Remembering the Tony-Winning Musical Performers -- Part 1

Tony Awards   Remembering the Tony-Winning Musical Performers -- Part 1
From the Special Tony Playbill:

From the Special Tony Playbill:

Musical performers remember their Tony-winning performances:

"What can I say?" exclaims Beatrice Arthur, flabbergasted by the question. "It feels wonderful wonderful to win a Tony. You try to be modest and humble and self-effacing, but, somewhere deep down inside, you're saying, 'Well, they're finally giving it to the right person!'"
Arthur got hers playing Vera Charles, "Bosom Buddy" to Mame, and she got to repeat the part for the movie version. Unhappily, Lucille Ball had the title role this second time around not the Tony-winning original, Angela Lansbury and Ball dropped the ball. "I'm not going to say a lot of things I guess people want me to say," Arthur told Earl Wilson at the time. "It was lovely working with Angela, and it was lovely and trying working with Lucy. . . . Lucille is a very determined lady. She wanted me for the movie. She said, 'I won't do it without Bea.' She wants to work with professionals."
Not that they compensate for this foul Ball. It was fast to fade, but the memory of it dies harder for Arthur. "Going from that glorious experience with Angela into that situation was, to say the least, sad," she remarked recently. The miracle is she didn't get the bends.
Tony Award Winner: Best Featured Actress in a Musical, Mame, 1966.

High on the short list of Actresses Hollywood Doesn't Know What To Do With (Alexis Smith, Angela Lansbury, et al) is Lauren Bacall. Thankfully, in a career-saving gesture straight out of left field, Broadway did: It gave 'em a song, and they got a Tony in Bacall's case, two Tonys. It was only after her glory days in movies that she reached even greater glory as a late-blooming musical-comedy star, singing out live! in a theatre two of the strongest female characters ever to grace the silver screen: Margo Channing in All About Eve and Tess Harding in Woman of the Year; in the unexpected musical persona of The New Bacall is the only known instance of Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn comfortably coexisting. (Indeed, Bacall's Channing snatched the Tony from Hepburn's Coco, leaving Kate to date entirely Tonyless.)
Even more impressive is the fact that Bacall was star enough to do musical comedy her way on her own terms and her throaty alto did indeed find a home on Broadway. Her rowdy showstopper in Woman of the Year "(I'm) One of the Girls (Who's One of the Boys)" inspired Gerard Alessandrini to spoof her in his first Forbidden Broadway via "I'm One of the Girls Who Sounds Like the Boys." She dispatched her musical director, Don Pippin, to case the show to see if she should sue. He told her she could, but she'd be a fool to do it because it was an affectionate ribbing. And, too, it only added to the Lauren lore, which started 52 years ago with her first film, To Have and Have Not, when they said her singing was dubbed for her by a teen-age Andy Williams.
Tony Award Winner: Best Actress in a Musical, Applause, 1970; Woman of the Year, 1981.


Hinton Battle's batting average with Tonys is singularly unique among theatre performers three for three! but he had to be talked into that distinction. Having taken Tonys for his dazzling dancing in Sophistication Ladies and The Tap Dance Kid, he had immersed himself into acting and choreographing in Los Angeles and, thus, wasn't all that keen on coming back to Broadway in what was essentially a nondancing role in Miss Saigon but he saw in the part as "a chance to show people what else I can do. I can't fall back on my dancing here," he said at the time, "and that's a big challenge, but I really don't miss it." The thing that pushed him in this correct direction was the power of one of his songs, "Bui-Doi," an anthem to the lost Amerasian children in Vietnam. That got him glowing notices, Tony number three and, most meaningful of all, a military tie clip presented to him by a Vietnam veteran shortly before the Broadway opening. "He said, 'You were a real Marine up on that stage,' which was the best compliment I ever received. This character stands for a lot, and I'm proud to be up there."
Tony Award Winner: Best Featured Actor in a Musical, Sophisticated Ladies, 1981; The Tap Dance Kid, 1984; Miss Saigon, 1991.

