Donna, this is not a list of Broadway shows, but of classic Tony Awards performances. On the 1975 telecast, no numbers from the four nominated musicals—including the Wiz—were performed. (Sadly, this was true of many of the telecasts in the early 1970s; it robbed posterity of performances from such shows as Follies, Company and Two Gentlemen of Verona as well.)
The 25 best Tony Awards performances
We choose the top musical numbers from 44 years of Tony telecasts
Thu Jun 2 2011
Hairspray, “You Can't Stop the Beat” (2003)
It's almost impossible to watch Hairspray's relentlessly peppy finale without eventually giving in to the urge to bop along. The number's lather-rinse-repeat structure—in which the show's five major character groups get a verse apiece, with energetic refrains after each—is built to wiggle its way into your brain. (It's also hard to forget the sight of Harvey Fierstein in his parade-float fuchsia dress.) And Jerry Mitchell's zippy choreography doesn't give you a moment to catch your breath, especially as performed by a pre-Glee Matthew Morrison, leaping for joy in a gleaming white suit.
Pippin, “Magic to Do” (1973)
Like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum's "Comedy Tonight," the opening number to Pippin finds the actors candidly welcoming the audience to an evening's entertainment. But under the heavy-lidded eye of director-choreographer Bob Fosse, this invitation takes on a slightly sinister cast. At first, we see only an eerie arrangement of hands; and when the heavily made-up ensemble emerges from the dark, led by a sinuous Ben Vereen, its players are oozily eroticized—knowing, used and intent.
Les Misérables, “At the End of the Day”/“One Day More” (1987)
A French pop opera that had been translated and expanded into a London hit, Les Miz took New York by storm in 1987, sweeping audiences into a saga of love, greed, revolution and redemption. Absent its high-tech turntable set, the ensemble's rousing Tony performance of "One Day More"—an Act I finale that introduced the show's major characters and musical motifs, with close-ups and smart sound mixing to help sort things out—made a strong impression with just a few back-and-forth steps and a waving red flag. The British invasion of Broadway was officially on the march.
Purlie, “I Got Love” (1970)
She starts out tentative and girlish, but don't be taken in: Melba Moore is just winding up for a shocking pitch—a piercing vocal performance that reached heights rarely if ever heard on Broadway before or since. In the original cast of Hair two years earlier, Moore had used her banshee wail to ornament the coda of "Let the Sunshine In" with soulful high-belt counterpoint, but in her Tony-winning turn in Purlie, she upped the ante, building her blissful expression of romantic pride to a climactic high A.
The Will Rogers Follies, “Will-a-Mania”/“Favorite Son” (1991)
The extravagant Ziegfeld-revue format of this 1991 extravaganza allowed its creators to go all-out in mixing cowboy kitsch and Broadway glitz. The spectacular high point, created by Tommy Tune and associate choreographer Jeff Calhoun, places Keith Carradine in the middle of a row of beautiful women—cleverly decked out in red, white and blue, with powder-puff bosoms and tambourine hats—for a Rockettes-worthy explosion of precision dancing, made all the more impressive by the fact that the chorus is seated the entire time.
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I got nervous on the way up the list that Jennifer Holliday's incandescent performance might not be number 1 on your list. That performance of that number stands so singularly alone as the apogee of musical theatre performance to date that any other place on the list would be offensive. Thankfully, the TimeOutsters know their stuff.
really? company? Ragtime,... Sunday in the park (either of them) sweeney todd,(both of them) falsettos.. next to normal,, , does it have to be from a show? Neil Patricks opening number last year was amazing.
SUGAR BABIES is a grave omission. For pure show business know how nothing beats Ann Miller and Mickey Rooney. I could watch it a million times. Probably have...
I agree with just about every choice, having seen them all. But you need to drop one in order to add on Dorothy Loudon's incredible performance of Fifty Percent from Ballroom.
I found this article on All That Chat, but unable to post this spoof lyric of I GOT LOVE there. Is it OK to pay parody tribute to Melba here? I GOT LUNGS Tune of I GOT LOVE, version based on Melba Moore’s big Tony showstopper (verse) Some say save your voice, But I would rather not Why should I hold back, They like the sound Because – I – Got – Lungs! I got lungs! I got lungs! I got lungs, lungs, lungs, Lungs, lungs, lungs, lungs, lungs, lungs!!! I got lungs, I got lungs Hear that vocal power I blew out my shower, I got lungs Lungs so strong, Help in song Need no microphoning. folks ask about cloning My power lungs Every time that I belt My voice rocks the mezzanine From a girl who’s really svelte This power’s not routine (big finish) They’re enthused, And I haven’t used – it up I’m gonna let go now, I’m gonna steal the show now ‘Cause I got lungs! I got lungs! I got lungs! I got lungs, lungs. lungs! I got lu-u-u-u-u-ungs!!!! Thanks if it's OK. Love this list! So many great memories!
Next to Normal, which should have won Best Musical, one of the best ever. Glad for its deserved Pulitzer Prize, only the 8th musical to ever win.
Wow, thank you so much for sharing this! I love that your choices are so varied - and that you weren't afraid to put in some songs that people turn their noses down a little at nowadays (ie, Tomorrow) but still make the hair on my arms go up. This was a real treat :)
I agree about Ragtime and Next to Normal...I also agree with I Do!, I Do! Worst Pies in London, 50 Percent, City Lights showed some great stars in wonderful performances. I also should add Sugar Babies,...wow, ok-there are just too many. :)
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