2015 was such a big year in theater that recapping it in one post proved to be an impossible task. Tony Award triumphs and disasters, history-making moments, a myriad of new shows, it was all too much for a single blog post. However, after breaking down the low points of 2015 and some under-rated gems, I get to the fun part. Now, I get to talk about my favorite moments of 2015, and there were quite a few. So many, in fact, that I (again) need to split up this list to do them all justice. Read on for Part 1 of my favorite theatre moments of 2015.
Kyle Jean-Baptiste Becomes the First Black (And The Youngest) Jean Valjean in Les Miserables on Broadway
Kyle Jean-Baptiste made history in 2015 as the first black actor to play Jean Valjean in Les Miserables on Broadway.
This was a moment that was way overdue. The original Broadway run went from 1987 thru 2003, sixteen years. The first Broadway revival ran from 2006 to 2008, two more years. Baptiste was part of the show’s second Broadway revival, and when he went on as Valjean for the first time, it was 28 years after the show originally opened on Broadway. It is especially surprising considering principal characters have been played by people of color, such as Norm Lewis as Javert and Lea Salonga as Eponine (and later, Fantine).
Why did it take so long for a black actor to play Jean Valjean on Broadway? I don’t know, but Baptiste played the part beautifully and proved himself as an up-and-coming talent. His death only a month later is one of the biggest losses to New York City theatre in 2015, but his memory will live on in his work and thru the Les Miz audiences who were fortunate enough to hear him sing.
Sara Bareilles’ What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress
Previews don’t start for Waitress at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre until March 25, but show composer Sara Bareilles gave a sneak peek to everyone who didn’t see the ART production with her album What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress. I got the album for Christmas, and it quickly became my most listened to album of 2015, up there with Hamilton.
What’s Inside is a work in progress and many of the songs will change before Waitress opens on Broadway, but it’s really great as a stand-alone album too. I’m familiar with the original film, so I have a good idea of where the songs fall in the story, but even without context, songs like “You Matter To Me” and “She Used To Be Mine” are beautiful and poignant on their own.
Who knew that a hashtag combining a Broadway musical and NBC’s most under-appreciated comedy would lead to internet gold? #ParksAndHam, a mash-up of Hamilton lyrics with scenes and characters from Parks and Recreation, took Twitter by storm.
In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense that they would mesh well together. Both Leslie Knope and Alexander Hamilton have ambition and an insane work ethic. They are also highly principled people whose strong opinions and unflinching morals tend to put them at odds with their peers. Sometimes, their ethics hold them back in their political careers, Hamilton in his inability to compromise and Leslie’s kindness and honesty. Plus, they have a tendency to surround themselves with eccentric friends (Hercules Mulligan, Tom Haverford) and good people who fundamentally disagree with them but respect them (Aaron Burr, Ron Swanson).
For fans of both Parks and Recreation and Hamilton, like myself, #ParksAndHam was like a Twitter Reese’s cup. Chocolate and peanut butter, Knope and Hamilton, mixed together to make something new and awesome.
Broadway Sings P!nk
Speaking of combining two things I love, Broadway Sings kicked off 2015 by taking on one of my all-time favorite pop-rock stars, P!nk. P!nk has six albums under her belt, 79 songs not counting her collaborations on tracks like “Lady Marmalade,” so they had plenty to choose from. Her flare for the theatrical and her autobiographical lyrics about body image, spurned love, and being a “dirty little freak” also made her a natural choice for Broadway performers to cover.
The line-up of singers included Lena Hall (“Sober”), Ciara Renee (“Glitter in the Air”), Natalie Weiss (“Dear Mr. President”), Melvin Tunstall (“Who Knew”), and more. Some of the covers were fairly straightforward with only minor changes from P!nk’s original recordings, but the best performances of the night came from performers who put their own unique spin on the songs. Christine Dwyer put a retro spin on “So What,” and Lesli Margherita’s brassy big-band reimagining of “U and Ur Hand” brought down the house.