Friday, August 30, 2013

Luke's Top Ten: Broadway Breakdowns

We've all seen it.  At the beginning of the show the character is happy and enjoying their life...but we know it's just a matter of time before the screws in their head start to loosen.  Sure enough, by the time the curtain falls, they've had a full on Broadway Breakdown!  Sometimes they're sung, sometimes they're spoken, but they're always powerful.  Personally, the breakdown is my favorite part of almost every show!  I love it whenever there is energy, and there's no volcano of energy as cataclysmic as the Broadway Breakdown.  So, without further ado here's my list of my top 10 Broadway (and Off-Broadway) breakdowns:

#10 - Nessa Rose [Wicked]
In most shows, the lead gets the best breakdown (in this case the lead breakdown would probably be "No Good Deed").  However, occasionally a supporting actor/actress gets to be "the crazy one" and blows the audience away with their insanity instead.  That is the case in Wicked.  Out of all of the songs in Wicked, by far the most underrated (it didn't even make the album) is "Wicked Witch of the East".  It's such an epic song and it features Boq (my favorite character in the show) and it really gives Nessa Rose a chance to shine.  Now, there used to be a wonderful video of the West End cast (including two of my favorite British performers, Kerry Ellis and James Gillan), but for some reason it was tragically taken down.  So unfortunately I'll just have to give you this video which is audio only (I think the Australian cast), and you'll just have to kind of imagine what happens.  But if you ever get a chance to see this show live, be waiting for this song, and for Nessa's EPIC breakdown that gives her the position of #10 on this list.

#9 - Mr. Andrews [Titanic]
This was one of the first songs of Titanic that I ever became obsessed with.  It's the last scene of the show that takes place on the boat (the Finale is sung by the few survivors) and it depicts the actual sinking.  The song is sung by Mr. Andrews, the architect who designed the Titanic, as he realizes that the sinking could've been avoided if he had simply made a small modification to the design.  He realizes that this one mistake has killed thousands.  Going even further, he begins to lyrically depict the horrific way they'll die in detail.  I wish there was a good quality video of this produced live, because I've seen groups who, while this song is going on, have the passengers upstage screaming and crying out as they and their loved ones fall into the icy water.  It's really an epic moment!  But what gets me most is Mr. Andrews.  He's so intense!  Even though he doesn't necessarily "freak out," he has a calm, reserved breakdown, which makes it all the more chilling!

#8 - Carrie [Carrie]
Now, for those of you who don't know, Carrie is widely known as one of Broadway's biggest flops.  It ran for 5 performances and was called "the most expensive Broadway quickflop in history."  As it happens, one of the reasons the show failed was because a lot of people were not impressed with the way that Carrie's final breakdown was staged.  Personally, I've never seen the staging, but I know that the song is epic!  It's actually hard to choose one in this show, because Carrie and her mother  each have at least 4-5 breakdowns before the bloodied curtain falls on this show.  You could probably make a song-cycle entitled "Songs of a Crazy Lady" and the majority of this soundtrack would fit in there.  For those of you who don't know the story, it's about a girl named Carrie who has super natural telekinetic powers (like Matilda in Matilda).  Unfortunately she is bullied for being a freak and lives with a crazy "religious" mother (the kind that literally beats her daughter with a bible and is certain that every boy Carrie talks to is sent from hell).  *SPOILER* The show is mostly about her tortured life, but then climaxes at the prom when, as soon as she begins enjoying herself and even begins to be accepted by the others, a bully's cruel prank brings her to her breakdown.  In retaliation, Carrie reacts the same way any psychologically unstable, telekinetic, scorned teen would: She destroys the school and kills everyone at the prom.  Now, while I don't condone Carries actions, I do appreciate that she at least made an epic song about it! And it's that kind of flare in execution that lands her at the #8 spot on my Broadway Breakdown list!  (*NOTE* This song is mostly comprised of short reprises, so if you want to get the most out of it, you kind of need to listen to the rest of the soundtrack which, I should warn you, contains a good bit of foul language (this song is clean though) ).

 #7 - Diana [Next To Normal]
Like with Carrie, this whole show is kind of centered around Diana's 2 1/2 hour breakdown.  Sure there are moments when she can keep it together, but, to be perfectly honest, she begins the show crazy and ends it even more so.  Of course, even though she has several breakdowns throughout the show (and her family gets a couple of doozies too), I don't think any of them can compare to the tantrum she throws in "You Don't Know."  In this song, Diana, having just thrown a birthday party for her son that's been dead for 18 years (but she is still under the delusion that he's alive), confronts her husband and defends her crazy actions.  In this song we get a peek into what it's like to live as a crazy woman, and that plus the pained, crazed expression on Diana's face would earn it a spot on this list.  The fact that it's an epic song sung to perfection by Alice Ripley is just the icing on the cake!  (*NOTE* Because I want you to be able to see this performance I'm going to post N2N's Tony performance which included this song and another.  I would highly recommend watching them both, but the second one does have some language, so if you want to avoid that, stop the video as soon as the guy starts singing).


