Great Musical Theatre Performers
To paraphrase the character of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, “On the one hand it seems odd to pay to tribute to performers I never got to see perform; on the other hand, it does not seem fair to leave them off the list just because they performed before I was born; on the other hand, who am I to judge who was great or not, because as the good book says...” Wait, the good book does not say anything about this.
This section pays tribute to many of the legendary theatre performers. Some I have been fortunate enough to live, some I have seen on film, and some I wish I could have seen, but they all have contributed to the musical theatre.
Al Jolson: A veteran of vaudeville, he starred in Robinson Crusoe Jr., Sinbad, and Big Boy, among others, on Broadway. His blackface act was popular in its day and grew in disfavor when blackface became politically incorrect; however, as a Lithuanian Jew, Jolson had no love of prejudice and fought for black performers and playwrights on the Broadway stage. He starred in the first talking picture, the musical The Jazz Singer.
Alan Alda: Best known as Hawkeye on the TV show, MASH, but before that he was a Broadway actor in the musical The Apple Tree and was cast in at least 5 other shows. He performed in 5 more stage shows since 1992.
Alfred Drake: He performed in over 30 Broadway shows in addition to films. After starting his career in 4 of revivals of Gilbert and Sullivan musical, he had leading roles in Kiss Me Kate, Oklahoma, Babes in Arms, and Kismet. His big baritone voice brought something special to songs such as, “Where Is the Life That Late I Led?”
Angela Lansbury: A favorite of Stephen Sondheim, her musical credits include, Anyone Can Whistle, Mame, Dear World, Sweeney Todd, and in revivals of Gypsy and A Little Night Music. She, of course, has performed in a variety of plays, movies,and TV roles, most notably Murder She Wrote.
Ann Reinking: With supporting roles in Pippin and Caberet, she had leading roles in Over Here and Goodtime Charley before replacing Donna McKechnie in a Chorus Line and then Gwen Verdon in Chicago and his performed in many other musicals.
Audra McDonald: Having won 3 Tony Awards by the age of 28, including for her role in Ragtime, she has been working steadily on Broadway and in concert since 1994. Her latest role is in the revival of Porgy and Bess.
Barbara Cook: One of the most popular stars of the stage in the 1950’s, she starred in Candide and The Music Man, and has continued to perform in a wide variety of musicals and concerts ever since.
Barbara Streisand: Her voice is known by millions and she has starred in movies, but she starred as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl on Broadway and the West End, as well as in the movie version. Before Funny Girl, she also performed in “I Can Get It for You Wholesale.”
Bebe Neuwirth: Best known as Lilith on the TV show Cheers, she has starred in revivals of Sweet Charity and Chicago. She has done a one woman cabaret shows that was entitled Bebe Neuwirth and played Morticia in The Addams Family.
Ben Vereen: A true triple threat, he starred in Pippin as the Leading Player and in Jesus Christ Superstar as Judas, and has performed in many other stage and screen musicals.
Bernadette Peters: While her movie and television appearances would be enough for a full career, she is beloved on Broadway. Her stage shows include Mack and Mabel, Sunday in the Park with George, Song and Dance, Into the Woods, and revivals of Annie Get Your Gun, Gypsy, On The Town, A Little Night Music, and most recently, Follies.
Bert Lahr: An actor, comedian, singer, and dancer, Bert Lahr came up in vaudeville and burlesque, he performed in at least 16 Broadway musicals. His shows include Hold Everything, Flying High, DuBarry Was a Lady, and George White’s Music Hall Varieties. He is best known as The Cowardly Lion in the movie The Wizard of Oz.
Bill "Bojangles" Robinson: One of the great tap dancers of all time, Mr. Bojangles started dancing professionally as a child and came up through vaudeville. On Broadway, he starred in Blackbirds of 1928, The Hot Mikado, All In Fun, and Memphis Bound.
Bob Hope: From vaudeville to radio to movies to television, Bob Hope was one of the greatest entertainers in history. In the late 1920’s through the mid 1930’s, he performed on Broadway in shows that included Sideways of New York, Red Hot and Blue, Roberta, and the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936.
