Remembering the Tony-Winning Musical Performers -- Part 2

Tony Awards   Remembering the Tony-Winning Musical Performers -- Part 2
From the Special Tony Playbill:

From the Special Tony Playbill:

Musical performers remember their Tony-winning performances:

After an uninterrupted run of non-winning Tony nominations (for Eubie! and Comin' Uptown and Sophisticated Ladies), Gregory Hines was surprised to find his wife (producer Pamela Koslow Hines) bluer and more bruised than he. Indeed, the morning after his last loss, she vowed he'd get his Tony. "I remember she said 'I want to produce a play so you can win the Tony,'" he recalled recently. "It was a very sweet thing for her to say, and I appreciated it. Eleven years later, we did Jelly's Last Jam. She was one of the producers‹and the primary reason I was involved in that show. I thought I had a good shot at winning, although some newspapers were predicting Nathan Lane, so I didn't feel that positive. When I won, I turned to my wife. In the moment of winning, it was great feeling of winning‹but it was also a moment where I felt such a tremendous rush of love for her. She had actually done it."
Tony Award Winner: Best Actor in a Musical, Jelly's Last Jam, 1992.

The first act of Dreamgirls ends on a note of defiance‹"And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going"‹a heartbreaking, Tony-winning note, as sounded by Jennifer Holliday. "What emerged from Holliday's lips, after a long and agonized voyage from deep in her body and soul, was a piercing cry of musical rage," wrote Mervyn Rothstein, "a paroxysm of agony and disbelief, replete with the pain of blues and the power of gospel. She is not going, she sang, she shouted, she demanded, again and again, louder and louder, more and more frenzied." The peculiar power of the song, Holliday admitted at the time, was that it was achingly authentic, having just been played out in real life between her and the show's director-choreographer, Michael Bennett. She had originated the role of Effie in the show's first workshop and then dropped out; when she dropped back in, she found Effie had receded in plot importance. She mentioned this to Bennett, and he fired her‹only to rehire her a month later for the greater good of the show.
Tony Award Winner: Best Actress in a Musical, Dreamgirls, 1982.

(Betty) Comden and (Adolph) Green had the singularly unique distinction of writing lyrics for the Tony-winning performance for their former cabaret partner, Judy Holliday. Most people believe Holliday's Tony came with Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday‹the Oscar did. She didn't land the Tony till she turned musical and played Ella Peterson, a telephone answering-service operator in Bells Are Ringing. "Judy was always very musical, more than she admitted," says Green. "It was the year that My Fair Lady won everything, so the fact that she won was miraculous." Like Rosalind Russell, who also had Comden and Green lyrics in her Tony-winning turn (1953's Wonderful Town), Holliday had her big solo number added out of town. "In Judy's case it was 'I'm Going Back [to the Bonjour Tristesse Brassiere Company].' She wasn't satisfied till then, and neither were we. We've been very lucky or wise or both in writing for these women."
Tony Award Winner: Best Actress in a Musical, Bells Are Ringing, 1957.


At the moment of his Tony triumph, Michael Jeter suddenly dissolved into tears and confessed to a national television audience his comeback from substance abuse. Unfortunately, the audio was on the fritz in the Tony press room‹and that drama was lost on the assembled reporters, none of whom could pry a replay from Jeter when he was presented to them minutes later. "Oh, nothing," he just shrugged. Five years later, he was still sticking to that story. "I think I kinda said it all that night," he remarked recently‹and, no, he didn't remember exactly what he'd said. But, he added, "I feel grateful that moment came in my life."
Tony Award Winner: Best Featured Actor in a Musical, Grand Hotel, The Musical, 1990.