 #6 - Maria [West Side Story]
This is the first (but not only) breakdown of our list that actually does not take place during a song.  In fact, this moment (which I consider to be the best in West Side Story) is not musicalized at all, but it is a hauntingly intense finale.  When I watched the movie for the first time (alone in my basement, like any good musical fanatic with no friends) I couldn't move after it ended.  I stared at the TV, watching the credits scroll by, numbed by the intensity of the drama.  In fact, even though some people don't like the fact that Maria (the character paralleling Juliet) lives when Juliet dies, I think this ending is so much more intense and makes the show all the more tragic.  Plus, I think it sets a good precedent for people in the future.  If ever you're wondering how to end a show, I think giving a crazy suicidal lady a gun is a wonderful ending!  So now, feast your eyes on #6: Maria's breakdown (*NOTE* I had to use the movie because it was the best quality I could find, but it's pretty darn good).

 #5 - Andy [Glory Days]
Although it doesn't have the fame of Carrie (largely because it wasn't near as expensive to mount), Glory Days was an even bigger flop.  It played exactly 1 performance on Broadway (the cast came home from the Opening night Party to be told that the show was closed).  I find this terribly sad because, while the show was no Les Miz, I thought that it had some great songs, some talented actors, and a relevant message.  The show takes place on a high school football field where four best friends from high school have convenient for a make-shift reunion after their first year of college.  Although all four boys start the show in high spirits, tempers start flying when they realize that they're not all the way they used to be.  Long story short, things get said that shouldn't have been said and people get hurt.  This song is sung by Andy (the most hot-tempered of the bunch) who finally erupts because he feels like nobody's listening to him.  It's big, it's epic, it's filled with passion, and it ends with pretty much everybody storming out, like any good breakdown should! (*NOTE* This song does have some fairly extreme language.  I do NOT recommend it for innocent ears).

#4 - Henry Jekyll [Jekyll & Hyde]
Like several other members of this list, poor Dr. Jekyll's breakdown is pretty much spans the entire show.  From his first breakdown (Board of Governors) to his last (Finale), the good doctor's wits seem to desert him as he descends into a fit of emotion.  In fact, his several breakdowns prompt just about every other character in the show to have a breakdown of their own (a few of whom have gruesomely literal breakdowns).  This particular song has spent a long time on my "favorite song ever" and it has the prestige of being Dr. Jekyll's second to last breakdown.  In it we see a man who is...conflicted at best.  Now some have you might have been exposed to David Hasselhoff's version of this song....I pity you.  I am pleased to present you with my favorite man to play Jekyll/Hyde: the Georgia native Rob Evan. Despite my disapproval for the unnecessary shirt tearing, this is a really solid performance of an epic breakdown!  After watching, you'll see why this was amazing enough to land Henry Jekyll comfortably in #4. (*NOTE* This song does contain some brief, fairly strong language.  You have been warned)

#3 - Sam Byke [Assassins]
Assassins is really a nice compilation of tons of good breakdowns.  If you ever feel like listening to The Ballad of Booth, I am a Terrifying and Imposing Figure, or How I Saved Roosevelt, you would see plenty of fantastic breakdowns!  However, none of them can rival that of old Sammy Byke.  I love this monologue so much!  I have literally sat in my basement and performed it to nobody several times, and I would've used it for an audition piece had not a friend of mine snagged it first (and, let it be noted, that he got the lead role that year).  As for the history behind the piece, Sam Byke was a fairly disturbed man for a long time, but it all erupted while he was driving to the airport.  Why was he going to the airport you ask?  Well, his plan was to hijack the plane, and drive it straight into the white house to kill president Richard Nixon, who he blamed for his losing his job (of course, he was overly paranoid, so once he got on the plane, he shot and killed both of the pilots and, since he couldn't fly himself, never got off the tarmac).  Since he knew that he would be killed in the crash, he needed a way to tell the world his motives behind this assassination.  So Sammy decided to use a cassette recorder to record a message that he wanted to tell President Richard "Dick" Nixon.  Lucky for us, during this message, Sam has one of the best Breakdowns ever to grace the Great White Way.  His tantrum tragically cost several innocent lives, but it did earn him a spot in a musical, and the number #3 spot on this list.  (*NOTE* This Monologue has a good deal of VERY strong language.  It is most certainly not suitable for innocent ears).

