Top 10 Influential Women on Broadway

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Ah, the theater on Broadway. With so many memorable performances, this list of the top women on Broadway was difficult. So many tough choices, and many quality actresses were left out, but throughout Broadway’s illustrious theater history there have been many female stars who shone a little brighter than anyone else. Here is the cream of the crop.

10. Elaine Stritch

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Elaine, known for her gritty voice and her signature performance of The Ladies Who Lunch from Company, started out on Broadway in 1946 with Angel in the Wings. Since then she has made a name for herself with roles in Pal Joey, On Your Toes, Goldilocks, Sail Away, Company, Show Boat, A Delicate Balance, Endgame and The Full Monty as well as creating a one-woman show entitled Elaine Stritch at Liberty, which earned her a Tony for best Special Theatrical Event. Stritch is no stranger to Hollywood either, and has been a part of more than 30 films including The Scarlet Hour, September, Cocoon: The Return, Cadillac Man, Out to Sea, Krippendorf’s Tribe, Monster-in-Law and Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age.

9. Bernadette Peters

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A born performer, Bernadette made her Broadway debut in Most Happy Fella when she was only eleven years old, but her breakthrough performance came in 1968 in the off-Broadway musical Dames at Sea. She went on to be a part of George M! , On the Town, Mack and Mabel, Sally and Marsha, Sunday in the Park with George, Song and Dance, Into the Woods, The Goodbye Girl, Annie Get Your Gun, and Gypsy. She has also garnered film roles in The Longest Yard, W.C. Fields and Me, The Jerk, Pennies from Heaven, Annie, Slaves of New York, Pink Cadillac, Alice, Anastasia, Let It Snow and It Runs in the Family as well as doing guests spots on The Carol Burnett Show, Maude, All in the Family, The Muppet Show, Saturday Night Live, The Larry Sanders Show, The Closer, Frasier, Ally McBeal, Will & Grace, Law and Order: SVU, Boston Legal, Grey’s Anatomy and Ugly Betty. The second most Tony-nominated actress (with six), she has only ever won two, for Song and Dance and Annie Get Your Gun.

8. Julie Andrews

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An all-around artist, Julie Andrews has been delighting audiences for decades. Born in 1935 in Walton-on-Thames, she began entertaining at an early age as a part of her mother and stepfather’s vaudeville show. Her professional debut came at the London Hippodrome in the 1947 performance of a revue called Starlight Roof. By the next year she was asked to perform at the Royal Command Variety Performance, making her youngest solo performer to do so. After several other performances in England, she made her Broadway debut in 1954 playing Polly Browne in The Boy Friend.Since then she has played such outstanding roles as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, Queen Guinevere in Camelot, Amy in Putting It Together and Victor/ Victoria in the play of the same name. Her impeccable voice caught the ear of Walt Disney and she made her film debut in Mary Poppins. This was followed by stunning performances in such films as The Sound of Music, Thoroughly Modern Millie, 10, S.O.B., Victor/ Victoria, Trail of the Pink Panther and the Princess Diaries as well as lending her voice to Enchanted and the last three Shrek films.

7. Angela Lansbury

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Five time Tony award winner, Lansbury has left a legacy of more than seven decades worth of versatile stage and screen performances. She got her big break when she was introduced to Mel Ballerino who cast her in the 1944 film Gaslight which earned her first Oscar nomination. Over her impressive career she has had many film roles, most notably The Picture of Dorian Grey, Samson and Delilah, Blue Hawaii, The Manchurian Candidate, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Death on the Nile, Beauty and the Beast, Anastasia, and most recently Nanny McPhee. She found the Broadway stage in 1957 in Hotel Paradiso and followed it up with the hits Anyone Can Whistle, Mame, Gypsy, The King and I, Sweeny Todd, Deuce and Blithe Spirit, a career that has won her 4 Tony Awards, more than any other actress. She has also won the hearts of millions through her small screen portrayal of mystery novelist Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote. In 1994 she was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.

6. Liza Minnelli

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The daughter of Judy Garland and film director Vincent Minnelli, you could say that performing is in Liza’s blood. She attended New York’s High School for the Performing Arts but before she could graduate she moved to New York City to pursue a career as a stage actress. Her first show, Best Foot Forward in 1963 was followed by The Fantastics, Carnival, Flora the Red Menace, Chicago, The Act, The Rink and Victor/ Victoria. An all-around entertainer, she acted in the films Cabaret, That’s Entertainment, Journey Back to Oz, New York, New York, Arthur, Rent-A-Cop, Stepping Out and Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age. She also became a recording artist, releasing more than 30 albums.

5. Patti LuPone

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Juliard-trained, Patti got her start as a part of John Houseman’s The Acting Company. Her New York theater debut came in the form of The School for Scandal in 1972. She proved that she was a force to be reckoned with in The Beggar’s Opera, Edward II, The Robber Bridegroom, The Baker’s Wife and Working. The role of a lifetime, Eva Peron in Evita came to LuPone in 1979 and earned her both a Tony and a Drama Desk award. She went on to portray roles in The Cradle Will Rock, Les Miserables, Anything Goes, Sunset Boulevard, Master Class, Pal Joey, Annie Get Your Gun, Sweeny Todd, Candide, Passion and most recently Gypsy, which earned her her second Tony. She was also able to cross over into film with 1941, Witness, LBJ: The Early Years, Driving Miss Daisy and Heist as well as landing guest spots on Law and Order, Frasier, Touched by an Angel, Oz, Ugly Betty and 30 Rock.