When asked what role he played in Redhead, Richard Kiley is the realist. "I played opposite Gwen Verdon," he says. "You don't walk away from a Gwen Verdon show, saying how marvelous the guy was who supported her. I was just lucky to be in on that. It was her evening. La Mancha was my evening, so I made up for it. I think when I won the first Tony, I didn't really realize what it meant. When I won for La Mancha, I really felt the significance of it, the pride of it. And, too, being nominated for a straight play [All My Sons] meant a lot to me because that touches all bases. I've always thought of myself as an actor who sings rather than a singer who acts."
Tony Award Winner: Best Actor in a Musical, Redhead, 1959; Man of La Mancha, 1966.
There is no middle ground‹either you're in Jerry Herman's camp or you're in Stephen Sondheim's camp‹unless, of course, you're Angela Lansbury. She has been in both‹prominently‹and she has won an equal number of Tonys for both (two each), starting in the sixties with Herman's Mame and Dear World (1966 and 1969) and extending into the seventies with Sondheim's Gypsy and Sweeney Todd (1975 and 1979). Lansbury's Mame was the performance that prevented Sweet Charity from winning Gwen Verdon a fifth Tony that would have made her the most-honored musical-comedy performer of 'em all. Truth to tell, it is still Lansbury's favorite role because it represented a major turning point in her career, and she has pursued this turn until she now equals Verdon's record of four Tony wins. "Whenever I look at my Tonys," she recently admitted, "I am reminded of the excitement and glow of Broadway and the fabulous times I have spent working in the theatre there."
Tony Award Winner: Best Actress in a Musical, Mame, 1966; Dear World, 1969; Gypsy, 1975; Sweeney Todd, 1979.

Morton Gottlieb signed up in 1943 originally to be Gertrude Lawrence's press agent, but before he knew it, he was managing the Cape Playhouse that her husband, Richard Aldrich, owned on Cape Cod‹and, little by little, she coaxed, charmed and cajoled him into becoming a Broadway producer. "I owe everything to Gertrude Lawrence," he admits without a moment's hesitation. They remained friends until she died of cancer, at age 54, some 18 months into the legendary run of The King and I. According to Gottlieb (and to Richard Rodgers's autobiography), she wrote her own Tony-winning ticket: "It was her idea to get the rights to Anna and the King of Siam [the Margaret Landon book that had been filmed in '46 with Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison]. Then she went after Rodgers and Hammerstein to do a musical version and gave them the rights to it but retained ten percent of the profits."
The show was an instant hit. Lawrence's attendance started falling off before audiences' did, and this fact alarmed Rodgers and Hammerstein. "Along the way, silently, quietly, she was developing cancer," said Gottlieb, "but she didn't want anybody to know it‹certainly not anybody around theatre. Her lawyer, Fanny Holtzmann, would call up every now and then and say she would be missing some performances. Rodgers and Hammerstein didn't know why. They thought she was out having a good time. Finally, on a Saturday, R&H;had their lawyer send her a letter saying that if she didn't return right away she'd be out permanently. The very next day, she died. The letter arrived the day after that."
Tony Award Winner: Best Actress in a Musical, The King and I, 1952.

"I'd admired Patti LuPone's versatility for some years before she auditioned for Evita, so when she came in, I was predisposed to her energy level," said Harold Prince, the director who cast her in her Tony-winning role. "Eva Peron," he continued "had such grit and determination‹nothing could keep her down‹so I wanted to be sure our Evita brought similar electricity to the stage." Proof that he was correct in his dead-on casting came on Tony night when LuPone's name popped out of the envelope. The actress, in contrast, took the victory as confirmation of a different kind: "I had trouble with Evita at first and worked very hard. The Tony proves that, if you work very hard, you'll be rewarded."
Tony Award Winner: Best Actress in a Musical, Evita, 1980.

