With the Olympic Trials underway and athletics-inspired patriotism swelling in our hearts, Olympics fever has struck the U.S. Though theatregoing and sports-loving populations don’t always enjoy a ton of overlap, there’s no reason we Broadway aficionados shouldn’t be getting amped up for such a special summer. In honor both of the Olympic Games (which officially being with the Opening Ceremony August 5 on NBC), Playbill compiled a list of Broadway-themed events, and took the liberty to award gold medals in each category. Let the (Playbill) Games begin!
TRACK & FIELD
Event: High-Note Jump
Gold-Medalist: Laura Benanti, She Loves Me
Laura returns to the Games after a previous gold-medal win in Sochi’s Side-Eye finals a couple years back (when she competed with The Sound of Music Live). This time, her perfectly placed B-flat out-jumped the former record, which had stalled at a measly A-natural. Laura’s talents are many: You should also watch out for her skills in the prelims of Quickest Wit—her always-hilarious tweets are a strong contender for the gold medal there, as well.
Event: 100-Meter Quick-Change Dash
Gold-Medalist: Laura Osnes, Cinderella
Although her beauty, voice and general grace are all gold medal-worthy, Osnes’ first Playbill Games gold medal comes as a result of the incredible athleticism she exhibited onstage in last year’s playfully innovative revival of Cinderalla. Remember that unbelievable rags-to-gown, split-second transformation? Because we do. It defied odds and logic, and Osnes completed it with nary a bead of sweat shed. An honorary silver medal goes to Santino Fontana for being a dreamy and generally awesome co-star.
Event: Long-Distance Run…of a Show
Gold-Medalist: The Phantom of the Opera
She might be old, but she certainly is wise: slow, steady and chandelier-packed wins this race, with nearly three decades of performances under Phantom’s Broadway belt. Despite its feline acrobatic and athletic disposition, Cats couldn’t maintain the lead it once held in this test of Broadway-run endurance. For Phantom, the key to sustained Playbill Games dominance lays in continual refreshing of team members—actors like Norm Lewis inject vivacity into a tried-and-tested team model. Other lean-legged long-distance contenders include Wicked and Chicago, which smartly keep pace with Phantom thanks to loving fans.
Event: Center-of-the-Note Bullseye
Gold Medalist: Kelli O'Hara, The King and I
Call her the Katniss Everdeen of musical theatre, ‘cause when she goes for a high note, she doesn’t miss. Her resonance from her classical training rings on each pitch. This oft-nominated actress is an understated powerhouse of emotion and vocal accuracy, and is sure to end up burdened by the spoils of her success. Whether swimming in the South Pacific, dashing through Italian piazzas or hiking across bridges in Madison County, O’Hara’s sporty interests are diverse, and the thought of their breadth alone is enough to make the most athletic of fans cheer.
Event: Headfirst Dive into ‘Uncharted’ Character Waters
Gold-Medalist: Jessie Mueller, Waitress
For the purposes of the Playbill Games, Jessie Mueller is a would-be Dream Team member. She can tackle any kind of material, portray any age and sing any style—all while demonstrating graciousness and humility. From her award-winning turn as Carole King in Beautiful to her celebrated performance in Waitress, Mueller throws herself fully into her roles. She takes the plunge without hesitation, and the result warrants a perfect “10” from judges and enamored fans alike.
Event: Verbal Jousting
Gold-Medalist: Daveed Diggs, Hamilton
En garde, all you people who...speak! Whether speech-sparring as Thomas Jefferson or the Marquis de Lafayette, Diggs’ word-wielding skills are unmatched—any other competitor is likely to lay down his sword lest it be knocked from his grip first. Parrying or partying with frenemy Alexander Hamilton, Diggs (as TJ or the MdL) has audiences cheering and wishing maybe, just one day, we could possibly be so cool. The only appropriate response to Diggs’ slicing verbal talent is touché.
Event: Singing While in Full Splits
Gold-Medalist: Jane Krakowski, She Loves Me
Most of you probably didn’t know that She Loves Me’s Tony performance was also going to be a gymnastics event, but thanks to Krakowski’s many talents and no-holds-barred commitment to her craft, it was! Krakowski’s flexibility isn’t merely vocal—no, the star of stage and screen can also whack her own face and cooter-slam as well as the cast of Kinky Boots, a fact she demonstrates each night during She Loves Me when she drops into the splits, mid-song, without missing a beat. The only thing as high as Jane’s flawless battement? Her celeb status.
Event: Looking Like Michael Phelps, and Actually Swimming Onstage
Gold-Medalist: Alex Breaux, Red Speedo
For those who missed Red Speedo at New York Theater Workshop, the star of the tightly twisted drama, Alex Breaux, actually, and for nearly the entire performance, donned the titular red speedo. Yep, folks: Hopes were high, and they were met. Mr. Breaux’s swimsuit-clad look was authentic, much-appreciated and certainly gold medal-worthy. Oh and also there was an actual pool onstage and Breaux actually swam in it. All this, on top of stellar acting and a final fight sequence that would’ve given any Greco-Roman wrestling match a run for its money in suspense and ferocity.
Event: Family Allegiance Ping-Pong
Gold-Medalist: The Cast of The Humans
The rate of dramatic revelation in this year’s Tony-winning play, The Humans, is so rapid and variable that, the morning after seeing the production, this writer’s neck was actually sore. Packed with tension and the nuances of shifting family dynamics, The Humans is an emotional workout for any audience member, not to mention the gifted, unflinching cast, which boasted Reed Birney, Jayne Houdyshell, Arian Moyaed, Lauren Klein, Cassie Beck and Sarah Steele.
Event: Wrestling with Demons
Gold-Medalist: Jessica Lange, as Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey
Anyone who has witnessed Jessica Lange onstage will attest: this actress’ theatrical athleticism is top-notch. Her approach to character depth is unapologetic and whole—the only thing greater is Jessica’s own endurance. Seven times a week, Lange performed a role requiring emotional extremes through charged dialogue and demanding monologue. Oh and have we mentioned that Long Day’s Journey is nearly four hours in length? Next time you want to whine about that five-minute dance break in your one-act, think of Lange, and her winning stamina.
Event: Family Legacy Burden-Bearing
Gold-Medalist: Danny Burstein, Fiddler on the Roof
With the weight of the show on his shoulders—and the need to convey Tevye’s integrity—Danny Burstein faces a challenge each night at the Broadway Theatre. But the frequent Tony nominee has been conditioning his theatrical and character-developing muscles for years—award-worthy performances are invariably top-notch for this versatile and dedicated performer. When asked about the source of all his energy and continually excellent portrayals, he replied: “What, like it’s hard?”
Event: The Actual Decathlon, the ultimate one-person, ten-challenge event
Gold-Medalist: Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple
Remember that time that Erivo ran a half-marathon before a flawless two-show day? Such a feat is akin to winning the toughest, most rigorous of Olympic events: the decathlon. For the decathlon, an athlete actually has to complete ten separate events, from long-distance running to pole-vaulting and beyond. People throw around the word “fierce,” but in the case of Erivo, it’s the only appropriate adjective. She’s a “fierce” competitor—fiercely committed to her art, to her fans and to living life in a way that seems fiercely fulfilling. Her vocal gifts and theatrical endurance know no bounds, nor does her brightness of spirit. For this, she deserves the Playbill Games’ highest recognition. Oh, and per her Instagram, she’s a legitimate athlete, too.