The 100 Most Important People in Modern Musical Theatre History
Chris Peterson & Steve Gifford
- OnStage Editor-in-Chief
I was recently having a conversation with a friend of mine about the greatest lyricists in musical theatre history, yes this is what we theatre geeks talk about over coffee. While we were constructing our list, the thought started to occur to me, who have been the biggest contributors to the evolution and success of modern musical theatre? Who have been the greatest to grace the Broadway stage? Who's influence is still felt today?
Since it's been just over 100 years since the "Tin Pan Alley" artists started constructing what we know today as modern musical theatre, what better time to sit down and list the most important artists in modern musical theatre history, which we consider the 1920's and up. This list will be comprised of composers, lyricists, book writers, performers, choreographers, directors and even a couple of producers. Keep in mind, the key word here is "important".
Let's celebrate the incredible history of musical theatre by highlighting it's brightest.
100. Maury Yeston
He is known for writing the music and lyrics to Nine in 1982, and Titanic in 1997, both of which won Tony Awards for best musical and best score. He also won a Drama Desk Award for Nine. Yeston also wrote a significant amount of the music and most of the lyrics to the Tony-nominated musical Grand Hotel in 1989, which was nominated for best score. His musical version of the The Phantom of the Opera entitled Phantom (far superior to Andrew Lloyd Webber's) has enjoyed numerous productions around the world. According to Show Music magazine, Yeston "has written some of the most formally structured music in recent musical theatre. But he also has the gift for creating ravishing melody – once you've heard 'Love Can't Happen' from Grand Hotel, or 'An Unusual Way' from Nine, or 'Home' from Phantom, or any number of other Yeston songs, you'll be hooked."
99. Diahann Carroll
Patina Miller, LaChanze, Audra McDonald have each had incredible careers and numerous accolades. But I'm sure if you asked each one of them, they would give a nod of respect to Dihann Carroll. She was the first black woman to win the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical for No Strings. Her Tony win would be one of multiple doors she would break down in her career. She made her Broadway debut in House of Flowers in 1959 and in the film versions of Carmen Jones and Porgy & Bess. In 1995, she returned to musicals by starring the original Canadian cast of Sunset Boulevard.
98. Trevor Nunn
Next to Harold Prince, was there a bigger Broadway musical director than Trevor Nunn? He directed Cats, formerly the longest running musical in Broadway's history, and the first English production of Les Misérables in 1985. Nunn also directed the little-known 1986 Webber–Rice musical Cricket, at Windsor Castle. Other musical credits includeStarlight Express and Sunset Boulevard. Later London credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The Woman in White. Nunn has won three Tonys, three Olivier Awards and three Drama Desk Awards. In 2012, he was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.
97. Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey
In 2008, Kitt and Yorkey gave the world a musical that explored the crippling mental illness, bipolar disorder, like no musical had before. Not only that, Next to Normal addressed issues as grieving a loss, suicide, drug abuse, ethics in modern psychiatry, and the underbelly of suburban life. It is a bold and brilliant piece of work. The pair went on to win the Tony for Best Score with Kitt also winning for Best Orchestrations. Next to Normal would lose the Best Musical award to Billy Elliot, one of the biggest snubs in Tony history, but they would win the Pulitzer Prize. The Pulitzer Board called it "a powerful rock musical that grapples with mental illness in a suburban family and expands the scope of subject matter for musicals." And with their continued success with If/Then (vastly underrated), I have a feeling their ranking will be much much higher the next time we do a list like this.
96. Brian Stokes Mitchell
When I think of the great male voices of my lifetime, Brian Stokes Mitchell ranks very high on that list. If you don't believe me, just listen to the cast recording of Ragtime. Known as being on the great baritones to grace the Broadway stage, Mitchell has appeared in productions of Mail (1988), an all-black revival of George and Ira Gershwin's Oh, Kay! (1990), Jelly's Last Jam (1992) based on the works of jazz artist Jelly Roll Morton, Kander and Ebb's Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993), Ragtime (1998) (Tony nomination), the 1999 revival of Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate (Tony award) and Man of La Mancha (2002)(Tony nomination) and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (2012).
95. Jerry Mitchell
If the 60's had Gower Champion and the 80's had Tommy Tune, this generation has Jerry Mitchell. No other choreographer on Broadway is better tapped into what the future of dance in musicals holds than Mitchell. Since 2001, he's had eight Tony nominations with two wins for the revival of La Cage aux Folles and Kinky Boots. Beyond these two, he's choreographed some of the best known dance musicals over the past 20 years such as The Fully Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Gypsy, Hairspray, Catch Me If You Can and Legally Blonde. His next project is Gotta Dance! which is based on the documentary film with the same name. It will feature the last music composed by Marvin Hamlisch.
94. Lea Salonga
For Asians like myself, our list of musical theatre icons begins and ends with Lea Salonga. She burst onto the scene as Kim in Miss Saigon for which accomplished the rare feat of winning the Olivier, Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics and Theatre World awards. After Miss Saigon she would go onto become arguably the greatest to play the role of Eponine in Les Miserables on Broadway. As the singing voice of Jasminein Disney's Aladdin, to say that her recording of "A Whole New World" had an impact on many a future performers might be an understatement. Between that and her return to Broadway in Flower Drum Song , Salonga has spent most of her time developing musical talent in the Philippines.
When it comes to looking at her Broadway career, there is a big "what if?" attached to her. Not because of anything relating to her talent, but because of the racial attitudes and casting trends of Broadway. The history of Asians starring on Broadway is a travesty, but that WILL BE a different column for a different time. Nevertheless, Salonga is an icon and deserves a spot on this list.
93. Julie Taymor
There is an intense argument that I see happen every so often at various theatre parties, "Julie Taymor: Brilliant or Overrated?" Needless to say it leads to some passionate debates For me though, while I'll always respect her design work over her actual directing, I can't deny her contributions to musical theatre by creating one of the highest grossing musicals of all time, The Lion King. Taymor has the distinction of being the first woman to receive the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical. Let's be honest, there wasn't anything like The Lion King on Broadway before Taymor got her hands on it. With this one show, Taymor became a visonary when it came to artistic concept for musical theatre.
And then she did Spider Man: Turn Off The Dark......
92. Len Cariou
With all due respect to everyone who has played the role, Len Cariou is the definitive Sweeney Todd. While George Hearn might have had the fortune of having his performance taped for all to see, if you listen to Cariou on the original recording, it's not even close. It is terrifying and breathtaking to listen to. Also appearing the original productions of Applause and A Little Night Music, Cariou was one of the biggest leading men in musical theatre in the 1970's. In 2004, Cariou was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.
91. Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick
I could simply just say Fiddler on the Roof and move on. But these two gave musical theatre some fantastic works during their careers. Some of their other incredible creations were Fiorello!, She Loves Me, The Apple Treeand The Rothschilds. If you doubt the impact of Fiddler on the Roof, please find me a more well known musical that celebrates Jewish families. I'll wait.
90. William Shakespeare
Okay, I know this may look silly but hear me out. Had it not been for the writing of William Shakespeare, we wouldn't have Kiss Me Kate, The Boys from Syracuse, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Lion King, Oh Brother!, All Shook Up, Play On! and only the greatest musical of all time, West Side Story. So I have to give props to the Bard for his indirect contributions to musical theatre's history.
89. Rosie O'Donnell
Regardless of your opinion of her, you cannot deny that Broadway owes a huge thanks to Rosie O'Donnell. Not only did she feature a slew of Broadway musicals on her show but after the September 11th attacks, she was one of the leading voices in encouraging people to come back to New York City. Perhaps her biggest contribution though, was basically saving the Tony Awards telecast. With her involvement, the Tonys were moved to Radio City Music Hall and became a television event. The first year she hosted, over 11 million tuned in.
