Tony Season is about to kick into full gear here in New York City, and I have had theatre on the brain lately. Last week I saw the fabulous production of the new musical Kinky Boots. Next Saturday, I am performing in a concert to benefit a friend’s upcoming production of Rags (give up your Starbucks for the day and donate a few bucks to the production, will you? Every little bit helps!). I watch (and bash) Smash and Glee every week because the theatre geek in me still believes that somehow these shows could live up to their potential. Perhaps this is why (well…along with the copious amounts of beer I consumed) I dreamed last night that Jerry Mitchell staged a musical that starred me and all of my ex-boyfriends.
It was not good. It was horrendous in fact. No offense to Mr. Mitchell. The material was the horrid part. I’m sure he would stage it beautifully.
Let’s do a Broadway themed top 10, shall we?
After seeing Kinky Boots, I got to thinking about opening numbers. While the one for Kinky Boots was fine and fun, the show really didn’t kick into high gear until the entrance of Billy Porter’s Lola four songs later. That’s when the show really started for me. I got to thinking later that night about shows that HAD ME from the very first song…and here they are.
(A Caveat: Before you yell at me for leaving out your favorite, I DID limit this to shows that I have actually SEEN productions of, even if it wasn’t the original cast. And I kept it to productions on Broadway only. )
10) “Good Morning, Baltimore” – Hairspray
Confession time. I didn’t get on the Hairspray bandwagon until the movie came out. Their first year on Broadway, the cast made a really tasteless joke in their Gypsy of the Year skit about skinny girls stuffing themselves with pillows so they could look fat enough to audition for Hairspray. I KNOW. In a show that was supposed to be preaching about body acceptance and confidence! As a “Will Always be Curvy No Matter How Hard I Try” kind of girl, I got really offended and right then and there swore to never give the show any of my money.
However, if there is one thing I can’t resist, it’s a movie musical. So I saw Hairspray opening weekend, and (surprise, surprise) loved it. “Good Morning Baltimore” is such a perfect opening number for the show. It’s giddy and infectious with the perfect dose of clever snark that is one of the trademarks of a Shaiman and Wittman score. And it endears you to Tracy Turnblad immediately. You can’t help but smile and cheer for her.
I DID eventually see Hairspray on Broadway in its closing months. However, it was a comp ticket, so in a way, despite loving the show, I stuck to my promise of never giving it my money. (And before you say…but Kim, you paid for the movie and own the DVD, so you gave them money! I used a free ticket to see the movie and the DVD was a Christmas gift. So there! #aloneinmyprinciples)
9) “All That Jazz” – Chicago
First of all, let’s take a moment to appreciate the glory that is Bebe Neuwirth as Velma Kelly.
I’ve seen Chicago many many times in my almost 12 years of living in New York City. Back in the days when Rush Tickets were 20 bucks, this was always a surefire hit with any friends who were in town visiting. And let’s not discuss the multiple times I saw the show when my favorite Backstreet Boy (KEVIN) played Billy Flynn. Seeing his opening night performance and meeting him at the stage door is one of my most treasured theatre memories.
Anyway, even with seeing the show multiple times, “All that Jazz” never ceased to thrill me. That Fosse choreography! It’s amazing!
8) “Rent” – Rent
Back when I first moved to New York, I would enter the Rent Lottery at least once a week, as I lived right down the street from the Nederlander Theatre. There was NOTHING like seeing Rent in those first two rows of lotto seats. It was ELECTRIC and overwhelming and wonderful. I can’t even remember how many times I saw the show from those first two rows, but I DO know it is double digits.
Yes, technically the “Tune Ups” and “Voicemails” are technically the opening numbers of the show, but Rent doesn’t TRULY get going until Mark’s line “The power goes” and the drumbeat and guitar line for “Rent” kicks off. That’s the moment all the Rentheads in the first two rows would start cheering.
7) “Company” – Company
Can Stephen Sondheim write an opening number or what? When I first sat down to brainstorm this list, it was FULL of Sondheim shows…to where I decided I would limit the list to 2 shows per composer. So my apologies to fans of West Side Story, Sunday in the Park with George (I prefer the finale of that show anyway), Assassins, and Into the Woods, all of which were in the running for this.
I’ve said it before in this post, and I will continue to say it: what is so great about “Company” is that it fully sets the tone for the show Company, especially in establishing Bobby as a character. We know by the end of the song what his motivations are and what his life is like and the journey his character is going to take.
Also, this production at the NY Philharmonic was wonderful. While I didn’t see it in person, I saw a screening of it at the Ziegfeld that had a Q&A with the director (Lonny Price) and several of the cast members (sadly, no NPH) afterwards. So it was just as good as seeing it in person 🙂 And while Raul Esparza may be my defnitive Bobby (would that the whole production were better! And reminder that Raul STILL doesn’t have a Tony.), NPH did a damn good job in this production.
6) “Willkommen” – Cabaret
I remember watching this number on the Tonys and being BEYOND intrigued. It was so seedy and sexual and dark…it was something little ole’ Southern me had never seen before, but I knew I WANTED to see it. That’s what makes “Willkommen” and the 1997 Revival of Cabaret so wonderful. I did eventually see the production, though sadly not with this cast, and it blew me away. Everything about it, from the transformation of Studio 54 into the Kit Kat Club to the fact that the ensemble would interact with the audience before the show, was immersive. You didn’t just see this production of Cabaret, you experienced it. And “Willkommen” sets that tone perfectly.
