Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


Musical showstoppers a great way to get ready for Sunday’s Tony Awards

Before theater folks honor Broadway’s best, let’s sample some of musical theater’s unforgettable standout numbers.

How about some unforgettable musical showstoppers?

What better way to get in the mood for Sunday’s presentation of the American Theater Wing’s annual Tony Awards, which honor Broadway’s best.

It just so happens that this year’s nominees for best revival of a musical are two of my favorites: Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” (nine nominations) and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (eight).

So let’s start with showstoppers from both of them.

Article continues after advertisement

Here’s Patti Lupone and cast performing “Anything Goes,” the title number from the hit-laden show, at the 1988 Tonys.

Here are two production numbers from the film version of “How to Succeed,” starring Robert Morse, who created the Tony-winning role on Broadway.

First, “Brotherhood of Man,” with some nifty dance moves from company executives (all men, of course at the time) who are trying to avoid the corporate ax.

And then Morse’s “I Believe in You,” a number used early in the show as a love song and then transformed here into a confidence-building pep talk to himself.

And now on to a bunch of my other favorite showstoppers (almost all of them here from TV or movie versions, because relatively few video clips of actual Broadway productions are readily available).

Let’s start with a performer who’s almost always a showstopper — dancer and actress Gwen Verdon. Here she’s the title character in “Sweet Charity” who is wowed with her temporary good fortune and wants to share it with her friends: “If My Friends Could See Me Now.”

And she plays Lola, the devil’s No. 1 homewrecker who’s sent to “enforce” the deal in which a regretful husband abandons his wife and sells his soul for the chance to be young again and become a star ball player who can help his beloved Washington Senators finally beat those “Damn Yankees.” Here’s a musical twosome in which Verdon cleverly explains her method of operation in “A Little Brains, A Little Talent” and then executes the plan in “Whatever Lola Wants.”

And three more famous women with blockbuster songs:

• Barbra Streisand’s “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” from “Funny Girl.” (Barbra returns later in the list, too.)

Article continues after advertisement

• Catherine Zeta-Jones sets the “Chicago” mood with “All That Jazz.”

• And with some wonderful lyrics, Marilyn Monroe offers some investing advice to women in “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” (about a minute into the clip) from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

And then two spectacular scenes — one lighthearted, one extremely cynical.

• We’ll start with “A Lot of Livin’ to Do,” the big dance scene from the Elvis sendup, “Bye Bye Birdie.”

• And then we’ll swiftly change moods with the incredible Jonathan Pryce and his slimy character outlining his version of “The American Dream” in “Miss Saigon.”

And you just had to know I’d wrap up with Stephen Sondheim showstoppers.

There are at least three from “Company”:

“The Ladies Who Lunch,” sung by Elaine Stritch, a true national treasure and the woman who introduced the song on Broadway.

• And the fantastic ensemble number “Side by Side by Side.” In this version, which still shows up occasionally on PBS, the cast members also play the instruments.

Article continues after advertisement

• And “(Not) Getting Married Today,” an incredible speed-singing performance of tongue-twisting lyrics by Madeline Kahn.

And then we have Barbra’s encore, singing “Send In the Clowns” from “A Little Night Music” with additional lyrics Sondheim wrote for her. And here’s a fascinating look at the complex song and its evolution.

And I’ll close with a retrospective song from “Follies,” “I’m Still Here.” Shirley MacLaine gave it a special flair in the film “Postcards From the Edge.”