10 of Our Favorite Theater Things in 2013

From the big stage to the small screen, great scenes to great songs, standout performances to standout performers, here's our collection of the best of what theater had to offer in 2013.

10. Andrew Rannells, Megan Hilty and Laura Benanti Steal the Show at the Tonys
The 67th Annual Tony Awards had so many memorable moments, it was hard to pick just one. Neil Patrick Harris returned as host for the fourth time, and the show returned to Radio City Music Hall -- both of which were on full display in the exceptional “It’s Bigger” opening number. Jane Lynch shocked us all with her brilliant take on “Annie”-villainess Miss Hannigan in “Little Girls.” And Audra McDonald ended the show with a killer mic drop. But it was Andrew Rannells, Megan Hilty and Laura Benanti’s “TV vs. Theater” mid-show number that had us rewinding our DVRs. Can we get these three in a musical -- or series -- soon?

9. “Broadway Idiot”
On the surface, “Broadway Idiot” appears to be a documentary film about transforming Green Day’s “American Idiot” album into a stage musical. It’s really a film about transforming Green Day’s lead singer Billy Joe Armstrong from rock star to theater kid. We see his punk rock eyes exposed to a world filled with possibility, experimentation, creativity and love. And while the documentary could have used the “American Idiot” experience to address the “business” in “show business” that often impedes on art (low ticket sales, stunt casting, closing notices, etc.), the picture the film paints is nonetheless inspiring. As Armstrong says in one scene, “We were able to create a dialogue I’ve been waiting to have my entire life. And it didn’t happen in rock ‘n’ roll music. It happened in theater.” Anyone else crying?

8. Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole on “American Horror Story: Coven”
Ryan Murphy has always made a habit of casting Broadway’s best divas in his shows (Lea Michele, Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth in “Glee,” for example). But the writer/producer truly outdid himself when casting his third installment of the “American Horror Story” franchise. Not only were Broadway vets like Lily Rabe, Frances Conroy, Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange on display as always, but Murphy also added two of our favorite leading ladies to the mix: Christine Ebersole and Patti LuPone. Ebersole scored as supreme Anna-Lee Leighton, while Patti LuPone served up religious zealot realness (with a side of a psychosis) as Joan Ramsey, a mother who gets a little too close to her son. Keep casting our divas, Murphy!

7. Jeremy Jordan singing “Giants in the Sky” in “A Bed and a Chair”
We’ve heard roughly 2,536 different renditions of “Giants in the Sky” from “Into the Woods.” Needless to say, we’re a little bored by the Sondheim’s staple. But when Jeremy Jordan starting singing those first few lines in “A Bed and a Chair: A New York Love Affair,” we knew something was different. Jordan’s crisp, clear voice and natural smooth tone gave a warmth and, dare we say it, sexiness to the song that’s never been there before. And while we could have done without the projections of NYC skyscrapers going on behind him (GET IT? GIANTS! IN THE SKY!), Jordan’s delivery had us hanging on every note.

6. Patti Murin, Colin Donnell and all of “Love’s Labour’s Lost”
It was a big year for Shakespeare, both on and off Broadway, with The Bard’s work appearing in nearly 10 notable productions (see “Twelfth Night,” “Richard III,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Macbeth,” another “Romeo and Juliet,” another “Macbeth,” etc.). But it was The Public Theater’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” that rose above them all -- not for being the most quality production of the bunch, but for being the most fun. Michael Friedman’s contemporary score and Alex Timber’s smart, witty book made for an evening of consistent laughs and delightful moments. And while the whole cast was stellar, it was Patti Murin and Colin Donnell who stole our hearts. Both could have so easily let their characters fall into “rich blonde girl” and “handsome everyman” archetypes, but didn’t by integrating beats of self-awareness and silliness into their performances. Was “Love’s Labour’s Lost” a perfect show? No. But it’s the only Shakespeare production this season we wish we could go back and see a few more times.

5. Michael Urie in “Buyer &Cellar“
You don’t have to be a Barbra Streisand fan to fall in love with “Buyer &Cellar.” Jonathan Tolins’s imaginative story about a guy who’s hired to work in Streisand’s underground mall is filled with so many warm, wonderful, witty moments, it’s impossible not to adore. But while much of the humor is written into the script, it’s star Michael Urie who gives the material in the one-man-show its heart. The actor, known to many from his days on “Ugly Betty,” has that charismatic charm and playful versatility that makes you want to go along this fictitious, fantastical ride. Hands down our favorite play of 2013, run to see Urie in “Buyer & Cellar” at the Barrow Street Theatre before it closes April 13.

4. Kristine Nielsen’s phone call in “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”
There’s a moment in Christopher Durang’s Tony-winning play “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” where the sullen spinster Sonia (Kristine Nielsen) receives a phone call from a man she met at a party, requesting a date. We the audience get the feeling it’s the first date Sonia’s been asked on in her entire life, and how she handles that moment can only be described as a moment of pure theatrical perfection. Nielsen masterfully took us through Sonia’s hopes, desires, fears and insecurities in that phone call, giving the outrageous comedy a rare moment of sincerity and tenderness. Bravo, Kristine.

3. Pippin’s “No Time at All” Sing-a-long
When it came time to make the original cast recording for the hit revival of “Pippin,” someone got the bright idea to invite 600 fans together to sing-along with Andrea Martin on the choruses of her show-stopping number “No Time at All.” Whoever had that idea deserves the biggest raise of all time, because what transpired in a small church on the Upper West Side that May afternoon was pure magic. The energy in the room was palpable. The crowd sang together as if they had always had. Andrea Martin provided consistent laughs between takes. Heck, “Pippin” composer Stephen Schwartz even wrote new harmonies on the spot. What’s best, the final track on the cast recording sounds just as good as it did live.

2. Laura Benanti
Years from now, when we look back at the history books, 2013 will be known as the” Year of Laura Benanti.” After all, it was this year that Queen Benanti (as she’s often referred to by us), rose like a phoenix from the ashes of a failed sitcom (R.I.P. “Go On”), to become the true household name we all knew she could be. How did she do it? By turning in consistently strong work and letting her inner sass run wild. We gushed over her in “The Sound of Music Live” (#TeamElsa). We listened to her excellent album, “In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention,” on repeat for days. And we read her twitter feed with the kind of excitement teen girls reserve for Justin Bieber. Congratulations, Benanti, on a killer year.

1. “Ring of Keys” in “Fun Home”
There are moments in Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s “Fun Home” where you’ll find yourself stepping back and wondering, “Did I really just see that depicted on stage?” These aren’t moments created out of a desire to shock. There’s no blood, gore, graphic violence or anything else that might normally give you that “OMG” feeling. Instead, you’re stopped in your tracks by these nuggets of truth in the human experience you’ve never even considered. In the case of the song “Ring of Keys,” it's that moment when an inordinately sophisticated 8-year-old has an unanticipated moment of sexual awareness after spotting a short-haired delivery woman at her local diner. Kudos to Sydney Lucas for delivering “Ring of Keys” with such innocence and wonder, to Kron and Tesori for writing that revelatory scene and to The Public Theater for extending “Fun Home” so many times so more and more people could experience it.

Honorable mentions
22 million people tune into “The Sound of Music Live.” Rachel Bay Jones made us finally like Catherine in “Pippin.” The bromance between Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart. The Shia LeBeouf vs. Alex Baldwin vs. Ben Brantley fights that plagued “Orphans.” “Hit List” at 54 Below.

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