If life were only moments

In which I get emotional reflecting on the times theater made me emotional.

I have enough anxiety about putting together a year-end ranking that the thought of compiling a “best of the decade” list sends me into an actual spiral. And yet, when I saw a tweet about favorite theater moments of the 2010s, I couldn’t help but want to participate. I was going to do an embarrassingly long thread on Twitter, but then I remembered that I have this newsletter and I can easily just ramble here.

Here are my moments, with some caveats. First, I didn’t live in New York until 2015, so my most memorable theater moments are from the second half of the decade. Second, these are NOT IN ANY PARTICULAR ORDER. Third, I’m leaving approximately 600 things out. I’m restricted by my memory and my ability to refer back to things I’ve written about, and as soon as I send this newsletter, all of the moments that slipped my mind are going to come flooding back. This is the best I can do. Please don’t yell at me.

Adrienne Warren letting loose in Tina - The Tina Turner Musical. Are you fucking kidding me? Is Adrienne Warren real? Even with the hype surrounding her performance and “River Deep - Mountain High” in particular, I was unprepared for the full-body chills I would experience when she let out that scream. I will never be over it.

Bernadette Peters inventing stairs in Hello, Dolly! Bernadette Peters was my Broadway diva of choice growing up, and while I’ve moved on to other leading ladies since then, she will always have a special place in my heart. Watching her descend the stairs at the Harmonia Gardens was nothing short of life-changing for me.

Patrick Vaill crying one perfect single tear in Oklahoma! Yes, this Oklahoma! fucks, but now that I’ve seen the Broadway revival [redacted] times, I have to say that the moment that sticks with me the most is Patrick Vaill’s single tear in “Pore Jud Is Daid.” It doesn’t always happen! And this homoerotic, oddly moving scene still my favorite moment in the show when it doesn’t! But lord, when it does.

Christian Borle and Andrew Rannells breaking in Falsettos. One of the few shows I saw more than I’ve seen Oklahoma!, Falsettos broke me over and over again. The song “What Would I Do?” has never not reduced me to a sobbing husk of a man, and I discovered something heartbreaking on repeat visits — it destroyed Christian Borle and Andrew Rannells, too. And the longer the show went on, the more they cried. By the end, Borle could barely make it through “we’re just gonna skip that stage,” a line I can’t even type without getting choked up.

Heidi Schreck needing a moment in What the Constitution Means to Me. Is anyone surprised that so many of my most memorable theater moments of the decade involve tears? That is rhetorical. I saw What the Constitution Means to Me several times, and the play as a whole is one of my all-time favorite theater moments. But there was something especially powerful about those times Heidi Schreck needed to take a moment to breathe and cry and sit with the tremendous weight of her material. Truly gutting.

Closing night of Head Over Heels. Fuck it, we’re just gonna keep talking about crying. Closing night of Head Over Heels is one of my favorite theater crying experiences ever. Once Peppermint broke, I was inconsolable. That show was the radical, inclusive, queer vision we need on Broadway, and it deserved better than it got. We were so lucky to have it.

The fourth wall breaking in Fairview. I still try not to give away the ending of Fairview, because it’s a play I know will be performed for decades to come, and I don’t want to ruin the moment for those who weren’t lucky enough to see it here. The ending is a theatrical feat, a profoundly affecting and deliberately disquieting experience that forced me to think hard about the space I take up as a white theatergoer, and the kind of art that I want to support.

Sydney Lucas singing “Ring of Keys” in Fun Home. Also, “Telephone Wire.” Also, “Changing My Major.” Also, “Flying Away” and how I lost it every time at “Put your feet here like this, Daddy do what I say.” (I’m crying again.) Also, just Fun Home in general.

The last five minutes of The Ferryman. I feel like this is kind of “basic,” because it’s an obvious choice, and also I don’t know that The Ferryman has aged well for some people, but listen, my heart stopped when all that shit went down, and it was a pretty staggering reminder of how terrifying theater can be. Speaking of which…

The door closing in The Humans. I thought I was going to pass out. The end of that play — I can’t even tell you. I love everything about it, but the way it got under my skin and made me want to flee the theater in those final minutes… it makes me itchy remembering it. But like, itchy in a good way.

The cast of The Band’s Visit singing “Answer Me.” Anyway, so back to crying! What’s so remarkable about “Answer Me” is the way it catches you off-guard. The first time I saw The Band’s Visit, I didn’t know what to expect, and while I enjoyed it, I didn’t realize how hard it was hitting me until “Answer Me” happened and I found myself sobbing. The next time I saw The Band’s Visit, I wept quietly throughout. Friends, I have a lot of feelings.

The reveal in Slave Play. I’m pretty sure it’s been spoiled to death at this point, but on the off chance someone doesn’t know and wants to go into Slave Play blind — which you absolutely should! — I will just say that this moment knocked the wind out of me. You ever feel like you’re gasping and exhaling at the same time? That.

Natalie Walker and Bonnie Milligan dueting on “Let Me Be Your Star.” Yes, they’re my friends. Yes, I’m biased. That doesn’t mean that their duet of “Let Me Be Your Star” isn’t one of the greatest theatrical moments of the decade. Don’t be difficult. Just think about how it made you feel. Until we get the long-awaited production of Bombshell on Broadway — they can absolutely both play Marilyn — this remains the definitive performance of the song. I have never leapt to my feet faster.

Jai'len Josey belting in SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical. The first time I heard Jai’len Josey sing, my soul left my body. (It has yet to return.) Her voice is… unreal. It is almost too much for me. Like, Stendhal syndrome vibes. I need her to star in a musical so she can destroy me for good.

Photo via Manuel Harlan.