CAREY PURCELL, FEATURES EDITOR
Where do I begin? Kazan is not only a gifted actress but also a talented writer and determined activist who is contributing greatly to the ongoing discussion about women in entertainment. I recently saw her onstage in When We Were Young and Unafraid, where she played an abused young wife, and she gave a startling performance of depth and courage. She's also starred alongside Christopher Walken in A Behanding in Spokane and S. Epatha Merkerson in Come Back, Little Sheba, and she's written the fascinating film "Ruby Sparks," which explores the fantasies projected onto women and what happens if those fantasies actually come to fruition.
"I always think about, 'Who does misogyny hurt?' and I think it hurts everyone," she told me in an interview last summer. "I think that a lack of representation of a diversity of voices — not just female voices but different cultures and racially — I feel like that hurts us as a society. It hurts us culturally. Because art engenders empathy. Because we don't need to support the monolith." Read more here.
Oh, Meryl. With your 18 Oscar nominations, your three Oscar wins and your countless breathtaking performances, you could simply rest on your laurels and enjoy your success. But instead you take on boundary-breaking historic female characters, like feminist leader Emmeline Pankhurst in the film "Suffragette," and fund a screenwriting lab for women over 40 to address the lack of substantial female roles written in Hollywood. The only thing that could make me love you more is if you came back to Broadway. Please?
I've adored Emma since the first Harry Potter movie, where she starred as the frizzy-haired feminist Hermione Granger, and my adoration has only grown since then. Along with being an excellent actress, this remarkably intelligent young woman and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador is working in support of gender parity with the organization HeForShe. And she's starring as Belle in the new live-action movie "Beauty and the Beast"! If she would only tell me how to get a purse of endless depth, like Hermoine has in the final "Harry Potter" movies...
ROBERT VIAGAS, MANAGING EDITOR
The longtime head of the American Theatre Wing was a tough and relentless supporter of the arts, innovator, tireless advocate of the Wing and bulldog (she kept the Tonys on network TV through some very tough years).
A visionary choreographer who never fully gets her due; a dogged carrier of the torch for A Chorus Line and Michael Bennett; a determined advocate for Asian-American theatre artists; a strong yet fair director; and the nicest lady you could ever want to meet.
Susan Lee (no relation)
Another innovator who rarely gets the recognition she deserves. Created so many good programs and traditions that all of Broadway thinks just happened by chance. But, really, they were born in Lee's generous heart.
Charlotte St. Martin
As head of the Broadway League during the time it started having billion-dollar seasons while also expanding social outreach to new audiences, she's the embodiment of the perfect balance between art and commerce. Read more about St. Martin and other women in power on Broadway in this exclusive from the Tony Awards Playbill!
OLIVIA CLEMENT, OFF-BROADWAY CORRESPONDENT
Rarely does Yasmina Reza write a play that doesn't make me either laugh out loud, cry or think deeply about human psychology. Often, all of the above. Reza is an award-winning playwright and novelist whose writing is so subtle yet loaded with complexities. Her characters are never one-dimensional and neither are they ever forgettable. Her plays are electric, unique and timeless; I wish we could see more of her work on Broadway.
While The Lion King put director Julie Taymor on my radar nearly a decade ago as a talent to watch, it wasn't until her recent direction of Anne Hathaway in Grounded that she shot to the top of my favorites list. Whilst Hathaway's performance was fantastic, Taymor's overall vision lifted this production to another dimension. I left the theatre feeling overwhelmingly moved and in awe. Read more about Taymor directing Grounded and her accomplishments as a woman in theatre.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Cynthia Nixon during rehearsals for Rasheeda Speaking, her Off-Broadway directorial debut. Nixon was eloquent, passionate and very generous with her time and responses, which made me an even greater fan of hers. Whilst she is undoubtedly a fine stage and screen actress, I'm very excited to see her evolve as a director.
ADAM HETRICK, EDITOR IN CHIEF
I love what I do because I have the chance to get to know the person behind the talent. Few interviews have meant as much to me as the one I did with Beth Malone the day after she received her Tony nomination for Fun Home. I admire her for being direct, fearless and unapologetic in all aspects of her life and art. She told me, "I have to be who I am, and when I started moving my identity in the direction of actually being myself, as myself as I can be, that's when my life opened up." Words to live by.
Diane's drive to expand the theatrical experience past the proscenium has provided me with some of the richest moments in recent memory from Hair to Pippin. I'm inspired by her creativity and the curiosity that fuels it. She's always asking questions and inventing in the pursuit of delivering a theatrical experience that meets us — as audience members — in the present moment in which we are living and experiencing the world. Add to that mix the fact that she's the first woman to be named artistic director of the American Repertory Theater. Just look at the incredible programming going on there. There's a reason so many artists are heading to Cambridge, MA!
What can I say? She's an inspiring collaborator and a dedicated leader who cares deeply about bringing the best out in her team. She turns every experience into an opportunity to learn and grow. In addition, she's helped shape Playbill into an exciting, modern brand. Just check out that 2015 Pride Issue!
