Welcome back to our Tony Week coverage! We’re fully unleashing our not-so-hidden musical theatre geekdom all week. Yesterday we celebrated our Host with the Most, Hugh Jackman and today we begin a two-part series on our favorite Tony Broadcast performances.
Sure there are awards given but everyone REALLY watches the Tony Awards for the performances. The performances are giant commercials for the shows themselves and sometimes a perfectly done number can boost ticket sales even if the show doesn’t take home any hardware. Whenever I go to a show, I watch for what I think would be “The Tony Number”. Some shows trot out the major choreography numbers (the better to fill the gigantic stage with) while some just take their star performer and plop them center stage and tell them to SING THEIR ASSES OFF. Both approaches are effective, as you’ll see on this list.
One note though: Obviously this list is subjective. I’m not trying to name the greatest MUSICALS of all time, I’m looking strictly at their performances. Sometimes affection for a particular show will bump it higher in the ratings. It’s my website and I do what I want. Also, thanks to technology and video quality, the oldest video on this top 20 is from 1982. So yes, I KNOW that Ben Vereen and the company of Pippin are fucking brilliant. You just won’t see them on here.
20) “I Believe” – The Book of Mormon
To date “I Believe” and “Hello” are the only songs I have heard from The Book of Mormon as I refuse to listen to it until I see the show, as I FIRMLY believe the songs are best viewed in complete context. Help me, I’m poor. Let it be known that both Sage and I are in the market for sugar daddies who will take us to see all the things.
Nonetheless, I chose “I Believe” simply for the way Tony Nominee Andrew Rannells just stood there and sang the SHIT out of one of the few songs Book of Mormon could away with doing on the telecast. The pressure for Rannells to deliver must have been immense, as the show was the obvious front-runner for Best Musical. But he delivered in spades.
19) “Live in Living Color/Don’t Break the Rules” – Catch Me If You Can
At first it was a toss-up between this performance and Norbert Leo Butz’s other major Tony Award performance, “Great Big Stuff” from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (which he won his first Tony for). But as I rewatched “Don’t Break the Rules” this one obviously won out for the DANCING. Good God, I’m exhausted just watching it. Jerry Mitchell’s choreography is highly stylized and plays to Norbert’s strengths as both a dancer and actor (also notice how his body doesn’t seem to move at all above the elbows). Norbert’s Carl Hanratty was an uptight and by-the-book character who is still BURSTING with the desire to win and everything about the choreography plays to that. I may have had mixed feelings about CMIYC in general but this number stopped the show every night and damn near stopped the Tony broadcast.
18) “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat” – Guys and Dolls
The 1992 revival of Guys and Dolls was damn near perfect, from the perfect casting of Nathan Lane and Faith Prince as Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide to the eye-popping sets and colorful costumes. “Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat” is the ultimate 11 o’clock number and Walter Bobbie (future Tony Award winner for directing Chicago) performs it with utter joy. I dare you to not bust out with jazz hands along with them.
17) “Let It Go” – The Full Monty
Poor The Full Monty. This delightful (and vastly superior in my opinion) show was completely shut out of the Tony Awards by a little behemoth called The Producers. But what they lacked in Actual Awards they made up for in butts (heeeeeeeeeey Patrick Wilson) that ACTUALLY made it onto the broadcast. The true winners? US.
16) “There Once Was A Man/Hernando’s Hideaway” – The Pajama Game
One of my greatest New York regrets is never seeing this production. Women were basically throwing their bras at Harry Connick Jr. every night (or so I heard) and it’s easy to see why. He’s electric, his chemistry with perpetual Tony Bridesmaid Kelli O’Hara is palpable, and once he gets behind the piano…forget it. Even the ensemble members look like they are ready to rip their clothes off because of him.
Come back to Broadway anytime, Harry. I know it may not pay as well as American Idol does but it’s infinitely more deserving of your talents. May I suggest a new revival of Guys and Dolls as Sky Masterson?
Also A+ choreography by Tony Winner Kathleen Marshall, who picked up her second award for this production.
15) “Prologue” – Ragtime
I have spoken before about the brilliance of the Ragtime prologue. It’s an absolutely thrilling 9 minutes and 45 seconds (yes, I consulted the cast recording) of theatre that perfectly sets the stage for the sweeping musical ahead. No other song would have represented Ragtime as well as the prologue did and they did a great job of cutting it down to fit in the time slot constraints for the Tony Broadcast. As you’ll see through out this post, there are few things I love more than a massive group of people just standing and singing their faces off.
14) “The Circle of Life” – The Lion King
I remember when they announced that The Lion King was being adapted for the Broadway stage. I immediately thought it was absolutely RIDICULOUS. How in the HELL are they going to have actors inhabit talking animals on stage??
Fast forward to the 1998 Tony Awards and me openly WEEPING at the performance of “The Circle of Life”. Say what you want about Julie Taymor, but her production of The Lion King is GENIUS. The true artistry and creativity of it is astounding. I remember seeing the show in London with a college class. I was sitting next to one of my professors who was a costume designer and I turned excitedly to see her reaction after this number was done. Tears were rolling down her face. “If you are an artist and can’t appreciate that,” she said. “Something is wrong with you.”
I couldn’t agree with her more. I saw The Lion King in an actual seat after working there for six months. I wanting to kill customers or myself every day that I worked there. And yet…when that song started, tears started streaming down my face in spite of my cynicism. THAT is good theatre, folks.
13) “My New Philosophy/Happiness” – You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown
And thus Kristin Chenoweth became a star.
12) “It’s Your Wedding Day” – The Wedding Singer
Sage and I both have an unabashed love for this musical. Is it “highbrow” or life changing? Absolutely not. Is it pure fun and unbridled joy? Did I sit through the entire production four times with a giant grin on my face? Is the cast recording in regular rotation on my iPod and Spotify? Completely.
I remember meeting Rob Ashford (whoops let me pick up that name) not long after I saw this the first time. It was the first time I completely fangirled over a choreographer and I say to this DAY that he should have won the Tony for it (Rob lost to his BFF Kathleen Marshall’s much more traditional work on Wonderful Town). He seamlessly integrated signature 80’s moves into his choreography and it was GENIUS.
Stephen Lynch was completely charming (and dreamy) as Robbie Hart and made the role completely his own, when it could have been easy to just imitate Adam Sandler. Come back to Broadway, Stephen. You can be Benny Southstreet in the production with Harry Connick Jr because we already cast James Corden as Nicely-Nicely.
11) “I Will Never Leave You” – Side Show
One of the things that can hurt about the Tony Awards is when a show that is long closed gets a nomination for Best Musical. Such was the case with Side Show, which had closed the previous January. Little known Tony Fact: producers have to PAY for their Tony Numbers, so with closed shows, big numbers rarely happen, as there is no money. But when you have TWO searing diva performances in the form of Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner (the only time two actresses SHARED a Tony nomination), you don’t NEED a big number. All you need is a spotlight and the space for your actresses to reduce Radio City Music Hall to a pile of rubble with the power of their combined voices.
And that’s our first half! Come back tomorrow for the top 10!