33 Of The Greatest Tony Performances Of All Time
Or at least the ones since they started airing it on national TV in 1967. Sorry, Ethel Merman!
Musical theater geeks of all generations come together one Sunday each June to celebrate the best of the best on Broadway. The greatest part of the night is obviously the performances from that year’s Best Musical and Best Musical Revival nominees. Here are the most showstopping moments in Tony Awards history.
33. “Run, Freedom, Run!” from Urinetown (2002):
This cute, clever, concept musical turned theater clichés on their heads and selected their best number to perform at the 2002 Tonys. Bonus points if you can spot Sutton Foster’s brother!
32. “That’s My New Philosophy” from the revival of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown (1999):
This revival won divine diva Kristin Chenoweth her first Tony and put her on the road to her career-defining role, Glinda the Good in Wicked. “It’s good to see me, isn’t it?” Yes, Kristin, it is.
31. “She Likes Basketball”/”Turkey Lurkey Time” from Promises, Promises (1969):
What is this show? Even after seeing it revived in 2010 (with Sean Hayes), the answer is unclear. But this performance is pitch-perfect as a late ’60s song and dance number.
30. “Memory” from Cats (1982):
The strangest musical ever to be a hit (can any native New Yorker forget that commercial about how Cats is at the Winter Garden Theater NOW AND FOREVER?!). This is its signature tune belted out by Betty Buckley, who won a Tony for her role as…a cat.
29. “96,000” from In the Heights (2008):
The streets of Washington Heights came to Broadway for a hot second in this 2008 Best Musical. We just wish Abuela made it into this number…
28. “The Worst Pies in London” from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1979):
Kids of the ’90s know her as Mrs. Potts, but this performance showcases another iconic Mrs. created by the unstoppable Angela Lansbury — Mrs. Lovett in the Sondheim classic Sweeney Todd. We would totally put her higher on the list, but she’s clearly lip-synching here. We expect more from you, Angela. xo
27. “The Human Heart”/”Mama Will Provide” Once on This Island (1991):
LaChanze! What are you doing in If/Then? Proof that she deserves better is a click away.
26. “Don’t Walk Away” from Xanadu (2008):
Cheyenne Jackson’s thighs!!! And how does Kerry Butler not have a Tony yet?
25. “Forget About the Boy” from Throughly Modern Millie (2002):
Watching this as a kid, everyone was like, This is the best show I’ve never seen. Ingenue Sutton Foster turned it out at the 2001 Tonys and cemented her place as one of the great musical theater talents of our generation.
24. “Tomorrow”/“You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile”/“Easy Street” from Annie (1978):
A classic. Andrea McArdle may be so sincere it hurts, but that girl HITS the notes. What you gonna tweet about THAT, Quvenzhane Wallis?!
23. “Hair” from the revival of Hair (2009):
This revival was a BFD when it came roaring back to life at the Delacorte Theater in summer 2008, and this performance shows just why. Also, audience participation!
22. “Magic to Do” from Pippin (1973):
From watching this, we still don’t really get the concept of this show — it’s super random and confusing. But it was 1973, and things didn’t need to make sense! All you need to see is those hands coming out of the dark to know that you’re watching something special.
21. “Defying Gravity” from Wicked (2004):
OK, yes, yes, yes, Wicked should be higher up on the list, but watch this. Adele Dazeem was not on her game that night. Not even a thousand Kristin Chenoweths smiling their 100-watt smiles can make this number live up to how good it actually is on stage!
20. “I Believe” from The Book of Mormon (2011):
A musical from the creators of South Park and starring Andrew Rannells pre-Girls (and pre-The New Normal but who cares about that)! There’s a reason this show sells out every performance. Watch and love.
19. “Willkommen” from Cabaret (1967):
This musical stunned audiences with its frank depiction of life, love and sex in pre-Nazi Germany. Here, Joel Grey (who won a Tony and Oscar for the role) delivers the showstopping opening number that made him (and his character, the Emcee) stars.
18. “Lot’s Wife” from Caroline, or Change (2004):
Tonya Pinkins may not be giving the most vocally precise performance here, but she is LIVING for this moment. In a Broadway season filled with big, splashy hits (Wicked, Avenue Q) Tonya stood out with her dynamic and steely portrayal of a maid struggling through the civil rights movement.
17. “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” from Hairspray (2003):
A LOT going on here. There’s Harvey Fierstein in drag (we don’t care if you sound like a frog, Harvey, you were born this way!), exhibit B of how Kerry Butler should have a Tony (she was robbed that year! Robbed!), and Laura Bell Bundy trying really hard to be the star of the number. Don’t worry, Laura, you’re going to feel “So Much Better” as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde in a few years!
16. “Being Alive,” from the revival of Company (2007):
Video available at: http://youtube.com/watch?v=j8kYfPoHyos.
