“Bright lights, white lights, where the neons glow. My bag is packed. I’ve got my act, so all aboard; come on, let’s go.” Go where one may ask? To Broadway, of course. The Great White Way, where there is “no business, like show business.” Furthermore, “there’s no people like show people,” which is exactly why we will be breaking down the best Broadway performers that have ever taken a bow on the great American stage.
From the moment we first heard Betty Buckley’s “Memory” or Idina Menzel’s “Defying Gravity,” we have been transfixed by the icons that are featured on Broadway. These powerhouse voices with acting chops to match have defined the genre of “Musical Theatre.” And although a night at the theater is not on the docket for everyone’s weekend plans as it once was, the joy of sitting before a brightly lit stage to take in a cast’s theatrics is still a treat for many. In fact, many continue to revel in the magic of it all after the fact by streaming their favorite soundtracks at home. A recent study sought to find which musicals are the stars of the streaming universe on Spotify, and with no surprise, “Hamilton” took first place by a landslide!
There’s just something about listening to your favorite musicals that makes you happy. In fact, your favorite songs can actually send your brain into “pleasure overload.” It can change your whole mood, especially when “that moment” in every song hits and sends chills down your spine. In fact, a recent study out of University College London finds that the brain is capable of recognizing familiar music in an incredibly short amount of time — within one tenth of a second of being played. Moreover, familiar tunes evoked an emotional response for many participants. So the next time you’re listening to Renée Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo, and Jasmine Cephas Jones belt out “The Schuyler Sisters,” you might want to take note of those “musical chills” you experience.
But you’re most likely here because you’re already aware of the chills certain Broadway singers give us with their cast recordings and pro-shots (Jeremy Jordan in “Newsies” comes to mind). But who are the pinnacle Broadway actors that defined their generations? Luckily, we at StudyFinds have researched across multiple sources to bring you the top five best Broadway performers of all time. Don’t agree with our list? We would love to hear what your favorite artist is in the comments below! Now, onto the list!
The List: Best Broadway Performers, According to Experts
1. Patti LuPone
Having just won her third Tony Award last year for portraying Joanne in Stephan Sondheim’s “Company,” the name Patti LuPone is almost synonymous with the term “Broadway Diva.” With plenty of iconic musical theater roles under her belt, “Patti LuPone is thrillingly larger than life. Volatile on stage and off, she takes audiences to a world where drama is the norm. LuPone is a real actor (with a Juilliard pedigree) as well as the standard bearer for a modern generation of high-belt thrill trillers spurred to new heights by her soaring turns in ‘Meadowlark’ and ‘A New Argentina.’ After setting Broadway on fire in ‘Evita’ and ‘Anything Goes’, however, she became a great star in exile; fans of her glorious singing, with its joyful blare and leering swoops, had to content themselves with concerts. Detractors may sling mud at her Long Island–Sicilian earthiness, but LuPone’s voice and the evident joy she takes in using it make such objections moot,” raves TimeOut.
Happy 72nd to Patti LuPone, the only human alive who can make this sound: pic.twitter.com/ub0wq9hUYG
— John Robert Allman (@Johnny_Allman) April 21, 2021
“This classic Broadway belter obtained her status as a musical theater icon by appearing in many popular roles. She first drew attention as the lead in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Evita.’ Having gone on to play Nancy in ‘Oliver!’, Fantine in ‘Les Mis,’ Mrs. Lovett in ‘Sweeney Todd,’ and Mama Rose in ‘Gypsy,’ her bio is totally stacked. Lupone demonstrates practiced technique and a confident style with her mid-range singing voice. She projects outward and manages to completely fill whatever space she’s in. Her warm and focused tone is full of personality, which she tailors to suit whatever character she’s performing as. Truly, no one’s voice compares to LuPone’s,” writes WatchMojo.
“Who else could top this list? The number-one spot undeniably belongs to Patti LuPone. She is the Diva’s Diva. LuPone doesn’t play roles; she embodies them. LuPone shows us how it’s done—with verve, panache, and swagger. She’s got the goods, and she knows it. As she exclaimed in her exuberant 2008 Tony Award acceptance speech for Best Actress in a Musical, she’s giving the performance of her life. We couldn’t agree more,” adds Broadway.com.
2. Ethel Merman
Not many performers have the iconic tone and vibrato of Ethel Merman’s voice. Tackling some of the best roles in musical history, “Ethel Merman had a distinctive and powerful voice that vibrated the Broadway stage. Because of this, she was called the ‘undisputed First Lady of the musical comedy stage.’ Her illustrious stage career was filled with iconic roles in several Broadway productions: ‘Anything Goes,’ ‘Annie Get Your Gun,’ ‘Gypsy,’ ‘Hello, Dolly!’ and many others,” describes CriticsRant.
Ethel Merman belts out "Blow Gabriel Blow" from ANYTHING GOES. ⚓ And that smile at the end… ❤ pic.twitter.com/SZX2T0YOrm
— A Musical Theatre Podcast (@AMusicalPodcast) August 29, 2020
“No performer embodies the spirit of the Great White Way more than Ethel Merman, the Queen’s stenographer turned Broadway megaphone. Her wailing-siren volume and down-to-earth verve made her a paragon of bumptious urban energy; her robustness helped power the emergence of the Broadway musical genre itself. ‘There’s no business like show business,’ she famously sang, and when she sang, there was no point arguing. A voice like that comes along just once, and it echoes down the Street to this day,” comments TimeOut.
