Saluting Living Legends

Michael Kape

It saddens me, a lot. We honor so many Broadway people during the In Memoriam sequence at the Tonys—after they have passed away. Why the hell are we waiting until they’re gone? I mean, let’s give our LIVING legends their due. Are you with me? Good. Because all these people have dedicated their professional lives to making our lives better through their work.

And not just the performers, either. Let’s not forget the playwrights, the lyricists, the composers, the designers, the producers, all of whom have worked tirelessly over the decades to make theatre a better place.

So, the hell with the In Memoriam crap. We all have favorite memories and special moments. Here are some (and by no means all) of the living legends we should be honoring because of their body of work. By the way, living legend doesn’t necessarily mean so olde they fart dust. Some of these are people who are still vibrant and contributing every single day.

·         Chita Rivera—C’mon, gang, Chita Rivera is a national treasure, a triple-threat actor/singer/dancer who’s still going strong. She’s been gracing the boards since appearing in a touring production of Call Me Madam in 1951. Along the way, she’s done some other work like West Side Story, Bye Bye Birdie, Chicago, The Rink, The Visit, and many, many more. If Broadway conferred sainthood, Rivera would have already been canonized long ago. Am I right or am I right?

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·         Jerry Herman—Let’s just look at a partial list of the shows he’s written and/or performed in: Milk and Honey (a favorite of my parents, now pretty much forgotten except for the song Shalom, which is still stunningly beautiful); Hello, Dolly! (I think it can be classified as a mega-hit in its time and today); Mame (because, well, it’s friggin’ Mame); Dear World (an under-appreciated musical today); Mack and Mabel, probably his best score (he says so and I have to agree with him) surrounded by an unfortunate book; The Grand Tour, a kind of mixed bag of a show; La Cage Aux Folles, which is quite the award-winning musical; Jerry’s Girls, his salute to his own leading ladies in which he also appeared onstage; Mrs. Santa Claus, a charming television movie which should be a Yuletide classic; and A Day in Hollywood, a Night in the Ukraine for which he contributed three songs.

·         Angela Lansbury—Forget for a moment she was already a Hollywood star and Oscar-worthy actress before she set foot onstage (and she’s still gracing movies like Mary Poppins Returns). Just look at what she’s done on Broadway to qualify for Living Legend status: Anyone Can Whistle, Mame, Dear World, Prettybelle (okay, let’s forget that one), Gypsy, The King and I, Sweeney Todd, Deuce, and Blithe Spirit. Multiple Tony Awards and some time spent doing a little television series, Murder She Wrote, in which she managed to feature many of her Broadway co-stars over eight seasons.

·         Sheldon Harnick—Not only an extraordinary lyricist, but truly one of the funniest and most articulate people you could ever hope to encounter. With late composer Jerry Bock, he managed to earn legendary status with such shows as Fiorello (Pulitzer Prize), She Loves Me (a perfect musical in my opinion), Fiddler on the Roof (currently being performed in Yiddish Off-Broadway), and The Rothschilds (oy, what a great score). He’s just amazing.

·         Andrew Lloyd-Webber—Give the man his due, from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to School of Rock, ALW has managed to eke out a few hits along the way. Do I really need to remind everyone of Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats, Starlight Express, and the little show still at the Majestic, Phantom of the Opera? ‘Nuff said (as in don’t mention the duds because it’s not nice).

·         Patti LuPone—Is there anything she can’t do or hasn’t already done? There is only one Patti.

·         Mandy Patinkin—Because his voice has been touched by God and he’s been generous to share it with us in Evita, Sunday in the Park With George, and The Secret Garden. I’ll be nice and not mention Follies in Concert.

·         Bernadette Peters—I think the theatre list alone speaks for itself: George M; Dames at Sea; On the Town; Mack and Mabel; Song and Dance; Sunday in the Park With George; Into the Woods; Annie Get Your Gun; The Goodbye Girl; Gypsy; A Little Night Music; Follies; and Hello, Dolly! It can’t be matched.

·         Audra—That’s all I need to say.

There are many, many more I can name and will in a future installment. Two people I’ve intentionally omitted from this list because their careers are amazing separately and together; they deserve more intense examination—Hal Prince and Stephen Sondheim.

So, who are your Living Legends? Who are the people who delivered performances so memorable over the years they’ve risen to legendary status? Who do you want to see included in this pantheon of the greats? Let’s not wait until they are gone before we honor the best of the best of Broadway.

(Michael Kape a/k/a Grumpy Olde Guy® does his level best to honor the past, present, and future Broadway living legends. Sadly, he remembers when many of them were young up-and-comers. He is also administrator for Broadway Remembered on Facebook, which features a new tribute to a living legend every day.)