Top 10 Tony Awards Performances
What that makes the Tony Awards different from any other awards show are the performances. For a medium that is unlike any other, in that people can only see shows in one place at one time for an absurd amount of money, the Tonys offer us normal people a glimpse of what beautiful spectacle and artwork awaits us in New York.
Since the Tony Awards are this evening, I thought I’d throw a quick list together of the greatest Tony television performances.
There are a bunch that didn’t make this list, I understand that right out of the gate. Betty Buckley’s stirring rendition of “Memory” from Cats isn’t here. Neither is “Turkey Lurkey Time” from Promises, Promises, and neither is “I Am What I Am” from La Cage Aux Folles. I 110% acknowledge that these songs and performances are great in their own rights.
Other personal preferences include "Run Freedom Run" from Urinetown, "Gold" from Once, "I Believe" from The Book of Mormon, "Anything Goes" from the 2011 revival of Anything Goes. All incredible. And if I had more room (and more time), the list would be longer and they'd all be here too.
But every other song on this list is here for a reason… and of course, I certainly like some shows over others.
So, on we go.
Les Misèrables, "At The End of the Day"/"One Day More" (1987)
This was the performance the showed that the British invasion was here and was very, very real. I may not be Les Mis’s biggest fan, but these are two of my favorite songs. There’s something oddly satisfying about the simple two-step marching and red flag waving in the background. Not to mention all those swirling motifs building over the course of “One Day More.”
Fun Home, "Ring of Keys" (2015)
Note how Sydney Lucas plays to the camera on this one. As great as the performances of Something Rotten and The King and I were, Fun Home stole the show with this quiet, intimate, soul-searching song for a proto-lesbian girl after trying to make sense of what a fateful encounter with another woman might mean. Truly stirring.
In the Heights, "In the Heights"/"96,000" (2008)
Before Lin-Manuel Miranda created Hamilton, he created In the Heights. Having lived in Washington Heights, In the Heights is, to a T, the world that Miranda described. This jubilant medley that creates the high-energy world of upper Manhattan, and then flies into a song dealing with the prospects of winning the lottery, was one of the best performances of the night. This fresh take on what music belongs on a Broadway stage earned the show the Tony for Best Musical.
Company, "Being Alive" (2007)
I really love Raul Esparza’s Bobby. It’s classy and refined, yet rough and deeply flawed all at the same time. Watching the full version of the 2007 revival of Company and this performance are two different things, but the fact that it is stripped down to a man and his piano allows us to see, bare bones, the personal breakthrough that Esparza’s Bobby is on the verge of, in all its glorious intensity.
Spring Awakening, "Mama Who Bore Me"/"The Bitch of Living"/"Totally Fucked" (2007)
The Deaf West performance was moving, but there’s nothing like the original, especially when Spring Awakening had first appeared on Broadway. Is that… is that a rock musical whose songs actually sound like rock songs? And yeah, maybe covering up of mouths during swear words is a little corny… but that chorus of “blah blah blah”s during “Totally Fucked” is chilling and inspiring.
Next to Normal, "You Don't Know"/"I Am the One" (2009)
I love me some Next to Normal. And I actually… don’t hate Alice Ripley in this. She’s like steel wool- rough, but powers through and gets the job done. I love everything about this performance, from the song choice, to the direction, to Ripley’s every choice as the frazzled Diana, dealing with her husband’s frustration and her son’s haunting temptation. Also, baby Aaron Tveit for the win.
The Top 10:
10. Hamilton, "History Has Its Eyes On You"/"Yorktown" (2016)
Taking place on the night after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, the LGBT and greater theatre community was in a vulnerable state. Hamilton, the favorite for just about every award that year, brought the house down and helped heal hearts a little bit with a performance for the ages. The caveat- their song choice, involving the Battle of Yorktown, featured soldiers carrying muskets. In a powerful statement, the cast chose to do the number without the use of guns. When everyone freezes after the intense dance break to see people holding invisible guns- it’s a really powerful and moving image. On top of that, Hamilton is representative of a reset of how the world sees musical theatre, as Miranda's war story pushed Broadway once more to the forefront of cultural relevance.
