Our 9 Favorite Moments of the 2016-17 Theater Season
Editorial Staff • Broadway, Off-Broadway • Jun 17, 2017
Bette Midler Eats a Turkey Dinner
Deep in the second act of Hello, Dolly!, the whole show stops so that the cast can look in wonder as Bette Midler chows down on a dinner of turkey and dumplings at Harmonia Gardens. No, she’s not actually eating a turkey leg up there (it’s a prop), but she still makes us believe she’s having a life-changing culinary experience — seven times a week. Those who caught her acceptance speech at the Tony Awards know that Midler is not one for brevity, and she incredibly draws out this sight gag for at least four minutes every night. We in the audience hang on her every exaggerated movement as she savors each dumpling like she’s in a kabuki adaptation of The Iron Chef. Once she drinks from the gravy boat, it’s all over: We’re hopelessly in thrall to the most audacious comic performance this side of Lucille Ball.
Interpretive Wedding Dancing at Significant Other
As one of the most overlooked plays of this Broadway season, Joshua Harmon’s Significant Other included plenty of memorable moments to choose from. There was Gideon Glick’s “to-send-or-not-to-send” email meltdown; there was the phenomenal use of Celine Dion’s hit single “Because You Loved Me”; and there were some standout bridesmaid dresses (designed by Kaye Voyce) that perfectly captured the craft and the cruelty of the form. But the moment that trumped all the rest has to be the cast’s interpretive movement to Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance.” It’s a tragic first-dance song that a disproportionate number of us have encountered and greeted with an eye roll. But the joy that Glick, Lindsay Mendez, and Rebecca Naomi Jones infused in their nonsense frolicking (thanks to choreographer Sam Pinkleton) made you almost hope for that song to hold strong on the wedding circuit.
Natasha Falls Into Infatuation as Only a Teenager Could in The Great Comet
One of the most underpraised elements of Dave Malloy’s Tony-nominated Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 is its wistfully hilarious and strikingly recognizable depiction of Natasha, a lovelorn young woman in her early teens. Though much of the credit for Natasha’s on-point characterization must surely go to Tolstoy himself (Great Comet is adapted from a section of War & Peace), Malloy is able to pack an impressive amount of typically pubescent circular reasoning and self-deception into relatively few lyrics.
Nowhere is Natasha’s inner monologue more delightful than in “The Ball,” the song that finds Natalie falling into the eager arms of her rakish suitor Anatole. “His large, glittering, masculine eyes/ Are so close to mine/ That I see nothing else,” she sings, just before they share true love’s first a kiss. And as she comes up for air, that sentiment is followed by a particularly prescient revelation: “But I love you,” she tells the man she’s met a couple of times, “How else could we have kissed?/ It means that I have loved you from the first/ It means that you are kind, noble, and splendid.”
The Criminally Overlooked Performances of Corey Cott and Laura Osnes in Bandstand
Bandstand was a late entry into this past Broadway season, and yet, this story of World War II vets battling undiagnosed P.T.S.D. with the help of music, is also one of the most profound to appear on a stage in quite some time. Strangely, the only aspect people talk about is Andy Blankenbuehler’s Tony-winning choreography, but it’s the fiercely moving performances of stars Corey Cott and Laura Osnes that got us. Osnes was nominated for a Drama Desk Award, and rightfully so, considering her astonishing delivery of the sultry “Love Will Come and Find Me Again” and the ferociously moving “Welcome Home” are. But Cott, unfortunately and egregiously, didn’t land on any award lists, despite his stirring turn as a man desperately trying to get his life back on track after witnessing the worst things imaginable. They both deserved greater recognition for putting their hearts on the line the way they do eight times a week.
The Appearance of the Comet in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
“Are you ready to wake up?” this show’s poster asks. Not that your answer matters — the blink-inducing flares of light, the electronic dance music, the non-electronic dance music, and the cast members gyrating on a runway through the audience won’t let you sleep. But for us, one of the most memorable moments of the show wasn’t a loud, flashy one, but the quiet, gentle ending, after Natasha has lost both her crush, Anatole, and her fiancé, Andrey. The homely Pierre comes to comfort her, a kindness that leaves her crying and him trying not to. He departs in his sleigh and looks up at the night sky, where, “surrounded and sprinkled on all sides by stars/ shines the great comet of 1812.” The audience sees it too, as a starburst chandelier descends from overhead. The moment is a double miracle — the shooting star “seems suddenly/ to have stopped/ like an arrow piercing the earth,” and a bolt of compassion has transfixed two lonely souls.
Sutton Foster Makes a Sandwich
The stakes were high: Charity Hope Valentine needed to high-tail it into the closet before she’s discovered by Italian movie star Vidal’s jealous girlfriend Ursula, who is waiting on the other side of the door. But first, she needed to sate her hunger with a sandwich, made in real time, complete with multiple meats, cheese, lettuce, tomato, various condiments, and a final saw in half with a butter knife. Sutton Foster (Charity), and director Leigh Silverman, took their time, piling on the comedy and pushing the envelope with each layer of lunchmeat. Foster sold the physical comedy of that long moment in complete silence as the audience sat rapt before laugher began to peal through the theater. If she hadn’t already won you over with her hoofer skills in her rousing rendition of “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” this comedically suspenseful moment proved that Foster is a true quadruple threat of singing, dancing, acting, and deli artistry.
The Holiday Inn Jump-Rope Tap Dance
Adapted from the beloved movie starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, the musical utilized Denis Jones’s innovative and inspired choreography to create numerous fun-filled, eye-catching dance numbers. While tap dances are no stranger to the Broadway stage, this number is unique in its use of Christmas garlands as jump ropes. Ensemble members somehow magically and seamlessly jump and tap to the beat of the music, transforming the scene from a simple tree-decorating gathering to an awesome party. Warning: Do not try this choreography at home, kids.
“F*ck You, Nora!”
Nora Helmer’s exit from A Doll’s House may be known as the “door slam heard round the world,” but her nanny, Anne Marie, slams back in A Doll’s House, Part 2: “F*ck you, Nora,” she exclaims as Nora asks her to put her job on the line so that Nora can obtain a divorce from her estranged husband, Torvald. It’s a powerfully cathartic moment after Nora has spent the better part of the evening lecturing Anne Marie about feminism, blissfully unaware that not everyone has the option to walk away from family and livelihood to pursue liberation. Jayne Houdyshell (who was nominated for a Tony for her portrayal of Anne Marie) manages to make the moment simultaneously empowering and hilarious with her straightforward delivery. If you’ve ever wanted to curse out a central figure of the Western dramatic canon, this is your opportunity to live vicariously through one of Broadway’s most beloved stars.
Danny DeVito Eats an Egg
Theatergoers who attended Arthur Miller’s The Price this season were chomping at the bit to see Danny DeVito make his Broadway debut. What they didn’t know was that the show’s most memorable moment would be watching DeVito chomping greedily on a hard-boiled egg while delivering lines to an amused Mark Ruffalo, who tried to avoid being hit by projectile fragments of yolk. Audiences could not contain their laughter, and it looked at times as though Ruffalo was about to break character as pieces of egg launched from DeVito’s mouth and began littering the stage. It was a good old-fashioned comedic moment in an otherwise hard-hitting drama about two brothers coming to terms with the memory of their father. DeVito was nominated for a Tony for his performance, and even though he didn’t win, his bit with the egg will last in Broadway’s memory for years to come.