Betty Buckley in Cats (© Martha Swope)
1. Betty Buckley - Cats
It just doesn't get any better than this. While I mentioned in my previous post My Top Five Theater Experiences that Cats in the West End terrified me, this performance on Broadway was terribly incredible. I have been a Betty Buckley fan for a while now, especially because she is one of Seth Rudetsky's favorites. I recently had the ultimate privilege of participating in a workshop with Buckley, and she is the most amazing actor I have met thus far because of her process. After doing many exercises to develop vocals and an emotional connection to the music, Betty achieves an incredible result. She does not act; she connects with her audience and includes them. If you watch a video of her performing "Memory," you will absolutely see this. First of all I love the way she sings it. She starts with such a tender, sad voice and then crescendos to "touch me, it's so easy to leave me." The belt and power in her voice in that moment is incredible, and her reach to the audience so moving that I get chills.
2. Alice Ripley - Next to Normal
I don't mean to beat a dead horse with another Next to Normal post, but you can't deny this brilliance. I have never been on a more emotional theatrical ride than watching Alice in this. It was one of those performances during which you forget where you are and who you are. All that mattered was the story of Diana and her family. Despite the fact that I already knew the plot and all of the songs, I sat on the edge of my seat and held my breath countless times. Alice played Diana with incredible depth and gave the audience a glimpse into the challenges of living with a mental illness that blurs the lines of reality.
3. Patti LuPone - Evita
Patti brought just a little bit of star quality to this part. She was the original Eva, and no one has topped her since. I'm always amazed by the strength in her voice. Even during tender moments like "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," there is a power and richness to her voice that makes it so compelling. My favorite vocal moment in the show is during "A New Argentina." If you watch the Tony Awards performance, you can witness the incredible moment during which LuPone belts out, "He supports you, for he loves you, understands you, is one of you. If not, how could he love me?" Dynamite.
4. Victoria Clark - The Light in the Piazza
Although it might not be as well known as some of the other performances listed here, Victoria Clark's Margaret in The Light in the Piazza was a brilliant display of theatrical prowess. Piazza was written by Richard Rodgers' grandson, Adam Guettel, and although the show has the structure of a modern musical, there are delightful glimpses of a Rodgers and Hammerstein past with Guettel's classical music. In the show, the part of Margaret Johnson is extremely conflicted. She wants to protect her handicapped daughter, but she also wants her to experience love. Margaret is also dealing with the disintegration of her own marriage, to make matters more complicated. Victoria Clark nailed the acting and the vocals. Margaret's songs have a huge range, and Clark's rich, flowing voice makes the jumps seem nonexistent.
5. Bernadette Peters - Into the Woods
Funny story: so when Bernadette Peters first heard about Into the Woods, she was interested in playing the Baker's Wife. However, Sondheim had already cast the part but was still without a Witch. Enter Bernadette Peters. This was her best performance if you ask me. The Witch is an amazing part because of the range of acting it requires. She starts off as this ugly, menacing character whose face is completely covered, so all emotion has to come from the voice and body posture. Then, in the second act, she's a beautiful but narcissistic woman who's helpless without her powers. Peters is magnificent throughout. The best song is "Lament," during which the Witch mourns her daughter, Rapunzel. Bernadette Peters' voice is heart wrenching here.