THEIR FAVORITE THINGS: Actor-Writer-Director David Drake Shares His Theatregoing Experiences

By Andrew Gans
May 8, 2013

Playbill.com's new feature series, Their Favorite Things, asks members of the theatre community to share the Broadway performances that most affected them as part of the audience.

This week we spotlight the choices of actor-writer-director David Drake, whose solo show, The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me, will be seen in a starry 20th anniversary production May 20 at 8 PM at the Gerard W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Read more about the evening here.



(Clicking on a name bolded in blue will take readers to that actor or show's entry in the Playbill Vault.)

 

Sweeney Todd, original production

 

"First impressions on Broadway last a lifetime. As a Christmas gift, my best friend in high school got us tickets to the original production of Sweeney Todd. From our homes in suburban Baltimore, we took the Amtrak to New York City the day after Christmas in 1979 and saw the matinee at the Uris Theatre (now the Gershwin). It's a cavernous house, and Hal Prince's production — much like its longterm current tenant, Wicked — filled the whole space with scenery, ambiance, magic. But even though that epic world dominated the environment, the show's stars were able to break thru and land the most astonishing moments which I'll never forget. To this day, I can still feel Angela Lansbury bringing the house down with laughter, slinging that rolling pin down on 'The Worst Pies in London.' Then later, with Ken Jennings as Toby, breaking my 16-year-old heart with 'Nothing’s Going to Harm You' in a blue-lit special up stage left."

 

 

The Search For Signs Of Intelligent Life In The Universe, original production

 

"In lieu of dinner, I bought a standing-room ticket for Search while it was still in previews at the Plymouth Theatre. Stood along the railing in the back, in a pair of tap shoes (taps removed; my only 'good' shoes to wear to work). They were wet because it had been raining that autumn night in 1985. But once Lily Tomlin took the stage, I felt no discomfort. As a little kid, I'd grown up with Lily doing characters on TV's 'Laugh-In.' The first LP I'd ever bought at age nine was 'Lily Tomlin: This is a Recording.' Clearly a fan, I was not prepared for her power in person. The way she glided in and out of each character — and breaking the fourth wall in character — was without doubt awe-inspiring. I'd never seen any one do that on stage before. Unbeknownst to me at the time, in my psyche and imagination that night, Lily set the standard for a kind of solo performance work I would one day venture out to create myself."

 

 

A Chorus Line, original production

 

"As a teenager in Baltimore, I'd seen the show on tour — and memorized the album (of course) — but seeing A Chorus Line on Broadway was a must. I did so late in the run, in the mid-to-late 1980s, from a ticket bought at TKTS. To my amazement, Kelly Bishop, who'd won a Tony for her performance as Shelia, was back in the show at the time. (She'd gone back into it for a while.) Onstage, when she raised her hand and said, 'Can the adults smoke?,' I laughed so hard, tears rolled down my cheeks. I'll never forget it. A few years later I had the distinct honor of appearing with Kelly in Threepenny Opera at Great Lakes Theatre Festival in Cleveland. I was the Street Singer, Kelly was Jenny. On rehearsal breaks, we always grabbed a smoke together."

Sunday in the Park With George, original production

 

"First saw it in previews, then several times afterwards. The chemistry of Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters lives up to the legend: sexy, layered magic. The tension in the scene where George breaks the date with Dot, heartbreaking. Then he sings 'Finishing the Hat,' the most complex monologue set to song I have ever experienced. Seeing Mandy perform that particular scene was a master class in acting for me. Likewise, Bernadette reliving her memories to George in Act Two's 'Children and Art,' indelibly haunting."

 

 

A Delicate Balance, revival 1996

 

"Every aspect of Gerald Gutierrez's revival was flawless. Etched in my mind remains the superb acting: Elaine Stritch, pacing; Mary Beth Hurt, storming; Rosemary Harris, sitting. But it is the memory of witnessing George Grizzard's breakdown in the final moments, recalling the dead kitten, that gives me goosebumps to this day. He won the Tony Award for best actor that year, and rightfully so." 

 

 

August: Osage County, original cast

 

"I’ve seen numerous Steppenwolf actors give dazzling performances over the years — John Malkovich in Burn This, Terry Kinney and Lois Smith in Buried Child, Tracy Letts in Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf? — but it was the ensemble work in Anna Shapiro's [production] that blew me away. Rarely have I laughed so hard, then, moments later, held my breathe to keep from sobbing, than when I sat in the mezzanine of the Imperial Theatre and experienced this company of actors. The dinner scene alone was one of the most fascinating moments of theater I’ve ever experienced on Broadway."

 

Angels in America, original cast

 

"The experience of having Tony Kushner's 'Gay Fantasia on National Themes' on Broadway was a watershed moment for countless people in both the arts community as well as the LGBT community. I belong to both, so it was a double-whammy. I could write an essay about each and every performance. A cast without flaw. But the moment that always brings me to tears whenever I talk about it to folks was the diner scene between Joe Mantello and Jeffrey Wright. The ferocity of intention from those actors, using Kushner's words as, simultaneously, weapons to hurt and tools to heal an impossible situation, causes my heart to race to this moment."

 

Grey Gardens

 

"Call me a queen, I'm a Grey Gardens fan through and through. I was enthralled with the whole production — every aspect. However, the first time I saw it (yes, I saw it multiple times), I was taken aback at the flood of tears that burst from my eyes when Christine Ebersole began singing 'Around the World.' I have no idea what she touched inside me, but it ran deep — right to my core. I had no kleenex, and from that moment on, for the rest of act two, I could not stop the flow of tears. Indeed, the sleeves of my jacket were wet when I walked out of the Walter Kerr."

South Pacific, Lincoln Center revival

 

"A gorgeous, utterly revelatory revival. I was astonished at the deep, emotional power of the musical. Director Bartlett Sher is brilliant. So many wonderful memories of the beautiful cast, it was when Paolo Szot sang 'This Nearly Was Mine' that I lost it. Lost it. The heartache of Emile was one of the most tangible things I've ever felt in the theatre."

 

 

Thoroughly Modern Millie, original cast
 

 

"I'm completely subjective on this show as its librettist/lyricist Dick Scanlan has been a close friend ever since we competed as contestants eight shows a week in the Off-Broadway musical Pageant. Knowing it was a sensational production (having seen it in several previews), by the time I sat in the Marquis Theatre on opening night and watched Sutton Foster launch into 'Gimme Gimme,' I knew I was in the presence of something very special, very inspiring, and very rare on Broadway: a star being born."