8 Performances That Make Me Wish Time Travel Was Possible
The best theatre is live theatre. No matter what genre the performance is, there’s something special about breathing the same air as the performers who are making something that can only be fully enjoyed in that moment. The one downside to that is that there’s no way to be at every show in history, even the ones that make history. YouTube has been a gift in that people like me can scavenge the internet and try to find and enjoy these older performances. It’s the closest I can get to time travel, and if I could, here are eight performances that I would love to experience:
1. The original cast of Gypsy
Here she is, boys, here’s Mama Rose! In a performance that changed the game for actresses, Ethel Merman’s portrayal of Mama Rose was raw and groundbreaking. Gypsy itself is often considered one of the greatest American musicals; just imagine being in the audience for its first few performances. I don’t know if I could handle Merman’s dominating performance, but that’s what makes it so special. It’s a trailblazing role that Merman shaped and would be conquered by hundreds of strong women for years to come.
2. The original cast of A Chorus Line
A Chorus Line was one of the first musicals I looked up on YouTube, and I’ll never forget watching the 1976 Tony Awards performance. The pure joy from cast as they form their kick line resonates through the computer screen. It’s obvious that everyone involved knew they had created something special, and that excitement must have been electrifying in person. A Chorus Line was another groundbreaking show for its controversial book while combining catchy songs and show-stopping dance numbers.
3. Opening night of The Lion King
Yes, it’s still playing on Broadway, and yes, I will still leap at the chance to see this blockbuster musical. I even saw it two years ago and was just as gleeful and amazed as the six-year-old sitting next to me. Clearly, Julie Taymor is doing something right, as her show has been running for the last 17 years, but I wonder what it was like when they were first previewing and opening the show. The puppetry was so unique at the time yet such an innovative way to tell this beloved Disney story. I can only imagine that the joy and amazement was just as prevalent and heightened.
4. The original production of HAIR
I had the pleasure of seeing the 2009 revival of this rock classic, and that show blew my mind. From getting to dance on stage with the cast at curtain call to the show’s direction of connecting the social issues of 2009 to the book originally written 40 years back, the revival was something special. But when the show first opened, it was truly revolutionary. At a heightened time of crisis, the show was the perfect bridge for the older, Golden Age musicals to the new wave of contemporary rock musicals. Its cultural impact is still prevalent today, so much so that I even wrote a research paper on it. It must have been exciting and even a bit scary to first see this show in 1969.
5. Jennifer Holliday in Dreamgirls
Have you seen the 1982 Tony Awards Performance of Jennifer Holliday giving everything she had in “And I Am Telling You”? If not, do yourself a favor and watch it because it is mind-blowing. Every night Holliday and her fellow Dreamettes, played by Sheryl Lee Ralph and Loretta Devine, led a strong cast in sharing a powerful story of African-American women in the entertainment industry. The raw pain and honesty, especially in Holliday’s performance, is something that must be incredibly powerful when experienced in person.
6. Urinetown on Broadway
The timing of this show’s opening could not have been worse: it was set to open on September 13, 2001. Following September 11, all of Broadway went dark for two days. Many shows scheduled to open decided not to, but Urinetown opened on September 20. In a time when everything felt strange and scary, people turned to this show for some sense of normalcy. This united effort and strength of both the audiences and the cast and crew made the show even stronger.
7. Dogfight off-Broadway
While this show only premiered three years ago, I missed the Off-Broadway production that was so widely praised. As the New York debut of songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Dogfight is the adaptation of a 1991 film of the same name set in 1963. Despite the older setting, Pasek and Paul’s music is modern and fresh. The show and Lindsay Mendez’s performance as Rose are still widely praised, and I wish I could have been there for the show’s New York debut.
8. Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 at Kazino
It’s another modern show that I would have loved to have been at the opening. Like Dogfight, Natasha, Pierre… tackles a dated story but gives it life with its contemporary score. It’s based on a section of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace which is a behemoth of a story to tackle. It almost makes sense that its creator Dave Malloy incorporated folk, ballads, and electronic dance music to tell this story. Another great reason to go back to its original production in 2013: it was produced in Kazino, a Russian style night club, making it completely immersive for the audience.
While time travel is impossible and I can only dream of seeing these performances live, I do have YouTube, and I can look forward to future performances from contemporary creators. What are some past performances that you would love to go back and see?
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