The Steppenwolf Theater Company ensemble of Balm in Gilead in 1984 at the Minetta Lane Theater.
This was a mind-bending ensemble of amazing actors, directed by Gary Sinise. The production was packed with actors and actresses that would become huge stars. In particular, Laurie Metcalf, who had a 22-minute monologue that riveted the audience, and Glenne Headly sat at a table and listened for 22 minutes…and you forgot it was a monologue! It felt like a two-person dialogue — and yet Glenne was only reacting, non-verbally. That scene taught me the art of how to listen on stage.
Jennifer Holliday in Dreamgirls.
Just watch the infamous Tony Award performance on YouTube. It blew the roof off of the Imperial Theatre. I’d never been in a theater where people were standing and screaming back at the stage in the middle of a song. It was a complete “force of nature.” No one had seen anything like it before.
Cynthia Erivo in The Color Purple.
It’s been a long time since I have seen a Broadway debut so riveting, authentic and raw, yet complex. There were no vocal theatrics, just visceral emotion and inspiration. You can tell she is a trained actress.
His character is surrounded by craziness, and he’s hit from all sides by tragic events, family upheaval, some brought on because of his own selfish actions as he tries to find himself — and yet Michael never commented. His performance was always rooted in truth, simplicity and passion — so beautifully crafted. And that voice! I could listen to him sing the phone book. (I love his recording of Sweet Charity from the Debbie Allen revival.)
Roger Bart as Snoopy in You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.
(Full disclosure — he is one of my best friends.) Roger is meticulous when he crafts a role. He found his inner beagle with Snoopy, joyfully creating brilliant physical bits and vocal tricks all based on dog behavior. To observe Roger fine-tuning a physical bit is a master class in and of itself.
This was my first Broadway show I ever saw when I was 16. Just watch this YouTube video and you’ll experience the magic that made me want to be on Broadway.
Daniel N. Durant in Deaf West’s Spring Awakening.
I saw Michael Arden’s production nine times in LA and twice on Broadway. This whole ensemble is such perfection — and Daniel ripped my heart out every time. His conviction, his focus, his joy was so authentic, and I was completely riveted by his performance every time I witnessed it. I believe this production will be talked about for many years to come.
Victoria Clark in The Light in the Piazza.
She is a true artist. A versatile actress. And an incredible vocalist. So authentic. So classy. So refined. I love how she can go from bawdy broad to gentle, repressed Southern housewife in the snap of a finger. I have a secret crush on her. Don’t tell her. On a side note, I think Adam Guettel’s score is the best musical theater score written this century — so far.
Andrea Martin in My Favorite Year.
This was my first Broadway show — I started off in the chorus. And I would watch the comic artistry of Andrea night after night. I learned so much about timing, about directing yourself, about saving your ass in previews, about seizing the stage and making it your own — but her comedy was always rooted in reality. She’s a total pro. And her Bernadette Peters imitation is impeccable. Check out this YouTube video…and her "SCTV" work with Catherine O’Hara is a master class in character comedy.
I could list another ten — but I’ve found myself at the last number in the list. Darn. Okay. Bill Irwin and David Shiner in Fool Moon.
Circus clowns had always scared me — but these gentlemen took the clown to a subversive level. Their physical comedy is mind boggling in its exactness and pinpoint timing. Their writing will have you laughing one second, and rip your heart out the next. Every student of the theater must see their new production at Signature, Old Hats. There’s a master class on that stage! Take that class while it’s here.