88. Richard Kiley
During the 1960's there might not have been a bigger leading man on Broadway than Richard Kiley. During the decade he would win two Tony Awards and be nominated for a third. His first came for Redhead but he will best be remembered for originating the role of Miguel de Cervantes/Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha. He also starred in original productions of Kismet and No Strings(Tony nod). At his death, Kiley was described as "one of theater's most distinguished and versatile actors" and as "an indispensable actor, the kind of performer who could be called on to play kings and commoners and a diversity of characters in between."
87. Oliver Smith
If you're wondering why a scenic designer would be ranked on this list, first of all he was nominated for 25 Tony Awards, winning 10 of them. In 1958 he was nominated for six different productions. But if you're still doubting why the man is the only scenic designer on this list, I'm just going to list some of the original productions this man designed: On the Town, Hello, Dolly!, My Fair Lady, Camelot, The Sound of Music, West Side Story, I Do! I Do!, Candide and Auntie Mame.
86. Rob Marshall
Rob Marshall's legacy is a tough one to peg. On one hand, he's choreographed some of the best revival productions over the past 20 some odd years(Cabaret, Damn Yankees, She Loves Me) and is also responsible for one the best musical movie adaptations of all time(Chicago). But he's also responsible for one of the worst(Nine) and delivered a visually stunning but empty Into the Woods. And with the news of his interest in bringing Follies to the screen, I can't decide if I should be full of excitement or dread. However I cannot deny this man's contributions to modern musical theatre and the legions of people who have been inspired by his work.
85. Betty Buckley
Betty Buckley might have had only one significant contribution to modern musical theatre history, but what a contribution it was. Her recording of "Memory", one of the most recognizable show tunes of all time, still gives me goosebumps. No one has come close to matching it(sit down Elaine Page fans). In addition to her iconic Grizabella, she also appeared in original productions of 1776, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Triumph of Love(Tony Nod) and the infamous Carrie. In 2012 she became American Theater Hall of Fame inductee.
84. Robert Lopez
I have a feeling that years from now, we might see Lopez somewhere in the top twenty on this list. One of the rare EGOT (Emmy,Grammy,Oscar,Tony) winners in history, Lopez has not only pushed the boundary of comedy on Broadway but also kick started the new Disney Renaissance of Animated Musicals. Avenue Q was brilliant, Book of Mormon(along with Trey Parker & Matt Stone), was proof Lopez wasn't a fluke and Frozen will be the root of countless future musical performers just as Alan Menken did with children of the 90's.
83. Joel Grey
Joel Grey created one of the most iconic characters in musical history with his performance as the Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret, a role he won both the Tony and Oscar for. An unconventional leading man, he was also nominated for Tonys for his performances in George M!, Goodtime Charley and The Grand Tour. He was the original Wizard in Wicked and starred in the revival productions of Chicago and Anything Goes.
82. Harvey Fierstein
Harvey Fierstein might have made this list based on his performances or writing credits alone, but the fact that he's done both, he definitely deserves to be on here. In 1982, his play Torch Song Trilogy won him Tonys for not only Best Play but also Best Actor in a Play. Fierstein also wrote the book for La Cage aux Folles, winning another Tony Award, this time for Best Book of a Musical. He has also written books recently for Kinky Bootsand Newsies. His Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, won him a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. A leading figure on Broadway today, he was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2007.
81. Robert Wise
If this list were strictly regarding the theatre itself, Wise wouldn't be on here. But when you direct arguably the two greatest movie musicals of all time(Sound of Music, West Side Story), you're going to be on this list. Both films have created millions of musical theatre fans since their releases and both won the Oscars for Best Picture.
80. Sutton Foster
The best "triple threat" on Broadway since Chita Rivera, Foster has had an incredible start to what will be a prolific career. She has received two Tony Awards for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical in 2002 for the role of Millie Dillmount in Thoroughly Modern Millie and in 2011 for her performance as Reno Sweeney(might have been the best ever to play the role) in Anything Goes. Her other Broadway credits include Little Women(Tony Nod), The Drowsy Chaperone(Tony Nod), Young Frankenstein, Shrek the Musical(Tony Nod), and Violet. With her new TV show Younger coming out soon, it's unknown when we will see her on 42nd St but I hope its sooner than later because Broadway is better when she is on it.
79. Jerry Herman
The opinion about Jerry Herman's place in musical theatre history is always an interesting topic of discussion. For some, his work represented an homage to the golden age of musicals of the 1930's-40's, to others, like myself, he's overrated. His compositions were elementary, his lyrics were average, he couldn't write for the male voice(even in La Cage aux Folles), and his work really didn't have much substance. In an era where some wanted more out of musical theatre, Herman was trying to set the clock back. However I cannot deny that he did have a string of memorable hits not only on stage but on-screen as well, hence his spot on this list.
78. Matthew Broderick
Matthew Broderick is somewhat of a wild card when it comes to his place on this list. On one hand he has had some wonderfully charismatic performances that put him in the tier of the strongest leading men in musical theatre history. On the other hand he can also be one of the most wooden actors on stage today. When I recently saw him in It's Only a Play, I couldn't believe that this man once had enough charisma that he mastered J. Pierrepont Finch or Leo Bloom. We saw a sliver of that in Nice Work If You Can Get It but it wasn't even close to what he once was. If Broderick can find that personality again, look out.
77. Gwen Verdon
One of the great triple threats of her day, Gwen Verdon was a rare breed. An incredible dancer, she was Bob Fosse's muse, and wife, for a number of years, perfecting his style of choreography. While you have to give her credit for making the Tony winning role of Lola in Damn Yankees as iconic as it is, some forget that she also won three others for Can-Can, New Girl in Town and Redhead. She also originated the roles of Roxie Hart and Charity. Gwen Verdon was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981.
76. Claude-Michel Schönberg & Alain Boublil
When you write(along with some others), two of the most iconic musicals of all time, it's not a hard decision to put you on this list. Les Miserables and Miss Saigon were two of the blockbuster musicals that we saw dominate Broadway in the 80's-90's. While their work since then hasn't been nearly as good, the number of people inspired to get involved in musical theatre because they heard "On My Own" or "The Last Night of the World" is countless.
75. Idina Menzel
One of the leading and most listened to voices of musical theatre in the new century, Menzel's place on this list is poised to rise dramatically. Her work in RENT inspired people of my age to get into musical theatre. With Wicked, there are women about to start playing the role of Elphaba who first heard it with Menzel. But Frozen is where Menzel will have the most impact. "Let It Go" is the 21st Century's "Over the Rainbow", and we all know how many that inspired to start singing. There is no ceiling on the impact of Menzel's performances.
74. Jason Robert Brown
I recently wrote that no one working today does a better job of setting the human soul to music than Jason Robert Brown. I also questioned whether or not he was a worthy investment.But there is no doubt that Brown is one of the best composers Broadway has to offer. A two-time Tony Winner for Parade and The Bridges of Madison County, he also is behind the awe-inspiring Songs for a New World and The Last Five Years, which recently became of the best movie musicals of all time. He's one of the busiest composers on Broadway and is now working on an adaptation of A League of Their Own.
73. Ben Vereen
In the late 60''s to early 70's, it was rare to see an African-American leading man on Broadway. But Ben Vereen's talent prevented him from being anything else. As the original Leading Player, his is still one of the most charismatic and all around versatile performances documented. In 2011, he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.
72. Bubsy Berkeley
It is strange but true that Busby Berkeley never had a dancing lesson and, in his early days, he was very afraid of people finding out. He often drove his colleagues to distraction by his habit of sitting in front of a new set for days at a time thinking up ways of using it to best advantage.
71. Michael Kidd
Kidd's influence on choreography is iconic. Not only on Broadway, where he won five Tonys, but also film. Perhaps his best-known film work was in 1954 in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” a musical of the American frontier whose dances were created by Mr. Kidd for ballet dancers who were not supposed to appear balletic. Instead, he had them perform what he called “work movements,” like wielding axes. Kidd defined his choreography as ”human behavior and people’s manners, stylized into musical rhythmic forms.”
