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Tony Awards: 9 of the greatest opening performances of all time

7 June 2019, 09:36 | Updated: 7 June 2019, 11:14

65th Annual Tony Awards – Neil Patrick Harris. Picture: Getty

By Sofia Rizzi

The 73rd Annual Tony Awards are upon us, and as James Corden returns to host the 2019 ceremony, we look back at some of our favourite Tonys opening numbers.

To celebrate the return of this year’s Tony Awards, we’ve compiled a list of the all-time greatest opening numbers, performed by hosts of recent years.

If James Corden’s 2016 performance was anything to go by, we expect nothing than sequins and feathers when it comes to this year’s opening number – but first, let’s look back at some musical inspiration from years gone by…

  1. 1996 – Nathan Lane ‘The Show Must Go On’

    Nathan Lane, the host of the 50th Annual Tony Awards, did a spectacular job here.

    The opening number is introduced by the boomy voice of The Phantom of the Opera, threatening to drop the theatre’s hefty chandelier on Nathan Lane’s head. But the real musical magic comes from Liza Minnelli and Bernadette Peters, who lead a selection of Tony winners in a jazz-hands rendition of ‘The Show Must Go On’.

    Nathan Lane later appears in a questionable outfit, leading a procession through the auditorium and on to the stage. It’s pure theatre extravagance.

  2. 1998 – Rosie O’Donnell ‘Broadway Divas’

    Rosie O’Donnell hosted the 1998 Tony Awards, and she kicked things off in style with a rendition of ‘Roxie’ from Chicago, changing the lyrics to ‘Tony’ (of course).

    There’s a big band, and plenty of musical appearances from Broadway divas – Patti LuPone sings Evita, Jennifer Holiday does Dreamgirls and Betty Buckley belts out ‘Memory’ from Cats, all sandwiched in between Rosie O’Donnell’s tongue-in-cheek Chicago segments. Renée Zellweger, eat your heart out.

  3. 2000 – Rosie O’Donnell ‘Started Out on Stage’

    Rosie O’Donnell returned for the 2000 Tony Awards, opening the show with ‘Started Out on Stage’. Using music from Jesus Christ Superstar, the song gives us the low-down about all the actors who began their careers on Broadway.

    These are definitively the 8 best songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals >

    Special mention goes out to the 2000 Tonys troupe of particularly sassy backing dancers and singers.

  4. 2004 – Hugh Jackman ‘One Night Only’

    It’s Hugh Jackman singing – need we convince you more?

    Is Hugh Jackman actually a good singer? >

  5. 2009 – Neil Patrick Harris ‘Opening Medley’

    Neil Patrick Harris only hosted the 2009 Tony Awards, and didn’t take part in the opening number. Nevertheless, the music medley is one of our favourites, with its impressive array of musicals, costumes, and guest appearances by Sir Elton John, Dolly Parton and Liza Minnelli.

    It also paved the way for Neil Patrick Harris’ years to come as the Tonys host, where he pretty much revolutionised the definition of opening number.

  6. 2011 – Neil Patrick Harris ‘It’s Not Just for Gays Anymore’

    In 2011, Neil Patrick Harris started his musical legacy at the Tonys. As well as hosting the 65th annual ceremony, he opened the show with an original song titled ‘It’s Not Just for Gays Anymore’.

    The song is filled with hilarious digs and jokes, including our particular favourite: ‘If you’ve seen a show then you already know how magical theatre can be. It’s a two hour live-action barely affordable un-lip-synced version of Glee’.

    Celebrity cameos include talk show host Stephen Colbert, Brooke Shields and Bobby Cannavale, plus all the biggest Broadway show casts.

    What’s the difference between an opera and a musical? >

  7. 2012 – Neil Patrick Harris ‘What If Life Were More Like Theatre?’

    Neil Patrick Harris joined the cast of The Book of Mormon as they performed ‘Hello’, before swiftly seguing into a brand new song, ‘What If Life Were More Like Theatre?’

    It’s another all-singing all-dancing number, featuring a magical seven-second costume change, a very real Mary Poppins, and celebrity appearances from Amanda Seyfried and Patti LuPone.

