For his March 25, 1998 STAGESTRUCK column, Peter Filichia announced his choices for the 100 top Broadway musical performers of all time. Playbill On-Line invited readers to suggest names that they would have added to the list -- and names they would have left off the list.
Here are the results of the poll so far. Playbill On-Line thanks all those who took the time to write.
From Sandy O.:
I, like the others, applaud this gallant attempt, but of course, some toes will be stepped on in the process. I cannot see how George Hearn, with his many and great contributions to theater can be left off this list.
And what can I say about Brian Stokes Mitchell? Yes, it's been only fairly recently that's he's been getting a lot of attention, but that doesn't mean the TALENT hasn't been there all along! I agree with others who say his Valentin in "Kiss...." was the best around. He's versatile, and proven that he can play any role.
His Coalhouse Walker, Jr. will go down in theatre history as one of the finest male performances ever given, I feel sure. He's marvelous and deserves to be included in the fine company of these other performers.
From RedCatsNap (RedCatsNap@aol.com):
Love Playbill Online...
Loved reading Peter Filichia's 100 Greatest Broadway Performers list, but one thing about this list struck me as odd and interesting.
It's dominated by **older** performers. It would seem that to qualify for "best," a performer has to be older (there were exceptions on the list, but not many). I think that the list should have included many younger performers who
have gained notoriety and merit, like Judy Kuhn for just one example. The list seemed more a list of aged stars and a sort of Broadway hierarchy than it did a list based on performance, voice and talent.
But no one will argue that it isn't a great list... it just needed to have about 10 or 15 other names added to it (young and not so young).
THANK YOU for including Donna Murphy on your list. She is an incredible performer, and you're absolutely right for stating that her two Tonys are only the beginning. If only she would come back to Broadway soon! I, too, agree that Joel Grey should not have been omitted from the list. After all, doesn't he have his own statue in the middle of Times Square? That has to mean something, right?
I really liked your list. I especially liked that you included Stubby Kaye, Bernadette Peters, and one of my favorites-- Robert Morse! Good list all around.
From John Esche (email@example.com):
Heartiest congratulations on the Playbill List of the "100 Greatest Musical Performers in Broadway History"! I was highly impressed with the distinguished nominating committee - would that the Tony nominating committee were as well put together.
While I personally would have bounced one or two on the list from the earliest years to make room for Jack Gilford, William Daniels or Howard DaSilva and do not understand how one can honor William Gaxton without Victor Moore (they both made the list - note them as the team which produced their best work and you have an extra spot), I started to panic when the all time great leading man, Alfred Drake didn't show up 'till #20 on the list! Still, I would only truly rate as inexcusable one oversight:
The man who starred as the male lead in the original casts of THE FANTASTICKS; CARNIVAL; the Merman revival of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN; PROMISES, PROMISES; CHICAGO and 42nd STREET clearly ought to have been on the list! In addition to musicals, that man - JERRY ORBACH - also showed dramatic metal even the great Alfred Drake could not match in such successful plays as 6 RMS RIV VU and SCUBA DUBA and now long run television work in LAW AND ORDER.
From Sharon L. Shultz:
I thought, perhaps, British performers were not being included, but Angela Lansbury and Rex Harrison proved me wrong. I suggest Anthony Newley, who not only starred in "Stop the World, I Want to Get Off" and "The Roar of the Greasepaint (The Smell of the Crowd)" but also wrote the book, co-wrote the music/lyrics, and directed both of these musicals.
jim borstelmann in CHICAGO-----no other actor-dancer captures the Fosse presence on Broadway
Robert Westenberg one of bway's great
Craig Schulman. Played Valjean longer than anyone else and still manages to make us cry every time.
From Jeremy Aufderheide:
Bob Fosse was a performer before he directed & choreographed. I've read nothing but raves about him, including the best Joey (in City Center's two revivals of Pal Joey - 61 & 63) New York has ever seen.
Just look at his performance in Kiss Me, Kate (on film) and Damn Yankees (on film). In DY, I watch him more than Verdon.