Bobby Van: A star of MGM movie musicals, he was on Broadway in the 1971 revival of No No Nanette, the 1954 revival of On Your Toes, as well as Alive and Kicking and Doctor Jazz.
Carol Burnett: As Princess Winifred in Once Upon A Mattress, Carol Burnett had a huge Broadway hit. Among her other musicals were Fade In Fade Out and Putting It Together. She became beloved across America with her TV hit The Carol Burnett Show that included Broadway style musical features. She continues to perform and has is also an author.
Carol Channing: Best known for her starring role in the original Broadway production of Hello Dolly, Carol Channing has performed on stage and screen for over half a century. She originated the role of Lorelei in the stage version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Ms Channing won a Tony Award for Hello Dolly and was nominated for four other roles.
Chaim Topol: Often known simply by his last name, this Israeli actor starred as Tevye in the West End production of Fiddler on the Roof and then was nominated for an Oscar for the the role in the movie version. He later reprised the role in revivals on Broadway, the West End, and on tour.
Chita Rivera: Chita Rivera has had a long career on the stage, originating the roles of Anita in West Side Story, Rosie in Bye Bye Birdie, Velma Kelly in Chicago, Anna in The Rink, and Aurora in Kiss of the Spider Woman. She won Tony Awards for last two roles. Her screen credits include roles in Sweet Charity and Pippin.
Christine Ebersole: Tony Award as Dorothy Brock in the 2001 revival of 42nd Street and Edie in Grey Gardens.
Danny Kaye: Danny Kaye had a long and well-known Hollywood career, but started on with the Straw Hat Revue, Lady in the Dark, and Let’s Face It in the late 1930’s and early 40’s before embarking on his big screen career. He returned to Broadway in 1970 starring as Noah in Two by Two, a musical written by Richard Rodger’s and Martin
Fanny Brice: A comedienne, singer and actress, she performed on film, radio, and the stage. The musical Funny Girl was (rather loosely) based on her life . She started in burlesque and appeared in nine years of the Ziegfeld Follies, as well as The Honeymoon Express and Nobody Home..
Fred and Adele Astaire:
George M. Cohan:
Gene Kelly: He was a starred on Broadway as Joey Evans in Pal Joey in 1940 and then the choreographer of Best Foot Forward before leaving Broadway to become a Hollywood legend. He returned to Broadway to direct Flower Drum Song.
Kitty Carlisle Hart:
Kristin Chenoweth: One of the most prolific actresses in recent years, she has starred in Wicked and a revival of Promises Promises, in addition to playing Sally in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. She is also a veteran recording artist and has appeared on film and TV.
Lauren Bacall: Best known for her movie roles, especially those with her husband, Humphrey Bogart, she has acted in six Broadway plays, two of which were musicals. She starred in Applause as Margo Channing with a cast that included Ruby Keeler and Bonnie Franklin, among others.
The Marx Bros.: Many of their funniest movies of the 1930’s were first Broadway musicals. They started in vaudeville as musicians, then added comedy, and their act gradually changed to a comic act with music. Their Broadway credits include The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, I’ll Say She Is,
Sammy Davis Jr.:
Sarah Jessica Parker:
W.C. Fields: An actor with great comedic skills, he started in as an juggler in vaudeville and also performed in silent and talking movies as well as radio. On Broadway, he was featured entertainer in the Ziegfeld Follies for six years and starred in the musical comedy Poppy.
Williams Daniels: Successful on stage and on TV, his Broadway musical credits include A Thousand Clowns and On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. His best role was as John Adams in 1776, first on stage and then in the movie version.
Yul Brynner: His best known role was as Mongkut, the king of Siam, in the King and I in both the Broadway and movie versions of the show, he acted from 1941 - 1985.
Zero Mostel: Best known for his original comic roles on Broadway as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, he was also a mainstay of stage and screen in the 1960’s and 70’s.