Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater! Ranking the most influential personalities that ever graced musical theater is such a pressure. Limiting the list to the Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater can be such a challenge. But acknowledging the kind of influence that these personalities have imparted is worth acknowledging. Standards are made. The bar was set high once they have left their mark onstage.

30. Giacomo Puccini – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

Yes, Giacomo Puccini is from opera. But 2 of his most famous works inspired 2 modern classics that contemporary musical theater fanatics enjoy today. Before there was the Tango Maureen, there was Musetta’s Waltz. Before there was a candle to be lighted, there was this frozen hand. Before there was Roger and Mimi, there was Rodolfo and Mimi. And before AIDS wrecked havoc in New York, tuberculosis plagued Europe in La Boheme. But most fans that have seen Madama Butterfly after seeing Miss Saigon would also see the inspiration from which the latter production was inspired from. The influence persists to this day. A testament to Puccini’s inclusion into our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater.

Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

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29. Placido Domingo – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

If there is one performer that made acting and singing as an effective alchemy, it would be Placido Domingo. Whenever some fans would flock to opera houses for the music, they end up enjoying the performances too. Soon opera became enjoyable not only for the ears but also for the eyes. You can feel the intensity in Domingo’s Otello from the fiery jealousy to the murderous rage. And still sound great musically. For a genre known for its strict rules on musicianship, Domingo is not afraid to lose himself in the role. He is a natural musician. A worthy inclusion into our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater.

28. Gene Kelly – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

Gene Kelly is not the first tap dancer to steal hearts on the Great White Way. But he sure is one of the most popular. He already has a loyal fanbase the moment he crossed over to Hollywood. That iconic tap dancing scene in “Singin’ in the Rain” unveiled the hard work and professionalism that Kelly applied in his craft. It’s easy to believe that he worked 16 to 18 hours a day. Being talented is not enough for him. So passionate is he in his craft. Aspiring theater performers have a simple answer to him in some of the auditions that Kelly himself facilitated. They saw him on “Singin’ in the Rain”. And they want to be mentored under him. Truly a professional included in our top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater.

27. Lea Salonga – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

Aspiring performers during the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s would be inspired to follow in the footsteps of Ms. Lea Salonga. Most of them had heard her as the voice of Jasmine in the Disney animated film Aladdin. Others have seen her perform in the role of Kim in Miss Saigon. Soon her performance as Eponine in Les Miserables became the ultimate deal maker for any performer to push for a career in musical theater. Until now, musical theater fans still remember the kind of talent she brought to the fore. From Eponine to Fantine, her performances have become the unofficial barometer for the revivals that followed. The same barometer was also used now that even Miss Saigon got revived on West End. A testament to how fans still clamor for Ms. Lea Salonga. One of our Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater.

26. Betty Buckley – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

Fans of the hit musical Cats are still debating online on who is the best Grizabella. The moment you see Betty Buckley’s sampler on Tony Awards for the song “Memory”. You’d realize that this role is a lot tougher to pull off than it initially seemed. Cats have yet to be revived on Broadway. Perhaps because finding a better performance than the one Betty Buckley unleashed on Broadway decades before has become the gold standard. And Betty Buckley ends up as being one of the top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater.

Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater


25. Robert Lopez – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

Because the internet is for porn and you have to turn it off to let it go. Long before Robert Lopez took the world by storm with “Let It Go”. He was one of the geniuses behind risque musicals like Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon. They may not be the first risque musicals to come along musical theater. But they sure produced LSS-inducing ditties like The Book of Mormon’s “Hello” and Avenue Q’s “The Internet is for Porn”. Shifting to wholesome entertainment like Disney’s Frozen produced the ultimate LSS-inducing track. Robert Lopez getting into our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater meant some kids didn’t really let go at all. (Kids, it’s 2015. Let it go. Like really let it go.)

24. Joel Grey – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

How many times does it happen that the same actor who channeled the role of The Emcee in the live musical version and Hollywood version would win both the Tony and the Oscar? Very rarely. This makes Joel Grey one of the most gifted performers to strut on stage. To this day, fans that have seen revivals of Cabaret still compare any actor that played the role of The Emcee to Grey’s performance. Unhealthy? No. But Grey set a standard even without meaning to. It’s the kind of influence that pushed us to include him in our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater.

Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

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23. Harvey Fierstein – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

La Cage Aux Folles! Kinky Boots! Then Fierstein is also known for inspirational musicals like Newsies. Noticed a trend? Still, most musical theater fans would refer to Fierstein as Edna in Hairspray. It’s the best imprint that Fierstein ever left behind in musical theater as a whole. When you just want to be who you want to be, look no further for inspiration. Seeing Kinky Boots on Broadway would further fuel the inspiration that pushed us to include Fierstein in our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater.

