After my Spring 2012 trip to New York, I was moved to write a post about those theatrical performances that quite literally take your breath away. As I said at the time (about Christian Borle in Peter and the Starcatcher),
I spent most of the production holding my breath, terrified that so much as an exhale might disturb the balance of the atmosphere in the theater and interrupt the single best performance I had ever witnessed.
It doesn't happen often, but you know it when you see it. And that's why I feel incredibly lucky to say that culling the following list from my recent trip was very difficult. "How many of these insanely good performances can I feature before the label loses some of its power?" I wondered. That's a good problem to have.
Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and the Angry Inch
As my friend and I walked home after Hedwig, I mentally gave it seven Tony Awards. I spent most of the show with my mouth gaping open and periodically had to remind myself to close it. We had standing room tickets, and at curtain, I glanced down and realized for the first time in an hour and 40 minutes that I had been standing the whole time (usually, SRO is a bit of an endurance contest). These are just a few of the ways I knew what I was seeing was special. The brilliance of the production is that every part of the show rises to Mr. Harris' level: the sets are ingenious, the wigs and costumes are stunning, the direction is impeccable and original. NPH himself is an absolute wonder, a performer testing his limits at every turn and offering up a performance as physically, vocally, and emotionally fearless as I've ever seen. I bow at his six-inch-heeled feet and will be cheering him and this show all the way through their seven (plus) Tony wins.
Kelli O'Hara in The Bridges of Madison County
I finally, finally saw Kelli O'Hara onstage. It was absolutely worth all of the build-up and the wait. She's the heart and soul of this show that packs more of an emotional punch than most. She communicates all of the pain of making an impossible choice without melodrama. It just feels real. Vocally, she is a perfectly gorgeous beast, deftly handling the challenging score. This production doesn't deserve to close in less than a week (yes, I absolutely blame the Tony nominating committee, but that's another rant for another day) and I'm sorry most of you won't be able to let Ms. O'Hara rip your heart into tiny pieces. Luckily, this show lives on in the best and only way a musical can.
Sutton Foster in Violet
It's well-known that my love for Sutton Foster knows no bounds. Thoroughly Modern Millie was my very first Broadway show and I have seen all but one since (damn you, Young Frankenstein). Also, "Bunheads" forever. But it's not just my Sutton love that pushes her onto this list. If anything, my expectations for her are sky high and it's virtually impossible to top them. Yet top them she did, in an understated, nuanced, courageous portrayal of a complicated woman. She skirts pity and toes Violet's fine line between naive and opportunistic, pragmatic and hopeful. Contrary to society's view of Violet (and the impeccable Joshua Henry as Flick), everything I see when I look up at that stage is absolutely beautiful.
Audra McDonald in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill
You knew she would kill it. I knew she would kill it. Guess what? She kills it.