He added, ”I always use real-life gestures, and most of my dancing is based on real life.”
Anna Kisselgoff, the former chief dance critic of The New York Times, wrote that Kidd’s signature was ”characterization through energy, epitomized by a lovesick male clan going courting with an acrobatic challenge dance” in “Seven Brides.”
70. David Merrick
Another debatable entry, I can't decide if Broadway was better off with or without Merrick. But Broadway has never seen a more savvy and cutthroat producer. His gift for creating Broadway hits was matched only by his genius for attracting publicity and making enemies. Merrick's successes were some of the most popular musicals of his era, including Gypsy, Hello, Dolly! and Promises, Promises, as well as 42nd Street, his longest running show and one of the longest-running productions in Broadway history. His productions also gave signature roles to Ethel Merman, Barbra Streisand and Carol Channing, and he worked with nearly every major songwriter of the Broadway musical's last heyday: Jule Styne, Harold Arlen, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Harold Rome, Bob Merrill and the teams of John Kander and Fred Ebb and Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones.
69. Charlie Smalls
It doesn't take a long career to make a gigantic impact in musical theatre history, sometimes it takes only one show. Charlie Smalls did just that by composing The Wiz. While it was producer Ken Harper's idea, it was Smalls' music that makes this piece not only so good, but also groundbreaking in introducing musical theatre to new audiences. Never before and not until In The Heights would a musical reach demographics that wouldn't normally be seen going to a Broadway show. Since then, The Wiz has become one of the most popular musicals to be performed by high schools, especially by urban schools. Smalls is a tragic case of "What Could Have Been", he died at the age of 43 while in surgery to repair a burst appendix.
68. Susan Stroman
In the new century, has there been a more successful choreographer? With five Tonys, I think not. She's been involved with 21 stage productions, her biggest successes were Crazy For You, Show Boat, and Oklahoma!. She won critical acclaim for choreographing and directing two breakthrough productions, Contact and The Producers.Contact was a musical that explored new ways of putting on theatre with little singing and instead consisted of three short stories told mostly through dance. With the comedy The Producers, Stroman won Tony Awards for Best Choreography and Best Director as well as two Drama Desk Awards. Stroman’s works reflect her ability to be a true “storyteller”. She once said that she feels her role is “to make it believable when someone launches into song and dance” and to “propel the plot forwards”. Stroman has immersed herself in the art of dance and show and has without a doubt, fulfilled this legacy.
67. Terrence McNally
McNally could easily be on a much larger list of the most important people in modern theatrical history, but his contributions to musical theatre certainly put him on this list. He's written the books some of the best musicals of this generation, Kiss of the Spider Woman and Ragtime for which he both won Tonys for. He's also been involved in some of the most underrated musicals such as The Fully Month, A Man of No Importance and Catch Me If You Can. While it's not a musical, you could also argue this his play Master Class is one of the finest plays about music of the 20th Century. McNally is returning to Broadway this spring with his involvement in Anastasia.
66. Dick Van Dyke
Van Dyke was a rare breed. He had the comedy skills of the likes of Donald O'Connor and Danny Kaye but the leading man charm of Gene Kelly, not to mention some mighty fine dance abilities as well. With that kind of skill, it's no surprise that his performances as Albert Peterson in Bye Bye Birdie(which he won a Tony for) and Bert in Mary Poppins are so iconic. With another actor, I highly doubt those characters would have been so endearing or memorable.
65. Elton John
I could simply say that he composed the songs to the highest grossing Broadway musical of all time and end it there. But John also composed Aida and Billy Elliot which both were hits as well. It was very rare to see a pop star of his level attempt or even make it on Broadway but John has truly made his mark.
64. Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty
There have only been few more consistently strong writing partnerships in musical theatre history than Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Since 1988's Lucky Stiff, their contributions to musical theatre have been enormous. If you don't believe me, let me ask you a couple of questions. How many times have you seen Ragtime performed by local or regional companies? How many children's theatre companies have you seen do Suessical ? How many high schools have you seen do Once On This Island ? Exactly.
63. Kelli O'Hara
Currently Broadway's leading lady, O'Hara is one of the busiest actresses around. She's been nominated for six Tonys, won one and should have two more, sorry LaChanze and Jessie Mueller. But O'Hara broke through to a whole other level with her performance in The Bridges of Madison County displaying some of the finest vocals I've ever heard. Given her relatively young career, I expect that years from now we might be ranking O'Hara as one of the finest vocalists ever.
62. John Travolta & Olivia Newton John
As silly as it sounds, I can't deny the popularity of the Grease movie in popular culture. Let me put it this way, at my school dances in the late 90's, "Summer Nights" was played, everyone went nuts and sang a lot to it. This was a show tune played at a school dance. Enough said.
61. The Original Tribe of Hair
Never before, would a show and cast change the spectrum of musical theatre as much as Hair did. The original"Rock Musical' challenged the system and forced audiences to open their mind into larger issues in the world. Hairhad a profound effect not only on what was acceptable on Broadway, but as part of the very social movements that it celebrated. Hair was Broadway's first concept musical, a form that dominated the musical theatre of the seventies, including shows like Company, Follies, Pacific Overtures and A Chorus Line. The New York Times noted, in 2007, that "Hair was one of the last Broadway musicals to saturate the culture as shows from the golden age once regularly did." It would be almost 30 years later until another Rock Musical would pick up this torch.
60. Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe
Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, met in 1942 at the Lambs Club in New York City where, according to Loewe, he mistakenly took a wrong turn to the men's room and walked past Lerner's table. Having recognized him, he asked if Lerner wrote lyrics and Lerner confirmed he did.
Lerner claimed to be the more dominant member of the partnership, which is supported by interviews with their close friends, saying that he would throw out the first two melodies that Loewe would write to any song even if they were both perfect. He said he always knew, with a little pushing, Loewe was capable of greater work. Loewe also worked perfectly with Lerner, who would agonize for weeks over a lyric. Unlike other collaborators Lerner would work with, Loewe was the most understanding of the time Lerner needed for his lyrics and would never pressure him to complete the work. Their partnership created some of musical theatres most epic productions such as Camelot, Brigadoon, Gigi and of course, My Fair Lady.
59. Donna Murphy
For someone who has only been in eight Broadway productions, you might be wondering why she's ranked so high. We first of all she's played some pretty memorable roles for instance Ruth in Wonderful Town and Anna in The King and I, arguably one of the best to play the role. But what puts Murphy on this list is the fact that of her eight productions, she's been nominated for a Tony for five of them, winning twice. She's also breathed rare air by playing a Disney villain in Tangled, which her song "Mother Knows Best" was the best of the entire movie. But her greatest contribution is her performance as Fosca in Passion which won her a Tony, which in my opinion is one the finest dramatic performances in a musical we've ever seen.
58. Charles Strouse & Martin Charnin
Whether you like it or hate it, you can't deny the impact that Annie has had on musical theatre history. Strouse also is the composer behind such classics as Bye Bye Birdie, Applause and Rags. But Annie was a phenomenon, not counting the latest movie version of course. The show launched the careers of the likes of Andrea McArdle, Sarah Jessica Parker and most recently, Lilla Crawford and "Tomorrow" is easily one of the most recognizable show tunes of all time. Now let's move on to the next spot before it gets stuck in my head...
57. Jerry Orbach
I adore Jerry Orbach. Not only for his contributions to Broadway but Det. Lenny Briscoe is still one of my favorite TV characters of my lifetime. But without Law & Order, Orbach is still one of the great leading men in musical theatre history. While he didn't have the conventional good looks, he had charisma coming out of his ears. His list of originating roles is iconic, from El Gallo and Paul the Puppeteer to Billy Flynn and Julian Marsh, Orbach was one of the best. Most people from my generation will know him as the voice of Lumière from Disney's Beauty & the Beast, I can't think of anyone who would've done that role better.