OMG. Raul had this, guys. He was going to win the Tony for Best Actor. But along came David Hyde Pierce doing one of those TV-star-to-Broadway-star transfers and stole it right out from under him. His performance was totes career-defining, but he’s suffering from Idina syndrome here. Better luck next time, Raul!
15. “Ragtime” from Ragtime (1998):
Such an underrated show. But this was seriously one of the best Tony performances ever. People dressed for a polo match! Birth of the Harlem Renaissance! Twelve-year-old Lea Michele doing her best Eastern European immigrant!
14. “Circle of Life” from The Lion King (1998):
If you haven’t seen The Lion King on Broadway, you haven’t seen musical theater spectacle at its best. This show amazed audiences by taking a beloved Disney musical and turning it into a bananas acid trip parade. More, Disney! More! (But like this, not like Tarzan or The Little Mermaid).
13. “Mama Who Bore Me”/”The Bitch of Living”/”Totally F#$%ed” from Spring Awakening (2007):
The simplicity of Spring Awakening was also its strength. At its core, it’s an exciting rock musical which showcased teen angst in a new way, while also introducing us to some stars of the future, aka Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff.
12. “The Revolutionary Costume for Today” from Grey Gardens (2007):
The show had its problems, but Christine Ebersole’s tour de force as Big AND Little Edie was unforgettable. Here, she is Little Edie letting us know about about the correct “costume for today.” Gays throughout the tri-state area wept with joy.
11. “Sunday” from Sunday in the Park with George (1984):
Video available at: http://youtube.com/watch?v=x49h-v5Etu0.
Bernadette! Where have you been all of our lives! Sondheim’s 1984 trippy Georges Seurat biomusical had a troubled second act, but this Act 1 closer was near perfect.
10. “Rose’s Turn” from the revival of Gypsy (2003):
Bernadette again! Here she is bringing down the house in the King Lear of musical theater roles for women. Remember The Witch from Into the Woods? Bernadette knew what she was doing.
9. “Willkommen” from the revival of Cabaret (1998):
We know. We know. How can we rank a revival higher than the original? Blasphemy? But no, Alan Cumming’s radical interpretation of the Emcee revitalized Cabaret and made it, dare we say it, a better show? We still love you, Joel!
8. “Seasons of Love”/”La Vie Boheme” from Rent (1996):
For a brief, shining moment in the late ’90s, musical theater was cool! Remember that Time cover? This iconic performance encapsulates everything we loved about Rent. It may be dated now, but it was catnip to baby gays everywhere in 1996. RIP Jonathan Larson thanks for your contributions!
7. “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from the revival of Gypsy (2008 Revival)
Has Patti really not come up until now? The only person who played Mama Rose better than Ms. LuPone was the legendary Ethel Merman. The pure power and force of Patti LuPone is almost frightening to see. Don’t look directly at her without sunglasses, you might go blind.
6. “You Don’t Know”/”I Am the One” from Next to Normal (2009):
The only thing more thrilling than Alice Ripley’s bonkers performance from Next to Normal at the 2009 Tonys was her wackadoo acceptance speech when she won. “THERE IS A QUOTE IN THE KENNEDY CENTER!”
5. “Anything Goes” from the revival of Anything Goes (2011):
Whoa! Sutton Foster proved once again that she was a TRIPLE threat in the 2011 revival of the classic Anything Goes. She sings, she dances, she’s hilarious (and looks amazing as a blonde)! Watch for that last note, and tell us she’s not “the top.”
4. “A New Argentina” from Evita (1980):
The show that made Patti LuPone a star is also one of the most enduring in theater history. But no one has done Evita like Patti. Don’t be too bowled over by her hysterically powerful vocals to miss her fun little moments like “We’ll….you’ll be handed power on a plate.” The word “diva” doesn’t even begin to describe. Thnx for the memories, Patti!
3. “All That Jazz”/”Hot Honey Rag” from the revival of Chicago (1997):
A rare case of a revival that popularized a show that never really blew up when it first premiered. This stripped-down take on Kander & Ebb’s vaudevillian murder comedy rocked Broadway to its core when it came slinking back in the late ’90s. It’s also responsible for the renewed American interest in musical movies: Its 2003 adaptation dominated the Oscars. The choreography is seamless and tight here, and Bebe Neuwirth is serving us venomous showgirl chic.
2. “I Hope I Get It” from A Chorus Line (1976):
A Chorus Line changed the theater landscape forever. Instead of a straightforward tale of romance or humor or adventure, it was a probing look into the lives of Broadway chorus dancers. The phenomenal score, witty dialogue, exquisite characterizations (many of which were portrayed by the people they were based on), and unbelievable dancing make A Chorus Line one of the greatest musicals of all time.
1. “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls (1982):
Just watch it.
Correction: The film Chicago dominated the 2003 Oscars; an earlier version of this article stated it was the 2005 Oscars. A previous clip from Pippin was from 1982, it has been updated with the Tony performance from 1973.