22. Gwen Verdon – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

Chicago has become one of the longest running musicals today. And only a few managed to remember the original Roxie Hart. Bob Fosse’s muse Gwen Verdon. Several tweaks have been applied to the Bob Fosse choreography as time passed by. But she is one of the vital links to an era marked with amoral hedonism coupled with a fascination for crime stories. Seeing productions that stuck to the Verdon-Fosse collaboration shows remarkable influence decades after she debuted this character. It just danced all the way to our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater.

21. Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boubil – Top 30 Most Influential in Musical Theater

They may be inspired by Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. But Schonberg and Boubil collaborated on a project that presented the horrors of war that appealed to the Vietnam vets. Their musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s best selling novel Les Miserables was just as big a hit as that of Miss Saigon. And it shows no sign of stopping on its tracks. Musicals that did not shy away from the horrors of reality. Music seemed to be the effective respite with which its characters are allowed to express. There are no emotions too small to be expressed in song. The alchemy between historically-inspired events and the quest for a better life infused into musical numbers was a successful formula for Schonberg and Boubil. It got them included into our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater.

20. Idina Menzel – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

Before she was the voice behind Elsa, she originated the role of Elphaba in the monster hit musical Wicked. She is also famous for being the original Maureen in Rent. A role that she also assumed in Hollywood version of Rent. Gleeks also remember her as Rachel Berry’s biological mother. The casting suggestion came to Glee’s creator Ryan Murphy after most fans noticed how Menzel and Lea Michele looked together as mother and daughter. With a resume this colorful and interesting, even casual fans have become interested with Menzel. Just when you thought musical theater superstars don’t topbill concert tours anymore, you see teasers of Menzel’s next concert pitstop. Getting into our list of the top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater meant it would take a long time for fans to let go of singing “Let It Go”.

19. Lin Manuel Miranda – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

Lin Manuel Miranda is one talented artist and a formidable risk-taker. Just when you thought his musical In The Heights is the best he ever could do, Hamilton comes along. Hamilton The Hip Hop Musical. And it featured American history in the point of view of contemporary American society. Using hip hop to present American history is a major risk in itself. What more if you put Miranda in the title role of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton? Miranda proved that when it comes to talent, there are no race cards to be played. While most musicals would play it safe by casting one or two characters with black performers, Miranda cast Hamilton with mostly black and Latino performers. He deserved a spot in our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater.

18. Kristin Chenoweth – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

Chenoweth’s version of “Glitter and Be Gay” is the most viewed version by musical theater aspirants that need an audition piece. Contemporary opera houses still stage “Candide”. It was Leonard Bernstein’s opera from which “Glitter and Be Gay” was taken from. But Chenoweth’s version became the standard for singers that wanted to learn how to trill and still remain pitch perfect. But being pitch perfect is not the only influential attribute about Chenoweth. Singing “Glitter and Be Gay” does not mean running the trills correctly. It also required being funny. And she is a natural for being funny. You may have seen her musical skits on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. They are showstoppers. As you are reading our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater, you might try looking into her other signature song “Taylor the Latte Boy”.

17. Chita Rivera – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

What separates the casual moviegoers and the musical theater nerds in a cinema that shows the Hollywood version of Chicago? The latter crowd managed to spot Chita Rivera. The original Velma Kelly is one of the original triple threats in musical theater. Channeling the role of Ms Kelly meant infusing Bob Fosse’s choreography into the femme fatale persona. Soon her most memorable performances involved musicals like “Nine” and “West Side Story”. She briefly returned to Broadway via the musical “The Visit“. And she still rakes in the crowd. A clear indicator of the influence she still holds in musical theater. Easy to explain why she is in our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater.

Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

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16. Patti LuPone – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

This website hopes that you are reading this article using your mobile phone outside the theater house where Patti LuPone performed. Mobile phone controversy aside, if ever LuPone demanded full attention for her performance. It’s because it is too damn great to miss. She never held back in any of her performances because she enjoyed what she did. Also, some of the most memorable “gestures” done in Evita are influenced from her performances. The most obvious are “The Evita Arms”. (This website wrote about Caroline Bowman in the role of Elphaba in Wicked. But “The Evita Arms” inevitably got included in the performance since before she played Elphaba. She played the role of Evita in the North American tour.) LuPone is more influential perhaps than you can give credit her for. A very special place in our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater is definitely reserved for her.

Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

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15. Mandy Patinkin – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

Speaking of Evita, next in our list is the toughest actor to out-perform in the role of Che – Mandy Patinkin. (Yep. He’s that guy from Homeland.) To this day, some fans still hasn’t forgotten the Tony snub. But does it make his performance any less great? Surely not. The role of Evita is one that demanded so much from whoever is given this role. And LuPone did more than channel the role. She became the role. The only performer in the cast that matched LuPone’s feisty characterization is Patinkin. Until now, his versions of “Oh What A Circus” and “And The Money Kept Rolling In” are still the manliest versions ever found on iTunes. Listening to the Original Broadway Cast Recording would solidify our reasons for including him in our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater.

