My Favorite Performances, 2010

Kate Baldwin, I Do! I Do!  I couldn’t have asked for a better first experience at the esteemed Westport Country Playhouse. I had never seen the Schmidt and Jones musical of the Jan de Hartog’s The Fourposter, which offers an intimate portrait of a fifty-year marriage. Her performance was exquisite, with an earnest but achingly honest portrait of an early 20th century wife. Its sensibilities may be of another time, but through her performance she brought out elements of the play’s universality. It was not difficult to fall in love with her as she was flirting with, arguing with or encouraging her not-always-appreciative husband Michael (expertly played by Lewis Cleale).

Joshua Henry, The Scottsboro BoysI didn’t see the show at the Vineyard Theatre earlier in the year, and can only base my thoughts of Brandon Victor Dixon based on his stellar performance on the original cast album. But seeing Henry onstage at the Lyceum is something I will never forget. His performance was tough, grounded and always riveting and I find when I listen to the sublime cast album I miss some of his vocal flourishes and power. If there’s justice in the world (and the musical itself expertly showed there isn’t always), Henry will be adding a Tony nomination to his resume this spring.

Annette McLaughlin, Brief Encounter.  I was swept away by this adaptation of Noel Coward’s play Still Life and eponymous film adaptation, even though I wish I had seen it from the orchesta section or in its more intimate venue at St Ann’s. The entire cast is superlative, but as the tall, lithe cafe proprietress Beryl, McLaughlin grabbed my attention almost immediately. She is always on the periphery of the main relationship of the star-crossed lovers, but help add some levity and perspective with her timing, delivery (“sau-cay”) and musical abilities. I was so thoroughly charmed by the experience, but most especially with her exceptional supporting turn.

Jan Maxwell, Lend Me a Tenor.  It has yet to be proven that there is something that Jan Maxwell cannot do. I’ve seen her in a searing period melodrama, an elegant period comedy-drama and then her supporting all-out farce turn in Lend Me a Tenor, the funniest performance in this rather amusing revival of Ken Ludwig’s contemporary favorite. The play itself, admittedly, isn’t that funny. But Maxwell took the script and had a field day with it. Her character’s jealous mood swings and violent temper made for some of the play’s best moments. A mere hiss stopped the show dead in its tracks. Much of her time is spent off-stage and she was missed. She followed this farce with an acclaimed turn as a stroke victim in Wings at Second Stage. Again – this woman can do everything and I look forward to her Phyllis Rogers Stone in Follies at the Kennedy Center next spring.

Janet McTeer, God of Carnage.  I had seen and enjoyed the original Broadway cast with Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden, but didn’t feel compelled to see the play again. It’s an amusing play, but it’s really an actor’s play and its enjoyment hinges on the performances on display. However, I dropped everything when I heard that Janet McTeer, who originated the role of Veronique in the original London cast, would be stepping into the Americanized Veronica for the Broadway production. She was utterly superb – and this was the first performance this company had given. I was fascinated by her from the moment she entered to her exit, every flourish and nuance compelling. Funny and fierce, she was better than her Tony-winning counterpart and as a whole made the play even more interesting to watch.

Donna Murphy, Anyone Can Whistle.  “Ooh I could think all night!” If Encores productions were eligible for Tony Awards, we wouldn’t have never had any of the post-Tony controversy regarding Catherine Zeta-Jones’ win for A Little Night Music. Donna Murphy would have (and dare I say, should have) walked away with every award in sight for her gut-busting performance as evil Mayoress Cora Hoover-Hooper in this concert version of Anyone Can Whistle (even the way she said her own name reduced the audience into laughter). Every gesture, every nuance, every note – everything she did on that stage was so fascinating and so damned funny. As a result of this performance, I am convinced that she should be our next Mame.

Bernadette Peters, A Little Night Music.  Replacing a Tony-winning star is one of the toughest gigs on Broadway. Sometimes the performer is an improvement on the original, but that’s a rarity. However, in this case, the replacement was not only an improvement but also somehow transformed the entire production into a must-see. A Little Night Music somehow fell into the hands of Trevor Nunn, who did his best to ruin it. While the sublime Angela Lansbury was the reason to see it when it opened, the rest of the ensemble lacked cohesiveness. Every actor seemed to be in a different production, some even seemed to be in another theatre entirely. Somehow Bernadette’s presence made them a unified presence and while the revival still has its considerable shortcomings (and length), she gave the production the credibility it needed from the beginning. And her near-definitive performance of “Send in the Clowns” is worth the price of admission. If the Tonys hadn’t botched the replacement category, Bernadette would win in a heartbeat.