Since our Board’s beloved playwright-in-residence Hayley St. James is at BroadwayCon this weekend, I am filling in for them—which means you all get a double dose of Molly! This week, I wanted to take advantage of my double shift to reminiscence on some of the best performances I have ever seen live (key word being live, meaning Corey Cott and Jeremy Jordan—whom I gushed about last week—are not on the list), starting with the men.
Let me kick it off with the honorable mentions: Mark Evans as Chris Bean in The Play That Goes Wrong, Marcus Choi as George Washington, Preston Allen with anything he does, and Adam J. Levy’s Hold My Heart at Pronoun Showdown.
With that out of the way, top ten, let’s go!
10. Chad Kimball - Kevin and Others, Come From Away
When I first saw Come From Away, I knew the plot (but not the details) and had steadfastly avoided any of the music, so I went in fairly blind. I was completely blown away. I’ve spoken at length about Come From Away on the Board before, so I won’t bore you all by delving into it, but suffice to say, I was very impressed with every second. While I could easily have put anyone in the cast on this list because they all brought their A game, I chose Chad because of Prayer. Prayer is a song that he leads in the second half of the show. It is one of the most moving moments I’ve ever seen on stage, and he led it with such beauty and grace. I cherish that memory.
9. Andy Richardson - Crutchie, Newsies
Spoiler alert, there’s four Newsies on this list. I know, that’s almost half and seems a bit excessive, but Newsies is the show I’ve seen the most live. (Seven times in six cities, five states, and four time zones. Yeah, I had a problem.) So, something about it must have stayed with me, and one of those things was Andy Richardson’s portrayal of Crutchie.
While I love Zachary Sayle and even caught his second to last performance as Crutchie, there was something that was just so genuine and vulnerable about Andy Richardson that really moved me. Every moment he was on stage, I fell more and more in love with his character, and every time I saw the show, I was more and more heartbroken when I saw his Crutchie in pain. In fact, I started crying just when I saw him all beat up for Letter From the Refuge before he even started singing. When he finally sang, the lump in the back of my throat swelled even more. He was truly something incredible as Crutchie.
8. John Bolton - Vlad Popov, Anastasia the Musical
I was looking through old statuses on a social media account recently and found one that just read “I feel like we don’t talk about John Bolton’s comedic timing enough.” No one replied to or said anything about it, so I guess I was the only one who felt that way, but I still stand by it. I love understudies, of course, but when I saw an understudy Vlad one of the times I went to Anastasia, there was distinctly something missing. John brings such a hilarious component and is so present every moment he’s on stage. He seems to truly understand that every moment can be a comedic moment, and yet also knows when to hold back and let the moment play itself out seriously… It’s a mastery of the craft I’m not used to seeing, but John has it in the bag.
7. Steve Blanchard - Joseph Pulitzer, Newsies
Pulitzer is a character that I didn’t even really notice until Steve Blanchard came around and completely blew me away with his portrayal. Suddenly, Pulitzer wasn’t just background noise, something happening so that the actor playing Jack could sit down for a second; he was actually a character with his own motivations and reasons. Every line, every gesture, every second he imbued with his own flair, and it never failed to impress me.
6. Dave Malloy - The Astronomer and Others, Ghost Quartet
An open secret about me is that one of my favorite types of shows to see is the people who wrote it, or whom the roles were written or crafted for, in the show itself. This makes Ghost Quartet a blessing from above. I saw it sitting on the floor in an intimate setting in Seattle, having flown to the city just to see the show, and I was blown away. Though Dave plays multiple characters in the show, every single one is so vivid and unique that I never found myself confused by what was going on. I was able to just sit back and let the music, friendship, and bond shared by these four beautifully unique and special people (led by Dave) wash over me in a sacred moment I would trade the world to go back to.
5. Lucas Steele - Anatole Kuragin, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812
Warning: you have entered the Comet fangirl section of this list. Five and four are both Comet actors (and of course, six is the man himself, though he didn’t make the list for Comet), and if you know anything about me, you know I ADORE Great Comet. And one of my favorite things about it is the pure ridiculousness that is Lucas Steele as Anatole.
