Broadway is a strange place. It's a breeding ground for unbridled whimsy, a haven for unusual ideas and creators, and a veritable flag pole for musical theatre enthusiasts and their fellow oddballs to let their freak flags fly. In other words, Broadway is weird. And that's a spectacular thing.
That strange, weird, spectacular place also gets its own awards show each June. For the majority of us weirdos who don't live in New York City and aren't exposed to the productions being honored, the annual Tony telecast's performances is the next best thing to being a regular Broadway patron. Some of those performances are goosebump-inducing showstoppers, boasting all the razzle and dazzle that Broadway is known for. Others, well…aren't.
In celebration of this weird little community and this weekend's Tony ceremony, we thought we'd look back at the most bizarre performances the telecast has produced. God, and Patti LuPone, bless them.
2009 Opening Number
The opening for the 2009 Tony Awards is basically one of those Stefan sketches from Saturday Night Live come to life. This performance has everything: the little boys from Billy Elliot doing ballet in the air while Elton John sings, a mash-up of Guys and Dolls and West Side Story, Bret Michaels from Poison getting a concussion, Shrek, Dolly Parton, singing hippies, and Liza Minnelli. Broadway, ladies and gentleman.
Starmites at the 1989 Tonys
"This is the story of a woman transported to the world of her favorite comic book, where she battles the Queen of Innerspace, meets the man of her dreams, saves the galaxy, and still manages to make it home in time for dinner." Angela Lansbury can't even say it with a straight face.
2000 Opening Number
"Did you know your favorite stars began on Broadway?" So sings Rosie O'Donnell, backed by a gospel choir, for an opening number during one of the years she hosted the Tonys, in which she asks former Broadway stars who were currently on network TV to perform snippets of numbers from musicals they starred in: Will and Grace's Megan Mullally, Ally McBeal's Jane Krakowski, and Law and Order's Jesse L. Martin. That part was fine. But when they all join O'Donnell for more gospel singing. Well, it's really something special.
1998 Opening Number
To the tune of Chicago's "Roxie" and with the dance stylings of Fosse, Rosie O'Donnell sings about how she's always wanted to be a Broadway diva, but never could be: "Betty Buckley, she can't be beat / Me, I sound like a cat in heat." The gimmick here was to have O'Donnell introduce legends Patti LuPone, Jennifer Holliday, and Betty Buckley to belt the lid off their standards from Evita, Dreamgirls, and Cats, respectively, but there was something jarring about their earnest, rousing performances being spliced with O'Donnell's campy "Roxie" bits.
Starlight Express at the 1987 Tonys
Starlight Express is a rock musical by Andrew Lloyd Weber set in a child dream where his toy train set comes to life and performed by a cast on a roller skates. Really. Of course "weird," doesn't always mean bad or unpopular. The musical ran for 7,406 performances in the West End (though the Broadway version only survived 761).
1996 Opening Number
Bernadette Peters and Liza Minnelli hoof their way through an original number called "The Show Must Go On," which the audience has to think is good because Bernadette Peters and Liza Minnelli are performing it. The curtain rises behind them to unveil a random assortment of former Tony winners standing on risers while Bernie and Liza run up to some of them shouting their names. Then—because why not!—cut to Nathan Lane singing "Comedy Tonight" from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. (When they cross through Times Square into the theatre for the big finale, it's actually very cool.)
Catherine Zeta-Jones in A Little Night Music in 2010
Catherine Zeta-Jones won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for totally nailing her character Desiree's signature Sondheim song in the show, the wrenching "Send in the Clowns," performed to a former lover in the midst of a tortured, emotional scene. But presented out of context and without Desiree's scene partner at the Tonys, Zeta-Jones miffs it, performing Sondheim by way of the Exorcist. How could a performance so brilliant eight times a week on Broadway be so weirdly off at the Tonys?
Glee Crashes the 2010 Tonys
Glee was really popular in 2010, so in an attempt to woo young viewers—specifically those who had never been within 200 miles of the Great White Way—to the Tony Awards telecast, the ceremony had the Fox hit's two Broadway veterans, Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele, perform. Utterly random and kind of self-congratulatory (you could almost feel the "we are trying way too hard sweat flinging from the actors' brows through the TV), the performances seemed out of place and reeked of what they were: ploys for ratings. Jay Z was Not. Having. any of Lea Michele's shenanigans.
Golden Rainbow at the 1968 Awards
What in the living hell?