PLAYBILL PICKS: Staff Members Choose Their Favorite Tony Awards Performances

News   PLAYBILL PICKS: Staff Members Choose Their Favorite Tony Awards Performances
As the 68th Annual Tony Awards approach, staff members decided to choose their favorite performances from Tony Awards telecasts throughout the years. Click through to see which stellar numbers would make your own list. And, be sure to tune in June 8 to watch the CBS broadcast of the Tonys, hosted by Hugh Jackman.


Miss Saigon in 1991.
The very first Tony Awards I recall watching. Jonathan Pryce's show-stopping "American Dream" had me totally transfixed. I was eight. My mom had to answer a lot of really awkward questions for me after that one.

The women of The Life performing "My Body."
I was only passively following Broadway at this point in my life (I was really focused on my rap career), but seeing this performance and hearing that high-energy song was a real shot in the arm. I had an "I forgot musicals were so awesome!" moment and dove back into theatre shortly after.

Tonya Pinkins singing "Lot's Wife" from Caroline, Or Change.
I was just getting ready to move to New York and knew very little about the current season aside from Wicked and Avenue Q. I remember her gut-wrenching rendition of this masterpiece silencing everyone in the room as we watched on my couch in California. No one had any idea what it was about, and frankly it was kind of terrifying. But it was made clear that I needed to see this show as soon as possible. It's now one of my all-time favorites.

The opening number from a few seasons ago, "It's Not Just For Gays Anymore," still makes me laugh every time I think about it. Brilliant lyrics and a flawless performance from Neil Patrick Harris. I was at the dress rehearsal that year and got a sneak peek at this gem at 10 AM. It took all of my self control not to spill the beans before showtime. "Pick up a Playbill, and feel like a man!"

It's hard to think of anything quite as exciting as Andrew Rannells nailing "I Believe" from Book of Mormon. Flawless vocals and amazing stage (and screen) presence.

ANDREW GANS, Senior Editor

"A New Argentina" from Evita:
I was 11 when Evita won the Tony Award for Best Musical, and it was the production and performance — Patti LuPone in the title role — that charted the course of my life and career. I must have re-watched this thrilling number — like none I had ever seen on stage — 1,000 times until my mom accidentally erased the video tape. It wasn't until years later when I finally obtained another copy that I realized the cast was lip syncing to a pre-recorded track. Nevertheless, it's still utterly thrilling!

"Unexpected Song" from Song and Dance:
I was probably at the height of my Bernadette Peters fandom when the multitalented singing actress was nominated for her tour de force in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song and Dance, a performance that remains one of my top theatre-going experiences. I remember literally sitting on the edge of my seat as the winner of the Best Leading Actress in a Musical category was announced (Peters won her first Tony that night), and I probably watched her performance of "Unexpected Song," which builds to a thrilling finale, at least once a day for several months after it aired.

"And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from Dreamgirls:
Has there ever been a more gut-wrenching performance on the Tony Awards than Jennifer Holliday's delivery of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from the Henry Krieger-Tom Eyen musical Dreamgirls? What made this performance even more spectacular was the inclusion of the dramatic fight scene that precedes Holliday's stentorian solo as well as the brief moment with the Dreams that follows. Musical theatre and the Tonys at their finest.

"Memory" from Cats:
Okay, it was fun to watch the glorious dancing of the cast of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats perform the musical's opening number, "Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats," but it was when Betty Buckley opened her mouth and began singing "Memory" that I became riveted to the screen. Here was an actress I had known solely as the mom on TV's "Eight Is Enough," and from her was pouring out this uniquely beautiful voice that touched both the heart and soul, and when she delivered the song's powerful finale, I knew I would be a fan for life.

"I Want It All" from Baby:
What was particularly exciting about the annual Tony Awards for this Jersey boy was the chance to see snippets from shows that for one reason or another I had not heard about: One such musical was Richard Maltby and David Shire's Baby, which features one of my favorite scores of the 80s and was spotlighted on the 1984 telecast. The joyful delivery of "I Want It All" — performed by the terrific trio of Liz Callaway, Beth Fowler and Catherine Cox — made this then-teenager run out to purchase the original cast recording and gave me the chance to see the show on its final day on Broadway.

