Last week's production of Carousel had some great moments, but sadly overall I wasn't thrilled with it.
(I was going to say that my hat's off to Mr. Hammerstein for what I assumed was the only use of the word "lorgnette" in a song, not to mention rhyming it with "born yet." Except now I see that Mr. Berlin wrote the same rhyme in a different song in 1940, a few years before Carousel.)
But thinking about it, I realized that one reason I had wanted to go was that almost all of the best plays I've seen have been college productions. I haven't seen all that many professional live plays, but most of the ones I've seen haven't impressed me all that much. But there've been some amazing college shows.
So I figured I'd list the best shows I've seen. Hard to rank these, so they're in chronological order by when I saw them.
- 'dentity Crisis as performed at Gunn High School in 1985 or 1986
- As a Swarthmore friend put it, this is a play about a large family with very few people in it. The Swarthmore production of this that I was involved with was good, and fun; but (with no offense intended toward those of you who were involved in the college production), the high school version had more of an impact on me, perhaps because I had no idea what to expect. (Thanks, CT, for taking me to it!) "You didn't clap hard enough! Tinkerbell's dead!"
- The Norman Conquests as performed at Swarthmore in 1986 or 1987
- Three interlocking plays, with the same characters, taking place at the same time in different parts of a house and grounds. (But performed consecutively rather than simultaneously.) May have benefited somewhat from being one of the first college-level productions I'd seen (after four years of doing stage tech in high school), and one of the few plays I'd seen in a while that I had nothing to do with (so I couldn't see the flaws--which may explain why none of the shows I've been involved with quite make this list). But even taking that into account, it was an awfully good production, with very good acting. It was also the first time I saw Jessica T (who was particularly good in it), though we didn't meet socially until later. (Hi, Jessica!)
- Noises Off as performed at Swarthmore around 1990
- It's true that much of the cast and crew were friends of mine (including a couple of people who are reading this--hi, folks!), but that was true of plenty of other Swarthmore productions; that wasn't the only reason I liked this. Since then I've seen the movie and one professional production, both of which were fine, but the Swarthmore one was brilliant. Laugh-out-loud funny all the way through, on a two-story set with lots of doors and ever-mounting chaos. "Bag! Suddenly here, now gone!" was a catchphrase for years.
- Our Country’s Good as performed by Stanford's Outside In Theatre in 1994
- It's a play by someone with the unlikely name of Timberlake Wertenbaker, about the early days of the Australian penal colony. Stunningly good. I later bought the script and read it, but the power of the production I saw didn't really come through on the printed page.
- Equus as also performed by Outside In, sometime around 1994
- One of my favorite plays, and they did an excellent job with it.
- A Little Night Music as performed at Stanford around 1995
- This production was staged in a dorm lounge, but nonetheless had a remarkable unfolding set. I went to it on a whim, having liked the music for years but never having seen the show, and I was blown away. I enjoyed it so much that I went back the next night, when it was just as good. A couple years later, I saw a professional production in San José that fell almost completely flat, so it's not just that the material was good; the students did a brilliant job with it.
Note that this isn't a list of my favorite plays per se, just of my favorite performances. A list of favorite plays would have to also include Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (which I've seen two or three times but didn't love the productions of), Arcadia (which I've never seen but loved the script of), Deathtrap (never seen it on stage, though I liked the movie, but loved the script), and probably several others I'm not thinking of offhand. And there are also lots of plays (and performances of plays) that I've liked a lot but don't quite make that top tier--I'm partial to Twelfth Night, for example, and much of Gilbert & Sullivan, and Beckett's Rockaby, and Talking With... (most especially "Clear Glass Marbles"), and much of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and much of Sondheim, and so on and so on.
And, of course, there was lots of other good theatre at Paly and at Swarthmore, some of which I was involved with; I certainly intend no insult to those of you who were involved with shows I didn't list above. But the ones above are my very favorites. Or at least they're the favorites I remember offhand; there may've been others I'm not thinking of.
What are the best live theatrical performances you've seen, and why? (You can include stuff like circus performances and opera and performance art and street theatre if you like, but I'm specifically talking about theatre as opposed to, say, chamber music performances or rock concerts.)