After an impressionable ten-year-old sprite in Wetherford, Texas, saw the silent-film version of Peter Pan‹in a moment of misguided inspiration‹she flung herself off a garage in a game attempt at flight. She crashed to earth with a broken collarbone but lived to rise again‹to great theatrical heights, indeed!‹as James M. Barrie's green-garbed Eternal Boy. Today, in front of the public library in Wetherford, is a statue of Mary Martin as the Peter Pan she eventually became, arms outstretched. "The highest I ever got as Peter Pan," she once said, "was the top of a theatre in San Francisco. The flying apparatus went haywire and sent me right out of sight. They couldn't find me, so they called the fire department to retrieve me. The kids in the audience‹bless 'em‹waited through all this, and we went on with the show." There was a Tony Award for this performance, as there were for her two Rodgers and Hammerstein icons: Maria in The Sound of Music and Nellie in South Pacific. When those portrayals were tallied in with her other lifetime achievements, they came out to a Kennedy Center Honor less than a year before her death. Seated in one of the chairs of honor, she was serenaded with "There Is Nothing Like a Dame" by some South Pacific gobs, who, exiting, tossed their sailors' caps at her. She stood up to thank them, and one of the caps accidentally caught on her finger. Inside the cap it said, "To Mary Martin, With Love."
Tony Award Winner: Best Actress in a Musical, South Pacific, 1950; Peter Pan, 1955; The Sound of Music, 1960; Special Award, 1948.

A trio from the Princeton Triangle Club‹James Stewart, Myron McCormick and Joshua Logan‹made its collective Broadway bow on the eve of Halloween in 1932, supporting (ever so briefly) Esther Dale in Carry Nation. Logan, a quick reader at writing on the wall, switched professions‹to directing and playwriting‹and, when time came to cast conman/seaman Luther Billis in South Pacific, his first choice was his old Princeton pal, McCormick. "I cannot remember anyone else's being considered," Logan wrote in his autobiography, Josh. "McCormick treasured this part more than he did his Phi Beta Kappa key"‹and he parlayed his performance into a bit of Tony-winning history on April 9, 1950‹from all accounts, some enchanted evening. It was the only night in Broadway history when a single show swept clean all four of Tony's acting categories: McCormick's Billis and Juanita Hall's Bloody Mary were winners in the supporting ranks, while Ezio Pinza's Emile de Becque and Mary Martin's Nellie Forbush held up the ends in the star categories.
Tony Award Winner: Best Featured Actor in a Musical, South Pacific, 1950.

"Use all of your therapy," Donna McKechnie told herself as she made her way to the Tony podium. "Be. In. The Moment." It must have worked because she remembers it crystal clear today. "When I got to the podium and I looked out, it really hit me. With television you see the whole audience lit up‹you never do in the theatre‹and I looked and saw my whole world: Michael Bennett, Bob Avian, my mother. And I remember thinking, 'Just take this moment in. Don't fluff it off.' And I did." There was a lyrical coda to The Moment, too: "They take your Tony Award away from you backstage so you can do interviews, but they give it back to you. Handing me my Tony award, right in the darkened wings, was Richard Burton. The most gorgeous eyes. I'd been in love with him for years. He just handed it to me, and in a voice no one else could hear, said, 'You deserved it!' Now, that‹that I take with me everywhere."
Tony Award Winner: Best Actress in a Musical, A Chorus Line, 1976.

Call her madam, call her Mama Rose, but, whatever you do, don't call her Tony winner. "She was sorta high-hat about things like that," said Russell Nype about his Call Me Madam co-star and co-winner, Ethel Merman. "And, too, the awards at that time [1951] weren't that important to get somehow. I don't even think she went to get it. She certainly didn't pay any attention to it or ever bother to talk about it. I don't think she even admitted she had one."
Tony Award Winner: Best Actress in a Musical, Call Me Madam, 1951. Special Award, 1972.

On June 13, 1965, 19-year-old Liza Minnelli became the youngest female recipient of a Tony for her title portrayal of Flora, the Red Menace‹a distinction subsequently usurped by 12-year-old Daisy Eagan of The Secret Garden. It was the only major award that her mother lived to see her win‹and one of the two that Judy Garland herself hadn't won. Minnelli won the other (the Oscar, for the 1973 film Cabaret) as well as a second Tony (for a second Kander and Ebb show, The Act in 1978) after Garland's death. Garland never commented publicly on her daughter's Tony win, but an incident that occurred shortly after that victory speaks volumes for her pride. She was in California, playing Monopoly with a friend who casually commented that, although Minnelli was good in the show, he felt she didn't deserve the Tony for it. Garland responded by pouring a drink over his head and kicking him out of her house!
Tony Winner: Best Actress in a Musical: Flora, the Red Menace, 1965; The Act, 1978.