56. Shirley Jones
It might seem odd to put someone this high on the list who barely appeared on Broadway but Shirley Jones' contributions to musical theatre are huge. Not only did she star in three of the best movie musicals of all time, Oklahoma!, Carousel and The Music Man, but her role in The Partridge Family inspired countless of children to become interested in music.
55. Gregory Hines
Hines may not have been the overall showman that Sammy Davis Jr. was, but he took the art of tap dancing to a whole other level, influencing an entire generation of artists to follow in his incredible footsteps. A five time Tony nominee, Hines would win one for his performance in Jelly's Last Jam. In an interview with The New York Times in 1988, Hines said that everything he did was influenced by his dancing--"my singing, my acting, my lovemaking, my being a parent."
54. Harvey Schmidt & Tom Jones
Possibly the best writing team never to win a Tony. Composer Harvey Schmidt and lyricist Tom Jones are best known for their 1960 hit, The Fantasticks. The show, were awarded the Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre in 1991, is the longest-running musical in history, sadly closing this year. In 1963 they wrote 110 in the Shade, which earned the duo a Tony Award nomination. I Do! I Do!, their two-character Broadway musical, followed in 1967, also earning them a Tony nod as well. In 1998 the duo was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame. They also wrote one of my favorite songs of all time, "Orphan in the Storm."
53. Kristin Chenoweth
Is there a more versatile voice on Broadway right now? Has there ever been a more versatile voice? Listen to her performance of "The Girl in 14G" and you tell me. One of the few Broadway performers you can simply refer to by their first name only, her place in musical theatre history is still undetermined, but only climbing. If creating audition standards such as "My New Philospphy" or "Taylor the Latte Boy" weren't enough, she has Wicked under her belt. While Idina owns the cast recording, Chenoweth ruins the role for everyone who has succeeded her.
52. Tommy Tune
Does anyone exude Broadway more than Tommy Tune? A nine time Tony Winner, Tune is a choreography icon with no particular trademark style. But he's got some incredible credits under his belt which include Grand Hotel and Nine. At 6'6, Tune certainly has had an incredible career, inspiring a legion of dancers. But don't get me started on The Will Rogers Follies whose Tony win is one of the American Theatre Wing's greatest errors. That's a rant for another day.
51. Mickey Rooney
I can't even imagine what young aspiring performers thought when they saw Rooney as Andy Hardy and said, "That's what I want to do." Babes in Arms is still one of the great movie musicals of all time. , Nancy Jo Sales recounted in Vanity Fair that "He could sing, he could act, he could dance. He learned to play the banjo—scarily well—in a day. He played the drums like a pro. He was an expert golfer, a champion ping-pong player. He composed a symphony, Melodante, which he performed on the piano at Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 Inauguration Gala. Mickey was some kind of beautiful, talented monster."
50. Stanley Donen
While his most celebrated films are Singin' in the Rain and On the Town, both of which he co-directed with actor and dancer Gene Kelly. His other noteworthy films include Royal Wedding, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Funny Face and Damn Yankees!. He received an Honorary Academy Award in 1998, one of the great acceptance speeches of all time. He was hailed by film critic David Quinlan as "the King of the Hollywood musicals."
49. Ethel Merman
One of the most recognizable voices in musical history, Merman was all personality in her performances. She made more than one role iconic, incredibly enough being the one of the only actresses not to win a Tony for playing Rose in Gypsy. Merman was known for her powerful, belting mezzo-soprano voice, precise enunciation and pitch. Because stage singers performed without microphones when Merman began singing professionally, she had a great advantage, despite the fact that she never took any singing lessons. In fact, Broadway lore holds that George Gershwin advised her never to take a singing lesson after she opened in his Girl Crazy.
48. Robert Preston
One of the most charismatic performers in musical theatre history, it was Preston's charm that made his performances so iconic. As far as I'm concerned the perfect portrayal of Harold Hill began and ended with Preston. He would also appear in productions of Mack & Mabel, I Do! I Do! and Benjamin Franklin in Paris. Not to mention film versions of Mame and Victor/Victoria.
Interestingly enough, possibly his most influential work wasn't on stage at all. In 1961, Preston was asked to make a recording as part of a program by the President's Council on Physical Fitness to get schoolchildren to do more daily exercise. The song, "Chicken Fat", which was written and composed by Meredith Wilson and performed by Preston with full orchestral accompaniment, was distributed to schools across the nation and played for students in calisthenics every morning. The song later became a surprise novelty hit and part of many baby-boomers' childhood memories.
47. Lorenz Hart
One of the great lyricists ever Hart, along with Richard Rodgers, created some of the most iconic music of the 20th Century. His big four included Babes in Arms, The Boys From Syracuse, Pal Joey, and On Your Toes. Some of his classic songs, which have been sung by countless artists from Billie Holiday to Frank Sinatra, are, "Blue Moon," "Mountain Greenery," "The Lady Is a Tramp," "Manhattan," "Where or When," "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered," "Falling in Love with Love," "My Funny Valentine," "I Could Write a Book", "This Can't Be Love", "With a Song in My Heart", "It Never Entered My Mind", and "Isn't It Romantic?"
46. Barbara Cook
If you've never seen Barbara Cook sing live, you really missed out. She first arrived in the 1950's after starring in the original Broadway musicals Plain and Fancy, Candide and The Music Man among others, winning a Tony Award for the last. An agile voice to say the least, Cook is widely known as being one of the best interpreters of musical theatre songs. A New York Times reviewer wrote that Cook is "a performer spreading the gospel of simplicity, self-reliance and truth" who is "never glib" and summoning adjectives such as "astonishing" and "transcendent," concluding that she sings with "a tenderness and honesty that could break your heart and mend it all at once."
45. James Lapine
James Lapine has not only directed some of the finest productions of the past 40 years, but he's written many of them as well. But what I really always respected about Lapine was his ability to take on bold work and make daring choices. His credits are a murderers row of heavy hitters such as March of the Falsettos, Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George, Passion and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee just to name a few. Had Lapine not pushed the boundary as much as he did, Broadway would be a much "safer" place than it is today.
44. Debbie Allen
Before there was Glee there was Fame. And Fame was Debbie Allen. More than that, Allen is has been a central figure in choreography since the 1980's. She had her Broadway debut in the chorus of Purlie. Allen also created the role of Beneatha in the Tony Award-winning musical Raisin. She first began receiving critical attention in 1980 for her appearance in the role of Anita in the Broadway revival of West Side Story which earned her a Tony Award nomination and a Drama Desk Award, she would receive a second Tony Award nomination in 1986 for her performance in the title role in Sweet Charity. But it was Fame where Allen had the most impact. Her opening line of, "You've got big dreams? You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying ... in sweat." is a mantra that all performers live by.
43. George Sidney
George Sidney was one of the first master filmmakers of musicals. His roster includes Anchors Aweigh, Ziegfeld Follies , Annie Get Your Gun, Kiss Me Kate, Show Boat, Pal Joey, Bye Bye Birdie and Half A Sixpence. Interesting fact, Sidney became good friends with MGM animation directors William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. Hanna and Barbera's Jerry Mouse appeared alongside Gene Kelly in Sidney's film Anchors Aweigh. After MGM closed its animation studio in 1957, Sidney helped Hanna and Barbera form a deal with Screen Gems, the television division of Columbia Pictures, to form the successful television animation studio Hanna-Barbera Productions, and was a shareholder in the company. Sidney later featured Hanna-Barbera's Fred Flintstone, Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear in Bye Bye Birdie.