"Ray Bolger is not the greatest man in the world. But why quibble?" began Brooks Atkinson's review the morning after Bolger began what became his longest (and his Tony-winning) run on Broadway. "In Where's Charley?, he is great enough to make a mediocre musical show seem thoroughly enjoyable," admitted the Times man-on-the-aisle about this Frank Loesser musicalization of Charley's Aunt. One of the five tunes that constituted Loesser's Broadway bow as a lyricist and composer "Once in Love with Amy" was socked across the footlights with such lilting, rubber-limbed charm by Bolger that it instantly and everlastingly became the performer's own personal "signature song." And that wasn't the only show-stopper, according to another county heard from (World-Telegram critic William Hawkins): "Last night the audience was ready and willing to stop the show after nearly every number, and often the cast was left frozen in tableaux while the onlookers beat the skin off their hands."
Tony Award Winner: Best Actor in a Musical, Where's Charley?, 1949.


Tom Bosley recalled how The Little Flower blossomed into a Tony-winning role for him. Despite the fact he played the title role in Fiorello! and "supported" no one, "I was nominated for Best Supporting Actor," he said, "essentially because my name was not above the title. It infuriated the other people in that category [Theodore Bikel, Jack Klugman, Howard Da Silva, Kurt Kasznar] people who truly were supporting. It was a foregone conclusion I'd win, and I did. In my acceptance speech, I said something I still believe: 'If it weren't for George Abbott, I'd just be another chubby little actor.' "
Tony Award Winner: Best Featured Actor in a Musical, Fiorello!, 1960.

The King of Siam was not Tony's top banana back in 1952. Phil Silvers got the prize for Best Actor in a Musical [Top Banana], and, unregal and irreverent as it may seen, the one for Best Supporting or Featured Actor in a Musical went to Yul Brynner for The King and I. Thirty-three years later the Tony committee caught him waltzing through town in a revival of the show and tapped him for a special honorary award. It was presented at the 1985 Tony telecast by his lady of Lute Song, Mary Martin. He stepped forth commandingly and said, "I want to thank Mary Martin for everything. Also, Dick and Oscar, Rodgers and Hammerstein. And I also want to thank Yul Brynner. He turned out all right, after all." Days later, at the end of that month, The Bald One ended his off-and-on 34-year-old reign, which had been seen by an estimated eight million theatregoers (and everybody else, thanks to the 1956 movie). The King's closing week, according to Variety, set a new high of $605,546 the highest single-week take in Broadway history. Fourteen weeks after that, Yul Brynner died of cancer.
Tony Award Winner: Best Featured Actor in a Musical, The King and I, 1952. Special Award, 1985.

In the past dozen or so years, Betty Buckley has risen in the world from the rubble-ridden back alleys of Cats to the rococo splendors of Sunset Boulevard, but she continues to cherish the memory "Memorys," really of the role that won her the Tony. "Grizabella is my heart's favorite," she still says. "She taught me so much about dignity and the transcendence of spirit. She is the cry of the heart, the longing we all have in common. Winning the Tony was a tremendous acknowledgment from the theatre community like being granted a Master's Degree after so many years of committed study."
Tony Award Winner: Best Featured Actress in a Musical, Cats, 1983.

"God knows what would have happened if it were not for Richard Burton," said Alan Jay Lerner of his "once and future king." "If ever a star behaved like a star, it was he. . . . Camelot might never have reached New York had it not been for him." During the show's chaotic creation, director Moss Hart had a heart attack, composer Frederick Loewe was sidelined with a severe hemorrhage, one of Lerner's (eight) marriages went down in flames all, while expenses spiraled dizzily upward, earning the musical the nickname of Costalot. Through all this Burton was much the Welsh mensch, talking mentor Philip Burton into some uncredited direction and keeping the shambles from showing with a dazzling display of personality. The musical didn't have a smooth Broadway landing and, indeed, was listing toward an early grave till 20 minutes of it aired on "The Ed Sullivan Show."
From then on the show was a sellout, and Burton was the inevitable, irresistible Tony winner. What's more, legend has it he did all of the above without radically rationing his alcoholic intake. Lerner watched in anxious amazement as the overly oiled actor would reach the theatre, "control the shakes, get on stage, whisper for a moment or two and then will the voice." The subsequent performance would be "word perfect, often good." Once, on a bet, Burton consumed a bottle of vodka during the matinee and another during the evening performance while acting with no effect. His Guenevere served as unwitting judge. At the end of the day, he asked Julie Andrews, "What did you think I was like today then, luv?" She replied, "A little better than usual."
Tony Award Winner: Best Actor in a Musical, Camelot, 1961. Special Award, Equus, 1976.