Liliane Montevecchi interprets her Tony as a welcome mat to this country. "I'd worked in the Folies Bergère for so long," she says, "and I never received any award. Nobody ever said thank you. Then, I arrived here, and to have bestowed upon me this extraordinary thing‹well, I was touched by the way foreigners were received. I was not a part of America, and its first gesture was to give me this prize. I was very touched by that. Very touched."
Tony Award Winner: Best Featured Actress in a Musical, Nine, 1982.

Melba Moore came perilously close to missing her big Tony moment. So focused was she on performing her big Purlie number on national TV, she thought she'd heard her category called and it had been won by Lauren Bacall. Indeed, she was in the process of leaving the theatre, but the big cables that came with the TV cameras and clogged the works backstage slowed her exit just long enough to hear "Melissa Moore" named Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Presenter Jack Jones mixed her name with another nominee (Georgy's Melissa Hart), and Moore didn't know if she was coming or going. "Finally," she recalls, "a stagehand or somebody shooed me onstage. The rest of it, I don't remember. It was a great feeling, but I was too excited. Now‹not then‹I understand just how prestigious and powerful that award is. I was very, very blessed to get it, and that night I joined a unique group of people."
Tony Award Winner: Best Featured Actress in a Musical, Purlie, 1970.

One of a handful of performers Tony-blessed for both musical (How To Succeed in Business without Really Trying) and nonmusical (Tru), Robert Morse now resides in Sherman Oaks, Ca.‹or, put another way (his way), "a long way from the backstage of the Booth"‹but that double hit of Tonys keeps Broadway just a memory away. "When you're away from it," he says, "you reflect on it all, and you go, 'Gee, those were the wonderful days.' And the nights! Those marquees lit on a late Indian summer night. The stagehands sitting outside the stage door, talking about the Yankees and the Mets. I remember old Shubert Alley. We used to sit outside there between shows on matinee days, waiting for Jackie Gleason and Walter Pidgeon. It just brings back everything‹all those memories of the bus trips and living on the West Side in apartment buildings, and rehearsals, and The Ouijis Jazz Class, and all the things that went into preparing us to be in shows. And one of those wonderful things about being in shows is an opportunity, maybe, once in a while, to be up for a Tony‹which, of course, is sorta like the Empire State Building of the whole shebang."
Tony Award Winner: Best Actor in a Musical, How To Succeed in Business without Really Trying, 1962. Best Actor in a Play, Tru, 1990.

For three shows in a row, running from 1961 to 1965, Zero Mostel achieved the phenomenal: a Tony every time. And his acceptance speeches on those occasions were, to say the least, colorful. "Gee!" he exclaimed, hugging his first (for Rhinoceros). "The fellows at the zoo will be happy about this!" A funny thing happened on the way to the podium to receive his second (for, yes, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum): Mostel followed Alan Arkin, who, accepting a Tony for Enter Laughing, saluted a particularly supportive producer who, after a rather bad rehearsal, presented the cast with three bottles of champagne. "I had an experience quite unlike Alan Arkin's," Mostel remarked. "One day, when we had a bad rehearsal, George Abbott brought in some tap water." Fiddler on the Roof crowned his rep as one of the country's great comic actors with a third Tony; his was the ninth and last awarded the show that evening, and he ruefully made up for the grievous omissions in the preceding speeches: "Since no one else has thanked me, I will thank me." He finished in a flurry of Yiddish‹to the resounding cheers of the audience.
Tony Award Winner: Best Actor in a Play, Rhinoceros, 1961. Best Actor in a Musical, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, 1963; Fiddler on the Roof, 1965.

The most vivid memory Jerry Orbach retains from his Tony-victory night was the reaction of the young people in the balcony rooting for him. "I was kinda like the kid who broke through," he says. "In Promises, somehow I had the feeling that the kids in the chorus were behind me. They were my people." But over the long haul of a career, he has discovered the Tony could be topped. "The real rewards over the years are different than what I expected," he admits. "The real rewards are when a woman comes up to me and says, 'I saw Carnival when I was ten years old and it made me fall in love with the theatre,' or when a cop comes up to me and says, 'I loved what you did in Prince of the City,' or somebody says, 'I saw the movie Dirty Dancing, and I wish my father had been like that'‹where you realize you've had a chance to touch people's lives, whether to entertain them or to make them feel good or to make them think about something. That's the long-run reward‹that's the bread cast on the waters‹that you don't think about when you're doing it. And that's more important than any statue."
Tony Award Winner: Best Actor in a Musical, Promises, Promises, 1969.