14. Liza Minelli – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

Several Cabaret revivals later, musical theater fans see themselves re-watching the Hollywood version of Cabaret for their regular fix of Liza Minelli on their respective gadgets. Being beautiful and the ability to carry a tune are not enough attributes to qualify to play the role of Sally Bowles. We’re talking about animal appeal set to wartime music here. Animal appeal and a sense of amorality that looked mesmerizing to behold on stage. Whenever drugs and alcohol get tackled in mainstream media, you often expect a character to look like some junkie with facial scabbies. Not Sally Bowles. She’s nuts. Maybe she’s already nuts long before the decadence. That was the standard that Liza Minelli set. And some gut feel tells us that it’s a deliberate attempt to leave an imprint on musical theater history. The kind of memorabilia that you’d look back upon scanning our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater.

13. Leonard Bernstein – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

There are still fans confused as to whether Leonard Bernstein composes operas or musicals. Does it matter? Of course not. His works “Candide” and “West Side Story” may be English. But they sure featured voices heavily influenced by opera. Hence choosing renowned tenor Jose Carreras in singing “Maria” for “West Side Story”. Soprano Kiri Te Kanawa then was chosen to duet with Carreras for “Tonight”. She has her own aria too in “I Feel Pretty”. That opera influence still permeates in both genres. West Side Story is now part of the 2016 Salzburg Festival. An event known for showcasing the best operas ever. And the Original Broadway Cast Recording of “Candide” is still up on iTunes. The most popular version though is still the one that featured Kristin Chenoweth and Patti LuPone in the same show. That’s how extensive Bernstein’s influence on musical theater. Definitely a shoo-in for our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater.

12. Audra McDonald – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

Audra McDonald is perhaps the most high-profile soprano to take on the role of Bess in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Her Tony Award for Best Actress in Musical kept her in the consciousness of opera and musical theater fans alike. It also served as a part of her winning streak in the Tony’s. A streak that started in a play that still featured her magnificent singing prowess. The play “Master Class” by Terrence McNally. She originated the role of diva-esque soprano Sharon Graham and won her first Tony for such a nail-biting performance. Years later, she’s still winning Tony’s. So stop wondering why she is in our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater. And pick up that jaw that you dropped on the floor.

Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

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11. Angela Lansbury –  Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

Sweeney Todd is definitely not the only musical that Angela Lansbury starred into. Disney fans remember her as the voice of Mrs. Potts singing “Beauty and the Beast”. And she was one of the hilarious actresses included in the Hollywood version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance”. But her fish wife portrayal of unhygienic baker Mrs. Lovett is still the image that permeates in the consciousness of musical theater lovers. Lansbury set the tone for playing a character who is far alienated from reality due to her irrational infatuation with Benjamin Barker. Each production of Sweeney Todd that included Lansbury dished out a bloody performance for the books. Pun intended. Seeing her in our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater guaranteed more performances using her characterization as a standard for years to come.

10. Andrew Lloyd Webber – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

Despite mixed reviews on the Phantom sequel “Love Never Dies”, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s fans are pretty forgiving. There is always The Phantom of the Opera (POTO) to look back into. And it’s still touring North America as of this writing. He is aware of the influence that he still possessed. Hence his decision to take part in producing School of Rock on Broadway. Old school fans would still prefer looking for his first hits. While POTO tours North America, ALW’s other hit musical Jesus Christ Superstar is touring UK. (Click here for tickets.) Whether as a composer still minting money with his classics or a self-aware influencer lending out his name on new productions, ALW will remain a force to reckon with in our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater.

9. Jonathan Larson – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

Jonathan Larson was gone before his time. But he lived long enough to reap the fruits of his best-selling musical Rent. Comparisons with Puccini’s La Boheme aside, it won the Pulitzer for acknowledging two edgy topics in musical theater. LGBT relationships and AIDS. It did not shy away from the horrors of the AIDS epidemic. But it is not a reason to present such topics in a gloomy, depressing manner. These are people not pretending to be happy. But they don’t let sadness ruin the remaining moments they have in their lives. Which is why Angel will always be one of the best characters that Jonathan Larson ever created on Rent. Through Angel, Larson’s influence has left an indelible imprint in musical theater history. It made him one of the top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater.