From Liz David:
I found Mr Filichia's Top 100 List to be very interesting. I'm thrilled to see that Michael Rupert was on the list; however I am very disappointed that Robert Westenberg was nowhere to be seen. If I had been able to compile my own list, the following would have been in a tie for the number one position (in no particular order): Michael Rupert, Robert Westenberg, Stephen Bogardus, Scott Wise, Terrence Mann and Brian Stokes Mitchell.
From Jill Sieffert:
I enjoyed your list but I have one suggestion.... I think Savion Glover should definitely be up there!!! You have Gregory Hines, who is also worthy, but I think, although Savion is only in his TWENTIES, he has done an amazing job under the lights of Broadway. Starting at the age of twelve in The Tap Dance Kid, then the youngest Tony nominee for Jelly's Last Jam and then taking Broadway to new limits with the AMAZING Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk, Savion has earned more than his name on this list of yours.
Surely an error was made with the omission of Raul Julia and Jim Dale who I believe represent the consummate Broadway star. The theatre will miss Raul Julia's amazing talent and Mr. Dale can still wow them in the aisles.
From ron Sudol:
I was really surprised not to see JUANITA HALL on the list. She was an important part of at least three shows in the 40s and 50s. Her embodiment of Bloody Mary is a milestone in the history of musicals.
From Simon Saltzman:
How could Peter forget those "Angels in the Wings" Paul and Grace Hartman, who not only gave their "All for Love" but for the glory of musical comedy.
Okay, so the incomparable Eddie Bracken couldn't turn "Beg, Borrow or Steal," or "Shinbone Alley," into smash hits, but he continues a remarkable musical theater career - check out the list of musicals he has appeared in (and will undoubtedly still appear in) at the Paper Mill Playhouse. Almost 60 years of dancing, singing and cavorting on the musical stage ain't something to ignore.
From Arthur Korbiel:
MY FAVORITES ARE ROSIE O'DONNELL, AND BRIAN BEDFORD
From Mary Agnes Shearon :
Mr Filichia must be feeling vvvvvvery brave, to assemble this list! You will certainly hear from many proponents of this or that musical theatre star, however, I have only one name to add to "The List"...that of George M. Cohan! I know that Harrigan and Hart are probably the token Irish representatives, but, come on! Leave off the man that wrote music that much of America still hums? Leave off the man who inspired one of the biggest movie musical hits of Jimmy Cagney's career? (I know, I know, that wasn't a B'way performance, but it certainly showcased B'way "style".) And, by the way, I have heard John Raitt sing since the '50s. . . his voice was still golden!
Did I miss Gwen Verdon or Carol Hainey? I don' think so but I am crazy about that era in particular!
From William J Kostandinu:
That must've been hard to come up with only 100. There was a lot of people on the list of Great Broadway Performers that I have never heard of. Well, I guess that is because I am only 19, but there are a lot of great performers that were excluded....Judy Kuhn, Colm Wilkinson, Glenn Close....and plenty of others. Those are my thoughts. Thanks
I, personally, feel that Colm Wilkinson is a very worthy person for this list. His accomplishments in the theatre have been tremendous and he is forever promoting it in nationally and internationally-televised specials. I believe he should have been on the list.
From Spiv13 :
No Michael Crawford?
My mother was crushed!
I agree mostly with all your picks. But, you cut George Hearn? It's bad enough that you did it, but did you have to tell us? And Rex Harrison may have "revolutionized" speak-sing, but George Hearn really CAN sing. Thank you thank you thank you for including Angela lansbury so high on the list. Not too many hard feelings here, I still love your column.
From Niki Dunham
Ack! I can't believe that you don't have Judy Kuhn on that list! She's SUCH a classy star!!
George Hearn should have made the list. He is and was one of the best male broadway performers. He starred in such acclaimed roles as Sweeney in Sweeney Todd, Albin in La Cage Aux Folles, Max in Sunset Boulevard, Otto in the Diary of Anne Frank, and he also performed in many concerts including Mack in Mack and Mabel, and Benjamin Stone in Follies at Avery Fisher Hall center. He also did 1776 on the road and was in Kismet at New York City Opera.