I've long admired Jeanine's work and her ability to bridge musical styles — capturing what I can only describe as the momentum of human emotion. But beyond that, each opportunity I've had to speak with her has felt like an intense and inspiring learning moment that makes me want to do better work. Just watch her Tony Awards acceptance speech. And read what Tesori, and her collaborator Lisa Kron, had to say about writing Fun Home here.
MATT BLANK, PHOTO EDITOR
Probably a popular choice, but I have to include Jeanine Tesori if for nothing else than Caroline, or Change. To take nothing away from the brilliance of Fun Home or Violet, both remarkable undertakings on their own. But Caroline! To write an appropriate score for such a complex story centering on sensitive subject matter, populated by extremely layered and often mysterious characters, and using the manic poetic words of Tony Kushner is nothing short of miraculous. I still get chills from “The Bus Song” and “Salty Teardrops” and “I Got Four Kids.” An absolutely monumental feat in storytelling.
Lea Salonga has inspired me my entire life, both with her pure talent and for the fact that she has been the main role model for me as an Asian in theatre since I was a kid. I admire her work ethic, eagerness to take risks with challenging projects and increasingly candid manner of speaking on all subjects. She has been instrumental in bringing the art form to areas of the earth where it hadn't been prominent until recently, and she has pretty much single-handedly been responsible for the creation, promotion or proliferation of new work offering creative outlets and employment to Asian performers who are still not getting the same casting consideration they deserve. And if you've seen her recent solo shows, you know that no one works harder. She did almost three hours at Town Hall a few months back!
Lillias White. Wildly talented, down to earth, hilarious and versatile. I consider it a privilege to witness any and all of her performances.
MICHAEL GIOIA, FEATURES MANAGER
This is an obvious choice for me. I'm so inspired by how real Idina Menzel is — she's unapologetic and fearless, which makes her feel extremely relatable. She's not afraid to admit that she has flaws and has previously told me that she has learned to embrace her mistakes. Her 2014 — rebounding after a split from Taye Diggs to headlining a Broadway show, performing "Let It Go" any and everywhere and adopting her alter ego Adele Dazeem (and doing it all with such grace) — was one of the most inspiring celebrity journeys to follow. Plus, she is one of the most exciting and committed performers to watch!
I always have a #WCW on Ariana DeBose. By 22 years old, she was already on her second Broadway show (in yet another featured role) and performing on the Tony Awards twice in the same year! I don't know a harder worker than Ari (now on her fourth Broadway show, this season's big hit, Hamilton). She always comes prepared and ready to work. She fights strongly for what she believes in. She navigates the theatre industry with a smart and confident head on her shoulders. And, she's also a great friend!
I'm inspired every single day by Blake Ross, my editor in chief at Playbill. Her ideas are so smart. She's constantly thinking and striving to push the boundaries of theatrical journalism and expand the medium in which our publication fits. She keeps me on my toes, encourages me to think outside the box and, honestly, makes me believe that anything is possible. Playbill has come so far under her leadership — the fact that we now have an annual Pride issue dedicated to the people and personalities within our community (and that we are a small part in the movement towards a fully equal America) makes me so proud. I've never seen so many smiles in the theatre than the month of June, and it all stemmed from an idea she brought to the table on 38th Street.
Don't we all have a crush on Anna Kendrick? She is gorgeous and hysterical. Basically, she's who I want to be when I grow up. (Plus, she's played all of my dream roles! #herestotheladieswholunch.)
ROBBIE ROZELLE, GRAPHIC DESIGNER
Laura Benanti is my main #WCW. Always has been, always will be. Not even a little sorry about it. I fell in love with her during the revival of Nine in 2002 and we have never looked back. The joy of collaborating with her on anything (her website, her wonderful solo album, silly videos) is always the best thing I've ever worked on. She is so smart, so decisive but open to suggestions, and so hilarious. It's been my pleasure to have called her a friend and colleague for more than a decade, and there is absolutely no one in the business that I admire more. I hope she's cool with me basically living at Studio 54 during the run of She Loves Me.
Jeanine Tesori is a major #WCW for me — her ability to shift through so many various musical styles to write for the characters she has brought to the stage leaves me in awe. The original cast recording of Violet (the Off-Broadway production with Lauren Ward and Michael McElroy) rarely left rotation in my five-disc changer (when that was a thing). For me, her Tony victory for Fun Home was just the icing on the cake — I knew she was a genius the minute I heard the first chords of the Violet album. I can't wait to see what other characters she will give musical voice to.
You know how when you see someone in a show for the first time that is so good that you immediately start dream casting them in shows in your head? That's what I did when I first saw Nikka Graff Lanzarone in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. She is so brilliantly talented, incredibly smart and witty. I really need someone to write a musical around her many dazzling talents, thanks.
Jessica Vosk, currently in Finding Neverland, is one of my favorite people in this business. I sort of gravitate towards the hilarious people, and Jessica sits firmly at the top of that list. I was lucky enough to collaborate with her on her hit debut solo show at 54 Below, "I Came From Jersey For This," and anyone who was in that room will tell you that it was like discovering Bette Midler at the Baths for the first time. She is just magical, and if you are able to see her in something, you need to do it.