DAVID GEWIRTZMAN, Playbill Special Projects

Ethel Merman's Lifetime Achievement Medley at the 1972 Tony Awards
Most of Ethel Merman's legendary performances, including Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes, Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun and Rose in Gypsy, were before the days of the Tony broadcasts. So on the occasion of her special Tony for Lifetime Achievement, Merman performed an epic 13-minute medley with highlights from her entire career. There are so many thrilling moments in there, from her hilarious "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun" (Merman playing a shotgun-wielding tomboy while wearing an evening gown is just priceless) to her knockout "Everything's Coming Up Roses" finale.

Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley performing "I Will Never Leave You" at the 1998 Tony Awards
Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley's Side Show duet is the one performance I have the most vivid memory of watching live on TV: I remember being really excited that they were performing, and when my sister came by to ask what was going on, I babbled about how moving it was that they were getting to sing this song even though Side Show had closed months ago. I'm pretty sure my sister's response to all that was just a blank stare, but 16 years later this is still one of my favorite Tony memories.

Jennifer Holliday performing "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" at the 1982 Tony Awards
When I was told we were doing an article collecting our favorite Tony broadcast performances, my first thought was, "Great, we're going to have ten pages of Jennifer Holliday's Dreamgirls performance." Then again, it's absolute musical theatre perfection, so I'm okay with that.


My all-time favorite performance at the Tony Awards was in 2003 when Marissa Jaret Winokur and the cast of Hairspray performed "You Can't Stop the Beat." Hairspray is one of my favorite "feel-good" musicals that taught me to love yourself for who you are — no matter your weight, race, age or social status — and I absolutely have this performance on a VHS tape (and learned every single step of choreography). I will also never forget Winokur's speech when she won the Tony that night: "If a 4-foot-11, chubby New York girl can be a leading lady in a Broadway show and win a Tony, then anything can happen." She's absolutely right, and I've followed my dreams ever since.

I think that In the Heights is one of the most exciting new musicals of my generation. Lin-Manuel Miranda so brilliantly (and successfully) incorporated rap and hip-hop into the world of musical theatre, and suddenly Broadway felt like a place that was obtainable — a place that could be shared by all. Contemporary musical theatre was thriving. I couldn't be more excited to see the Tony Awards filled with modern-day movement, riffing, belting, rapping and the show-stopping explosion that is "96,000." Also, let's not forget Miranda's Tony-winning speech — where he rapped through its entirety. I have never been more inspired in my life.

It wouldn't be right if I didn't include the 2007 performance from the cast of Spring Awakening, another one of my favorite musicals. I was watching people my age jump around at the Tony Awards, singing a medley of the show's killer score—"Mama Who Bore Me," "The Bitch of Living" and "Totally F**ked." What can possibly be cooler than that?

ADAM HETRICK, Editor in Chief

Kiss of the Spider Woman. This performance and this musical changed my life. I played the VHS over and over to memorize every bit of dialogue (and possibly the choreography, too). In a time before people talked about bullying, musical theatre and especially this musical, were my escape. My 12-year-old self felt like Chita Rivera (as Aurora) was speaking directly to me when she began, "Turn off the lights and turn on your mind."

Lorna Luft and Liza Minnelli at the 1993 Tony Awards. Apparently the 1993 Tony Awards were impactful for me. I still can't get rid of that VHS tape to this day. I love this duet, especially the bars of "Over the Rainbow" that come at the end of the medley as Judy Garland's daughters sing "Not While I'm Around."

Larry Kramer's Tony Awards acceptance speech for The Normal Heart. I know this isn't a performance, but Kramer's words carried a strong and beautiful message for LGBT people of all generations across the country watching the telecast.