5) “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” – Sweeney Todd
Time for another confession. I’m really not a fan of Sweeney Todd. I have my reasons, and they are valid. Mainly, my college boyfriend ruined it for me. He was OBSESSED with Sweeney Todd and made me listen to it all the time. He named MY car Johanna (as his already had a name, and no I don’t remember what it was). And most of all, there’s this story: we were driving late at night on the last legs of a road trip. I was sleeping soundly in the passenger seat when I was rudely awakened by the piercing whistle of the opening number. That’s right. He chose to blast Sweeney in the middle of the night. I nearly had a heart attack.
Paging Jerry Mitchell. You have one of the numbers in your musical about me. I think we should just call it “X!”. Or would people confuse that with a Malcolm X musical? Or something worse….?
Despite my feelings about Sweeney Todd as a whole, I can admit that this is a spectacular opening number that sets the tone for the show perfectly. It’s dark and creepy and chilling. I love the build of it and how the entire ensemble sings in that gothic choral way. I love Sweeney’s last verse (“What happened then, well that’s the play, and he wouldn’t want us to give it away…”).
I can even admit 15 years later that the whistle at the beginning is awesome. Just don’t ever play it to me in the middle of the night.
4) “I Hope I Get It” – A Chorus Line
If I had SEEN the original cast of A Chorus Line, this would probably be at number one. Look at them dance! Theatre lore is that director Michael Bennett constantly told the cast that he would fire them if they didn’t dance the show like they were dancing for their lives. If there is one thing actors will respond to it is fear ;-). So they did. Every night they danced as if it was the last time they ever would, and that intensity showed. That urgency and desperation was missing from the revival that happened in 2006. I never once believed any of those dancers feared they would lose their job if they didn’t give 100%.
This number is a marathon. The lyrics encapsulate every actor’s audition experience perfectly. And that image of the group chosen for the callbacks on the line with their actual headshots in front of their faces? Iconic. It was breathtaking, even with the sub par Revival cast. I can’t imagine what would have been like to see the originals and to sit in the theatre and know you were seeing theatre history being made.
3) “The Circle of Life” – The Lion King
I remember when it was first announced that The Lion King was coming to Broadway thinking “How the HELL are they going to do that?”. I was foolish to question Disney, let’s be honest. You knew they would pull out the stops and Julie Taymor was the perfect person to help them do it. Even after working there for several months and becoming very cynical towards the show, “The Circle of Life” never failed to take my breath away and bring tears to me eyes. It’s the paper lantern sun rising on the stage with Rafiki and her followers crying out in Zulu. It’s actors on stilts and giant headdresses becoming giraffes. It’s dancers doing grand jetes across the stage as gazelles. It’s that effing giant elephant puppet making its way down the aisle and ascending the stage. It’s sensory overload and it’s breathtaking and if you are not in AWE of the stage artistry you are witnessing, you have no soul.
It’s a shame the rest of the show is a bit of a let-down after that.
2) “It’s Your Wedding Day” – The Wedding Singer
I saw The Wedding Singer in its first week of previews, and the grin that this opening number put on my face did not leave for the rest of the night. I saw the show 4 more times after that, and I will defend its wonderfulness to my dying day. This number is nothing short of pure joy.
I will forever rail against the fact that Rob Ashford did not win the Tony for his choreography. It’s so perfect for the era and even integrates moves from “Thriller” and Flashdance in later numbers without making it feel like a cheap rip-off. I will NEVER understand why this wasn’t a big fat hit. I curse you, critics!! It’s your fault Steven Lynch (who was beyond charming as Robbie Hart) will probably never come back to Broadway!!
1) “Prologue: Ragtime” – Ragtime
Let’s get this out-of-the-way first: yes, that is a baby Lea Michele as the little girl.
Secondly, can we take a moment and appreciate how amazing the 1997-98 Theatre Season was? It had THREE of the shows mentioned on this list (Ragtime, The Lion King, and the revival of Cabaret) not to mention Side Show and an excellent revival of 1776. What an exciting year it was!
I will never forget seeing the Original Cast of Ragtime. I was 19 and my reaction to the show was very indicative of the (fully functioning and normal) adult that I would become. In other words, I cried through most of it because I was so overwhelmed at how good it was. I was inconsolable at the end of the show to the point where my parents very much said “Kim, what is your PROBLEM?”. I should have just said what would become my life mantra: “I JUST HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS!”
Also, if you don’t WEEP at the end of Ragtime, there is something wrong with you. Just saying you may want to get your soul checked.
I am a sucker for giant casts and lush music and harmonies and Ragtime‘s opening has that in spades. The version done on the Tonys in the video is an abridged version, as the prologue is a good ten minutes long. And I loved every single minute of it and every single minute of the show that followed.
That’s it, folks! Thanks for indulging me in some true theatre geekery. And I will keep you posted if I hear anything from Jerry Mitchell about “X!”