Finally, Elena Shaddow is someone I just love. Managing a Broadway career while raising two young children isn't easy, and she does it with such grace and integrity, while managing to be so present and wonderful in whatever project she is working on, it just inspires. Watching her go on for Kelli O'Hara in The Bridges of Madison County on Broadway (in the role she created in Williamstown) was so perfect, and I'm really lucky to have witnessed it. I can't wait for her to come back to NY with a major project and make a huge splash.
MARK EZOVSKI, VIDEO EDITOR
Her story is a great one: the understudy who gets "discovered" is certainly a showbiz cliché, but in reality, it illustrates the myriad of possibilities that are open to a performer with amazing talent and love of the craft. Foster slides effortlessly between comic and dramatic roles and makes you believe her 100 percent in every role. She is that honest and engaging as a performer.
I'm a rocker at heart so I can relate to Lena Hall. As performer, she has a palpable toughness and edge that is not a cover for something. It's self-assuredness and a desire to push boundaries. I truly respect and admire her dual career path as a stage actor and rock musician. She's equally adept at both. Not many people can pull that off with such aplomb.
She is funny. Very funny. As funny as anyone on the planet. Her comic mind is always racing and searching out a hilarious idea. It's fun to watch her do her thing. And she's got a pretty good set of pipes on her, too! She's another complete performer who has the ability to move seamlessly amongst different worlds.
ANDREW GANS, SENIOR EDITOR
For someone who has been writing Diva Talk for over 15 years, choosing leading women in the theatre is a bit like picking a favorite child, so I thought I would include the women who kicked off my passion for the theatre, the three artists I have admired the longest. These actresses inspire me with their many unique talents, which have excited, moved and comforted me for more than three decades.
Patti LuPone was the first to make a then-12-year-old theatregoer realize just how thrilling a performer — and the theatre — could be when she dazzled with her Tony-winning work in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita. I've traveled to London twice to see her special brand of magic — a heartbreaking Fantine in the original company of Les Miserables and an equally riveting Norma Desmond in the world premiere of Sunset Boulevard. I was also inspired by how LuPone — following the Sunset saga — immersed herself in her work, rising to even greater heights and winning a second Tony for her performance as the ultimate stage mother in the most recent revival of the classic American musical Gypsy. More in demand than ever — on screen and onstage — this enthralling singing actress — whose powerful voice remains a potent catalyst of emotion — also recently fulfilled the desire of many theatregoers when she simply snatched a cell phone from a rude audience member mid-performance. Attention must be paid, indeed. Brava, Ms. LuPone!
The warmth that spreads over an audience when Bernadette Peters takes the stage is palpable. And, even though she is a Sondheim gal — triumphing in the original productions of Sunday in the Park with George (a performance as magnificently detailed as the painting itself) and Into the Woods (the only Witch who has mined the role for all its comedic and dramatic possibilities) — I'll never forget her tour de force performance in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song and Dance, where the audience was able to relish her many gifts — the beautiful and powerful voice, the comedic genius and the heartbreaking emotion — uninterrupted for 60 glorious minutes. I am also inspired by Peters' tireless work for our four-legged friends, co-creating Broadway Barks — the annual pet adoption event held in Shubert Alley — with pal Mary Tyler Moore. Through this annual fundraiser, the organization has found forever homes for thousands of shelter dogs and cats, with Peters often driving animals from kill shelters to no-kill shelters with her longtime assistant.
With one of the most beautiful and rangy voices ever to grace the stage — one that overflows with emotion — Betty Buckley didn't have to be a great actress to win my affection. That she is such a stellar one has kept me an admirer for decades, from her thrilling rendition of "Memory" in Cats through her internationally acclaimed work as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard and her most recent New York stage outing in the premiere of Horton Foote's Old Friends, where Buckley reconfirmed she is just as powerful an actress without music as she is with. I'm also inspired by Buckley's decision several years ago when, at the top of her game, she decided to relocate to her native Texas to fulfill life-long dreams of owning a ranch and riding cutting horses. Her legion of fans breathed a sigh of relief when they realized Buckley was not retiring from showbiz. In fact, this writer is thankful that not even five broken vertebrae — from a recent horse riding accident — could keep this superb talent from the stage. She'll star later this summer in Bay Street's production of the Tony-winning musical Grey Gardens. I wouldn't miss it for the world.
I would also like to pay tribute to the late cabaret singer Nancy LaMott, about whom critic Bob Harrington once wrote, "There is no more beautiful musical instrument than the voice of Nancy LaMott." LaMott possessed a rich, lush, honey-toned sound that could be soft, sweet and creamy one minute and big and belty the next. She also possessed a remarkable ability to find the emotional center of any song, bringing a lyric to life as honestly as possible. She could take a warhorse of a song — listen to her definitive version of "Moon River" — and bring it back to full life, and she had a gift for choosing songs that fit perfectly together: "Not a Day Goes By" and "Good Thing Going" was one exceptional medley, and "Out of This World" and "So in Love" another. Thankfully she recorded several CDs prior to her untimely death, and numerous others have been released posthumously by David Friedman's Midder Music.
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