4. Gwen Verdon

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The winner of four Tony Awards, Gwen has long been considered the best dancer on Broadway. Trained in several dance styles her career began a specialty dancer in a few movie musicals and a part of several chorus lines on Broadway. Her big break came when she was cast in Cole Porter’s Can Can. She followed that up with fiery performances in Damn Yankees, New Girl in Town, Redhead, and collaborated with her husband, legendary choreographer Bob Fosse on Sweet Charity and her final show Chicago. She was also a part of the films, The Farmer Takes a Wife, Damn Yankees, Legs, The Cotton Club, Cocoon, Nadine, Cocoon: The Return, Alice, and Marvin’s Room. She also collaborated with and was portrayed in Fosse’s autobiographical film, All That Jazz. Despite a separation from Fosse in 1971 Verdon became a relentless guardian of his legacy after his death in 1987. She died of a heart attack in 2000 and in a tribute, at 8:00 p.m. on the night of her death all the marquee lights on Broadway were dimmed.

3. Mary Martin

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Born in 1913, Mary Martin’s versatility led her to become one of the most popular performers on Broadway. She worked as a dance instructor and a nightclub singer where she was discovered by Lawrence Schwab who cast her as Dolly in Leave It to Me. A contract with Paramount Pictures led to her involvement in The Great Victor Herbert, Rhythm on the River, Love Thy Neighbor, Kiss the Boys Goodbye, New York Town, Birth of the Blues, Star Spangled Rhythm, and Happy Go Lucky. But her true love was the stage and she went on to star in One Touch of Venus, Annie Get Your Gun, South Pacific, Peter Pan, The Sound of Music, Jenni, Hello, Dolly! , I Do! I Do! , Together on Broadway: Mary Martin and Ethel Merman, and Legends. She won Tony Awards for the roles of Nellie Forbush in South Pacific, Peter Pan and Maria Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, all roles that she originated. She died of cancer in 1990 at the age of 76.

2. Ethel Merman

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Ethel, also known as The Grande Dame of the Broadway Stage, was best known for belting out lyrics with her brassy voice and her dynamic personality. Before her stage debut in Girl Crazy, she was working as a secretary and singing in nightclubs. She instantly rose to super stardom and forged a career of sixteen Broadway shows, including Anything Goes, Annie Get Your Gun, Gypsy and Hello, Dolly! . In the height of musical popularity she had no problem finding work on the silver screen, and lent her talents to such movies as Anything Goes, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Call Me Madam, There’s No Business Like Show Business, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and Airplane.

1. Chita Rivera

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Born Delores Conchita Figueroa Del Rivero in 1933, she first took to the stage as a student at the School of American Ballet. She was part of the chorus in Call Me Madam, Guys and Dolls and Can Can before stepping into the spotlight in Shoestring Revue. She followed this up with a career of Broadway hits including Mr. Wonderful, Kiss Me Kate, West Side Story, Bye Bye Birdie, Bajour, Call Me Madam, Threepenny Opera, Sweet Charity, Chicago, Merlin, The Rink, Kiss of the Spider Woman and Nine. In December 2005 she opened Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life, a retrospective revue of her spectacular career. Despite here dedication to the stage she has made a few film appearances in Sweet Charity, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Pippin and Chicago. The most Tony-nominated actress (she however only won two), she was the first Hispanic woman to receive a Kennedy Center Honors award in 2002 as well as being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.


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18 Comments

  1. Good list but, I have two that shoudl be up there!

    Janine LaManna – Gertrude McFuzz in 2001's Seussical, AMAZING actress.

    Sutton Foster – Currently cast as Fiona in SHrek The Musical, AMAZING actress.

  2. Awesome list! I'm actually distantly related to Mary Martin (she was my great-grandmother's cousin). Personally, if I was going to include anyone else, it'd be Kristin Chenowith. And maybe Idina Menzel – can you guess that I'm a "Wicked" fan?

    My little sister might be on a list like this someday, if she's as successful as she wants to be.

  3. Chita over Ethel ?? That’s crazy. Ethel is the queen of broadway and is a way better singer than Chita. Its a shame Audra Mcdonald, Idina Menzel, Sutton Foster, and Alice Ripley aren’t on the list

  4. Barbra was only on Broadway twice, and once was a supporting role with only one song. Overrated.

    Really, Chita Rivera over both Patti LuPone and Angela Lansbury? Come on.

    I think this list should be renamed “Top 10 Classic Broadway Women.” That way everyone could be happy when we have a “Top 10 Modern Broadway Women” list which would include, in no particular order:

    Sutton Foster (maybe she can be at the top)
    Idina Menzel
    Kristin Chenoweth
    Kelli O’Hara
    Rebecca Luker
    Audra McDonald
    Patti LuPone (she belongs on both lists)
    Bebe Neuwirth
    Sherie Renee Scott
    Linda Eder

  5. My list would probably go…

    Kerry Ellis
    Kristin Chenoweth
    Angelia Lansbury
    Kelli O’Hara
    Julie Andrews
    Chita Rivera
    Bebe Neuwirth
    Gwen Verdon
    Bernadette Peters
    Ethel Merman

  6. My List:
    Idina Menzel
    Bernadette Peters
    Kelli O’Hara
    Audra McDonald
    Sutton Foster
    Megan Hilty
    Angela Lansbury
    Chita Rivera
    Mary Martin
    Ethel Merman

  7. Usual suspects, but surprised to see Chita over Ethel. New legends, Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel , Audra McDonald, and Harvey Fierstein (kidding, not really)

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