If I’d never met Audra, her performances would still undeniably fill my top ten list: Though this isn’t one of the roles she won a Tony for, I think it’s likely her most beautiful work. I was in the ensemble of the show, and us chorus kids would climb upstairs almost every night to watch her from the wings singing “Old Maid.” Broke my heart EVERY NIGHT. I’m also breaking the rules and adding Bess and Billie Holiday to this entry. I can’t very well take up three of my top ten list with performances given by my wife, but dammit, I’m getting them in here anyway!
It was like he was Itzhak Perlman up there. Just playing an instrument he knew like the back of his hand. Virtuosic in every sense. You just knew the performance you were seeing that night was not even close to the performance he would give tomorrow night. THAT loose and playful. Plus, you could see how much FUN he was having. Almost baiting his costars to give him something new so he could riff on it.
Shuler Hensley in Oklahoma!
You know you’ve seen something great when you find yourself rooting for the villain as much as you do the hero. His Jud was so broken and lonely. Like he just needed someone to believe in him so he could overcome the rotten hand he had been dealt. Then he topped it off with one of the best baritone voices on Broadway.
My first trip to NY was that summer, and I had just played Tevye in my high school production of Fiddler. (I’ve destroyed all evidence! It was hideous. Don’t ask) Anyway, there are 15 songs in Fiddler, and I went back that day and realized that 11 of them had made me cry. That might be more of an indictment of my emotional well being than a compliment on the show, but I think it’s more the latter. His “Chavaleh” made me want to have a daughter someday just so I could tell her that it was ok if she ran away with a Russian soldier who also danced really well.
I know. Get in line. I’m sure this one has made just about every top ten list since he performed it. Holy. Shit. I saw it in London first. I had one free afternoon before we opened Hair across the street. The show was sold out for the run. But somehow I managed a last minute no-show ticket and sat in the back row of the Apollo Theater (before the roof collapsed on some people a couple of years later) and got BLOWN the @*!!! away. Had to see him do it again when he came to Broadway just to see if he could possibly have maintained that level of crazy furiosity. And dammit if he wasn’t even better. If Mark Rylance was selling popsicles on stage for three hours a night, I would pay $150 to go watch him do it.
Sometimes you’re cruising through a show… watching, enjoying… everything is fine, and then somebody comes out on stage who somehow isn’t "contaminated" by the rest of the story telling that’s been going on. They are doing something completely different, and telling their story in a completely different way. Contaminated is the wrong word, because Urinetown was friggin amazing. But Spencer laid out Little Sally as if she had come from another planet. Voice, body language, unexpected oblivious choices, perfect timing. And it was bloody intoxicating.
I’m a sucker for this girl. And for this show. I love the heightened passion, the massive chest beating score. A musical with a helicopter!? What’s not to love? But what really sold it was Lea. She was about 9 years old I think. OK, that’s gross. But maybe 18 or something? Simultaneously delicate and unflinching, with a voice like the goddess of all towering velvet curtains. I couldn’t get to sleep in my hotel room the night I saw it because I was so moved. And my 18 year-old self had no idea how Miss Saigon (or Madame Buttlerfly) ended. So that was a bit of a shock. Oofhh. And for what it’s worth, I just saw the revival in London and Eva Noblezada does her own amazing thing with Kim. Can’t WAIT to see her come back to the U.S. and blow the roof off some shtuff.
Bobby Cannavale in The MotherF*@ker With the Hat
I’ve been praying to Jebus for years to give me 10% of the testosterone that Bobby has. And 10% of the talent as well. He’s the king of sweaty, broken, ballsy and terrifying characters. And he makes them all guys you feel like you went to school with. Please god, let Bobby play Stanley Kowalski before I die?
I left the theater thinking I had never, and would never again, hear three more perfect voices in the same cast. So attached to their emotion and story. “Lilly’s Eyes” and “How Could I Ever Know?” are, to this day, two of the most beautiful songs ever sung on a Broadway stage. Hashtag not hyperbole.
And lastly, I’m gonna grant this last slot to my son Bridger
Granted, it wasn’t a performance seen on a Broadway stage. This particular performance was seen in my kitchen just last night. His nuanced weariness and unrelenting despair in the face of such insurmountable odds (being asked to do the dishes) is a performance for the ages. The bravery with which he lethargically rinsed all five dishes and four cups and haphazardly placed them in the dishwasher was a sight to behold. And to do it all in just under a half an hour was why I just had to include his performance among the greats!