He is a wonderful actor, able to take on many very different parts in shows. He also has in my mind the most gorgeous voice on Broadway. He also received two Tony Awards (Some people on this list didn't even receive a Tony Award).
Besides this on person that was left out, I really thought your list was very good. You really picked out the best performers on Broadway!
Regarding the 100 best broadway musical performers. Many I agreed with, and granted I am too young to be familiar with many of them, so it's not my place to disagree. However, some of my personal favorites were left out. Robert Westenberg. What a great voice, whether he's playing a wolf or Javert, he is always great. Scott Wise, rarely does he miss a performance, and he always brings such life to the stage, and you can tell he loves what he's doing. This guy deserves to have his own leading role. Jarrod Emick, he gave me chills when he walked out as Joe Hardy, hope to see him back on Broadway again soon. Brent Carver loved him in Kiss of the Spider Woman, what a tender voice. Rebecca Luker, probably one of the best singers on Broadway today. She is a beautiful person with a beautiful voice. And lastly, Debbie Shapiro Gravitte. She has a powerhouse of a voice, I can't remember ever hearing her sing anything I didn't thoroughly enjoy.
From Rosenthal_S :
There are two performers missing who are worthy of conclusion.
Raul Julia - since I started going to shows in 1971, he was the greatest larger-than-life presence on the musical stage. He has more Best Actor Tony nominations for a musical than any other. There has never been nor will there ever be a more definite "Mack the Knife". Also, there are his two leading man performances in two Best Musical Tony award winners, Two Gentlemen in Verona and Nine.
Len Cariou - His performance in the original Sweeney Todd alone should have been enough to put him in the 100. However, he also was Tony nominated as Best Actor in a musical in two other important Tony winning musicals, Applause and A Little Night Music. No other actor has been nominated for three Tony winning musicals.
how could you forget
George M. Cohan
and how about an honorable mention for broadway's recent loss of the great Laurie Beechman
You've overlooked GEORGE HEARN and FAITH PRINCE. For shame!
From Marcia Rovins:
How could you forget Anthony Newley? Not only has he given wonderful performances on Broadway, he has written showtunes that have become standards.
From The Lost Spice Girl:
I just have one question? What about Judy Kuhn? She is Broadway's ingenue and will continue to be. She has a voice that can carry her own and she has fire that can burn into any role. She is already Broadway's next big thing.
From Caras, Larry:
I would have liked to see Faith Prince included, she shocked us all by going from Guys and Dolls to the King and I. Is Bells Are Ringing far off? Come on guys!
From raul diaz:
From Susan Saladino:
I think that Audra McDonald was a great overlook. 28 years old, and she has @ tony's under her belt. And have you ever seen her perform? What versatile performer, probably one of the best we've got.
Hello, you're not going to include Jennifer Holiday???? This is somewhat baffling as she revolutionized the "diva" look at the time and has been back to Broadway a couple of times.
I loved this!! Thanks for taking the time and thinking it all through for us.... I'm sure every decision and placement was a massive decision!
And I must say thanks for placing Patti LuPone so high on the list - where she belongs!
From Lenora A. Tringali:
So she's been in a few flops, but Liz Callaway has got one hell of a voice!! Judy Blazer isn't as well known as many other Broadway girls but she is extremely talented. Laurie Beechman...how could you leave her out?? Judy Kuhn...by far one of the best voices on Broadway!!!
From Brian P. Silliman:
I would have to almost definitely include Brian Stokes Mitchell. I loved the inclusion of Nathan Lane and Joel Grey, though. Two of my favorites.
All of my faves were included! You all have great taste!! The only complaint I can make is that Betty Buckley should have been higher on the list. And thanks for dropping Glenn Close. While she is a FANTASTIC actress, musical theatre is not her thing, not even with Norma. I would have loved her Norma better if she had not sung! Great idea for the list.