Diahann Carroll still remembers her first flush of Tony fever. "To be nominated for a Tony Award was, in itself, an honor and a joy," she says. "When it happened, I had somehow forgotten there was an award for doing something I love to do. The joy, of course, is the work and sharing that with the audience. I remember hearing my name read at the ceremony, and I remember how surreal it felt."
Tony Award Winner: Best Actress in a Musical, No Strings, 1962.

Applause from anonymous audiences is always sweet to have in the moment, of course, but it took the Tony to set Nell Carter's heart to trilling it came from her colleagues: "Of all the accolades, of all the joyous moments of my life, none compares to walking on stage and receiving the Tony Award, knowing that you are surrounded by your peers. Nothing has ever made me feel happier."
Tony Award Winner: Best Featured Actress in a Musical, Ain't Misbehavin', 1978.

"I had been nominated before, but this time was really special," Carol Channing recalled recently about her big Tony night. "Two ladies I idolized were nominated that season Barbra Streisand [for Funny Girl] and Beatrice Lillie [for High Spirits]. I can't explain the thrill of being part of the Hello, Dolly! team, which won a record ten Tonys that year." Streisand's vengeance came four years later when Channing was still touring in the show.
"I remember putting down the morning paper that said Streisand would be doing the movie Dolly and thinking I could jump out of that window over there." Happily, she didn't. And happily again, the Channing charisma is stronger than cinema. She's still doing Dolly, and her world tour resumes in September.
Tony Award Winner: Best Actress in a Musical, Hello, Dolly!, 1964.Special Award, 1968. Lifetime Achievement Award, 1995.

The night The Music Man marched through the Tony ceremonies, Marian the Librarian was one of the first to be singled out for honors. "Jo Van Fleet, who was up that year for another Kermit Bloomgarden show [Look Homeward, Angel], sat at my table," Barbara Cook recalls, "and she told me she'd heard that I had won. But I refused to believe her until I actually heard my name called. Even then, it was hard to believe. They put all the winners in this room so they could get a group picture, and we watched the show on a monitor. In those days, the Tonys weren't attached to anything they were just big medallions. I remember Anne Bancroft won one that night, for Two for the Seesaw. When she came into The Green Room, there were about six of us sitting there, and she said, 'Anybody got change for a Tony?' "
Tony Award Winner: Best Featured Actress in a Musical, The Music Man, 1958.

Tony tension took hold of Michael Crawford in the early spring, and he spent quite a few sleepless nights waiting to hear the nomination announced. "Then," he sighed, "if you're lucky enough to be nominated, the real sleepless nights begin, waiting for The Night and that's a heck of a long time. I think maybe that could be shortened slightly for the sake of the nerves. The 'positive' thing about that night was that we were going to perform, and the fear of performing at The Tony transcended everything. Thank goodness I had a mask on, so the sweat couldn't be seen pouring down my face. I spent the whole of the show backstage, getting made up and watching it in a room on a monitor. Then, as soon as Sarah [Brightman] and I had performed, I had about four minutes to get my make-up off and get to my seat before the nominations were read. It was quite a heavy year. There were some very good people around, and we were all sitting in sort of a clump together. When you hear your name announced, it's somehow off in the distance. You don't actually hear your name. I just felt like a child who'd won his first race. It was THE most thrilling thing to happen. For a start, you never believe you'll reach Broadway. Then, when you actually do and achieve the honor of winning a Tony, it surpasses your wildest dreams."
Tony Award Winner: Best Actor in a Musical, The Phantom of the Opera, 1988.

"It didn't matter how tired you were or whatever had happened in your day, the moment that overture started and he began singing 'Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,' all was right with the world!" That's Celeste Holm's lingering memory of Alfred Drake, who played Curly to her Ado Annie in 1943's landmark Broadway musical, Oklahoma! There were no Tonys around at the time to mark the spot. Drake didn't get his for 11 more years, but he obviously wasn't biding his time, idly: He was the highest-paid performer on Broadway $5,000 a week at the time he was giving his Tony-winning performance in Kismet. Another Tony an honorary, "For Excellence in the Theatre" capped his career in 1990.
Tony Award Winner: Best Actor in a Musical, Kismet, 1954. Special Award for Excellence in the Theatre, 1990.