42. Abe Borrows
Burrows wrote, doctored, or directed such shows as Make a Wish, Two on the Aisle, Three Wishes for Jamie, Say, Darling, Guys and Dolls, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Cactus Flower, Four on a Garden, Can-Can, Silk Stockings, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Good News (1974 revival), and many others. With his collaborator Frank Loesser, Burrows won a Pulitzer Prize for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Burrows credited his success in the theatre to his work under the theatre legend George S. Kaufman. In the Kaufman biography by Howard Teichmann, Burrows is quoted as saying that what he said (as a director, to his cast), was what he heard Kaufman say in their collaboration on Guys and Dolls. Burrows also became a famous script doctor, enough so that the desperate call of a producer, "Get me Abe Burrows!"
41. Cyd Charisse
Ask me who is the greatest female dancer in movie history? I will very quickly answer with Cyd Charisse. The woman was a marvel to watch. Her duets with Gene Kelly are not only beautiful but timeless as well. If the Broadway Melody Ballet from Singin in the Rain doesn't move you, you're not human. She also appeared in legendary numbers in Silk Stockings and The Band Wagon. The woman had legs for days and incredibly enough recovered from Polio as a child. In 1992 she made her long awaited debut on Broadway in Grand Hotel.
40. Cameron Mackintosh
Another debatable figure in Musical theatre history. But no matter how you feel about Mackintosh, you can't deny his importance when it comes to reshaping the role of the producer. He single handily revitalized 42nd St in the 1980's and early 90's with a string of hits thanks to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Claude-Michel Schönberg. I will argue that without Mackintosh, Les Miserables, Miss Saigon and Cats close within a year.
39. Carol Channing
Has there ever been a better, more positive ambassador for musical theatre? While she is certainly known for that smile and popularizing Broadway throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, people seem to forget just how good she was. Channing was nominated for her first Tony Award in 1956 for The Vamp. Her second nomination came in 1961 for Show Girl. In 1964 she originated the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly!, winning the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. She received her fourth Tony Award nomination for the musical Lorelei in 1974. Lorelei was a re-imagining of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a 1949 musical that also starred Channing in the lead role of Lorelei Lee, which made her a star. She was also nominated for an Oscar for Thoroughly Modern Millie. She was also the first woman to perform in the Super Bowl halftime show. All of these achievements with her unmistakable voice, definitely earned her induction into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981, and a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award in 1995.
38. William Finn
One of the more underrated composers of our time, William Finn's songs are personal, relatable and intimate. There is something deeper at work when seeing a William FInn musical. Falsettos is a brilliant piece of work that won Finn his only Tony Award for Best Score, admittedly it should have beaten out Crazy For You for the top prize. A New Brian is filled with songs about personal reflection, regret and hope. Partially based on his own experiences, it's by far Finn's best work with incredible melodies and smart lyrics.
With The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Finn created a piece that is both fun, hilarious and ultimately moving. Better yet, it's a show that any theatre, from high school to professional, can produce. When you create theatre for everyone, that puts you in another level of importance.
37. Nathan Lane
Nathan Lane's career is always going to be up for an interesting discussion. Is he a musical theatre icon? Yes. Did he earn 4 Tony Nominations with 2 wins? Yes. Is he one of the most recognizable Broadway stars of our generation? Absolutely. Is he one of the rare performers who can carry a play and musical? Interestingly, yes. Has he done so much work with half of it being so less than stellar that it waters down his career a bit? I can't argue with that. But he has created some of the most memorable characters during his career.
36. Jerome Kern
One of the most important American theatre composers of the early 20th century, he wrote more than 700 songs, used in over 100 stage works, including such classics as "Ol' Man River", "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man", "A Fine Romance", "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes", "All the Things You Are", "The Way You Look Tonight", "Long Ago (and Far Away)" and "Who?". He collaborated with many of the leading librettists and lyricists of his era, including George Grossmith Jr., Guy Bolton, P. G. Wodehouse, Otto Harbach, Oscar Hammerstein II, Dorothy Fields, Johnny Mercer, Ira Gershwin and E. Y. Harburg.
While most Kern musicals have largely been forgotten, except for their songs, Show Boat remains well-remembered and frequently seen. It is a staple of stock productions and has been revived numerous times on Broadway and in London. A 1946 revival integrated choreography into the show, in the manner of a Rodgers and Hammerstein production, as did the 1994 Harold Prince–Susan Stroman revival, which was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, winning 5.
35. Vincente Minnelli
Is he the greatest movie musical director of all time? No. Is he the 2nd best? Definitely. Minnelli brought some iconic pieces of musical art to the silver screen such as Gigi and An American in Paris. His films also elevated even some of the most average material look fantastic such as Meet Me in St. Louis and Kismet.
34. Chita Rivera
The best triple threats of our time, Rivera could do no wrong, she still can't do wrong. Whether it was originating some of the greatest roles in musical history from Anita in West Side Story to Rosie in Bye Bye Birdie to Velma Kelly in Chicago. 8 Tony Nominations with 2 wins, Rivera's career was almost abruptly ended. In 1986, while performing in the Jerry Herman musical, "Jerry's Girls," Rivera was in a severe accident when her car collided with a taxi on West 86th Street in Manhattan. Injuries sustained included the breaking of her left leg in twelve places, requiring eighteen screws and two braces to mend. After rehabilitation, Rivera continued to perform on stage. Now she is back on Broadway in The Visit which opens this week officially.
33. Zero Mostel
Mostel was one of the great performers of all time. But I always think about "what if?" with him. What if he wasn't blacklisted during most of the 1950's? What roles could he have played? Much of his iconic success came later in his life such as Fiddler on the Roof, A Funny Thing...and of course, The Producers.
32. Michael Bennett
Even without A Chorus Line, Bennett would still appear somewhere on this list. By far one of the best choreographers and directors of the 1970-80's, Bennett was nominated for 17 Tony Awards, winning 7. He was choreographed or directed productions of Follies, Dreamgirls, Coco, Seasaw, Promises Promises and Company.
But his greatest contribution was A Chorus Line, in my opinion, the 2nd greatest musical of all time behind West Side Story. For the first time, Bennett took us inside the mind of the chorus dancer and showed the beauty and struggle of their lives. The musical was formed out of hundreds of hours of taped sessions with Broadway dancers. Bennett was invited to the sessions originally as an observer but soon took charge. With the help of Ed Kleban and Marvin Hamlisch, A Chorus Line included some of the most iconic songs in musical theatre history. Never a friend to Hollywood, Bennett actually left the film adaptation of A Chorus Line due to creative differences. Sadly Bennett would die of AIDS at the age of 44.
31. Lin Manuel Miranda
Broadway's greatest will not only be those who raise the bar in terms of its quality but those who break barriers and bring musical theatre to new audiences, which in turn, will inspire a whole generation of performers. If you don't think that describes Lin-Manuel Miranda's work, then you're kidding yourself. In 2008, Lin-Manuel Miranda dropped In The Heights on us. Not since RENT had there been such a brutally honest portrayal of the socioeconomics and struggle of a demographic on Broadway. But the Broadway production achievements of In The Heights pale in comparison to the impact its made far from 42nd Street. It has become one of the most performed musical by high schools since the rights became available.
With Hamilton, Miranda did something even great. Hamilton is the musical theatre landmark of its time. Audiences who wouldn't know Alexander Hamilton from his picture or name. But show them a hip hop infused musical about a man who was shot to death by the Vice President of the United States? Now you're onto something. Now if he could only write a show about math and science, I'd say give him the Nobel prize.
30. Patti Lupone
One of the best actresses in musical theatre history, one can always feel a Patti Lupone performance. She might not have the prettiest or most powerful voice, but she brings it every time and her best work ranks among some the best to ever grace the New York stage. Her performance as Eva Peron breaks your heart when hearing it, hers is the greatest portrayal of Fantine in Les Miserables and don't even get me started on how good she was inGypsy. Still continuing to break new ground and try new roles, Patti Lupone remains one of the most fearless performers in musical theatre history.
