While many singers who have been involved in Broadway productions, there are some who have truly made their mark as Broadway divas. Here, we will focus on singers whose powerful voices vibrate the walls of filled-to-the-brim Broadway stages (in no particular order):
1. Betty Buckley
Betty Buckley (born July 3, 1947, in Big Spring, Texas) is a Tony Award-winning actress and singer best known for her role of Grizabella in the original Broadway production of Cats. She sang the musical’s most famous song, “Memory.” Buckley remained in the production for 18 months. For this role, Buckley won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. She also essayed the role of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.
2. Ethel Merman
Ethel Merman (born on January 16, 1908 – died on February 15, 1984) 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 (she reprised her role in the film version), Annie Get Your Gun, Gypsy, Hello, Dolly! and many others. Merman also appeared in numerous films and television shows.
3. Patti LuPone
Patti LuPone is one of the renowned stage actresses who has won Tony Awards, Grammy Awards, and Olivier Awards trophies.
The Julliard-educated LuPone has won the Tony Awards twice, both for lead actress in a musical. She set Broadway on fire when she played the role of Evita Peron in the 1979 original Broadway production of Evita, for which she won her first Tony. She won her second Tony Award for her role as Rose in the 2008 Broadway revival of Gypsy, reclaiming the stage spotlight after her long exile from Broadway.
4. Idina Menzel
Today’s generation may recognize Idina Menzel (born on May 30, 1971, in New York City) as the voice behind Elsa in Frozen animated movies, singing the now-classic “Let It Go.” However, her stage work should deserve recognition, too, because she started her showbiz career from there. Her signature mezzo-soprano voice and powerful belting technique have made her one of the most distinctive Broadway divas.
In 1996, she made her stage debut in the original production of the musical Rent, playing the role of Maureen Johnson. That role brought her prominence: she got her first Tony nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. After playing a series of roles in smaller-scale and Off-Broadway shows, Menzel returned to Broadway as Elphaba Thropp in the original Broadway production of Wicked in 2003, for which she won her first Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. She also performed in front of former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama, singing “Defying Gravity” and “What I Did for Love.”
5. Bernadette Peters
Bernadette Peters (born on February 28, 1948, in New York City) 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.
The red-headed Broadway star is best known for her interpretations of Stephen Sondheim’s works, including Sunday in the Park with George (as Dot/Marie) and Into the Woods (as the Witch). To date, she is nominated for seven Tony Awards, winning two (for her roles in Song and Dance and Annie Get Your Gun), plus an honorary award.
6. Liza Minnelli
Showbiz is in Liza Minnelli’s blood – her mother was actress and singer Judy Garland (best known for her role as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz), and her father was director Vincente Minnelli. Minnelli (born on March 12, 1946, in Los Angeles, California) is best known for her role as Sally Bowles in the 1972 film Cabaret, for which she won the Best Actress Oscar.
Like many other singer-actresses, Minnelli started her career on the stage. At only 19, she won her first Tony Award for her lead role in the 1965 original Broadway production of Flora the Red Menace. She won two more Tonys for her roles in The Act and Liza’s at the Palace… plus an honorary Tony.
7. Audra McDonald
The name “Audra” means “storm,” and Audra McDonald (born on July 3, 1970, in West Berlin, Germany) indeed created a storm whenever she sets her foot on stage. While Broadway singers don’t get much respect from classical circles, McDonald (who is a classically trained singer) possesses an instrument of operatic force and the acting chops to back it up. She broke grounds by snagging traditionally white roles. Her virtuosity and versatility enabled her to shine through in productions such as A Moon for the Misbegotten, 110 in the Shade, Carousel, Ragtime, Master Class, and Porgy and Bess. She won six Tony Awards – the most for any stage actor or actress.
8. Chita Rivera
Chita Rivera (born on January 23, 1933, in Washington, D.C.) is a singer, dancer and actress best known for her roles in several original Broadway productions, notably as Anita in West Side Story, her title role in The Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Velma Kelly in Chicago.
Rivera’s career has been spanning for six decades, highlighted by her ten Tony Awards nominations, winning three. She is also the first Latino-American person to receive a Kennedy Center Honor and is also the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.