“This vocalist was a significant member of Broadway history. With notable vocal talent and technical skill, she was certainly well-deserving of the title. Her powerful mid-range voice was capable of blowing crowds away. Skill-wise, her enunciation, and placement were precise. The performer’s voice was practically built for belting, a gift very few have. When it comes to Broadway legends, she was an original,” states WatchMojo.
3. Audra McDonald
Of course, the woman with the most Tony Awards under her belt had to make the list with a voice that would make angels weep. “Audra McDonald, at only 48 years old, has won the Tony for Lead Actress twice and three times for featured actress. Three of the five total times, she snagged the award for her work in musicals. Her voice is, like that of most Broadway Singers, crystalline clear, as she enunciates every single syllable strung across her often operatic, vibrational delivery,” says CheatSheet.
The magnificent and magnetic Audra McDonald performing ‘Crazy He Calls Me’ from Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill. pic.twitter.com/LYaZJEvdYd
— Elayna (@miss_elayna) February 20, 2023
“Although she’s celebrated for her work on the stage and the screen, McDonald’s legacy on Broadway is unparalleled. Her voice is rich, with an incredible feat of dimensionality and effortless precision. Although her range is broad, she has a distinct soprano tone that can honestly only be described as angelic. One thing’s for sure: when this icon starts to sing, we always stop to listen,” adds WatchMojo.
“For her performance in ‘Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill’ in 2014, Audra made history as the only actor to ever win six Tonys in performance categories and the only actor to win in all four performance categories. Audra starred in the first of many live television musicals when she played Mother Superior in ‘The Sound of Music Live’ in 2013. In addition to regular appearances on ‘Private Practice,’ ‘Sesame Street,’ ‘The Good Wife’, and ‘The Good Fight’, Audra created a new character for Disney’s 2017 live-action remake of ‘Beauty and the Beast – Madame Garderobe,” describes BroadwayWorld.
4. Lea Solonga
Though Lea Solonga’s name may be in the news today due to being a little too popular, it is only due to her amazing talent and range. Being the first Asian performer to win Best Leading Actress at the Tonys, she has not just made history but made a name for herself among icons. She is “known for her roles in musical theater, for supplying the singing voices of two Disney Princesses, and as a recording artist and television performer. She provided the singing voices of two official Disney Princesses: Jasmine in ‘Aladdin’ and Fa Mulan in ‘Mulan.’ She has played numerous other stage, film, and TV roles in the US, the Philippines, and elsewhere. She has toured widely in the title role of ‘Cinderella,’ among other roles, and as a concert artist,” writes Ranker.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY LEA SOLONGA! 🎉
In 1991 at the age of 18, LEA became the 1st Asian woman to win a #Tony.
In 2017 she starred in the Tony Winning Musical, ONCE ON THIS ISLAND (OOTI) as Erzulie, the Water Spirit.
Listen to Lea sing "Human Heart" from OOTIpic.twitter.com/csGTBGIl80
— TheTheatreNerd (@TheTheatreNerd1) February 22, 2021
TheTopTens adds “Filipina singer and actress Lea Solonga has released nine studio albums, three live recordings, and is involved in at least ten cast recordings.” With a successful career on Broadway, The West End, and within the Walt Disney Company, it’s no surprise she has such a lengthy list of credits.
“Lea Solonga became a star at the very young age of 18 when she landed the role of Kim in the original West End production of ‘Miss Saigon’. Soon she crossed the Atlantic with that production, and it became a sensation. Solonga won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her work in ‘Miss Saigon’, playing a Vietnamese woman fighting for her son’s safety. She also holds the distinction of being the first Asian actress to play the roles of both Fantine and Eponine in the Broadway production of ‘Les Misérables,’” describes BroadwayDirect.
5. Bernadette Peters
Known for tackling roles such as Annie Oakley in “Annie Get Your Gun” and the Witch in “Into the Woods,” Bernadette Peters has done nothing if not leave her mark on the Broadway stage. With seven Tony nominations under her belt, “Bernadette Peters has an illustrious stage career that has been spanning for five decades. She made her Broadway debut in the 1967 production of ‘Johnny No-Trump’. The following year, her role as George M. Cohan’s sister in the Broadway musical ‘George M!’ led her to win the Theatre World Award. Her career never looked back since,” reports CriticsRant.
⭐ BERNADETTE PETERS – LOSING MY MIND – SONDHEIM'S OLD FRIENDS ⭐
Just STUNNING ✨ X x x pic.twitter.com/ovLHhfmpPo
— Theatre Fan (@ShaunTossell) December 31, 2022
“Over the course of a career that has spanned five decades, she has starred in musical theatre, television, and film, performed in solo concerts, and released recordings. She is one of the most critically acclaimed Broadway performers, having received seven nominations for Tony Awards and winning two (plus an honorary award). Regarded by many as the foremost interpreter of the works of Stephen Sondheim, Peters is particularly noted for her roles on the Broadway stage. She also has recorded six solo albums and several singles, as well as many cast albums, and performs regularly in her own solo concert act,” describes Ranker.
“Now, this woman doesn’t have the pipes of any of these previous singers, but boy, can she interpret a song! She has been called the greatest interpreter of Sondheim’s music, who is the ‘King of Broadway music’. Well, this statement is probably true, considering she’s starred in SIX of his shows! She is the funniest lady in showbiz, and her laugh is contagious, but most of all, she is the consummate Diva,” concludes D-Town Music.
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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.