Literally hours after Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II started stitching together South Pacific from the various storylines they were taking from James Michener's short-story collection, Tales of the South Pacific, they received a phone call from Edwin Lester, a West Coast producer who needed a vehicle for Ezio Pinza fast or otherwise pay a $25,000 penalty. The basso wanted to pole-vault from the Metropolitan Opera to Broadway, and South Pacific suddenly fell into place with his unexpected availability. The team met Pinza in the Oak Room of The Plaza and closed the deal in less than two hours. Martin was harder to persuade. Not about to share the singing stage with Don Giovanni himself, she only signed on when Rodgers promised her there would be no duets. Once the leads were in place, Rodgers and Hammerstein suddenly realized they'd cast themselves out of a show and had to go back to them and ask, "How much does it mean to both of you to work together?" In his autobiography, Rodgers wrote, "After only a minimum amount of consultation, both Ezio and Mary did something unheard of in the theatre: they agreed to cut their salaries and percentages in half. Thereafter, South Pacific never had any financial problems." Or any other kinds either, one might add. Shortly before her death in 1990, Martin described Pinza as "the most electric human being I ever appeared with on any stage." There were, she had to admit, certain "adjustments" that had to be made: "He caught on that the longer he held me in his arms, the longer the audience would applaud‹and that caused me to miss my cue. When I mentioned it to him, he said, 'But they love it!' So I spoke to his wife, and it never happened again."
Tony Award Winner: Best Actor in a Musical, South Pacific, 1950.


To the mind of Mary Martin, "the most meaningful Tony Award ever received by anyone" was passed out on March 26, 1967‹and, happily, network television was present for the first time at the Tonys to catch that special moment. She co-hosted the telecast with her I Do! I Do! co-star, Robert Preston, and he was the recipient-in-question. I Do! I Do! was, she said, "the first time we worked together on the stage‹we'd made a couple of films together‹and it was a constant joy. The funny thing about that Tony evening was that, after he won the award, they announced the nominees for Best Actress in a Musical, and he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and winked as if to say, 'Okay, Cookie‹we're both going to win it this year.' Then he opened the envelope and announced the winner: Barbara Harris for The Apple Tree. And there I was, standing at the podium. I thought it was very amusing because I didn't expect to win‹but I was so happy for Robert. I love him dearly." Martin made these remarks in PLAYBILL's Tony issue of 1986, and the operative words were the final four. Preston succumbed to lung cancer the following spring.
Tony Award Winner: Best Actor in a Musical, The Music Man, 1958; I Do! I Do!, 1967.

What does it feel like to win a Tony? It has happened twice to Chita Rivera, and she remembers her response as coming in four distinct waves: "First: Suspension of time. Second: Amnesia. Third: Beat the clock. Fourth: Total pride."
Tony Award Winner: Best Actress in a Musical, The Rink, 1984; Kiss of the Spider Woman‹The Musical, 1993.

"Out of the clear blue sky‹we just couldn't believe it!‹she wanted to be in theatre," is how Adolph Green remembers abruptly crossing paths with Rosalind Russell over the musical version of her 1942 movie, My Sister Eileen. He and Betty Comden wrote the lyrics, and Leonard Bernstein composed the music, and the result was a wonderful show called Wonderful Town. The film had gotten her the first of four unsuccessful Oscar shots, but its musicalization brought home the Broadway bacon‹the 1953 Tony for Outstanding Actress in a Musical. Green can take some credit for this, but he insists the star "knew exactly what was needed to make her performance happen." He and Comden were allowed a whole palette of comic colors to work with, but Bernstein was more severely constrained. "She told Lennie, Betty and me she had a voice with only four notes in it and gave directions to us to write for those four notes. She felt she needed very badly a solo in the first act to round out the character, so we came up with 'One Hundred Easy Ways [To Lose a Man].' We were in New Haven, I remember, and Rosalind was sick, so Leonard got a piano right outside her bedroom door and we played the number for her. It went in the next week in Boston. Rosalind was a terrific performer. She also did the Conga with the South American boys and got thrown all over the place. Once she got down to work, she would do anything that was in character to make it happen."
Tony Award Winner: Best Actress in a Musical, Wonderful Town, 1953.