From Jennifer R Levy:
What happened to Colm Wilkinson though? And how about Michael Crawford?
Ok-- I know she hasn't been around that long, but Audra McDonald-- two shows, two Tonys and an almost certain nomination for the third. Even though one show was a play, she did sing. I think we could find room for her near the end of the list.
From Linda Frey:
I read your top 100 list and was surprised that I didn't see Michael Crawford. I kept scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. What an injustice! What a disappointment!
What about Michael Jeter for his unforgettable performance in GRAND HOTEL (My companion and I *both* had tears in our eyes -- *that's* a good production number!) AND his inspiring Tony acceptance speech? I'll never forget either moment.
Otherwise, no quibbles.
From TJ Faulkner:
Barbra at 100? Are you totally crazy? She is one of the best. No one can beat her. Except of course the Merm. And to talk of people left out...Rebecca Luker with her so soothing voice. Judy Kuhn, stole every scene she had in Chess, Sunset Blvd., and Les Miz. And not to forget many others to numerous to name all.
OK, maybe a lot of people like her [Liza Minnelli], but come on!! She is so annoying. The only reason she made it was because she is Judy Garland's daughter. Why doesn't she call herself Liza Judy Garland's Daughter. I saw a production of Cabaret and then watched the movie and just wanted to kill her. I can't believe she won an Oscar for that terrible performance. And what about her antics on the set of V/V? I am sorry, but she just is not one of the top one hundred performers. How could you cut someone like Ben Vereen and keep her?
From MaryEllen Kelly:
How about George M. Cohan?
I know he was a rotten human being, but he sure lit up the Great White Way!
I'd also like to make a case for Cohan's first wife and sometime co-star, Ethel Levey, who (among other things) helped introduce ragtime music to England in the 1911 West End show "Hullo, Ragtime!"
Despite having been a star on two continents, Levey is utterly (and unfairly) forgotten today--largely because of Cohan's nasty insistence that no hint of her existence appear in the film "Yankee Doodle Dandy."
I know you won't take me seriously, but hear me out anyways. I've always enjoyed Lea Salonga's presence on stage. Though she is new to the stage, she has been in two of the most prominent musicals today - Miss Saigon and Les Miz, where she has pioneered two great roles. She has a great voice, and deserves more than passing recognition.
From Frank Darmstadt (firstname.lastname@example.org):
Fun idea and a great list; you should put out a CD with their recordings.
re #100--don't look awry at Barbra Streisand; true, she only did 2 shows but through her recordings, she introduced millions of people to Broadway material--if it weren't for her, who would have ever heard of "He Touched Me"/"Starting Here, Starting Now"/"Lazy Afternoon"/"Will He Like Me?"/"Come Rain or Come Shine" (put on a 1979 pop album that at least got the song onto pop turn tables).
How about a list of 100 people who should come to Broadway?
From Joshua Israel:
Generally, this is a very good list, but there is one GLARING omission.
Mr. Ben Vereen.
From the beginning of his career, he's been a huge star on Broadway... he began with leads in HAIR (I believe he was the first African American to play the main character) and originated the role of Judas even before his Tony award winning and exceptional performance as The Leading Player in PIPPIN. The epitome of the "triple threat" singer, dancer and actor, Vereen has the ability to bring the audience wherever the show is and to amaze in every role.
His return to the Broadway stage after a near death experience in JELLY'S LAST JAM allowed him to steal the show in a small role.
Perhaps equally impressive, in the otherwise forgettable 1995 A Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden, I have vivid memories of children who would not stop talking through the first half of the show all falling silent as he took the stage for his showstoppping "Abundance and Charity."
Given Vereen's experience (many many Broadway shows), heart, talent, and star power, he CERTAINLY has earned a place on any top 100 list.
From Lindsey Rose:
Donna Murphy before Joel Grey, Yul Brynner, AND Nathan Lane? mmhmm.