  8. 2013 – Neil Patrick Harris ‘Bigger’

    Neil Patrick Harris secured his legacy as one of the best Tony hosts in history with this show-stopper. ‘Bigger’ is all about the flash, the glitz and the glam. It’s our personal favourite Tony Awards opening number to date, but we won’t try to convince you, just watch it in all its splendour to see for yourself.

    We could actually make Neil Patrick Harris his own musical out of the great tunes he’s supplied us with over his years as the Tony host. We’ll put that pipeline dream on the back-burner…

  9. 2016 – James Corden ‘Ode to the Host’

    James Corden’s first appearance as host of the Tony Awards began with a self-congratulatory musical ‘Ode to the Host’.

    Tony winners Leslie Odom, Jr. and Daveed Diggs put a fresh spin on the opening number of Hamilton to introduce host James Corden instead of the expected Alexander Hamilton.

    Here are all the classical music references in Hamilton >

    After his grand entrance, Corden rewinds the clock to show himself as a young boy dreaming of the big stage. Featuring a whistle-stop tour of Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King, Grease, Sweeney Todd and more, the song is actually a very touching and encouraging call for people to chase their dreams.

The 73rd Annual Tony Awards will be live on CBS Sunday 9 June, 8pm Eastern Time (1am on 10 June in the UK).

Neil Patrick Harris proved how much he loves drama last night while live-tweeting the Tony Awards. The actor and four-time host of the award show started off on a positive note by praising Carousel on Broadway — but he ended the night throwing some shade at Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star Rachel Bloom and Bruce Springsteen, the iconic singer of Springsteen on Broadway.

Let’s start with Rachel, shall we? The 31-year-old Golden Globe winner was the backstage host of this year’s show, and Neil implied in a tweet that he had no idea who she was.

Who is the woman in the top hat backstage at @TheTonyAwards? Gideon remarked that she says ‘like’ and ‘oh my god’ a lot. I’m confused…

— Neil Patrick Harris (@ActuallyNPH) June 11, 2018

Rachel responded later that night, and it turns out that the two have actually met a handful of times, according to her. (Rachel’s husband was a writer on Neil’s hit show, How I Met Your Mother.)

I’m a big fan of yours. We’ve met numerous times and my husband, Dan Gregor, wrote for “How I Met Your Mother” for 5 years. Notably, he wrote the episode where your character finally meets his father.

— Rachel Bloom (@Racheldoesstuff) June 11, 2018

Awkward … but Neil tried to diffuse the situation after she responded:

Indeed! Well said. Thanks for the reminder. How was backstage?

— Neil Patrick Harris (@ActuallyNPH) June 11, 2018

So we’re all settled there. But then the A Series of Unfortunate Events star continued his Tonys critique by not-so-subtly dissing Bruce’s Special Tony Award win for his Broadway show.

How was @thealexnewell not nominated for a Tony? @springsteen won, and he uses teleprompters. I don’t get the logic… #livetweetingtheTonys

— Neil Patrick Harris (@ActuallyNPH) June 11, 2018

What some of Bruce’s fans might not know is that the iconic singer has been using teleprompters for years, to read his lines for both regular tours and his residency on Broadway.

Twitter users immediately came to the singer’s defense, including one who wrote: “Dude, Bruce is almost 70. Let’s check your memory when you get to that age.”

Others chimed in saying that since Bruce’s award was a Special Tony, it wasn’t given based on his actual performance in the show, but rather for how many fans were brought in.

Huge fan but Bruce didn’t take a nomination from anyone. It was a “special tony” as stated for bringing thousands of his fans to Broadway. Don’t be a douche, bet the teleprompters are pretty available on bad Heineken commercials hmm?

— Ed Callahan (@emc31026) June 11, 2018

According to the official Tony Awards website, Bruce’s award is for the “ongoing engagement of Springsteen on Broadway, a once-in-a-lifetime theatergoing experience for the Broadway stage, allowing fans an intimate look at a music idol.”

While Bruce fans might have mixed opinions on his use of teleprompters, they all still appreciate his ability to put on an amazing show.

“Honestly, this doesn’t bother me in the slightest,” Chris Phillips, editor of the Springsteen-dedicated Backstreets magazine told The Washington Post back in 2012. “He’s probably the best performer of the modern rock era. If this helps him put on a great performance, why should I have a problem with that?”

