Top 10 Best Tony Award Performances of All Time

Script written by Nick Spake The 71st annual Tony Awards is finally here! On June 11th, we get ready to watch spectacular performances on stage with the biggest stars in Broadway! We’ve counted down the Top 10 Best Tony Award Performances of all Time, including Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” from “Hamilton, Defying Gravity” from “Wicked”, My New Philosophy” from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and “Rose’s Turn” from “Gypsy”.

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Top 10 Best Tony Award Performances of All Time

If you can’t afford to catch your favorite musicals live on Broadway, don’t worry, the Tony’s have got you covered! Welcome to MsMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Best Tony Award Performances of All Time.

For this list, we’re taking a look at the most rousing musical performances from the Tony Awards. We’ve excluded opening numbers and performances by the host.

#10: “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” from “Hamilton”
“70th Tony Awards” (2016)

Lin-Manuel Miranda and company were the toast of Broadway at the 2008 Tony Awards where they performed “96,000” from “In the Heights.” Several years later, Miranda topped himself with another award show darling, “Hamilton.” When President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama introduce a Tony-nominated musical, something special is clearly in store for the audience. The “Hamilton” cast didn’t disappoint with their performance of “Yorktown,” which finds the Continental Army on top of a world turned upside down. Although this number is usually performed with muskets, the cast decided to forego the presence of firearms in wake of the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. This made the performance all the more poignant and important.

#9: “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked”
“58th Tony Awards” (2004)

Never failing to drop jaws, “Defying Gravity” is easily a highpoint of the Broadway phenomenon known as “Wicked.” So, it was a natural choice to sum up the musical’s magic at the 2004 Tony Awards. This extravagant production number marks a crucial moment for Idina Menzel’s Elphaba and Kristin Chenoweth’s Glinda, as both young witches go their separate ways. Where Glinda stays in the Emerald City, Elphaba decides to defy the Wizard and seek new heights. As empowering as it is spellbinding, this performance raised the roof to say the least. That night was full of highs for Menzel, who also won the Tony for Best Leading Actress in a Musical.

#8: “Spring Awakening” medley
“61st Tony Awards” (2007)

Exploring teenage sexuality at the end of the 19th century, “Spring Awakening” blossoms with moving songs about angst, confusion, and rebellion. This musical’s original Broadway cast, which included the likes of Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele, stole the show at the 2007 Tony Awards. The company presented three songs woven into one deeply effective performance. “Mama Who Bore Me,” “The Bitch of Living,” and “Totally F**ked” all have different melodies, but each perfectly encompasses the frustration tied to adolescence. Gaining applause from every corner of the Radio City Music Hall, “Spring Awakening” ultimately took home 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

#7: “My New Philosophy” from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”
“53rd Tony Awards” (1999)

For the 1999 Broadway revival of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” the world was introduced to Sally Brown, played by Kristin Chenoweth. Although she was in her early 30s at the time, Chenoweth captured little Sally’s naive attitude perfectly, and her performance at the 53rd Tony Awards is proof of that. Upon receiving a D on her homework, Sally tells Schroeder all about her new philosophy. Of course, she doesn’t entirely understand what philosophies are. Sally might be lacking in worldly wisdom, but Chenoweth’s grade A portrayal was nothing short of brilliant. Shortly after her performance, Chenoweth won the Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

#6: “Rose’s Turn” from “Gypsy”
“57th Tony Awards” (2003)

Broadway royalty incarnate, Bernadette Peters had to storm onto this list at some point. Peters earned a Tony nomination for her portrayal of Mama Rose in the 2003 revival of “Gypsy.” During that year’s ceremony, she lit up the stage with her rendition of “Rose’s Turn.” This song not only demonstrates Rose at her most domineering, but also at her most vulnerable as she finally breaks down. It takes a special kind of actress to hit so many different notes at once, but Peters was more than up to the task. Where Rose is sometimes depicted as an over-the-top theater mom, Peters brought a real sense of humanity to the character, making the role her own.

#5: “New Argentina” from “Evita”
“34th Tony Awards” (1980)

Speaking of “Gypsy,” we were tempted to include Patti LuPone’s take on “Everything's Coming Up Roses”. However, when people think of LuPone, “Evita” is the first musical that usually comes to mind. This legendary actress originated the role of Eva Perón on Broadway in 1979, resulting in her first Tony win for Leading Actress in a Musical. The same night she took home theater’s top honor, LuPone stunned audiences with a performance of “New Argentina.” Although the people elected Juan Perón, Evita is the one that won Argentina over. This performance epitomizes Evita’s relationship with her husband and the rest of the country. All the while, LuPone commands the stage with charisma, resilience, and an all-around dominating presence.

#4: “Circle of Life” from “The Lion King”
“52nd Tony Awards” (1998)

Bringing an animated epic to the stage is no easy endeavor, especially when all of the characters are animals. With a visionary director like Julie Taymor helming the project, though, anything’s possible. “The Lion King” ruled the 1998 Tony Awards while also enthralling viewers with a performance of “Circle of Life.” It’s impossible not to erupt into applause from the second Tsidii Le Loka hits her first note. Utilizing stylized costumes and puppets, an animal kingdom invades the theater. As elephants and rhinos stomp through the aisles, the audience becomes a part of the experience. Once lion cub Simba is finally presented we truly feel connected to the circle of life, demonstrating the power of theater.

#3: “Memory” from “Cats”
“37th Tony Awards” (1983)

We now go from the King of the Pride Lands to the Glamour Cat. Although “Cats” is one of the most iconic stage musicals of all time, it’s also one of the weirdest on paper. After all, it has a bunch of people dressed up as felines. How are audiences supposed to get emotionally invested in this? Of course, anyone that saw Betty Buckley’s performance of “Memory” at the 1983 Tony Awards knows why “Cats” became a musical milestone. This show tune overflows with bittersweet nostalgia, as Grizabella longs for her glory days and wishes for a better tomorrow. Even if you prefer dogs, this is one cat that will make you cry.

#2: “Seasons of Love”/ “La Vie Boheme” from “Rent”
“50th Tony Awards” (1996)

With its relevant themes, relatable characters, and infectious rock songs, “Rent” is often cited for spawning a new generation of theater lovers. The late Jonathan Larson’s musical magnum opus won big at the 1996 Tony Awards with the cast’s performances of “Seasons of Love” and “La Vie Boheme” bringing down the house. These are two of the most life-affirming songs in the history of musical theater, encouraging artists to follow their dreams and people everywhere to live every day to the fullest. If you weren’t a RENT-head already, you definitely were after this performance.

Before we get to our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

“I Believe”
“65th Tony Awards” (2011)

“Anything Goes”
“65th Tony Awards” (2011)

“I Hope I Get It”
“30th Tony Awards” (1976)

#1: “And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going” from “Dreamgirls”
“36th Tony Awards” (1982)

“And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going” is the definition of a showstopper. Over the years, many gifted actresses have hit this torch song out of the park. However, it will forever belong to the actress that originated the role of Effie White, Jennifer Holliday. In addition to winning a Tony for her mesmerizing portrayal, Holliday blew everyone away with her performance at the 1982 award ceremony. At this point in “Dreamgirls,” Effie has been betrayed and abandoned by her loved ones. Yet, that doesn’t stop her from singing her heart out, refusing to give up on her dream of superstardom. By the time it’s over, you’ll be racing to catch your breath.

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite Tony Award Performance? For more entertaining Top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to MsMojo.


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