CAREY PURCELL, Features Editor

Matilda The Musical
The scooters! The strobe lights! The kids! One of my favorite books, "Matilda" was adapted beautifully to the stage, and this performance depicted everything I loved about the production: the rebellious children, the touching music and lyrics and the undeniable joy that emanated from the stage. I had just seen Matilda a few weeks before the Tony Awards, but watching this performance made me want to go straight back to the theatre and see it again.

South Pacific
This performance managed to showcase the joy and beauty of the breathtaking revival of South Pacific — a production that ran almost three hours — in less than five minutes. "There Is Nothing Like a Dame," showing Danny Burstein's hilarious comedic chops; Paulo Szot singing "Some Enchanted Evening" — need I say more?; and Kelli O'Hara's exuberant dancing and cartwheeling around the stage during "I'm In Love With a Wonderful Guy" all reminded me why Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical is considered one of the greats.

Spring Awakening
I had wondered how Spring Awakening, the angst-ridden hormonal rock musical, would be performed at the Tony Awards, given the swear words in the song titles, and I was concerned the musical's edge would be softened due to the broadcast. I was wrong. The three songs — "Mama Who Bore Me," "The B*itch of Living" and "Totally F*cked" — all depicted the show's energy, edge and message beautifully. And John Gallagher Jr.'s wink during the line, "This is so not life at all," following his win as Best Featured Actor, was adorable.

BLAKE ROSS, Playbill Magazine, Editor in Chief

Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald, Marin Mazzie (and a very young Lea Michele!) leading the original company of Ragtime at the 1998 Tony Awards. It gave me chills watching it live and still does even via YouTube!

"Broadway: It's Not Just For Gays Anymore" was the best Tony opener I've seen. (Plus, as a single, straight woman, I like the national message it sends to cute straight men.)

This musical changed my life. And I remember watching Rent on the 1996 Tony Awards and singing along to every word.

Now, I didn't see this one live, but it's a go-to YouTube clip for me, and even through the grainy, muffled video you can tell the utterly visceral explosion that is Jennifer Holliday's voice in "And I Am Telling You…" She took the Tonys to CHURCH!!

MARK SHENTON, London Correspondent

Lauren Bacall, Woman of the Year
I never saw Woman of the Year, but for me this great number makes me feel like I have! This Kander and Ebb show was a vehicle for Lauren Bacall — but though she's at the centre of the number "I'm One of the Girls, Who's One of the Guys" from the 1981 telecast, it's the boys who shine in their precision dancing.

Patti LuPone, Evita
A staggering rendition of Evita's "Buenos Aires" from Patti LuPone, also from the 1981 telecast, is Broadway power-singing at its very best. I swear you can see her tonsils as she belts it out!

"Turkey Lurkey Time," Promises, Promises
There's no more ecstatic — or ecstasy-inducing — clip on all of youtube for me than the exhilarating rendition of "Turkey Lurkey Time" from Promises, Promises from the 1969 telecast. Michael Bennett's choreography gets a roar of audience approval — and Donna McKechnie stands out amongst the dancers.

ROBERT VIAGAS, Executive Editor of PlaybillEDU

2011: Finale performed by Neil Patrick Harris. In a dazzling display of rap improvisation, Lin Manuel Miranda wrote the number as the show progressed, and then NPH delivered it live with minimal rehearsal, recapping the highlights of the show that just ended. Sample: "Sutton Foster never lost 'er knack for talking smack…" etc.

1990: Michael Jeter seems to actually levitate off the stage in his marionette-like performance of Tommy Tune's choreography to "We'll Take a Glass Together" from Grand Hotel.

" 1971: But the all-time greatest Tony show was the 25th anniversary show in 1971, on which original stars performed numbers from nearly all 25 musicals that had won "Best Musical" up till then (with a little fudging in the earliest years), from David Wayne singing "When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love" through Lauren Bacall in a number from Applause. Never equaled. If I had to pick one from that show, it would be Channing singing "Before the Parade Passes By." A little off-key in spots, but full of heart.

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