"It was way ahead of its time," said Nanette Fabray of her Tony-winning vehicle, Kurt Weill and Alan Jay Lerner's Love Life the I Do! I Do! of its day. "Ray Middleton and I played husband and wife from the American Revolution up to the modern times." Identified as "a vaudeville" rather than a musical, this 150-year marital cavalcade was produced by Cheryl Crawford and directed by Elia Kazan, both practiced travelers in free-fall history (via The Skin of Our Teeth). Fabray doesn't recall her competition and published Tony records don't include nominees before 1956 but her guess is that it was considerable, 1949 being the year of Kiss Me, Kate (Patricia Morrison, Lisa Kirk), Lend Me an Ear (Carol Channing, Yvonne Adair), As the Girls Go (Irene Ryan) and Where's Charley? (Allyn Ann McLerie, Doretta Morrow).
Tony Award Winner: Best Actress in a Musical, Love Life, 1949.

For Helen Gallagher The Tonys loom a little like The Ages of Man. Her first association with the awards was in 1949 when she, Phil Silvers, Nanette Fabray and Donald Sadler showed up to entertain the august Waldorf-Astoria gathering before the awards were given out. Three years later, she hit the Tony stage a winner for Pal Joey. "I remember I wasn't even going to go," she says. "Jule Styne, who knew I was going to win, had to take me out and buy me a dress to make me go. I was so scared. I remember I followed Julie Harris, who won for I Am a Camera, and she was crying, and I thought, 'I'm not going to cry,' so I got up and said, 'Thank you very much,' and left. That was all I said because I was so frightened. Then the next time was for No, No Nanette. Well, it was like it was another person. I thought I'd be scared, but I wasn't 'cause I happened to look up in the balcony, and there was everybody from my company screaming, yelling, hollering. It was like a love fest, and I made a speech that people wrote me letters about for years afterwards. I said, 'You know, there's lots of times in this business when I thought I was going to quit because I couldn't get a job. Then I thought to myself, 'But I don't know anything else to do,' so I couldn't quit. This award is for all of us who have stuck.' "
Tony Award Winner: Best Featured Actress in a Musical, Pal Joey, 1952. Best Actress in a Musical, No, No, Nanette, 1971.

"What's the highest straight salary ever paid to a Broadway actor?" asked The Great One, returning to Broadway after his TV-induced superstardom. The answer at the time: Alfred Drake, $5,000 a week for Kismet. So, Jackie Gleason asked for and got from producer David Merrick $5,050 a week. Pretty good hitting, you must admit, for a secondary role lasting all of 13 scripted pages (the alcoholic Uncle Sid of Take Me Along, the musicalization of Eugene O'Neill's only comedy, Ah, Wilderness!). But Gleason's persona was such that he took audiences right along, turning a musical of modest merits into a sellout hit. None other than Laurence Olivier, the true Great One of the theatre, sent him a fan letter that began "Dear Great One."
But it was a hectic time at the top, and he was constantly butting egos with Merrick. When a reporter asked him how he liked working for Merrick, Gleason replied, "Merrick works for me," and the war was on in earnest, raging between star and producer till Oct. 20, 1960, when Gleason's contract expired. (William Bendix took over the role, and the show folded three weeks later.) Gleason returned to Broadway only once after that for the 1985 Tony Awards ceremony. Afterwards, at Sardi's, he spotted his Take Me Along press agent, Harvey Sabinson, and pulled him over to his table. "This," he told friends by way of an introduction, "is the guy who came to my dressing room and told me a couple of days in advance that I had won the Tony Award, just to make sure I would show up to get it. And I had to ask him, 'What the [bleep] is that?'" What it was incredibly was the only award he won for acting in his whole career, and Sabinson only had been speculating.
Tony Award Winner: Best Actor in a Musical, Take Me Along, 1960.

David Wayne had already accumulated a couple of Tony Awards‹for playing a leprechaun (in 1947's Finian's Rainbow) and an Okinawan (in 1954's The Teahouse of the August Moon)‹by the time his ersatz "Canadian charm" went into Tony competition with the real McCoy. Robert Goulet‹despite a head start in that department‹professes amazement to this day that it wasn't a Wayne win. "Winning the Tony was a delightful surprise to me, as I was sure my co-star, David Wayne, would be the recipient," he confesses. "Winners usually say 'just being in line for an award is reward enough,' but, in this case, I felt we should have at least shared it. And I know David's looking down from above right now and saying, 'You're darned right, Robert, and I would've shared it with you, too.' "
Tony Award Winner:
Best Actor in a Musical, The Happy Time, 1968