29. Irving Berlin
Widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history, his music forms a great part of the Great American Songbook. He wrote hundreds of songs, many becoming major hits, which made him "a legend" before he turned thirty. During his 60-year career he wrote an estimated 1,500 songs, including the scores for 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films, with his songs nominated eight times for Academy Awards. Many songs became popular themes and anthems, including "Easter Parade", "White Christmas", "Happy Holiday". After Jerome Kern, who was the composer for "Annie Get Your Gun," suddenly died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Producers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II persuaded Berlin to take over composing the score. It would be Berlin's greatest contribution to musical theatre. Filled with iconic songs from "Anything You Can Do" and "There's No Business Like Show Business."
28. Mandy Patinkin
With just five musicals under his belt, Mandy Patinkin has become the most iconic musical theatre actor of all time. His debut as Che in Evita is one of the great individual performances in the past 50 years. His work in Sunday in the Park with George is a masterpiece to watch. The fact that he didn't win the Tony for this was among the many crimes of the 1984 Tony Awards. Patinkin's voice has a conviction and feeling that is unmatched. There is an every man quality to it. If you haven't heard his 1995 album, Oscar & Steve then you're missing out.
27. Frank Sinatra
No man has ever done a better job of popularizing musical theatre to the masses than Frank. An American icon, both as a singer and, later, as a movie actor, Sinatra never performed on Broadway, but starred in Hollywood film adaptations of four classic musicals: Guys and Dolls, On the Town, Pal Joey and Can-Can. He appeared in many non-Broadway musicals as well, including Ankles Aweigh , Reveille With Beverly and Robin and the Seven Hoods.
Sinatra's two signature songs have Broadway roots: "My Way" originated as part of the score of Steve Lawrence's Broadway vehicle What Makes Sammy Run?; his late-career hit "New York, New York," was written for a film of the same name by the Chicago and Cabaret team of John Kander & Fred Ebb. Even after rock pushed showtunes out of the Top 40, Sinatra continued to record them, laying down tracks of Jerry Herman's "I Won't Send Roses" and Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns," "Good Thing Going" and "Old Friend" in the 1970s and '80s.
26. Cy Coleman
He was a child prodigy who gave piano recitals at Steinway Hall, Town Hall, and Carnegie Hall between the ages of six and nine. Before beginning his fabled Broadway career, he led the Cy Coleman Trio, which made many recordings and was a much-in-demand club attraction. A Five Time Tony Winner, Coleman was the man behind such hits as Sweet Charity, On The Twentieth Century, Little Me and Barnum. He was elected to the American Theatre Hall of Fame.
For 25-1 I chose passages written from people who revered or knew them best.
25. Liza Minnelli
Liza Minnelli is not a has-been, she is an always-was. She began as an anachronism, stayed that way throughout her career and remains so even at 60, in uncertain health and, as the tabloids have not unreasonably concluded, crazy with a Z.
And there is no better proof of it than the resurrected recording of a one-woman concert Ms. Minnelli gave at the Lyceum Theater in 1972. The painstakingly restored and remastered 16-millimeter film of "Liza With a 'Z,' " which will be shown on Showtime tomorrow for the first time in 30 years, will undoubtedly delight her fans. It also serves as Exhibit A of just how riveting and ghastly Liza Minnelli was even at the height of her career.
For those who never quite understood her standing in pop culture — or gay iconography — and are alarmed by her Page Six woes (and her recent, unmoored interview with Larry King on CNN), the hourlong film provides some clues. There are only a handful of female performers of her generation who have that over-the-top, knock-'em-dead stage presence, but Judy Garland's daughter was neither as gifted a singer as Barbra Streisand nor as roguishly self-aware as Bette Midler. Ms. Minnelli's stardom is based on a unique confluence of talent andbiography, persistence and collapse. And of course, luck: she sings a medley from "Cabaret," the musical that gave Ms. Minnelli an Oscar and her greatest and only plausible movie role as a romantic lead; every heroine she played after that was at best a watery distortion of Sally Bowles.
"Liza With a 'Z' " shows why she doesn't really fit the bill as a flashback anyway; she always operated outside of time. ~ The New York Times
24. Tim Rice
Initially, I was planning to tell the story from the point of view of Eva’s hairdresser. But I had a lightbulb moment when I discovered that Che Guevara was from Argentina, and had been there when the Peróns were operating. I thought: “Hang on – Che would be much more interesting than some unknown hairdresser. That way, I get two icons for the price of one.”
I can say – immodestly – that the fact Eva Perón is now so well known is 90% due to the musical. In 1974, she was buried in an unmarked grave in Milan. Now she’s in the Duarte family tomb in Buenos Aires, with a plaque that has “Don’t cry for me Argentina” engraved on it in Spanish. The last time I was there, a woman was standing in front of the tomb singing the song. I thought: “This is weird. Shall I tell her I wrote it?” I didn’t. Maybe I should have. ~ Tim Rice
23. Bernadette Peters
For theater lovers, there can be no greater current pleasure than to witness Bernadette Peters perform the show’s signature number, “Send In the Clowns,” with an emotional transparency and musical delicacy that turns this celebrated song into an occasion of transporting artistry. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced with such palpable force — or such prominent goose bumps — the sense of being present at an indelible moment in the history of musical theater. ~ Charles Isherwood on her performance in A Little Night Music.
22. Leonard Bernstein
"It’s unquestionable that some of these perfect songs and little pieces strike us as iconic, stake out a territory that we recognize as important to our inner lives. Some of these slow major-minor things in dance sequences in “On the Town” or “Fancy Free;” a song like “Some Other Time” or “There’s a Place for Us.” It’s music that haunts all of us. Talk about building large structures — it’s woven into the structure of your entire life.”
“He created the mold, the model for the socially responsible, inclusive, generous maestro, as opposed to the remote, preoccupied, professorial — although God knows he could be professorial. He wasn’t the kind of high-priest conductor, or professor conductor, or inspector-general conductor, or reign of terror conductor. He was like, ‘Hey, we’re all in this together; let’s explore together.’ It’s something people still get, and aspire to.”~ Michael Tilson Thomas
21. Audra McDonald
No doubt about Audra Ann McDonald, one of two stars born here. Her Carrie is lushly sung and slyly acted, a smug girl able to poke fun at herself, and she’s a glinty foil to Eddie Korbich’s buffoonish Enoch Snow. ~ Jeremy Gerard's review of her Broadway featured debut in Carousel, for which she would win the first of her six Tonys.
20. Stephen Schwartz
"My style of writing has been influenced by sort of scavenging the pieces of music that I've heard, and it'll just be a moment" that he might use for inspiration, he says.
When he sits down to write, Schwartz usually starts with the title of a song. Then comes the scaffolding (chords), melody and last of all lyrics, which he says should cling to the silhouette of the music. Schwartz names dozens of artists who've influenced him over the years — everyone from Beethoven to Sting.
Perhaps this medley of influences explains what people have come to identify as the "Schwartz style." The best of his music carries a universal emotional power, echoes of chords and melodies that people have loved for generations and continue to resonate. ~ NPR
19. Angela Lansbury
"The condo we’re in now was purchased after the death in 2003 of her husband, Peter Shaw, whose smiling face looks out from a picture frame nearby. Decorated with a minimalist aesthetic, with furniture in muted colours and a flat-screen television, the apartment is pleasant, contemporary and functional. Hardly ostentatious or glittering with theatricality – there’s nothing that would indicate it belongs to a legendary showbusiness matriarch. For a woman who’s won five Tony Awards, 19 Emmy Awards, and received three Academy Award nominations, there is a noticeable absence of memorabilia. Or maybe it’s just not the sort of place one would expect a Miss Marple to live. Part of what has entrenched Lansbury in the psyche of an audience spanning generations is her ability to disappear into the roles she plays.