9. Guys and Dolls, "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat" (2009)
Ah, the power of live theatre. When Tituss Burgess’ microphone died on him, the run crew stepped up and frantically delivered a handheld mic mid-song (hooray for shotty audio feeds allowing us to hear when the crew member was “going in with it”). No hat, no problem. I love the arrangement of this showstopper, as the coda has this really cool new gospel-type groove, which I much prefer to the shorter, less-climactic original version. Also, Tituss casually knocking a high E out of the park on the last line. Look, ma! One hand!
8. Gypsy, "Everything's Coming Up Roses" (2008)
Angela is the OG. Bernadette was fantastic. But, as I begrudgingly admit, there’s something romantic about Patti LuPone playing Mama Rose. I think this is the last great Patti performance we’ll get, but man, is this Act I closer of Gypsy powerful. Patti has this extraordinary ability to fill both the television screen as well as Radio City Music Hall, as Rose’s bottomless frustration grows in intensity, as she refuses to let reality get in her way.
7. Hairspray, "You Can't Stop the Beat" (2003)
This is the best closing number in the history of musical theatre. Fight me. And even though the song is very formulaic- with something like five different character groups getting a verse and chorus to themselves- it is futile to bop along with the music. High points include Harvey Fierstein’s entrance, Matthew Morrison’s white suit, and everything from 3:41 onwards. Enjoy.
6. Evita, "A New Argentina" (1980)
My opinion is that everything that Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote 1980 and before it is amazing, and everything after it is garbage. Evita fits into that category as the last piece, premiering in 1979. It is amazing how a composer make a chanting crowd sound terrifying. But the story here is the “A New Argentina,” the Act I finale, in which we get to see peak Mandy and Patti as Che and Eva- and where Patti becomes the first mainstream talent to create the concept of the belting diva in a rock musical. Also, there’s fire! Hooray fire! (Spoiler, the vocals were pre-taped for the telecast, but it’s still fierce as hell.)
5. A Chorus Line, "I Hope I Get It" (1976)
A Chorus Line was widely expected to win the Tony for Best Musical in 1976, so much so that the producers for the Tonys actually allowed the show to perform twice on the telecast- first and last. The first is the opening number to the show, and while it does clock in at just over seven minutes in length, it’s shot brilliantly, effectively capturing the essence of the stressful audition world. This timeless number being placed at the start of the Tony Awards is metaphorical for the life cycle of a performer, in a way; starting out at the audition and putting oneself out there for judgment, only to find themselves taking home the big prize at the end of the night.
4. The Will Rogers Follies, "Will-a-Mania"/"Our Favorite Son" (1991)
It is time for me to bite the bullet and confess something about The Will Rogers Follies. That confession is that the show, and in particular, these two numbers, are BRILLIANT. Because of the nature of the show being essentially a Ziegfeld-revue, the show’s creators could really go all-out with the showmanship. That’s exactly what they did. Placed between a group of chorus girls decked out in stars and stripes, Keith Carradine leads the row in a masterclass of precision dancing and syncopated movement reminiscent of a Rockettes show, while SEATED. I am floored and I am glad to know this music.
3. Grand Hotel, "We'll Take a Glass Together" (1990)
There aren’t many greater joys than drunken romps. Maury Yeston’s Grand Hotel, a lesser-known show among casual theatergoers, features this exuberant number where a terminally-ill accountant poised on having a good time, is egged on by a shady baron into indulging in some drinks and other revelry.
My question is: does Michael Jeter have bones? Watch as he seems to turn into human liquid, bending, twisting, and flailing about in a ridiculous show of control.
Not surprisingly, Jeter won a Tony for Best Featured Actor in a musical.
2. The Lion King, "Circle of Life" (1998)
Admit it, you got chills when that blare from Tsidii Le Loko hit at the beginning of “Circle of Life.” While a Disney show, Julie Taymor’s reimagining showed us that this was not your children’s version of the Lion King. A dazzling menagerie of brilliantly-created puppetry transformed Radio City into the plains of the Serengeti, complete with antelopes, birds, jungle cats, giraffes, an elephant and a rhino. There’s nothing like this Tony performance, and it’s a testament as to why Lion King has been able to survive for so long.
1. Dreamgirls, "It's All Over"/"And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" (1982)
There is nothing but awe for this one. Just watch it. It’s the best. There is no competition. Jennifer Holliday is a queen.
What are your favorite Tony performances? Leave a comment down below.
The 72nd Tony Awards are tonight, Sunday, June 10th on CBS.