Joel Grey, who has matching Cabaret trophies (the Tony and the Oscar), still remembers what the talk on the street was like in 1966 when the original production of Cabaret was rehearsing in New York: "It was something like: 'A musical comedy about Nazi Germany! What can they be thinking?' We were most definitely viewed by the pundits as the dark horse of the season. Our experience (the cast and creative team, Hal Prince, Kander & Ebb, Joe Masteroff, Ron Field, Boris Aronson, Pat Zipprodt, Jean Rosenthal) was quite different, however. At the outset, we all sensed we were a part of something very powerful, something very new. The first preview at the Shubert in Boston on a freezing November night was electrifying. A few weeks later, the New York critics and Broadway loved it, too. I'll never forget 'Wilkommen' being the opening number on the televised 1967 Tony Awards. We won eight! What a night!"
Tony Award Winner:
Best Featured Actor in a Musical, Cabaret, 1967

A lesson in How To Win the Role That Will Win You the Tony is offered in Joshua Logan's autobiography. The writer-director of South Pacific was having trouble casting his Bloody Mary when he was suddenly confronted at an audition by Juanita Hall, "a marvelous mulatto singer with an Oriental cast of features, [who] took off her shoes and stockings and struck a squatting pose that said, 'I am Bloody Mary and don't you dare cast anyone else!'" It, of course, worked.
Tony Award Winner: Best Featured Actress in a Musical, South Pacific, 1950.

"Carol Haney was Bob Fosse's idea," recalls Richard Adler, who composed the show that won Tonys for all three of them, The Pajama Game. "None of us had ever heard of her, but Bob had this ability to spot brilliant talent. When he found her, she was Gene Kelly's assistant, and he talked her into auditioning for us. That's where I met her, at the audition. I was immediately struck by the extraordinary look of this woman. She had a splendid figure. Wild kind of Oriental eyes. High cheekbones. And the rest of her was very American. It was quite an interesting combination." Needless to add, she got the part Gladys, a manic mantrap of a secretary and ran the Tony-winning distance with it.
Tony Award winner: Best Featured Actress in a Musical, The Pajama Game, 1955.


Rex Harrison's Tony-winning tickets were characters named Henry. One was a king (Henry VIII) in a drama (Anne of the Thousand Days); the other was a phonetics expert (Henry Higgins) in a musical (My Fair Lady). The first was his professional salvation a blank-verse lifeline from Maxwell Anderson, coming at a time when the actor felt he was sinking in cinematic quicksand out in California. "I was always worried that I was going to like it too much in Hollywood and get sucked in there," he admitted once. "It's a very weakening town. I could have got stuck in Hollywood then, but I was determined not to, and I got away by doing this play." He got all the way to the Tony podium, in fact, "legitimizing" himself in effect. His ties to George Bernard Shaw, which began with the 1940 film version of Major Barbara, took him into an unexpected musical dimension when Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe were at last allowed to musicalized Pygmalion.
"Every night I used to think of what Shaw would have made of this musical. I think that, except for the end, he would have liked it. It was very true to the play, and Alan Jay Lerner's lyrics matched Shaw's dialogue so well. But he would not have approved of the end. He didn't like that sort of sentiment," Harrison Mmused. The raves that greeted the show's Broadway arrival were unanimous. The headline accompanying Brooks Atkinson's valentine in The New York Times said it all: "It's Not 'Fair' It's Fabulous!"
Tony Award Winner: Best Actor in a Play, Anne of the Thousand Days, 1949; Best Actor in a Musical, My Fair Lady, 1957. Special Award, 1969.

George Hearn won his first Tony Award for the stage musicalization of a film role the flamboyantly gay Albin in La Cage aux Folles. "In addition to being a theatrical event," he says, "La Cage was a social and moral moment as well. It was very exciting because it was bigger than theatre. Also, it was a joyous time in my life because I met my now wife in La Cage." With this particular show that was no small achievement: Leslie was a leggy, long-stemmed swing dancer one of two femmes among the dozen or so fellas constituting Les Cagelles and Hearn spotted her right off. Tony number two is no less joyful for him. "When Sunset Boulevard came along," for which he won another Tony for another film role, he recalls, "I'd been away from New York for four years out in L.A. and it brought me back. What overwhelmed me was how much I had really missed the feeling of the theatrical community of belonging to a tradition, a neighborhood, a long line. That feeling was so warming. I felt as if I had come home, and I guess I had."
Tony Award Winner: Best Actor in a Musical, La Cage aux Folles, 1984. Best Featured Actor in a Musical, Sunset Boulevard, 1995.

(Continued in Part 2.)

-- By Harry Haun

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