8. Harold Prince – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

Better known to his colleagues as Hal Prince. Musical theater became a major force to reckon with in mainstream entertainment largely due to his influence as director and producer. The professionalism in which he is known for instant classics like “Fiddler on the Roof” and “West Side Story”. Directing “Fiddler on the Roof” on Broadway meant catering to an underserved niche in musical theater. And boy what niche it turned out to be! A overwhelmingly successful run merited an upcoming revival this fall season that you can read here. By the time he started directing Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret. His place as one of the top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater has been set in stone.

7. Alan Menken – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

Much about Alan Menken is known for his award-winning Disney scores. Casual Disney fans may not know Menken. But they sure know The Little Mermaid’s “Under The Sea”, Pocahontas’ “Colors of the Wind”, Aladdin’s “A Whole New World” and the title track “Beauty and the Beast”. If ever there is one person from whom Disney owes its musical theater spin-off company, it would be Alan Menken. And his influence has crossed over into other musical theater projects. His most high-profile musical theater project outside the Disney machinery so far is Sister Act The Musical. One of his upcoming projects is the musical theater spin-off of Mrs. Doubtfire. Years from now, Menken would still be in lists similar to our top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater.

6. Barbra Streisand – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

Why is Barbra Streisand in our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater? Because nobody rains on her parade. Hollywood’s favorite perfectionist still rakes in the fan base due to her mesmerizing take on musical theater classics such as “Memory” and “All I Ask of You”. Still her lead role on Funny Girl is credited as her biggest legacy in musical theater history. Her influence is so vast, she even earned awards. She has Grammys, Golden Globes and Oscars. It really pays to be a perfectionist. She is eventually found in our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater.

5. Julie Andrews – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

Show me how the hills are alive with the sound of music. While most musicals featured princesses and damsels in distress. Julie Andrews took on roles that empower women without forgetting the nurturing aspect of being a woman. Such is the life of being a fair lady. The only problem perhaps for some fans is when they get asked which legacy is better? Mary Poppins or The Sound of Music? Other fans would only think of that whenever lists like our top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater comes along.

Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater


4. Oscar Hammerstein II – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

The Hammerstein in the Rodgers and Hammerstein tandem is actually Oscar Hammerstein II. A childhood exposed to vaudeville shows in their family-owned theater pushed him to pursue a career in the arts himself. While one of his earliest hits is his collaboration with Jerome Kern for “Show Boat”. His collaboration with composer Richard Rodgers is credited as his most influential masterpiece – The Sound of Music. It’s been more than 50 years after his death in 1960. And musical theater enthusiasts still pine for his works. Finding his hits on iTunes proved the influence worthy of a spot in our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater.

Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater


3. Bob Fosse – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

The Bob Fosse Hands! In 2015, musical theater fans are still swaying and raising their hands to the tune of Chicago’s Hot Honey Rag. One reason why jazz dancing is one of the most deceptively easy routines in dance classes is demonstrated in the choreography of Bob Fosse. He also directed and choreographed other works like Pippin’ and Sweet Charity. The similarities became evident in the use of hats. Fosse’s slot in our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater is locked in.

2. John Kander and Fred Ebb – Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater

Upbeat jazzy music and saucy lyrics! These are 2 trademarks that the tandem of John Kander and Fred Ebb has left in musical theater history. Most notable are the characters that are unapologetic about their lifestyles. When you hear Sally Bowles sing “You’ll never turn the vinegar to jam, Mein Herr”, you can easily interpret that as her refusal to be submissive to a man in Cabaret. Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart are far wilder not only in terms of choreography. Velma singing about rouging knees and pulling stockings down left little to the imagination in the song “All That Jazz”. Roxie on the other hand enjoyed her fame, particularly the attraction she earned from some hot men in the song “Roxie”. Of course political undertones are there. While Chicago was a sort-of-parody of the American criminal justice system. Cabaret used the vaudeville numbers to critique the political environment in pre-Nazi Germany. Influence as strong as a punch to the gut sealed the deal in including them in our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater.

The Top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater Number 1. Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim broke the misconception that musical theater is only about happy, chirpy concepts. Truly music is a universal language. And it can be used to express the dark side of human nature. The musical where Sondheim expressed this best is in Sweeney Todd. Slashing customers set to music provided musical theater enthusiasts with images forever etched in their consciousness. Exploring the darkest recesses of the human mind proved too be a successful formula for Sondheim. His other musical Into The Woods may have explored other ways where humans can be ruthless. But nothing beats Sweeney Todd. So influential is his work that even Tim Burton can’t help but direct a Hollywood version. And he respected Sondheim so much that he even asked the latter to help him with the screenplay. For this, Stephen Sondheim is our top ranking personality in our list of top 30 Most Influential People in Musical Theater.

Sweeney Todd’s current run in San Francisco Opera was written about here. Click here to read details about the production itself. It also has enough links to direct you to ticket purchases.  A pre-opera talk is also available prior to the overture.

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