It's very hard to beat the original sometimes when it comes to Broadway! No matter how much effort you put into reinterpreting the material and putting your spin on it, sometimes there was just this electric magic in the OG project that made it feel that much more special. Some incredible revivals have improved certain shows, and maybe even cemented their legacies when the originals didn't, but let's take a moment to appreciate those performers who take on Broadway characters for the original performances.
Any celebrity can get a short run on Broadway if they want an ego boost, but the true multi-hyphenates who can make all the singing, dancing, and acting onstage look natural are some of the most impressive performers out there. Here are TK actors who gave incredible originating performances on Broadway.
Chita Rivera & Ken LeRoy - West Side Story (1957)
The late, great Chita Rivera stole the show in the original West Side Story and set the standard that every following Anita had to be magnificent (an assignment they've pretty much all lived up to). With great songs, incredible choreography moments, and some of the most moving dramatic scenes in the show, Anita is one of the best Broadway characters ever created—with Rivera being the definitive portrayal. Broadway veteran Ken LeRoy originated the part of Bernardo.
Robert Morse - How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961)
Morse did such a good job as J. Pierrepont Finch in this uproarious musical that he won a Tony Award and played the character again in its 1967 film adaptation. Check out the film to see the colorful energy he brought to this now-classic Broadway character.
Joel Grey - Cabaret (1966)
As the Master of Ceremonies at the hedonistic Kit Kat Klub in Berlin, Grey enshrined a character in Broadway history forever with some of the best musical numbers of all time. He rightfully won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor when the film adaptation of Cabaret came out in 1972.
Barbra Streisand - Funny Girl (1964)
This still is from the incredible Funny Girl movie directed by William Wyler that premiered after the show's original Broadway run closed, but star Barbra Streisand had already left an indelible mark on the stage as Fanny Brice. It's great that the film exists to preserve the performance, but it must have been inspiring to see the show on stage when it came out originally.
James Rado & Jerome Ragni - Hair (1967)
Co-authors of the book and lyrics of this impactful rock musical, James Rado and Jerome Ragni, were also the original leads Claude and George. They're pictured here living up to the title of their hit musical.
Jeff Fenholt - Jesus Christ Superstar (1971)
This rock opera began as a concept album with the Deep Purple frontman Ian Gillan playing Jesus Christ, and then Jeff Fenholt took over when it started at the Mark Hellinger Theatre. Carl Anderson also starred in the production as Judas Iscariot and Yvonne Elliman played Mary Magdalene.
Gwen Verdon - Chicago (1975)
Verdon has originated roles like Lola in Damn Yankees and Anna in New Girl in Town, but Roxie Hart inChicago is one of her most enduring Broadway original characters. She kept up with Bob Fosse's choreography effortlessly and had incredible chemistry with the original Velma Kelly—Chita Rivera.
Bernadette Peters & Mandy Patinkin - Sunday in the Park with George (1984)
It's not just going to be a Sondheim list, we swear! Patinkin took on the role of Georges Seurat, while Peters was his mistress and muse Dot, with both actors then playing relatives of their characters after a time jump in Act II. Both actors are inimitable, showing amazing vocal dexterity during the show's excellent songs and handling some tender but brutally sad dramatic scenes perfectly.
Bernadette Peters - Into The Woods (1987)
Peters was in the original cast of so many incredible Sondheim musicals and is in the middle of a cast recording session for Into the Woods, where she originated the part of Witch. In a 1999 profile of Peters for The Washington Post, Sondheim said, "Like very few others, she sings and acts at the same time... Bernadette is flawless as far as I'm concerned. I can't think of anything negative."
Nathan Lane & Matthew Broderick - The Producers (2001)
Mel Brooks' classic comedy film was a great basis for a satirical Broadway show—showing two theatrical producers who try to stage a musical designed to fail but are instead left with a surprise hit. The great Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick became the original Leo Bloom and Max Bialystock respectively. Lane and Broderick were both, naturally, hilarious in the parts, with Lane winning one of the shows' record-breaking 12 Tony Awards at the 2001 ceremony.
Kristen Chenoweth & Idina Menzel - Wicked (2003)
It's hard to imagine a pre-Wicked world with how ubiquitous this show feels now, and that's mostly because of the incredible lead performances by Idina Menzel as Elphaba and Kristen Chenoweth as Glinda. Odds are, one of these people sang your favorite song on the cast recording
LaChanze - The Color Purple (2005)
The character of Celie in The Color Purple has been played skillfully on stage by revival stars like Cynthia Erivo, and the film adaptation's star Fantasia Barrino, but LaChanze was transcendent when the show first hit Broadway, with emotional vocal performances and an impressive range as Celie lives and grows through the hardships of the musical.
Brian d'Arcy James - Shrek: The Musical (2008)
Brian d'Arcy James has been an incredible founding cast member and has taken on classic shows in great revivals as well. One of his most famous originating roles is, of course, as the grouchy green ogre Shrek in the character's Broadway musical. Here he is with Shrek's voice actor in the film franchise: Mike Meyers!
Alice Ripley - Next to Normal (2009)
Ripley played the challenging character of Diana Goodman like it was second nature when the rock musical Next to Normal debuted Off-Broadway in 2008, then in the Booth Theatre the next year. Diana is central to the show's themes of mental illness and the state of psychiatry as a suburban mother trying to manage her bipolar disorder with advice and medication from different doctors—and be there for her family.
Lin Manuel Miranda - Hamilton (2015)
Along with originating the role of Usnavi in his excellent musical In The Heights, Miranda took on the central part of Alexander Hamilton in what would become a revelatory stage experience for both experienced and new Broadway fans. Since he composed and wrote the book for the acclaimed musical himself over seven years, it stands to reason that Miranda would step into this Founding Father role. Side note: there's a young Ariana DeBose in the background of this shot, as she was an original ensemble member on the show from 2015 to 2016.
Aaron Tveit & Karen Olivo - Moulin Rouge! (2019)
We love to romanticize the old shows that have had thousands of performances and revivals, but amazing new musicals are still coming out at a huge clip. The recent stage adaptation of this awesome Baz Lurhmann jukebox movie musical is a great rendition of this tragic romance with some of the film's best songs and all-new selections. Aaron Tveit and Karen Olivo were not outshined by the extravagant setpieces the musical set up, breathing life into the lead roles of Christian and Satine beautifully.
You Might Also Like