So … we obviously want to know:

Amina Lake Abdelrahman, Good Housekeeping Institute Editorial Assistant Amina is an editorial assistant at the Good Housekeeping Institute, where she works with lab experts (who test all the latest products) and writes original content based on their recommendations.

Neil Patrick Harris Disses Bruce Springsteen’s Tonys Win: ‘He Uses Teleprompters’

Neil Patrick Harris didn’t hold back while watching the 2018 Tony Awards.

Shortly after shading Tonys presenter Rachel Bloom during Sunday’s show, the actor criticized one of the night’s major winners, Bruce Springsteen.

Following The Boss’ win for his current Broadway show Springsteen on Broadway, Harris wrote that he didn’t “get the logic” behind the singer’s victory.

How was @thealexnewell not nominated for a Tony? @springsteen won, and he uses teleprompters. I don’t get the logic… #livetweetingtheTonys

— Neil Patrick Harris (@ActuallyNPH) June 11, 2018

When a fan responded to his tweet, saying she “got over” his use of the device during his Broadway show, Harris said: “Using a teleprompter is just not being willing to memorize your lines.”

Seriously? Miking Actors isn’t because they can’t project, it’s for creating a proper sound mix. Using a teleprompter is just not being willing to memorize your lines. The director should have said something. Oh wait.

— Neil Patrick Harris (@ActuallyNPH) June 11, 2018

Before taking Springsteen, 68, to task, the Starship Troopers actor shaded Bloom, who was serving as the Tonys backstage host.

“Who is the woman in the top hat backstage at @TheTonyAwards? Gideon remarked that she says ‘like’ and ‘oh my god’ a lot. I’m confused…” Harris wrote, referring his 7-year-old son Gideon.

The Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star, 31, was quick to respond, saying that they actually had met “several times” before the night of the show.

I’m a big fan of yours. We’ve met numerous times and my husband, Dan Gregor, wrote for “How I Met Your Mother” for 5 years. Notably, he wrote the episode where your character finally meets his father.

— Rachel Bloom (@Racheldoesstuff) June 11, 2018

“I’m a big fan of yours. We’ve met numerous times and my husband, Dan Gregor, wrote for “How I Met Your Mother” for 5 years,” Bloom wrote. “Notably, he wrote the episode where your character finally meets his father.”

Harris, 44, later responded, “Indeed! Well said. Thanks for the reminder. How was backstage?”

The 72nd annual Tony Awards hosted by Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles aired live from Radio City Music Hall on Sunday, June 10.

  • By Nigel Smith

Watch Bruce Springsteen’s Tonys Performance And Acceptance Speech

Bruce Springsteen won an honorary Tony Award during the ceremony at New York’s Radio City Music Hall tonight. The award, which was presented by Billy Joel, was bestowed upon the Boss in recognition of his twice-extended Springsteen On Broadway show, which will finally wrap up its run in December. “This is deeply appreciated. Thank you for making me feel so welcome on the block,” Springsteen said during his acceptance speech. “Being part of the Broadway community has been a great thrill and an honor and one of the most exciting things I have ever experienced.”

The honor brings Springsteen one step closer to the famed EGOT. He’s won 20 Grammys over the years. He won an Best Original Song Oscar in 1994 for “Streets Of Philadelphia,” his contribution to the Philadelphia soundtrack. And now, with tonight’s Tony under his belt, all he has left to win is an Emmy. Should be easy!

Springsteen returned to the stage later in the evening for a performance. Robert DeNiro introduced him, saying “Fuck Trump” on live television and then adding, “Bruce, you can rock the house like nobody else. And even more important in these perilous times, you rock the vote, always fighting for, in your own words, truth, transparency, and integrity in government. Boy, do we need that now. So congratulations on your Tony for Springsteen On Broadway, or as I like to call it, Jersey Boy.” Bruce then played piano and delivered a five-minute monologue about growing up in New Jersey, after which he performed Born In The U.S.A.‘s “My Hometown.” Watch below.

