Yes, it's that time of year when pundits compile Top 10 lists -- but, as usual, I'm not comfortable in labeling my list as a "best of" since I did miss quite a few shows in 2004, especially in the Off-Off-Broadway arena. Nor was I able to limit my picks of great NYC stage performances to 10; I came up with 40, including several collective citations! So please accept the following as a non-exclusionary roundup of stellar work, in chronological order of the shows' openings. Enjoy, and don't forget to click on page 2 at the bottom of this page to view the best of 2004 as chosen by my colleagues Dan Bacalzo, Matthew Murray, and Adam Klasfeld.
Kelly Ann Moore in The Heiress: The only unfortunate thing about Moore's luminous performance in the Roundtable Ensemble production of this classic was that it took place in the context of a limited run Off-Off-Broadway engagement, so very few people saw it.
Patti LuPone in Can-Can: Chalk up another triumph for Ms. LuPone as La Mome Pistache in the Encores! presentation of this Cole Porter tuner.
Tim Cusack in Bald Diva!: The actor's facial expressions, body language, and vocal inflections in this gay, gay, gay adaptation of Ionesco's The Bald Soprano were priceless.
Richard Thomas in The Stendhal Syndrome: Thomas was excellent as a Leonard Bernstein-like orchestra conductor in this program of two one-acts by Terrence McNally.
Michael Rispoli in Magic Hands Freddy: Best known as a TV actor, Rispoli became a theater critics' darling for his wonderfully empathetic performance in this well written play by Arje Shaw.
Anthony Mackie in Drowning Crow: Regina Taylor's adaptation of Chekhov's The Sea Gull was one of the worst things to hit Broadway in a dog's age, so Mackie deserves extra credit for maintaining his dignity in the role of C-Trip.
Penny Fuller, George Grizzard, and Steven Pasquale in Beautiful Child: Disturbing subject matter (child molestation) but fine acting in the Vineyard production of Nicky Silver's play.
Michael Shannon and Shannon Cochran in Bug: Two very attractive performances in Tracy Letts' very creepy play. (The show now co-stars Kate Buddeke and Joey Collins.)
Christopher Plummer in King Lear: Directed by Jonathan Miller, the Lincoln Center Theater production of one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies was generally disappointing, but Plummer's portrayal of the title role was magisterial.
Elaine Paige in Sweeney Todd: The most successful exponent of Mrs. Lovett in Stephen Sondheim's masterpiece since Angela Lansbury created the role, Paige was utterly delightful.
Swoosie Kurtz and Brían F. O'Byrne in Frozen: Riveting.
Brian D'Arcy James and Emily Skinner in Pardon My English: Charming turns by two top-notch singing actors in the Encores! presentation of a nearly forgotten Gershwin musical.
Barbara Cook in Barbara Cook's Broadway: Here's hoping that the death of Cook's longtime professional partner, Wally Harper, will not result in a major diminution in quantity of this living legend's live performances.
René Auberjonois, Bob Dishy, Peter Scolari, and Professor Irwin Corey in Sly Fox: Hilarious.
Frank Langella in Match: Stephen Belber's play is ridiculously contrived and totally implausible, but Langella was delicious as a flamboyant choreographer confronted by an angry young man who may or may not be his son.
Corey Stoll in Intimate Apparel: Viola Davis got the lion's share of the critics' kudos for her work in this play by Lynn Nottage, but I personally found her portrayal of early-20th-century seamstress Esther Mills to be overwrought. However, Stoll gave a lovely, gentle performance as Mr. Marks, the Orthodox Jew from whom Esther often buys fabrics.
Martin Moran in The Tricky Part: One of the most satisfying and certainly the most moving of the one-person shows seen in NYC this year.
Omar Metwally in Sixteen Wounded: Another one of those cases in which a talented actor managed to shine in a fourth-rate play.
The entire cast of Bare: A Pop Opera: Following a limited engagement at the American Theatre of Actors, Bare was supposed to move to the new Dodger Stages complex for an open-ended run. The fact that the transfer was canceled at the last minute, leaving the company high and dry, was one of the worst things to happen on the New York theater scene in 2004.
The entire cast of Assassins: A clutch of incisive performances sparked the Roundabout production of this challenging Stephen Sondheim-John Weidman musical about people who killed (or tried to kill) U.S. presidents.
The entire cast of A Raisin in the Sun: Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald won Tony Awards for their work in this revival, but the entire company was special. And except for his one big emotional breakdown scene, Sean Combs was praiseworthy in his Broadway debut.
The entire cast of Caroline, or Change: Tonya Pinkins, Anika Noni Rose, and Veanne Cox were especially fabulous.
Michael Hunsaker and Anne Gaynor in Merrily We Roll Along: Sheer excellence in a gem-like production of this Sondheim musical by the Gallery Players of Brooklyn.
Laura Linney, Ben Shenkman, and Byron Jennings in Sight Unseen: Linney was terrific, as usual. So was Shenkman, although he unaccountably received some iffy reviews. And, in the role of Linney's husband, Jennings gave one of the most skillful performances I've ever seen.
Stephanie Kurtzuba and Todd Alan Johnson in Newsical: Some of the funniest stuff seen on stage this year. In particular, I'll never forget Johnson's turn as a straight man doing a public service announcement for gay marriage.
The entire cast of Twelve Angry Men: Scott Ellis is by no means regarded as one of the theater's finest directors, nor can the Roundabout Theatre Company always be counted on for worthy presentation of classic material. But, for whatever reasons, the ensemble work in this production of Reginald Rose's jury room drama is exemplary.
Keith Nobbs and Chris Hutchison in The Hasty Heart: Two poignant characterizations in the Keen Company production of John Patrick's play set in a British Army hospital in Southeast Asia during World War II.
Jeremy Webb in The Baltimore Waltz: Webb was hilarious as a succession of off-the-wall characters in the Signature Theatre Company revival of Paula Vogel's funny, touching AIDS play.
Jason Biggs and Jenn Harris in Modern Orthodox: Harris was rightfully singled out for her one-scene triumph in this piece of fluff by Daniel Goldfarb, but let's not overlook the efforts of Biggs, a movie star who has proven to have serious chops as a comic stage actor.
Phylicia Rashad in Gem of the Ocean: The ensemble work in this beautiful play by August Wilson is superb, and everything you've heard about Rashad's performance is true. Let's just hope that, if she wins another Tony Award, Rashad won't reprise the weird Olivia DeHavilland imitation she did in her acceptance speech for A Raisin in the Sun last June.
Dallas Roberts in A Number: For my taste, Sam Shepard is rather too low-key and internal in this two-hander by Caryl Churchill, but Roberts is terrific in multiple roles. (Shepard is leaving the production on January 16, to be replaced by Arliss Howard.)
The entire cast of Fat Pig: It's hard to sit through Neil LaBute's play because there's so much cruelty and insecurity going on among the characters, but you must see it anyway. In the title role, Ashlie Atkinson shines in the company of her far more famous fellow cast members: Jeremy Piven, Andrew McCarthy, and Keri Russell. (Note that Steven Pasquale and Jessica Capshaw will be taking over for Piven and Russell on January 5 and 17, respectively.)