There have been many surprises in Lansbury’s life, but perhaps the biggest of all is that she has remained current. “It surprises me that I didn’t get left behind,” she says. “I’ve always managed to keep up. In the process of keeping busy, I’ve always stayed relevant. And that is a surprise to me.
“Because they still will allow me to get out there – particularly in the theatre – it’s total illusion. If you can sell that you’re 50, the audience will believe you.” ~ Ariel Leve
18. Andrew Lloyd Webber
Artists are supposed to be broke; he manifestly isn't. Artists are collected; he collects, with the obsessiveness of the small boy who adored trains. He is a curious and interesting figure: steeped in serious music yet in love with musical theatre; rich enough not to fret about politics but fretting anyway; oddly delighted to have won an award at the Newbury show last weekend for his organic peas; and anxious enough to run out into the street in the rain to give me the name of a horse of his that he thinks will win at Ascot tomorrow. Crystal Music. That's the horse, not a comment on the show, just in case my Lloyd Webber-loathing friend was worrying. ~ Stephen Moss
17. Gower Champion
"When I auditioned for 'Bye Bye Birdie' on Broadway, Gower Champion said, 'You've got the job!' I said, 'Mr. Champion, I can't dance.' He said, 'We'll teach you what you need to know.' ~ Dick Van Dyke
16. Jonathan Larson
As head of the panel for the Richard Rodgers Studio Production Award, Mr. Sondheim helped "Rent" receive a grant last year.
The last time he spoke with Mr. Larson was a few months ago: "He called up with a problem -- not an artistic problem, a production problem. I gave him my usual five cents worth of advice: theater is collaboration, you have to give ground to gain ground. If you don't want to collaborate, then be Wagner and get a King of Bavaria to support you so you can do it yourself."
Mr. Larson's debt to his mentor can be seen in his verbally dextrous lyrics, in one instance, quite literally, when the battered bunch of dropouts and dreamers sings a wry toast to:
Emotion, devotion, to causing a commotion,
Creation, vacation, mucho masturbation,
Compassion, to fashion, to passion when it's new,
To Sontag, to Sondheim, to anything taboo.
On the last night of his life, Mr. Larson talked of something he had learned from a friend with AIDS: "It's not how many years you live, but how you fulfill the time you spend here. That's sort of the point of the show." - Anthony Tommasini
15. Hal Prince
Most shows undergo certain changes. In ["A Little Night Music"] we replaced an actress because we wanted to have a song in the second act ["The Miller's Son"] so we had to replace her to get an actress who could sing that song. I like to do everything you can possibly do before you go into rehearsal, because once we are in rehearsal or on the stage there will be a problem I didn't anticipate. It's really good to think we got it all nailed -- of course you've never got it all nailed. ~ Hal Prince
14. Judy Garland
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the career of Judy Garland was that she was able to continue as long as she did- long after her voice had failed and long after her physical reserves had been spent in various illnesses that might have left a less tenacious woman an invalid.
She was the kind of movie personality whose private life defined much of her public response. Whenever she stepped on a stage in recent years, she brought with her, whether she welcomed it or not, all the well-publicized phantoms of her emotional breakdown, her career collapses and comebacks. The pressures of performing began for her at an early age. When she was 18 and Louis B. Mayer's favorite at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios making $150,000 a picture, she was already seeing a psychiatrist.
She wrote about the experience years later: "No wonder I was strange. Imagine whipping out of bed, dashing over to the doctor's office, lying down on a torn leather couch, telling my troubles to an old man who couldn't hear, who answered with an accent I couldn't understand, and then dashing to Metro to make movie love to Mickey Rooney." ~ Her New York Times Obituary.
13. Jerome Robbins
"Jerry had declared that first day that the stage was a battleground. You were never allowed to walk on that stage except at his request; he was absolute dictator.
He brought this Method-acting technique into the show, where he deliberately tried to foment animosity, antagonism, between the two opposing gangs, both on stage and off stage. They weren't allowed to eat together. They were not supposed to socialize." ~ Carol Lawrence
12. Alan Menken & Howard Ashman
"The moment I will never get over is when we were working on Something There for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. We had been told that Human Again would not work for the movie; at least not in the form that we’d written it in. We were going back to the drawing board to write something more contained and simple. Howard wanted to tape the music that I’d written at his piano. He had a Walkman Pro with a little mic attached that wasn’t working right. Seemingly out of nowhere, he took this VERY expensive portable tape recorded/player and hurled it across the room. It smashed against the wall. When I got over my shock, I went to pick it up. Howard shouted “Don’t touch it!!”
With the burden of dealing with losing control of his body AIDS, not to be able to control his creative process as well was too much.
When Howard worked it was a total commitment. And every fiber in his being was brought to bear." ~ Alan Menken
11. Barbra Streisand
“I remember when I was 5 living on Pulaski Street in Brooklyn, the hallway of our building had a brass banister and a great sound, a great echo system. I used to sing in the hallway. I was known as the girl on the street with the good voice. No father, good voice. That was my identity.” ~ Barbra Streisand
10. Betty Comden & Adolph Green
They do not claim to be very "personal" writers, but their work is suffused with their affection for show business and for their beloved New York City. Their story lines were always bright and inventive; their dialogue witty and sophisticated; their world, innocent and unreal, nonetheless sparkling with humanity." ~ UC Press
9. Julie Andrews
There are few films that inspire hordes of people to dress up and sing along in a public movie theater. The Sound of Music does just that, having become a true classic since its release in 1965. Much of that is due to Andrews’ turn as Maria, the young nun who leaves a convent to become a governess. With vocal performances such as "My Favorite Things" and the titular "The Sound of Music," Andrews brings her famous voice to the role, imbuing it with both the levity and gravity a film about escaping Nazis calls for. And whenever someone spins on a hill, it's her voice playing in their head. Andrews’ Maria has gone on to become one of the most beloved characters of all time, nominated as one of AFI’s greatest movie heroes and inspiring a generation of aspiring Broadway actresses. Mary Poppins may be her greatest achievement, but Maria von Trapp will go down as Julie Andrews' most iconic role of all time. - Melissa Hugel
8. Gene Kelly
“Why do you want this job?” Gene Kelly asks Taina Elg after she’s auditioned for his act in “Les Girls” (1957). “Because I’ve seen you dance,” she says. The answer makes perfect sense; his dancing’s that irresistible. Anyone who’s seen Kelly dance can’t help but share her enthusiasm. Moving pictures move, and few performers onscreen have made motion look as marvelous.
You get that same sense a decade later, in “The Young Girls of Rochefort” (1967). Here are all these French kids singing and dancing and, in a sense, doing their own version of “Summer Stock” — though a French port city is a lot more fun than some barn in the country — and Kelly’s delighted to be around them. He’s an elder statesman of the musical, yes, that’s why Jacques Demy has cast him. But he’s also part of the action (and even at 55 a better dancer than anyone else in the movie). He belongs. And when Francoise Dorleac bumps into him and drops her papers, and he starts to help her pick them up, she takes one look and she’s a goner. It’s the hoariest (and creepiest) cliche in moviemaking: a beautiful young woman falls head over heels for a much older man. Except this time none of us in the audience thinks it’s a cliche. How could we? We’re in love with him, too. ~ Mark Feeney
7. George & Ira Gershwin
The music of George Gershwin is the hallmark of a native American composer who mixed the traditional orchestral setting with the truly American medium -- Jazz. Gershwin's musical hallmarks, such as Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris and Concerto in F are just the most common of his orchestral works. Then there are his songs, many of which are written by the other Gershwin -- Ira. Ira's contributions to the world as a lyricist are often overlooked because of the greatness of his brother's musical stylings. However, Ira's lyrics are too essential to overlook. ~ Gershwin Fan Website
6. Mary Martin
More than any of her peers, she was what she played and she incarnated the songs that she sang. Miss Martin was "a cockeyed optimist" and she was also the eternal child imagined by James M. Barrie. Approaching 70, she was still saying, "I can't help thinking I'm 19." On stage, at least figuratively, she never stopped flying.
