Friday, January 18, 2008


The Best on Broadway in 2007

By Josh R
Compiling a list of the Top 10 achievements in Theater for 2007 presented me with a bit of a challenge. Theatergoing is not a poor man’s pursuit, so the number of things I’ve been able to see has been limited, to say the least — sadly, I wasn’t able to come up with the cash to pay for a full price ticket to the critically lauded production of Cyrano de Bergerac with Kevin Kline that just wrapped up its limited run on Broadway (the news that it was taped by PBS for a Great Performances airing sometime later this year provides some consolation). The fact that many of the productions which received Tony Awards and nominations this past June technically premiered in 2006 further winnowed down the field. Well there were many shows I liked, it was difficult coming up with ten that I genuinely loved.

Since two of the fall season’s most well-reviewed productions, Tom Stoppard’s Rock 'N' Roll and Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer, while not without merit, didn’t impress me to the extent they did others — and I have yet to see the revival of The Homecoming that everyone is raving about — I’ve decided instead to focus on the performances that made 2007 such a memorable year on the Broadway stage. Paring down that field necessitated some difficult cuts.

With apologies to the egregiously overlooked — including the legend at whose altar I worship, Ms. Angela Lansbury (it hurts me more than it does you, babe) - here are the 10 Best Broadway Performances of 2007, listed in ascending order:

10. ROSIE PEREZ (The Ritz)

Ms. Perez’s gut-busting, go-for-broke turn as a tone-deaf diva constituted the only compelling reason to make a trip to Roundabout Theater Company’s somewhat mildewed revival of the 1975 Terence McNally farce set in a gay bathhouse. In the midst of so many half-naked men, it was a woman — albeit one frequently mistaken for a transvestite — who stood out.

9. MARTHA PLIMPTON (The Coast of Utopia: Salvage)

While the luminous Jennifer Ehle gets MVP honors for her sterling work over the entire 8½ span of Tom Stoppard’s ambitious three-play cycle, Salvage was the only one to premiere in 2007. The standout performance in the trilogy’s concluding installment was giving by Ms. Plimpton who, as the emotionally volatile Natasha, confirmed her status as a stage actress of remarkable presence and charisma.


In Mark Twain’s cross-dressing farce, the Tony-winning Mr. Butz once again proves himself to be a clown par excellence, with a talent for slapstick that transforms run-of-the-mill sight gags into bravura feats of comic ingenuity. If his scenes as a man don’t give him quite as much opportunity to really let loose, once he straps on the hoopskirts, he’s pretty much unstoppable.

7. SINEAD CUSACK (Rock 'N' Roll)

The sublime Ms. Cusack performs double duty in Tom Stoppard’s intriguing examination of rise and fall of communism in his native Czechoslovakia. As the scholar Eleanor, who refuses to loosen her grip on life even as her body is failing her, she provides the play with its emotional touchstone; as Eleanor’s daughter Esme, she offers an equally poignant consideration of a former flower child struggling to find her place in the modern world.

6. VANESSA REDGRAVE (The Year of Magical Thinking)

Ms. Redgrave breathed life into Joan Didion’s dramatization of her prize-winning book, investing it’s chilly prose with such resonance that she seemed to alter the very space around her. The words may have communicated steely intellectual control, the principle of mind of matter, but the actress was working from a place of pure feeling. The thinking was unmistakably Didion’s — but the magic was all Redgrave’s.

5. BOYD GAINES (Journey’s End)

Mr. Gaines’ quietly shattering turn as the battle-weathered embodiment of stiff-upper-lip decency beautifully anchored Michael Grandage’s heartbreaking revival R.C. Sheriff’s decades-old play, an astonishingly clear-eyed view of the insanity of warfare and its unbearable cost. The actor was the best thing among many great things in a Tony-winning production that deserved a much longer life than it ultimately enjoyed.

4. FRANK LANGELLA (Frost/Nixon)

In Peter Morgan’s somewhat slick recapitulation of the saga of David Frost’s legendary interviews with the disgraced former President, Mr. Langella delivered a ferocious performance which went much further toward unraveling the mysteries of Nixon than any amount of academic postulation could. Beyond giving a mere impersonation, the actor skillfully revealed harrowing psychological wreckage of a vanquished warrior who could neither comprehend nor accept his fall from grace.

3. AUDRA McDONALD (110 in the Shade)

If anyone thought the four-time Tony winner was in danger of coasting on her reputation for the remainder of her career, the glorious working of talent and emotion being unleashed nightly in Roundabout’s revival of this 1964 musical unequivocally and permanently put the matter to rest. Since she burst onto the Broadway scene some 13 years ago, Ms. McDonald’s talent has matured and her command of the stage has become more absolute — while her burnished soprano remains as coruscating as ever.

2. LIEV SCHREIBER (Talk Radio)

In Robert Falls’ searing revival of Eric Bogosian’s 1988 play, Mr. Schreiber was truly remarkable in a performance that made brilliant use of the aloof, mercurial qualities that have distinguished many of the actor’s screen appearances, yet revealed terrifying depths of pain and self-loathing as the character’s descent into hell was made physically and verbally explicit. As tormented as he is tormenting, his radio shock-jock was rendered with a searing clarity that ripped right through the fourth wall and grabbed the audience by the throat.

1. THE ENSEMBLE CAST of August: Osage County

Some will accuse me of cheating by citing the entire cast of Tracy Letts’ brilliant, biting family drama/mystery/black comedy currently baring its fangs (and tickling the funny bone) in a sensational staging at The Imperial Theater — but singling out any one member of its 15-member cast, which functions on such a miraculous level that it makes the nonexistence of an Best Ensemble Tony Award seem criminally negligent, just wouldn’t be fair. I’ve decided I can’t do any justice to this singularly inspired piece of work — or its spectacular gallery of performances — until I’ve seen it again, so my full review will be pending. Brace yourself for an onslaught of superlatives.

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