OK. So, readers of this blog may be surprised (or alarmed?) to see this headline and my byline together in the same post. Those familiar with Rolando Teco's biases know that visual spectacle does not thrill me in the way that, say, authentic human conflict does.
So it dawned on me as I sat transfixed at my window, watching the drama and chaos and sheer beauty of another snowstorm, that I do appreciate some fireworks of the visual sort every now and then. So, here, in totally random order, are my top 10 picks for most stunning, memorable and breathtaking.
Note: I limited myself to NYC and to fairly recent memory, which means roughly a decade or so, give or take. As with all such lists, I encourage and welcome you to post your endorsements or flat-out rebuttals and anything in between.
1. The chorus of serfs in Tom Stoppard's Coast of Utopia at Lincoln Center.
In the first part of the trilogy, Jack O'Brien stages the serfs in a way that renders them part set, part ominous Greek chorus. When they vigorously shake their sheaves of wheat, if for only a split second, the effect is like lightning--shocking, alarming and gone almost as soon as it's registered.
2. The choreography of all the chorus numbers in Kiss Me Kate, directed by Michael Blakemore and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall.
Every chorus number, as staged by Kathleen Marshall, succeeded in supporting the musical content while clearly painting individual characters in each member of the chorus. No easy feat. Just go see any of the big musicals on Broadway this season and pay attention to how homogeneous the chorus looks.
3. Projections and player pianos in Elyse Singer's Frequency Hopping.
Elyse Singer's subtle and breathtaking use of projections and player pianos in the world premiere of her own multi-media play about Heddy Lamar, George Anthiel and radar. Frequency Hopping had some visuals that are etched in my brain to this day.
4. The infinite curtain between acts in Mike Nichols' production of Clifford Odets' A Country Girl.
At the end of each act, where the curtain might normally have fallen to allow for a set change, instead, the curtain swept across the apron moving swiftly from stage right to left (or vice versa) and continued to do so throughout the scene change. A clever gimmick achieved rather simply but to great effect. Imagine the stage curtain rolled up off stage right. As it unfurls to the opposite side, like a huge paper towel standing on its side, it is unfurling continuously toward the opposite side of the stage, where it is again being rolled up (hidden from view) for the next time. All you need is to have a curtain wide (or long, depending on your POV) enough to allow you to continue to unfurl it for the 2 minute scene change. Then when it's time for the next act break, the process is simply reversed -- left to right, and so on. Like so much that Nichols has given us, this was simple, elegant and surprising.
5. Taylor Mac's entrance as the Lily in The Lily's Revenge.
Taylor arriving late to his own show at HERE dressed as a fully-realized lily, carrying his own pot on suspenders, shuffling to his seat in the audience while urging us all to ignore him and continue watching the show as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.
6. The finale in Diane Paulus' revival of Hair.
The energy mounts, creeping up on us in an intoxicating way and we feel ourselves lifted higher and higher into a shared ecstatic frenzy right up until the body of the dead soldier is revealed. I was a weepy mess.
7. Liev Schreiber's entrance in Gregory Mosher's production of Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge.
The masterful staging of Liev's entrance in the current production of A View From The Bridge in which Mosher deftly avoids the distracting (and all-too-common) audience habit of applauding for the arrival of a star on stage. This sort of applause invariably succeeds in stopping the action and pulling us all out of the story being told. In this staging, Schreiber was gradually sneaked into the scene in a way that made it impossible to applaud for there was no clear moment of entrance. The slight of hand was aided, of course, by the actor's brilliant performance which rendered him not-immediately recognizable as himself.
8. Cherry Jones' entrance in Gerald Gutierrez' production of Ruth & Augustus Goetz' The Heiress.
Have you ever seen someone glide down a staircase more gracefully? It was as if she had sailed onto the stage. A stunning counterpoint to the stunted position her father has carved out for her. In that one gesture, we see all the beauty and singing inside her, all that she could and should become.
9. Mary Zimmerman, Ovid's Metamorphoses, and water.
10. The end of David Cromer's sensational (and sensationalized) production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town at the Barrow Street Theatre.
I don't want to spoil it if you haven't yet seen it. And if you have, describing it would simply diminish it. So basically, just go and see for yourselves.
11. The staging of "Being Alive" in John Doyle's revival of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Company.
Placing Raul Esparza at the piano for the final number was a brilliant stroke of genius. After everything that had preceded this moment, it was the perfect visual cherry on a delicious ice cream sundae of a show.
Oops! I said 10, but I listed 11. Hmm... Which one do you think didn't deserve to make the cut? Let me know.