Welcome back to our Tony Week coverage. Every year as the Tonys draw near, I rediscover my love of theatre…musical theatre specifically. There is truly nothing like it and when you love it…you love it for life. It gets in your bones, doesn’t it? As an adult, I may be a bit more cynical when it comes to the business of theatre and the politics of awards and who wins them, but every year when the Tony Broadcast begins, I am that wide-eyed kid watching in my living room, dreaming of moving to New York City to be on Broadway someday. It never fails.
And now I proudly present my Top 10 Tony performance (all approved by Sage as well). Enjoy!
10) “The Brotherhood of Man” – How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying
Fact: Daniel Radcliffe was ROBBED of a Tony Nomination for his work as J. Pierrepont Finch in the 2011 revival of How to Succeed. I dare say that had he been nominated, he would have won. His performance was charming and effervescent and Sage and I both sat in the audience like proud mamas. Ever the consummate professional, DanRad showed up with his castmates Tony Night and gave the metaphorical middle finger to the Tony Nominators by dancing the SHIT out of the show-stopping (it literally stopped the show the night I saw it) “Brotherhood of Man”. Rob Ashford’s choreography is INCREDIBLY athletic and complex and Dan more than holds his own with the Broadway chorus boys who have been training their whole lives.
DANCE HARRY POTTER DANCE.
9) “Being Alive” – Company
John Doyle’s minimalist production of Company, where all the actors played all their instruments (a conceit used much more effectively in his production of Sweeney Todd), was a bit of a mixed bag. I felt that in the need to fill the roles with actors who could play the instruments as well, a lot of vocal power was sacrificed and the classic score didn’t SOAR as much as it could. One thing I was not at ALL mixed on was the tour-de-force performance of Raul Esparza as perpetual bachelor Bobby. Bobby is the one character who doesn’t play an instrument until he sings “Being Alive”. It was a beautiful moment of surrender and you see in his tentative stroking of the keys that he truly IS finally ready to open himself up to someone (A note from Sage: Raul learned to play the piano specifically for this and IT WAS THE PERFORMANCE OF HIS LIFE). Did that moment make the instrument conceit pay off? ALMOST.
Remember what I said in yesterday’s post about the most effective performances sometimes being the ones with just a spotlight and a voice? Yeah. This is one of them.
And then he didn’t win. NEVER FORGET.
8) “Rose’s Turn” – Gypsy
I know this is sacrilegious to many musical theatre lovers, but I saw both the Lupone production of Gypsy and the Bernadette Peters production…and I vastly preferred Peters and her take on Mama Rose. Many said Bernadette was miscast. She wasn’t a foghorn or big brassy dame like Merman or Daly or (eventually) LuPone. But to me…that’s WHY she worked. She was slightly softer and SEXIER and I hadn’t seen that before.
I was at the Tonys that year and you could have heard a PIN DROP as Bernadette did this. It was nothing short of mesmerizing. “Rose’s Turn” must be a hard song to perform out of context…the entire show is building towards it. Yet Bernadette sauntered out on stage and proceeded to have a mental breakdown right there on National Television for all the haters to see. I’ll never forget seeing it live for as long as I live.
(Oh and then she didn’t win. I have never forgiven Marissa Jaret Winokur for that.)
7) “Gold” – Once
I had my doubts when it was announced that Once was being made into a Broadway musical. One of my favorite movies of the aughts, I was afraid that the musical would lose the subtle delicacy of the story or that the folky music would get swallowed up in a big Broadway house. Luckily my fears proved to be unfounded under Tony Winner John Tiffany’s exquisite direction and Tony Winner Enda Walsh’s book that wisely opened up the story where it needed to be opened, but still allowed the gentle melancholy to permeate the show. Had it not been up against the incredibly athletic choreography of Newsies, I imagine Steven Hoggett’s movement would have won as well. “Gold” showcases everything that is WONDERFUL and special about Once, from the gradual build to the joyous way the ensemble moves with their instruments as the music overtakes them. Add in a Tony Winning performance from Steve Kazee as the Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy and a completely charming Future Dead Mother Cristin Milioti as the Girl who makes him come alive again and you’ve got magic.
