The Most Theatrical Moments of 2020
What 2020 has lacked in actual live theater, it has made up for in pure theatrical moments. If this year were the plot of a musical, it would be full of Act 1 finales. From the mysterious disappearing murder hornets to the tumultuous election cycle to Covid shutdowns wreaking havoc on the world, it has been a dramatic year to say the least.
So in lieu of actual shows, here are some of our favorite theatrical moments, from starry streams to TikTok hi-jinks to pop culture buffoonery.
What were some of your favorite theatrical moments?
With theaters locked down around the world, 2020 was truly the year of streaming, and even some of the big-budget, glossy Broadway shows joined the party in a huge way. For one, the whole world got to see the original cast of Hamilton on Disney+ in an unprecedented move to make the musical accessible to mass audiences. What the Constitution Means to Me hit Amazon Prime just weeks before the U.S. election, and playwright/performer Heidi Schreck’s personal story about the U.S. governing document could not have been more timely.
We don’t know if this is a sign of democratizing Broadway in new ways, but we do know that we haven’t seen the end of musicals and plays coming to screens. For one, the new musical Diana (yes, that Diana) will be filmed for Netflix ahead of its scheduled Broadway opening in 2021. The National Theatre has created a streaming service, National Theatre at Home, to bring productions to televisions around the world. And BroadwayHD is releasing new titles to stream all the time.
Divas gone wild
When Meryl Streep took a swig of scotch straight from the bottle, she was all of us in 2020. The Oscar winner joining fellow icons Christine Baranski and Audra McDonald for a Zoom performance of “Ladies Who Lunch” from Company was more wacky than anything we’ve seen onstage.
In a basement across town, Patti LuPone was also going a bit stir crazy in quarantine and producing some of the best content we’ve seen in years with tours of her underground featuring a plethora of show business knick-knacks. The divas truly got us through this year, and while we can’t wait to see all of them onstage again soon, we’re grateful for their creative generosity on the interwebs.
Solo shows are certain to make a comeback as soon as theatres reopen for many reasons, from the low cost to produce to no onstage social distancing concerns. When shows started to reopen in the West End, one-person shows proliferated from Death of England: Delroy at the National Theatre to the Talking Heads series at the Bridge Theatre.
However, there were two virtual solo performances that really caught our attention this year. First up, Michael Urie re-created his acclaimed turn in Buyer and Cellar from his own living room. The fictional tale about an out-of-work actor who takes a job working in Barbra Streisand’s allegedly very real basement mall earned Urie accolades for his performance off Broadway and across the country, and his living room performance did not disappoint.
Across the pond, Andrew Scott brought new meaning to streaming theater with his performance in Three Kings as part of the Old Vic’s In Camera series, which live-streams performances from the theater’s stage. The engrossing and innovative production was matched by Scott’s masterful performance which had us weeping. (Bonus: We also thoroughly enjoyed watching the film of Scott in Sea Wall, another heartbreaking solo endeavor.)
Late-night musical theater
Late-night TV has always been a place for musical moments to thrive. From James Corden’s “Crosswalk: The Musical” to Jimmy Fallon’s lip-sync battles, we’re here for all of it. And this year in particular, late-night hosts really stepped it up. John Mulaney hosted Saturday Night Live twice this year, and each time, he brought his love of theater to the studio and created truly iconic homages. From the pre-lockdown prescient “Airport Sushi” to the surprisingly uplifting “New York Musical,” Mulaney gave us the tuners we needed in this scary time. (And even though they’re not from this year, his “Bodega Bathroom” and “Diner Lobster” are worth a watch.)
Jimmy Fallon and Andrew Rannells also encapsulated the year in pure theatrical fashion with “2020: The Musical,” creating musical parodies to chronicle the ups(?) and downs of this year. Rannells doing a parody of his ballad from The Book of Mormon “I Believe”? Icing on the cake.
We’d need a whole separate article to truly describe how TikTok became Gen Z (and honestly, all generations) theater this year, and we are loving every minute of it (and have learned far too many dances). However, the award for the most theatrical moment on TikTok goes to Ratatouille: The Musical — and honestly, not just because it’s actual ~theater~. When “Remy, the Ratatouille, the rat of all my dreams” went viral on the platform, talented creators got on it and created every aspect of this potential musical, from set designs to the program.
And to make matters even bigger, the musical is actually happening in a virtual form. Get your tickets to Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical only on TodayTix to see what all the fuss is about. It just goes to show that you can make your dreams a reality just like Remy.
Ending 2020 with a working vaccine is the best news ever, but there have been some purely theatrical blips in the journey along the way. For one, musical theater legend Andrew Lloyd Webber took it upon himself to be a test case for a vaccine trial and then becoming the poster child for the vaccine in the theater community was one of this year’s best plotlines.
Also, William Shakespeare was the first man to be vaccinated in the UK once the vaccine was approved. A real man named William Shakespeare. From Warwickshire! You really can’t make this up.
In addition to new ways to stream theater from home, some exciting new original musical films hit the silver screen….err, that very same screen you’ve been watching everything on for the past 9 months. We’ve already clocked multiple viewings of The Prom on Netflix, and we’re loving holiday shows like Jingle Jangle and Dolly Parton’s Christmas in the Square. And even though they’re not new, we’ve definitely been rewatching all of the movie musicals available to stream online.
Speaking of Dolly Parton, the music icon is a theatrical highlight of the year in and of herself. In additional to her pure camp holiday musical, Parton also helped fund the coronavirus vaccine, which essentially makes her the hero of 2020. Cue Dolly’s 11 o’clock number.
No matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, this year’s election was pure theater. From Kate McKinnon and Elizabeth Warren’s epic dance switch to Trump’s Evita-esque salute on the White House balcony after coming home from the hospital, sometimes we had to look at the dramatic to keep from remembering that we are not living in a simulation.
Vice President Elect Kamala Harris’s “We did it, Joe” phone call to President-Elect Biden? Theater. Four Seasons Total Landscaping? Theater. Even though we’re excited for a more stable political environment, a little drama never hurt anyone.
The royal family has had a somewhat tumultuous year, and we’re here for the real-life drama. At the beginning of 2020, Megan Markle and Prince Harry gave up their royal titles and moved to Canada and then the U.S. Season four of The Crown premiered on Netflix, and the UK government tried to lobby Netflix to issue a disclaimer that the series is fictional. It’s like we’re watching the show unfold in real time before our eyes.
Remember Cheer? And The Circle? And Tiger King? When lockdowns started, all anyone could talk about was the shifty owner of a big cats zoo and his arch-nemesis Carole Baskin. The docu-series even spawned theatrical homages and fake Tiger King: The Musical parodies. Baskin went on to compete on Dancing With the Stars, and for a year without theater, that was pure drama.
There were also so many other great theatrical moments from television this year. People delivering Emmys to celebrities’ homes in hazmat suits? Yes. Sarah Palin performing “Baby Got Back” on The Masked Singer? What is even happening, 2020?
The true stars of the show this year were the frontline workers. From the postal service to your grocery store cashier to all the doctors and nurses risking their lives, these individuals showed us what it means to take the lead. And how did we thank them? In the only way we know how: by giving them a nightly standing ovation. Every night at 7PM, people would hang out of their windows with pots, pans, and any noisemaking device to applaud the frontline workers serving their city. It was a rousing moment of unity and community across the world and made us feel like we’re all truly in this together.