, Pt 1, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1991 Julian Glover, Michael Maloney, Robert Stepehens Julian Glover!
Julius Caesar, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1995 Hugh Quarshie, John Nettles, Julian Glover, Paul Bettany As with a lot of ’90s Shakespeare, I was often getting my Julian Glover fangirl on
Take Me Out, Original Broadway Cast, 2003 Denis O’Hare (though we saw excellent understudy Nat De Wolf), Daniel Sunjata Sportsball! On Broadway!
Spamalot, Original Broadway Cast, 2005 Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce, Hank Azaria, Christian Borle, Sara Ramirez A fun show, and glad we got to see Tim Curry

Great Cast, Meh Show and/or Production

Nine, Broadway Revival, 2003 Antonio Banderas, Laura Benanti, Jane Krakowski, Chita Rivera, Nell Campbell, Mary Stuart Masterson Never a huge fan of the show, but the cast was amazing
The Boy from Oz, Original Broadway Cast, 2003 Hugh Jackman This should be the dictionary definition of a performer utterly transcending a mediocre show
Man of La Mancha, Broadway Revival, 2002 Brian Stokes Mitchell (and future Hamilton choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler in the ensemble) Stokes! And not a bad production, just not a great one, either
Curtains, Original Broadway Cast, 2007 David Hyde Pierce Another fine effort, but the show didn’t hang together well
Dessa Rose, Original Off-Broadway Cast, 2003 LaChanze, Norm Lewis, Rachel York Once again, a great cast, a middling show

Not Bad

Urinetown, Original Broadway Cast, 2002 John Cullum, Hunter Foster, Spencer Kayden A cute show, and a lot of fun
Lenny, West End Revival, 1999 Eddie Izzard, Elizabeth Berkley Eddie Izzard is often underrated as an actor, though the production wasn’t amazing
Relative Values, West End Revival, 1993 Sarah Brightman, Susan Hampshire I don’t think Sarah Brightman was cut out for Noel Coward

The Lows

A Little Night Music, New York City Opera, 2003 Jeremy Irons, Juliet Stevenson, Anna Kendrick One of my faovrite shows butchered by a non-singer in a must-sing role; props to a very young Anna Kendrick for playing a delightful Frederika, though

Martin Guerre
, Original West End Cast, 1996
Iain Glen, Sheila Reid, Baby James Corden (in the chorus) I love Iain Glen, there are some OK tunes, but the words and brief talking bits were a trainwreck; mystifying choreography as well
Aspects of Love, Original West End Cast, 1990 Not Michael Ball that night, but Michael Praed instead A series of drink ordering by recitative, followed up with creepy would-be teenage cousin molestation – not a great idea for a musical
Speed the Plow, Original Broadway Cast, 1988 Madonna, Ron Silver, Joe Mantegna 2/3 of the cast was great, and the other 1/3 was Madonna – enough to ruin everyone’s evening

In Which I Take Terrible Photos of Interesting Programs

All sorts of things might make a post, and this certainly qualifies in that regard.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, my dad spent a lot of time in New York as part of his long career with 7Up. When I was a small child in the 1970s and ’80s, I enjoyed going through his collection of Playbills and programs with him, and naturally demanded to be taken to the theatre on every possible occasion. And while I’ve seen some great productions (and some less so – Martin Guerre, this means you) on Broadway, in the West End and elsewhere, my own collection simply isn’t as impressive (yet).

I’ve been attempting to organize his collection since his death in 2006, though I never seem to make much of a dent. But some of these are too fabulous not to share, and, of course, that goes for the ads, too.

It’s worth noting that they aren’t all for plays – this program was for a screening of Mastroianni’s 1961 comedy Divorce Italian Style, shown at the Paris on W58th.  And sometimes there’s a concert – it’s hard to ignore this amazing program from a Robert Goulet show. But we quickly get into the good stuff – a Playbill from the original production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. My dad was always a huge fan of Zero Mostel – I’m reasonably sure I saw The Producers for the first time when I was around 6 – and he also liked to recount having seen him in a play in which Mostel flashed the audience.

Showcase Robert Goulet A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

There are more original casts:  we revisit Zero Mostel in Ulysses in Nighttown – I’m presuming the 1974 play was the one involving a nude Zero Mostel, though it’s also notable for starring a young Tommy Lee Jones, David Ogden Stiers and Fionnuala Flanagan – then Funny Girl and the rather tamer Oliver! make appearances.

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There are also some larger-format programs, for The King and I (which I saw much later, on Yul Brynner’s very literal farewell tour) and Golden Boy:

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Among the ads for Tiki bars, cigarettes and furs, there are some amazing pieces – and some very worthwhile bios – young Jerome Robbins looks as though he wants to devour your soul, and a pre-Monkees Davy Jones had ‘the longest part ever written for a teenager’ on the radio (so think on!); one presumes many librettists still consider Benson & Hedges ‘noteworthy’ as the ad suggests:

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But while there’s much more from the world theatrical that isn’t poorly-photographed here, I couldn’t miss out the Kentucky Derby program from 1956 – in case you don’t recall, Needles was the victor that year, the very first Florida-bred to win – he would also take the Belmont Stakes.

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At some point, I’ll need to be a good archivist and make sure staples and paper clips aren’t damaging things, but for now, they are happily climate-controlled and reasonably well stored beyond that. I’ll have to do another installment in future: there’s a bio of a young Elaine Stritch that’s simply outstanding…