The 25 best Broadway divas of all time

We name the top leading ladies of musical theater

0

Comments

Add +
20
Sutton Foster, Anything Goes

Sutton Foster, Anything Goes

Sutton Foster

Here’s the chorus-girl-turned-star scenario, but on steroids. Sutton Foster Charleston-ed giddily into the Broadway spotlight when the producers of Thoroughly Modern Millie plucked her out of the kickline during out-of-town tryouts in La Jolla, California, and replaced the lead actor with her. She opened Millie in 2002, nabbed a Tony and never looked back. Her incandescent charm, frisky comic energy and a voice that could be used for hydrofracking guarantee a Tony nomination no matter what she’s in. Currently she's blowing her horn as Reno in Anything Goes.—David Cote

19
Donna Murphy, Passion

Donna Murphy, Passion

Donna Murphy

Donna Murphy approaches musical theater with an eye toward Meryl Streep: She’s a consummate actor intensely devoted to the art of self-transformation. From the morbid Fosca in Passion to the zany Ruth Sherwood in Wonderful Town, from the prim Mrs. Anna in The King and I to the world-wise Lotte Lenya of LoveMusik, she has been a remarkable chameleon, earning two Tonys and a wheelbarrow of critical bouquets along the way.—Adam Feldman

18
Gertrude Lawrence, The King and I

Gertrude Lawrence, The King and I

Gertrude Lawrence

The plummy-voiced Gertrude Lawrence represents a bridge between English music hall and Broadway’s golden age. She had that swoony, trembling delivery you hear in recordings before the songbook got jazzier and brassier. The first half of Lawrence’s career was marked by revues and sparkling comedies (she was a favorite of Noël Coward’s) and the second by Broadway musicals: In 1941, she starred in the then-daring Kurt Weill psychoanalysis tuner, Lady in the Dark. Her crowning role was Anna in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I. It was also, tragically, her last: During the run, she died of cancer at 54.—David Cote

17
Pearl Bailey, Hello Dolly!

Pearl Bailey, Hello Dolly!

Pearl Bailey

A showbiz trouper par excellence, “Pearlie Mae” Bailey rode her throaty growl and incomparable throwaway sass to national stardom, and starred in two original Harold Arlen musicals on Broadway. But the peak of her stage career came in 1967, when producer David Merrick—in an unprecedented move—replaced the entire cast of his long-running hit Hello, Dolly! with an all-black ensemble led by Bailey. She received a special 1968 Tony for her performance, and headlined the musical’s first Broadway revival in 1975.—Adam Feldman

16
Betty Buckley, Cats

Betty Buckley, Cats

Betty Buckley

Betty Buckley is a genuinely eccentric and eccentrically genuine performer: part Method actor, part shaman, part little Betty Lynn a long way from West Texas. Her voice can sound haunted in its lower registers, then rise to a steely high belt, with a pulsing, magisterial vibrato. Her greatest turns—Grizabella in Cats, Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard—have been in rotting-glamour roles that seized on the defining paradox of her persona: a compellingly intense yin-yang of fragility and imperiousness.—Adam Feldman



Users say

12 comments
Diana A
Diana A

I dont think that Bernadette Peters andPatti LuPone are before Mary Martin andBarbara Cook

Michelle V
Michelle V

Agree totally with Julianna-where is Marin Mazzie?!

Cat
Cat

How the heck did sutton foster, Donna Murphy, and Gertrude Lawrence beat DOROTHY LOUDON in higher spots!?!

Dianne Buckley
Dianne Buckley

How in the world could you leave out the fabulous, Betty Buckley? She is the voice!

Bwaymike@aol.com
Bwaymike@aol.com

Another list slanted toward today's stars who do one hit and run off to Television. Where's Marilyn Miller, Ziegfeld's greatest star? Or Vivienne Segal who went from Operetta to Rodgers and Hart? These ladies performed for decades on Broadway. If you add it all up someone like Liza Minnelli has only been on Broadway for a year and a month in total. And Streisand disappeared after two shows.

Kendall
Kendall

Carol Burnett is on this list but not Bebe Neuwirth? You've GOT to be joking. Also, Patti LuPone is way too high up there...

Thomas J
Thomas J

YES! Carol Channing and Sutton Foster made the list!

Albert
Albert

No LEA SALONGA??????? Blasphemy!!!!

Rachel
Rachel

How come Barbra's only number 13????? THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS! Though I must agree that Patti LuPone is one of the top divas on Broadway. AND I had the blessing to meet her on NYC: two dreams coming true at once!! :)

Juliana
Juliana

You forgot: Heather Headly Bebe Neuwirth Linda Eder AND CMON..... NO ONE bothered to mention Marin Mazzie???

Paul
Paul

I agree entirely that she is the diva of divas. So why is there no Broadway theatre named after ETHEL MERMAN ? Jacobs, Schoenfeld, Friedman? Really? But no, Merman? I guess her family didn't know the right people or donate enough money to buy the naming rights.

Paul
Paul

I agree entirely that she is the diva of divas. So why is there no Broadway theatre named after ETHEL MERMAN ? Jacobs, Schoenfeld, Friedman? Really? But no, Merman? I guess her family didn't know the right people or donate enough money to buy the naming rights.

Listen to Time Out's Broadway divas playlist on Spotify

Read more theater features

Interview: Bridget Everett

Downtown shock singer and loose cannon Bridget Everett is movin' on up. Here's why you should bow before her.

Interview: Michael Cera

The spotlight-shy It boy is all grown up, with a new home, no-more-mister-nice-guy roles and a hotly anticipated Broadway debut

Interview: Julia Jarcho

The fascinating playwright draws inspiration from fellow writer Jane Bowles for her latest work, Nomads

Interview: Alex Kingston

Mrs. Doctor Who talks about morality, living in Los Angeles and playing opposite Kenneth Branagh in Macbeth

Interview: Michael Shannon

The intimidating stage and film star champions a lesser-known absurdist classic with Theatre for a New Audience

See more in Theater