Her voice was never the strongest instrument. She was not beautiful (though she could be radiant). Through determination, pluck, charm, self-mocking humor and a profound sense of self, everything converged to create an exhilarating theater artist.
Some years ago she participated in a birthday tribute to Richard Rodgers at the Imperial Theater, where, decades before, she had made her Broadway debut in "Leave It to Me." For days, she worried about what she would say. When the time came, in characteristic fashion, she improvised. She walked on stage and said as loudly as she could, "I would like to renew my subscription." When she wrote about this moment in her autobiography, she commented, "That's what I would like to say, now and forever, to all audiences everywhere." Mary Martin's lifetime renewal was gratefully accepted. - Mel Gussow
5. Cole Porter
Mr. Porter wrote the lyrics and music for his songs, and to both he brought such an individuality of style that a genre known as "the Cole Porter song" became recognized.
The hallmarks of a typical Porter song were lyrics that were urbane or witty and a melody with a sinuous, brooding quality. Some of his best-known songs in this vein were "What Is This Thing Called Love," "Night and Day," "Love for Sale" and "Begin the Beguine."
But an equally typical and equally recognizable Porter song would have a simple, bouncy melody and a lyric based on a long and entertaining list of similarities, opposite or contrasts. "Let's Do It" ticked off the amiable amatory habits of birds, flowers, crustacea, fish, insects, animals and various types of humans, while "You're the Top" was an exercise in the creation of superlatives that included such items as "the nimble tread of the feet of Fred Astaire," "Garbo's salary" and "Mickey Mouse."
Still a third type of Porter song was exclamatory in both lyrics and melody. "Just One of Those Things," "From This Moment On" and "It's All Right With Me" were instances. ~ AP
4. John Kander & Fred Ebb
With a presence on Broadway for nearly 40 years and through a dozen different musicals, Mr. Kander and Mr. Ebb had one of the longest-running collaborations in the history of the American musical theater. From their Broadway debut in 1965, with "Flora, the Red Menace," starring a teenage Liza Minnelli, to the current long-running revival of "Chicago," Mr. Kander and Mr. Ebb were known for their sometimes saucy, sometimes sincere subject matter, their often pointed political undertones, and more than anything their uncanny ability to fuse sharp lyrics and catchy melodies into hummable, quotable musical theater.
Much of the team's comic sensibility came from Mr. Ebb, whose hangdog expression and deadpan personal manner belied an effusive passion for a well-turned phrase. Typical was "Don't Tell Mama" from "Cabaret," in which a chorus of fallen women, led by Sally Bowles, pleads - sort of - for a little discretion:
Mama thinks I'm on a tour of Europe,
With a couple of my school chums and a lady chaperone.
Mama doesn't even have an inkling,
That I left them all in Antwerp and I'm touring on my own.~ The New York Times
3. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein
Mr. Rodgers once wrote:
"Oscar Hammerstein's view of life was more positive, more optimistic. He had a wonderful family. He was a joiner, a leader, a man willing to do battle for whatever causes he believed in. . . . He was as meticulous a craftsman as Larry, and he was extremely versatile. As a partner, he was completely dependable.
"As far as his work with me was concerned, Oscar always wrote about the things that affected him deeply. What was truly remarkable was his never-ending ability to find new ways of revealing how he felt about three interrelating themes--nature, music and love.
"In 'Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," the first song we wrote together for 'Oklahoma!,' Oscar described an idyllic summer day on a farm when 'all the sounds of the earth are like music.'
"In 'It's a Grand Night for Singing,' he revealed that the things most likely to induce people to sing are a warm, moonlit, starry night and the first thrill of falling in love.
"In 'You Are Never Away,' he compared a girl with 'the song I sing,' 'the rainbow I chase,' 'a morning in spring' and 'the star in the lace of a wild willow tree.' ~ AP
2. Bob Fosse
Here's a fun test, ask one of your non-theatre friends to do an impression of what they think Broadway dance looks like, chances are they'll do "jazz hands", guess who popularized those?
One of the most successful choreographer-directors of all time, Fosse was one of the few individuals to win all three of the major awards of show business: the Academy Award for his direction of "Cabaret," seven Tonys for directing or choreography in the stage shows "Pajama Game," "Redhead," "Damn Yankees," "Sweet Charity," "Pippin," "Dancin"' and "Little Me," and three Emmy awards for directing the television special "Liza With a Z."
"But the awards weren't the most important thing," Viator said. "The important thing was the man, himself--the genius and the dedication to excellence that he brought to everything he did. The way he could make you want to do it his way." ~ LA Times
1. Stephen Sondheim
The first time I encountered Stephen Sondheim was like everyone else: through snatches of old songs people performed in drama school, through Send in the Clowns, which everyone knew. I wasn't aware at the time that he was the writing force behind West Side Story and Gypsy. It often gets forgotten, because people think of Sondheim purely in terms of making difficult, highbrow music – which he did. But as a lyricist, he also worked on some of the most popular musicals ever.
I think Stephen himself would agree, somewhat, that he's been a tortured soul throughout much of his life, and has found it hard to be on a search for happiness. A lot of brilliant artists are conflicted in the same way and it informs their work. It's not an irony that he works in musicals; it's ignorant to believe the form only works on a cheery, superficial level. Sondheim has never written typical musicals – the kind made famous in the US in the 1940s and 1950s – he writes about the human condition, with layer upon layer of depth. His is musical theatre – like plays with music – not musical comedy, and there's a big difference. It's also why his legacy is so important: Stephen Sondheim changed the face of the medium.
Passion, which will be revived at the Donmar later this year, is a case in point. It's complex and bleak and not at all the sort of thing you'd expect to be set to music. I performed the lead in the West End for its UK premiere and worked very closely with Sondheim. He very kindly wrote, or fleshed out rather, the song 'Hey, Mr Producer' (a tribute to Cameron Mackintosh) for me, because there wasn't a big, 11th-hour song for my character Giorgio. We went into a little room and he gave me an hour's masterclass, talking me and teaching me through it. I can't quite explain why, but it was the most extraordinary session. Of course, I stayed in touch.
As a person, Stephen Sondheim is a very funny, very dry and very shy man. I've never witnessed any diva-ish moments, he just always seems so thrilled people are doing his work. The curious fact is that he and Andrew Lloyd Webber were born on the same day, almost two decades apart. There's always supposed to have been an intense rivalry between the two; it's said that Sondheim would have loved Lloyd Webber's commercial success and, likewise, Lloyd Webber would give his left leg for a share of Sondheim's critical acclaim. Whether we'll still be staging Sondheim in 500 years, like Shakespeare, is another matter. He would be appalled I'd even made the comparison, he's a very modest man. But yes, he's an innovator and he's stayed relevant throughout his career.
His masterpiece remains Sweeney Todd. It will always be my favourite. I can also reveal I will finally be performing it next summer in Chichester, fingers crossed with Imelda Staunton as Mrs Lovett. It's the work that took the artform to a new level. If you listen to the orchestrations, the lyrics, the witty rhymes, the dark aspects exploring the sinister vagaries of people's minds – it's incredibly powerful and original. You can see why Tim Burton was so drawn to it.
As a performer, once you've understood the genre of musical theatre, you can tire very quickly of the two-dimensional stuff. With Sondheim, it's always a challenge. It's difficult and exhilarating and he's so good on the complexities of relationships and on things going wrong. When the music is done right, it can only heighten that emotion and make the work much more powerful. Which is why Sondheim is for grownups and why his work is often so profound. ~ Michael Ball