It was the kind of year when the audience gave a standing ovation for a regular line in the script of a play one particular night, because of a Supreme Court decision announced during that day — evidence that you rarely know when a moment on stage will wind up being memorable. Below are a sample of those theatrical moments I found memorable in 2022, not all of them strictly speaking on New York stages (and one of them not in New York City at all, except in spirit.)
Click on any photograph below to see it enlarged and to read the extensive caption that explains each moment. In most cases, the precise moment is not represented in the photograph; I chose something close. (For those who are reading this on a device that doesn’t allow you to click on the photographs to get the captions, I reprint them below.).
Little Amal, a ten-year-old Syrian refugee and a 12-foot-tall puppet, has traveled 6,000 miles since July 2021, before she arrive in New York City in September for 55 free outdoor events over 17 days, turning a remarkable number of streets and parks and plazas into impromptu New York stages — even Times Square. But the most memorable moment occurred on the first day, in Queens, when Little Amal reached out and touched a little girl.
I turned on my computer, and there was “Clyde’s”” streaming live from the stage of Broadway’s Hayes Theater!
In the musical number “Marian The Librarian,” from The Music Man, the huge ensemble doesn’t just tap dance; they throw around books to one another with acrobatic daring and precision; not an activity of which a librarian can approve, but it’s thrilling.
Amelia Anisovych singing “Let-It-Go” from Frozen in a Kyiv bomb shelter
When in “The Skin of Our Teeth,” the dinosaur slinks into the Antrobus household at the start of the Ice Age and whimpers “It’s cold,” your heart melts. There’s also an uncanny moment, when Gabby Beans as the maid says: “I took this hateful job because I had to. For two years I’ve sat up in my room living on a sandwich and a cup of tea a day, waiting for the theater to return to what it used to be.” This is in the original script of Thornton Wilder’s 1942 play, but had startling resonance on a Broadway that recently returned after almost two years of our sitting up in our rooms.
Sometimes what is happening in the world outside affects reaction to what occurs on stage. That’s what happened in the play “POTUS” nn the night after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade. Julianne Hough portrayed Dusty, who has just announced she is pregnant with the president’s baby. The press secretary (and everybody else) believes she is both a bimbo and dolt, and assumes she wouldn’t even know what an abortion clinic is. I volunteer at a clinic back in Iowa. Affordable, safe reproductive health care is a basic human right.” It was the regular line in the play, unaltered. The audience gave it a thunderous standing ovation that went on for more than a minute. Hough later remarked: “It felt like we had done group therapy with the entire audience.”
In “Circle Jerk,” the Troll, in a bright blue shock wig and a dirt-smeared body suit, prances within feet of my face, to welcome me — a sharp contrast to the first time we met, which was online some two years earlier, when this same show was a digital theater piece that became a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
In “Sesame Street the musical,” the most moving moment happened above the stage, and in front of it. While Ernie sang to his rubber duckie, suddenly little soap bubbles cascaded from the ceiling in great clusters onto our heads. A theatergoer sitting next to me was really entranced by those bubbles. He was a year old, in his father’s lap — and for him this was the show, his introduction to the magic of theater.
In “Cost of Living,” Ani ( Katy Sullivan), a foul – mouthed girl from Jersey who became disabled after a truck accident, has finally let her estranged husband Eddie (David Zayas) back into her life to take care of her. He gives her a bath, and decides to serenade her with a piano concerto. There is no piano in the bathroom, and Eddie never learned to play anyway, much as he wanted to. But he takes his wife’s paralyzed arm from the water, drapes it on the bathtub’s edge and plays her like a piano, synchronized with the radio broadcast.
The opening moments in the musical number “Amerika” from KPOP – sporadic drum beat, a machine gun burst, a sound like a siren, then a beep straight out of “Law and Order” over the jerky robotic movement of the members of the boyband F8 (pronounced Fate), which leads into rhythmic first verse: “F8 for the nation/feel the vibration/march hand to hand to a new destination.” — a quick and visceral demonstration of why Kpop has so many fans.
Lorna Courtney as Juliet rising up from beneath the stage in her balcony (get it?) “& Juliet” has several characters rise up spectacularly (or at least glitzily) from beneath the stage, but the most memorable moment to me is a surprise Romeo descending majestically (or at least hiply) from the sky.
In the opening scene of “Leopoldstadt,” it is 1900 in Vienna, and the children are decorating a Christmas tree, when young Jacob, mistakenly puts a Star of David atop the tree — which is a humorous way of getting at the awkward place this Jewish family holds in Austria’s primarily Christian (and antisemitic) society.
There are so many magical stage moments that involve the sudden opening up of the set, in a stunning way, usually at the very end. That happened here, in “A Christmas Carol” with Jefferson Mays. It was also in “A Case for the Existence of God,” and, more shocking than stunning, in Robert O’Hara’s production of “A Raisin in the Sun.” Often, I feel restrained from talking about these moments, because they are meant to be a surprise — but also maybe because there’s something that feels sacred about them.