When I sat down to write about the Top 10 Tony Awards mash-ups (combining several songs into one production numbers to promote a show), I thought to myself, "I hate when they do that. Don't give me a verse and a chorus from three different parts of the musical. I want a full excerpt I can sink my teeth into and rewatch for years, like 'Everything's Coming Up Roses,' 'A New Argentina' or 'Anything Goes' (or dozens of other great performances, not featuring Patti LuPone)." But when I started to think back on these medleys, I realized how many of them have really hooked me on the shows. A well-crafted mash-up can represent the various moods and attitudes of a musical and give the audience a sample of a few of the best songs.
10. 2009 Tony Awards Opening Medley
A memorable mash-up, the 2009 opening medley was somewhat odd. Beginning with the Billy Elliots dancing around, Movin' Out-style, as Elton John accompanied himself on a song from the musical, the pop artists responsible for the music in the shows performed their songs together with the casts, e.g. Dolly Parton got onstage to belt out "9 to 5" with the 9 to 5 girls, and Poison's Bret Michaels was featured in the Rock of Ages segment. There were short little excerpts from Shrek the Musical and the revivals of West Side Story and Guys and Dolls and a sexy interweaving of Next to Normal's Aaron Tveit singing "I'm Alive" (sans stripper pole) while Pal Joey nominee Stockard Channing serenaded him with the cradle-robbing classic "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" (enjoyable, although I would've like to see Martha Plimpton's fabulous Broadway musical debut preserved for all time with a broadcast performance). Liza Minnelli delivered a (still thrilling after all these decades!) "The World Goes Round" from her "Best Special Event" winner, Liza's At The Palace and then shook her groove thing to "Let the Sun Shine In" as cast members from all the musicals flooded the stage to join the Hair tribe.
Spring Awakening, the 2007 triple-crown Tony Award winner (Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Book) wisely went the mash-up route to advertise more of its score, one of the first rock musical scores to really sound like music you'd hear outside of a theatre (no surprise, as it was composed by Duncan Sheik). The hot young cast led by instant stars Jonathan Groff, Lea Michele and John Gallagher, Jr. burns with vigor, via soul-searching in "Mama Who Bore Me," adolescent sexual tension in "The B*tch of Living" and eventually complete disaffectedness in "Totally F*cked." Frank Wedekind's original play may have premiered in 1891, but this medley blowing the roof of the Tonys demonstrated that the themes remained resonant.
Film star Toni Collette demonstrated major musical theatre chops as Queenie in Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe's 2000 adaptation of Joseph Moncure March's decadent 1928 poem, "The Wild Party." Pairing her first song, "Welcome To My Party," with Eartha Kitt's incinerating showstopper, "When It Ends" earned the musical a bit of the lasting impression it deserves. Someday, when it's revived, we'll rewatch this mash-up and wonder if the new cast can compare with the singular powers of Kitt and Collette. On the surface, Collette's number pulses with celebration, while Kitt's purrs with prowling caution. The underlying truth, though, is that "Welcome To My Party" is a manic tirade while "When It Ends" offers wisdom and resolute peace. The dichotomy of these forces is the tension at the heart of the entire piece.
Richard Maltby, Jr.'s smash hit 1978 Fats Waller revue, Ain't Misbehavin', was seemingly made for mash-ups. Nearly every one of the songs was a familiar classic, and the more they could feature on the Tony Awards, the more people they could potentially entice to buy a ticket. This was before the era of jukebox musicals, so the audience was unaccustomed to hearing so many songs they knew and love in a new show they'd never seen before. Of course, it didn't hurt that these were performed by the literally all-star ensemble cast, Nell Carter, André DeShields, Armelia McQueen, Ken Page and Charlaine Woodard.
Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein's 1984 musical, La Cage aux Folles, (directed by Arthur Laurents) couldn't have happened enjoyed its enormous success without these speficic talents, particularly Herman. Who else but the man behind Mame and Hello, Dolly! could wrap this groundbreaking story about family and sexual politics in a score so bright and sparklingly tuneful, even the most conservative of curmudgeons couldn't help but tap their toes? It would have been a mistake not to include George Hearn's heroic rendition of "I Am What I Am," but combining the anthem with its mirror image, glitzy production number, "We Are What We Are," ensured the full fabulousness of the show came through.
Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman's 1991 musical adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's beloved novel, The Secret Garden, has long been a favorite family musical, especially remembered for Daisy Eagan's charming performances as Mary Lennox, for which she became the youngest female to win a Tony performing in a musical. The brilliance doesn't stop there, the cast also included John Cameron Mitchell, Mandy Patinkin, Alison Fraser, Rebecca Luker and Robert Westenberg — and the Tony Awards mash-up gave us a glimpse of the diverse gifts these future legends brought to the show's rich tapestry of a score. The folky charm of "Wick" followed by the searing pop power of "Lily's Eyes" capped off by the ethereal emotion of "Come To My Garden" made for a compelling compilation.
City of Angels, the 1991 Tony Award winner for "Best Musical," was chock full of top-notch showtunes by Cy Coleman and David Zippel. The producers made the smart choice to do a mash-up including two of the fan favorites, "What You Don't Know About Women" and "You're Nothing Without Me," fans surely expanded in spades after this medley aired. Both numbers illustrated the dual staging of the fantasy world in the screenwriters head as well his real life. Far more than a gimmick, this was essential to the main theme of the show (the confusion of life and art) and this mash-up showed why it worked.
For Falsettos, William Finn and James Lapine won the 1992 Tony Awards for Best Score and Best Book, and the mash-up their cast performed, although short on dialogue, managed to make a strong case for both. Finn's songs not only touched visceral chords, but offered an incredible degree to storytelling for such a brief excerpt. I remember so well, watching the broadcast, hearing "My father's a homo, my mother's not thrilled at all," and "We're sitting, and watching Jewish boys who cannot play baseball, play baseball." Like a falsetto outside the normal vocal range, these people and their stories stood apart from what families looked like on TV or film or in other plays and musicals. I had to see it.
While the 1983 Tony Awards mash-up from Cats only included two numbers from the show, they were the right two numbers. The ensemble rendition of the "Jellicle Song," in their iconic cat costumes, performing Gillian Lynne's iconic choreography, was about as spot-on a representation of the musical as could be. If you were wondering, "Is the show about cats?" this number illustrated the production's inventive style, using Andrew Lloyd Webber's music to enhance the anthropomorphism of T.S. Eliot's poems. Then, to have Betty Buckley, at the peak of her formidable powers, rip into a glorious rendition of "Memory" — arguably the most significant performance of the most significant showtune of the entire era — raises the entire event into the stratosphere.
Back in 1977, when mash-ups were just called medleys and when they could be over ten minutes long, Andrea McArdle and Dorothy Loudon led the original cast of Annie in a heaven-sent excerpt from their legendary production. McArdle's authoritative belting of "Tomorrow" makes a might strong case for Annie as something more than a fluffy piece of family entertainment. And then Loudon's "Easy Street" reveals a level of wit and sophistication that people might be surprised to find in Annie. These two show business pros — the veteran and the newbie — were gems in not only their production, but the entire season, and showcasing them both was an excellent way to sell the show.
(Ben Rimalower is the author and star of the critically acclaimed solo plays Patti Issues and Bad with Money. Read Playbill's coverage of the show here. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)