#TonyAwards: Bruce Springsteen honored with Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre pic.twitter.com/J6EjMxN01p

— Hollywood Reporter (@THR) June 11, 2018

What a moment for Broadway: @BillyJoel presents a special Tony to ‘The Boss,’ Bruce @Springsteen! pic.twitter.com/wk6Dfy8UuS

— Scott Feinberg (@ScottFeinberg) June 11, 2018

New York (June 6, 2018) – Bruce Springsteen will make a rare television appearance at the 72nd Annual Tony Awards, when he takes the stage to perform live from Radio City Music Hall on CBS on Sunday, June 10th, 8:00 – 11:00 p.m. (ET/PT time delay).

Springsteen will also receive a Special Tony Award for his ongoing engagement “Springsteen on Broadway,” a once-in-a-lifetime theater going experience for the Broadway stage.

Hosted by Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban, the evening will feature appearances by: Uzo Aduba, Christine Baranski, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Melissa Benoist, Erich Bergen, Rachel Bloom, Matt Bomer, Rachel Brosnahan, Tituss Burgess, Claire Danes, Jeff Daniels, Robert De Niro, Brandon Victor Dixon, Christopher Jackson, Billy Joel, Patti LuPone, Tatiana Maslany, Katharine McPhee, Matthew Morrison, Leslie Odom, Jr., Kelli O’Hara, Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Bernadette Peters, Andrew Rannells, Kerry Washington, Ming-Na Wen, Marisa Jaret Winokur; Tony Nominees Tina Fey, John Leguizamo and Amy Schumer as well as Tony Award Lifetime Achievement recipients Andrew Lloyd Webber and Chita Rivera.

The American Theatre Wing’s 72nd Annual Tony Awards, hosted by Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban, will air live from Radio City Music Hall on the CBS Television Network on Sunday, June 10, 2018 (8:00-11:00 PM, ET/delayed PT). The Tony Awards, which honors theatre professionals for distinguished achievement on Broadway, has been broadcast on CBS since 1978. The Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing.

Tickets for the 2018 Tony Awards are now available at TonyAwards.com and TicketMaster.com.

For more information on the Tony Awards, visit TonyAwards.com and Facebook.com/TheTonyAwards and follow @TheTonyAwards on Instagram and Twitter.

# # #

About the Tony Awards
The American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing. At The Broadway League, Thomas Schumacher is Chairman and Charlotte St. Martin is President. At the American Theatre Wing, David Henry Hwang is Chair and Heather A. Hitchens is President & CEO. Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss of White Cherry Entertainment are the Executive Producers of the 2018 Tony Awards. Mr. Weiss will also serve as Director of the 2018 Tony Awards.
Sponsors for the 2018 Tony Awards include: IBM – develops, designs, and hosts the official Tony Awards digital experience anchored by TonyAwards.com; Carnegie Mellon University – the first-ever, exclusive higher education partner; Grant Thornton LLP – official accounting services partner; City National – official bank of the Tony Awards and presenting sponsor of the Creative Arts Awards; Nordstrom – official sponsor of the Red Carpet; Sofitel New York – the official hotel of the Tony Awards; Rainbow Room – official partner of the Tony Nominee Luncheon; United Airlines – the official airline of the Tony Awards for the last 18 years, Entertainment Benefits Group – exclusive VIP package sponsor of the Tony Awards and People/Entertainment Weekly – official magazine partners of the Tony Awards.

Bruce Springsteen gets his Tony Award: ‘one of the most exciting things I’ve ever experienced’

Bruce Springsteen may have been born to run, but Sunday evening, after an introduction by his buddy Billy Joel, the Boss casually made his way up to the Radio City Music Hall stage to accept the American Theatre Wing’s Special Tony Award for his one-man show, “Springsteen on Broadway.”

“This is deeply appreciated, and thanks for making me feel so welcome on your block,” Springsteen said to the Broadway crowd.

Springsteen’s critically acclaimed show at the Walter Kerr Theatre has generated “Hamilton”-level demand, with average ticket prices soaring past $500. The singer has logged 130 performances since opening in October, and the production has grossed $65,306,322 as of June 3, according to Playbill. It’s set to close Dec. 15.