And, I was pretty sure that I wasn't far sighted, but I read the list over a few times and, for some reason or another, couldn't find the names of Lea Salonga OR Faith Prince. Maybe it's just me.
Excuse me, but how is it that Beatrice Arthur did not make the list? One can argue that her Yenta in Fiddler and her Vera in Mame (those are just the two I am well familiar with) were so original and exciting that no one who has taken those parts after her (throughout all these years) have even come close to making those parts their own the way Bea did.
No offense to Donna Murphy, who is an accomplished and talented performer, but to date, I have seen nothing in her performances that are so unique and so original and so exciting that another accomplished and professional actress could not give an equal performance (where the audience does not feel their missing out on seeing someone/something spectacular). For this reason alone Beatrice Arthur, Carol Burnette, Lauren Bacall, George Hearn, Michele Lee deserve a place on that list before Donna Murphy, Sondra Lee, and several others on that list.
From Arthur Feinberg:
I saw Wonderful Town in 1953 with the glorious Rosalind Russell,.Brooks Atkinson's review began with,"Rosalind Russell for president." Although she was not best known for musical comedy, she deserves to be in the hallowed company you have selected. I was 18 when I saw that luminous performance (Edie Adams, George Gaynes, et.al.), and nearly 1,000 theater memories later, I still recall it with enormous affection.
From Jason Shelley:
I'd like to give a mention to Paula Wayne who starred opposite Sammy Davis Jr. in "Golden Boy." She became the first white woman to kiss a black man on stage, suffered through prejudices, violence and outrage. Prejudice kept her out of the Tony running and even the eventual winner that year, Liza Minnelli (who by the way, lived with her and was taught to sing by her) admitted that she deserved the award. Frank Sinatra described her as the greatest female singer alive. Had she accepted the role of Aldonza in "Man of La Mancha" there's no telling how far she could have gone, but after being as big as she was in the mid sixties, eventually winning and Emmy, she gave it up to have a family. Listen to the CD of "Best Foot Forward" and specifically to the song You're Lucky and tell me if there's a lovelier voice. She could wrap an audience around her finger better than any performer alive.
Very deserving list, I see we'd agree on a lot--thou for me Betty Buckley (# 1) and Bernadette Peters would have been much higher. Please allow me to make a few additions I'll be seeing on all your future lists, since I feel these will also go down as classic performances...
Bebe Neuwirth--- from the first two words in the shows opening, her Velma said "Come on...." and EVERYBODY went.
Lillias White--- strong & defiant, emotionally moving, and downright classy at any moment
Linda Eder--- perhaps the Barbra you mentioned missing??? (see #100)
The Entire Original Cast of RENT- - in my 15 years of Broadway, never before such energy and talent. Commitment that's the voice of every face in several generations.
Brian Stokes Mitchell--- Sarah came down to Coalhouse.....followed shortly by the new Ford Center-42nd Street
Laurie Beechman--- always sharing her joy of performing with everyone....even still.
Sam Harris--- would've made THE BEST Joe Gillis in SUNSET BLVD.
Norma's staircase---- a near standing ovation at EVERY performance. The show may not be there anymore, but it's still performing tonight at the Minskoff. (see the hydraulics in Scarlet Pimpernel)
From greg binstock:
From sandra vandergaag:
WHAT? no PETULA CLARK?!!
From Drayton Hiers:
I usually find it very difficult to distinguish male stars in the theatre who are truly worthy of the title- the male voice is usually just much less interesting than the female voice. But with his stunning turns in "Floyd Collins" (yes, I know, it was off-bway), "Candide", and "Strike up the Band!", Danieley proved himself as a major talent with a voice that can make the heart melt faster...well, than anything. I realize that he is new to Broadway, but Danieley is the reason that I attended Harold Prince's misconceived production of "Candide" three times, as well as the reason that I get shivers whenever I play "Make Our Garden Grow". Overlooking him was just a shame...and btw, let me just say now that it will be an even greater shame if City Center chooses not to record the highly enjoyable and delightful "Strike up the Band."