Erika Slezak admits she doesn't remember the night her father, Walter, won the Tony Award for Fanny‹"I was very little and certainly wasn't invited, but I do know he was extraordinarily proud of it. It was an achievement when you consider he was in a musical with Ezio Pinza. But the award wasn't about his singing. He had an extremely sympathetic role, and he got to die onstage every night. One of the sweetest things my father ever said was, 'If I have to die, I would certainly love to die that way‹in a big comfortable bed, in a big comfortable nightshirt, with Ezio Pinza singing "Welcome Home" right in my ear.' I must say I am very proud of his Tony, too. When my mother and my father passed away, my sister and my brother and I had to divide up all their things. I asked them if I could have the Tony Award, and they said of course because I'm the only one in the business." The Slezak Tony currently occupies a place of honor in her living room‹an obvious source of inspiration for her, because it is flanked by the four Emmys she has won for TV's One Life to Live.
Tony Award Winner: Best Actor in a Musical, Fanny, 1955.

Can-Can halted right smack on its hyphen midway through its opening night on Broadway, and applauding first-nighters would not let it progress a high kick further until Gwen Verdon stepped front and center and took a proper bow, so choreographer Michael Kidd rushed to her dressing room, grabbed her by the hand and flung her, wide-eyed, onto the stage. The Shubert promptly erupted into euphoric cheers, which pulled her right out of the chorus and pushed her straight for the Tony podium. "The awards were not a big deal at all in those days," she remembers. "They were given out at the Gotham Hotel, in a room, in the afternoon. It wasn't even a luncheon. There was no audience, no Tony telecast. They just gave the award to you, and you said, 'Thank you.' I remember Audrey Hepburn got one for Ondine that day, but they didn't make a to-do about it then. Now, it's a gala. Now, even nominations are important. Back then, they didn't put up signs saying 'Seven Nominations!' or whatever." That particular Tony was for 1954's Outstanding Supporting or Featured Musical Actress; the ones for 1956's Damn Yankees and 1958's New Girl in Town were for Best Actress. By the time her fourth Tony rolled along only five years after the first, "it was a formal affair at the Waldorf. That evening I enjoyed the most because Ingrid Bergman gave me the award for Redhead. It was the first time she was back in the country after having been practically picketed‹the American Legion almost took her down‹so getting the award from her was very meaningful to me." But that was then, and this is now‹and Broadway's First Lady of Dance believes the honor of just doing the work was enough honor for her.

Tony Award Winner: Best Featured Actress in a Musical, Can-Can, 1954. Best Actress in a Musical, Damn Yankees, 1956; New Girl in Town, 1958; Redhead, 1959.

So what do you audition with if you're trying to land the role of a musical leprechaun? In the case of David Wayne, who got the first Tony out of the hopper for his support in 1947's Finian's Rainbow, it was a little ditty by Gilbert and Sullivan‹and that was at the suggestion of the show's composer, Burton Lane. "I had written something for a leprechaun to sing, of course, but I had never seen one onstage before, so I had no idea what would make a good audition piece," Lane remembered. "Then, I thought something by Gilbert and Sullivan would work, so that's what he did. He was a complete unknown when he came to the audition, but when he did that Gilbert and Sullivan song, I knew he was right for it, and we grabbed him. I just thought he'd be wonderful‹and he was. He became a great star, beginning with that show."

Tony Award winner: Best Featured Actor in a Musical, Finian's Rainbow, 1947. Best Actor in a Play, The Teahouse of the August Moon, 1954.

By Harry Haun

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