In the show, Springsteen meshes songs with tidbits from his 2016 memoir, “Born to Run,” to form an emotional map leading the audience on his journey from working-class youth in Freehold, N.J., to super stardom. The Walter Kerr Theatre, with its 947 seats, is a far cry from the concerts Springsteen typically plays.

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Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty called “Springsteen on Broadway” an “intimate, dreamlike encounter with a music legend accustomed to selling out football stadiums.”

“A special event if ever there was one,” McNulty wrote. “ slips out of genres to invent a new hybrid form. Call it a confessional jam session.”

The Tony puts Springsteen, who’s also writer and director of his show, one letter closer to achieving EGOT status — missing only an Emmy. In 1994, he won the Oscar for original song for “Streets of Philadelphia,” and the rock legend has racked up 20 Grammys.

Springsteen has come close to snagging an Emmy. He was nominated twice, in 2001 for his “Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: Live in New York City” and in 2009 for his Super Bowl halftime performance.

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Honoring popular musicians with Special Tony Awards isn’t new for the American Theatre Wing. It honored Barbra Streisand with a Special Tony Award in 1970, and Bette Midler received one in 1974. Barry Manilow and Diana Ross received Special Tony Awards in 1977.

But Springsteen — a populist, all-American rock icon, if ever there was one — gave the Tonys stage especially accessible appeal on Sunday. And he seemed equally appreciative to be there.

“This is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever experienced,” he said of his show, before giving a quick round of thank yous and exiting the stage.

Follow me on Twitter: @debvankin

If you blinked, you might have missed it, but Bruce Springsteen did amble onstage and accept a special Tony Award recognizing the commercial powerhouse that he has been presenting in recent months, Springsteen on Broadway.

The musician got a brief and businesslike introduction by Billy Joel, who noted that an original 8-week run has now been extended to what will be well north of 200 performances by the time the show wraps in December. “The Boss is working hard,” Joel quipped.

Springsteen sped through a few thank-yous, reading from 8-by-11 white printed pages in a speech that clocked in at less than a minute. In keeping with his singular style, he nevertheless managed to imbue his remarks with considerable warmth and charm.

“This is deeply appreciated. Thank you for making me feel so welcome on the block,” Springsteen said. “Being part of the Broadway community has been a great thrill and an honor and one of the most exciting things I have ever experienced.”

He saluted his wife and musical collaborator, Patti Scialfa, “for her love and inspiration every night.”

Toward the end of the night, Springsteen came back out onstage to sit at the piano and perform a solo number from his show, the ruminative tune “My Hometown,” about mid-20th-century life in Freehold, N.J., where he grew up. The mostly spoken, impressionistic lyrics and spare piano accompaniment stood in stark contrast with the introduction by Robert De Niro, who stepped to the microphone and said, “I’m only going to say one thing: F–k Trump.”

Along with Springsteen’s honor, special Tony Awards were handed out to Chita Rivera, Andrew Lloyd Weber and John Leguizamo. In a speech during the creative arts portion of the show, which was not broadcast on CBS, Leguizamo offered a tribute to his fellow honoree, who was shown on the internal press-room feed grinning appreciatively in the audience. “Bruce Springsteen was born to run. I was born in Queens, so I had to run,” he cracked. “And I ran all the way to Broadway, yo!”

Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen was presented with a Special Tony Award last night from Billy Joel “for his ongoing engagement Springsteen on Broadway, a once-in-a-lifetime theater going experience for the Broadway stage, allowing fans an intimate look at a music idol.”

Before performing a selection of “My Hometown” from the show, Bruce thanked the Broadway community “for making me feel so welcome on your block. Being a part of the Broadway community has been a great thrill and an honor for me. It’s been one of the most exciting things that I’ve ever experienced.” Bruce continued, “I’ve got to thank Patti Scialfa, my beautiful wife and artistic partner, for her love and inspiration every night. I’ve got to thank Jon Landau, George Travis, Barbara Carr, and Jordan Roth for great work of getting our show on stage. And last but not least, our wonderful audiences who’ve made these shows so exciting and fulfilling. Evan, Jesse, Sam, Daddy loves you. And the fans have been wonderful to me this season. Thank you so much. God bless all of you.”

Photos by Photo by Michael Zorn/Invision/AP and Radio City Music Hall