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What’s the Best Live Performance You’ve Ever Seen?

Your editors here at The Mary Sue are as big fans of the stage as we are of the screen. While we love many a TV show and film, some live performances—plays, musicals, readings, stand-up, concerts—can feel viscerally moving and life-changing.

I’m lucky to have seen a number of incredible stage shows and concerts, including David Bowie when I was in high school and a little too young to properly appreciate it. (Still: I can say I saw Bowie, which almost feels like the enough.) But the defining turn for me when a “best live performance” question is posed remains the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s 2008 run of Macbeth starring Sir Patrick Stewart.

The show was such a hit that it was eventually filmed for PBS television, thankfully preserving Stewart’s role in The Scottish Play for all time. What you’ll see if you watch PBS’ Macbeth is not a taped performance, however, but a movie-fied version, as the channel notes: “The production, though retaining [director Rupert] Goold’s exciting concept of relocating the bloody action to a nameless 20th-century militaristic society, has been rethought in vivid filmic terms.” Still, if you watch the trailer above, you get some sense of what I got to witness in person in 2008 and remain stunned by. I’ve never seen anything like the way Stewart and company sank their teeth into an age-old tale and transformed it.

Patrick Stewart is pure, unadulterated genius on stage, but the co-star of this Macbeth is its staging. The threatening horror-show set and costuming established a sort of macabre Cold War society that updated the action to our era while provoking dread and awe. (There was an old brass cage of an elevator on the stage that slowly creaked to life and delivered characters into scenes that I’ll not soon forget).

I’d read Macbeth several times and watched it on stage and onscreen, and yet I was perched at the edge of my seat, wondering desperately what was going to happen next. Nothing has impressed the magic of live art on me more. A well-known story can be totally remade through performance and environment, and there’s no substitute for seeing it in the round. This doesn’t even scrape the surface of the sheer variety of acts out there that may have moved you, from one man-or-woman shows to transcendent concert experiences.

What live performance had you on the edge of your seat?

(image: screengrab)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.