#2 - The Leading Player [Pippin]
Like in Sam and Maria The Leading Player does not need a song for his breakdown (which makes it a fun audition monologue, and one that I've used before).  Like most monologues that take place at the end of the show (and this is VERY close to the end of the show), it is really best appreciated after you've seen the rest of the show.  But for those of you who don't have that kind of time, all you really need to know is that the Leading Player has spent the whole show manipulating Pippin and this breakdown is what happens when Pippin suddenly rebels.  Now, the actor who is most associated with this role is certainly Ben Vereen (While Patina Miller is awesome, nobody just can't top this guy) who many might know for another major breakdown he had in Jesus Christ Superstar (which, like a surprising number of these, ended in his own death).  In my opinion, nobody could possibly pull this breakdown off the way that he did!  In fact, when I used it for an audition, I had to make some changes to the script because he made the lines sound epic, and they just sounded weird when I said them.  What I love is the way he just goes back and forth between tactics.  He, unlike most of our list, tries to keep up his outward appearance as he descends into madness, but, especially as the scene progresses, you can see his frustration seeping through.  If you want a master class in subtle acting while keeping high intensity, this is the breakdown you need to see!  It's so good, it has been called by some (namely, me) the number two Broadway Breakdown! (*NOTE* This video has some brief, mild language.  It's hardly even worth mentioning, but I know this blog has some young readers, and I thought that you should be warned).

#1 - Burrs [Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party]
Ok, so technically this is not a Broadway show.  But the meltdown is just so epic that I had to make an exception.  This, the climax of "Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party" (So named because there was another show based off of the same book called "The Wild Party" was not written by Andrew Lippa), is the reason I started this list, and is definitely my favorite Broadway Breakdown ever!  For those of you who were not aware, pretty much this entire show is about infidelity and jealousy.  In a rather confusing love quadrilateral, two men are at a party each with a woman, and by the end of the show they have switched women (either because they wanted the other woman, they wanted to make their woman jealous, or the other woman wanted them, or the other woman wanted to make her man jealous, etc.).  After a "Wild Party" indeed, the show ends, like any good story about infidelity must, with a jealous man in a bed room with his scantily clad wife/girlfriend, her lover, and a revolver.  Sounds exciting, right?  Now, remember who wrote this song.  Andrew Lippa is the brilliant mind who brought us songs like "My New Philosophy" [You're A Good Man Charlie Brown], Crazier than You [The Addams Family], Run and Hide [John & Jen], and is about to stun the world with his newest musical Big Fish.  You want to listen to the song now, don't you?  Just wait.  Now consider the cast in this song: Brian D'Arcy James (Shrek [Shrek: The Musical], Fredrick Barrett [Titanic]) is holding the gun, Julia Murney (Elphaba [Wicked] (replacement), Florence Vassy [Chess] (2003 Concert)) is his woman who was messing around with Taye Diggs (The Bandleader [Chicago] (2002 Movie), Benny [RENT]) who came to the party with his girl Idina Menzel (Elphaba [Wicked], Maureen [RENT]).  Ok, so let's review, this song has the most dramatic set up ever, is written by a musical theater genius, and features a freakishly incredible cast.  Ok, now that you're fully appreciating all of this epic splendor, you can enjoy what is, in my opinion, the number one Broadway Breakdown ever!!!  (*NOTE* While this song is splendid, there is a bit of fairly strong language.  Not as bad as some of the songs on this list, but bad enough that I wouldn't suggest it to any young ears.)

John Jasper [Mystery of Edwin Drood] - Jasper's Confession
The Phantom [Phantom of the Opera]- Stranger than You Dreamt it
Smeagol [Lord of the Rings: The Musical (West End)] - Gollum/Smeagol

Well, there you have it.  Between the tears, screams, shrieks, an maniacal laughter, we get a glimpse into some Broadway brilliance.  Whether it's a neglected sister, a mourning girlfriend, or a cuckolded clown, Broadway is full of characters who get pushed right over the edge of insanity.  These are my favorites, but do you think that I missed some?  Is there a classic breakdown that you think I just jumped right over?  Feel free to tell me about it in the comments.  There's nothing I love more than being exposed to new Broadway shows (especially if it has a good breakdown)!  Also, be sure to vote in the poll on the top right of your screen to tell me what kind of posts you want to see in the future.  Until then, go have a breakdown listen to a Broadway show!

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