There’s something so interesting about his portrayal in that he’s playing someone you’re not supposed to root for. He goes around running people and things and cares little about them other than what he can get out of them, but I still felt so safe whenever he was on stage. Chaotic neutral as Anatole may be, Lucas Steele is also playing it on a second level where I can absolutely see why Natasha fell for him because I fell for him too, and I’m not even attracted to men. There’s something so inviting about his portrayal that makes you want to love him.
4. Okieriete Onaodowan - Pierre Bezukhov, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
Now Okieriete, or Oak as he is more commonly known, is a bit of a controversial figure in the theatre world, particularly the Comet sect. There’s a lot of big feelings on both sides, and everyone has an opinion on it. I am not exempt from that, but this is not about me, so I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about purely his portrayal.
His portrayal of Pierre changed my life. I saw all four men who played Pierre on Broadway, and while they were all phenomenal and had their strengths and weaknesses and each presented a new character who I loved and wanted to see and hear, Oak left them all in the dust. His Dust and Ashes particularly caught me off guard. It was the fourth time I had seen the show when I saw him for the first time, and his Dust and Ashes was so raw, so moving, that from the last row of the front mezzanine, I cried with him. For the first time, I truly understood that moment as I believe Dave and Tolstoy intended it to be, and for that, I have Oak to thank.
3. Dan DeLuca - Jack Kelly, Newsies
Okay, back to the fansie in me! Dan DeLuca was my first Jack Kelly, and by far, my favorite. Every moment he was on stage, I was with him. I never doubted him for one single moment; I didn’t see Dan playing Jack, I saw Jack Kelly. He truly transported me to 1899 New York City, and I felt every joy, every heartbreak, and every moment with his character.
I already knew Newsies so well by the time I finally got to see it live, but with Dan DeLuca, it felt like an entirely new experience. Every time I returned to Newsies Square afterward, his absence was felt almost as strongly as his presence had been.
2. Jacob Kemp - Davey Jacobs, Newsies
Jacob Kemp, or as I once saw him referred to as, “anime Ben Fankhauser”, is someone I would drop everything to see perform again, in anything. If he got cast in Book of Mormon, I would even put aside my strong dislike towards that show to go see him. It took him a while to grow on me, but when he did? I would die for him.
Not only is he enjoyable to watch on stage, but his portrayal of Davey was the first character to have an anxiety that I related to. When I was diagnosed with anxiety, I started to cry because I didn’t relate to Evan Hansen. I thought if I didn’t have anxiety like he did, I couldn’t have it at all, because how I understand myself is through fictional characters (that’s a Board post for another week) and I felt lost until I remembered Jacob Kemp as Davey. It’s subtle, but the way he acts is very much similar to how I cope with my own anxiety, and for that, I will always be grateful.
1. John Riddle - Prince Hans, Frozen
I knew I would love Frozen as soon as the movie came out. The movie’s Prince Hans, none other than Santino Fontana, is from my hometown. I adore that man and supporting local talent is important to me. Needless to say, I love Prince Hans, and absolutely did not see his betrayal coming. I was shocked and stunned and gasping in my seat.
And that was just the movie. When I saw the musical, I saw it twice back to back—Tuesday evening and then the Wednesday matinee. John Riddle is so charming and delightful that I completely lost myself in his portrayal and willingly fell for it both times. He was so dynamic and incredible that I didn’t think about the plot either time; he drew me in and it felt like we were living it together, and that both times the betrayal happened in real time. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in a theatre and I would go back and have my heart broken by him again without a moment’s hesitation.
So there you have it! My top ten favorite performances that I’ve been blessed enough to witness live! What are your favorites? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!
(Photo credits are Kevin Berne, Andy Richardson, Davy Mack, Deen van Meer, Ryan Jensen, Chad Batka, Jacob Kemp, and Andrew Eccles.)