I remember being at a Tony Viewing Party with some friends who are musicians and had not seen the show yet. As soon as the number ended, they said “Now THAT is a show I’ve got to see.”
6) “Mama Who Bore Me/The Bitch of Living/Totally Fucked” – Spring Awakening
Medleys can often be clunky on the Tonys (which is why you don’t see The Secret Garden on this list), but Spring Awakening executed it perfectly. From the choreography that doesn’t FEEL like choreography by Tony Winner Bill T. Jones to the spectacular lighting by Tony Winner Kevin Adams to the frenetic camerawork (well-played Tony director) to the powerhouse performances of its young cast, it captured everything that was ELECTRIC and thrilling about the show. Remember the time when Lea Michele didn’t over-sing or over-emote EVERYTHING? (Sage: Barely.)
Also check out bb Skylar Astin and his hair do!
5) “At the End of the Day/One Day More” – Les Miserables
I am forever a sucker for “One Day More”. Les Mis was my gateway into musical theatre and to this day it remains one of my favorite shows, sorry not sorry.
4) “Seasons of Love/La Vie Boheme” – Rent
Another one of my greatest theatre regrets is not seeing Rent with its original cast. Sure some of them returned over its 12 year run, but NOTHING was like the electricity of that original cast. I choose not to take the cynical view as to whether the show would have been as celebrated without the tragic death of Jonathan Larson. I like to believe it would have been. It changed the face of musical theatre forever and that original cast is the definition of capturing lightning in a bottle.
3) “Willkommen” – Cabaret
I remember watching this on the 1998 Tony Broadcast. My mom found the blatant raunch and sexuality of Alan Cumming’s Emcee off-putting whilst 18-year-old me found it intriguing and a bit exciting. He’s playful yet sinister, threatening yet oh so appealing. He’s the living embodiment of everything the Kit Kat club stands for. It was a career defining performance for Cumming and a defining one for Roundabout Theatre Company…so much so that it decided to revive it this year. I may have been dubious about Roundabout deciding to do this, as it seemed like a blatant money grab throwing the exact same production on stage, the one thing I can’t complain about is the choice to bring Cumming back to the stage as the Emcee. He’s just as good now as he was then…if not more so, and I was honored to be able to witness his performance. My one complaint about this number is there was no way to showcase the dearly departed Natasha Richardson’s searing Tony Winning Performance as Sally Bowles.
2) “This Is Not Over Yet/The Old Red Hills Of Home” – Parade
Much like this season’s The Bridges of Madison County, Jason Robert Brown’s Parade was coolly received by the masses but inspired passionate fervor among those who loved it. 15 years later it is often called a masterpiece. Like Side Show, Parade was long closed by the time the Tony Awards rolled around, but Lincoln Center (the sole producer after co-producing company Livent filed for bankruptcy) ponied up the money to reunite the cast and showcase JRB’s spectacular Tony winning score. When I think of favorite Tony Performances, this one is usually one of the first to spring to mind. I DARE you not to get chills when the ensemble comes in with “The Old Red Hills of Home”.
1) “It’s All Over/And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” – Dreamgirls
The Tony Performance to end ALL Tony Performances.
Okay, I’ll elaborate a little bit. First of all let’s reflect on how the times of changed as far as production time slots go. These days a show gets 4 to 5 minutes to strut their stuff…Dreamgirls was given over EIGHT MINUTES, which allowed them to essentially show the entire ending of Act One. Act One of course culminates in the great “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” and twenty-two year old (TWENTY FUCKING TWO YOU GUYS) Jennifer Holliday seized her moment in the spotlight and left her blood, guts, and soul on that stage. If you are not throwing up gospel hands as Holliday rips through the song with an unmatched ferocity and skill then I would check your pulse to make sure that you are still alive.
And those are our top 20! Are there any of YOUR favorites that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments!