Acting, singing, dancing! Somehow movement has been demoted to third billing in the triple threat universe of Broadway. Heck, some musicals today don't have any choreography at all. The opposite used to be the norm. The dancing was the thing you came for — the cliché being that tired businessmen wanted a night out to look at leggy girls. And of course, going back a few eons further, you can trace all of theatre back to tribal dance rituals. I don't particularly long for either of those eras, but so much of what defined the Golden Age of Broadway was the integration of music, lyrics and dance into storytelling.
Thankfully, the ever-expanding modern definition of musical theatre has room for all kinds of expression, including some that are very movement-based. Indeed, the 1996 hit Bring In 'Da Noise, Bring In 'Da Funk was most recognizable for its trailblazing choreography, and many newer shows such as Spring Awakening and Movin' Out have continued to broaden the definition of the form. It's safe to say that, regardless of how Broadway dancing evolves (or perhaps, because of how Broadway dancing evolves), it will continue to be a hallmark of musical theatre for the ages.
10. "Turkey Lurkey Time" from Promises, Promises
Burt Bacharach, Hal David and Neil Simon's popular, poptastic 1968 hit, Promises, Promises, had an Act One closer for the ages. I've written about "Turkey Lurkey Time" before in an interview with Tony winner Donna McKechnie about the genesis of the number. I am, however, hardly late to the party in exalting this showstopper. It was featured memorably in the film "Camp," as well as on "Glee" and in a hilariously taxing, yet determined — and strangely graceful — YouTube video by Matt Steele. Throughout, everybody's execution of McKechnie's original virtuoso backbends bears an indelible mark of Michael Bennett's inspired choreography.
9. "Slap That Bass" from Crazy For You
Susan Stroman has spent the last 15 years as Broadway's reigning premiere director-choreographer, the helmer behind for Mel Brooks's gargantuan smash, The Producers, in addition to many other productions. "Stro," as she is affectionately known in the theatre, began her career and first gained reknown as a choreographer and, indeed, her finest work to date may have been her breathtaking musical staging of 1992's "new Gershwin musical" Crazy For You. In a production that moved mesmerizingly from start to finish, the unforgettable highlight was perhaps Stroman's ingenious take on "Slap That Bass" with the men playing the women like the eponymous instrument, strings and all!
8. "The Hot Honey Rag" from Chicago
What remains to be said about Bob Fosse's enthralling jazz ballet bonne bouche, "The Hot Honey Rag"? At the tail end of Chicago, after the final instant standard Kander and Ebb song of the evening, "Nowadays," the two leading ladies segue into the an intricate solo dance, performed in intricate unison, yet always somehow showing off the two divas' distinctive personalities. It's such a crowd-pleaser that it has been reprised on nearly every award ceremony, variety show and telethon for decades.
7. "Bottle Dance" from Fiddler On The Roof
The legendary Jerome Robbins was acclaimed not only for the classical gravitas he introduced in such musicals as On The Town and West Side Story, but for his versatility in making musical magic in a wide variety of dramatic contexts. For example, the "Bottle Dance" from Fiddler On The Roof, which combined balletic precision with Klezmer authenticity to create a timeless Broadway dance moment, forever emblematic of the beloved Fiddler.
6. "Hello, Dolly!" from Hello, Dolly!
They don't make 'em like Hello, Dolly! anymore. After the rock and roll revolution, shows like Hello, Dolly!, began to be seen as throwbacks. Louis Armstrong's chart-topping rendition of the title song may have been the last bit of unqualified glory for a style of musical theatre gone with the wind. On the other hand, everything old is new again, and within the ever-expanding definition of musical theatre, there is room today for limitless diversity. It's just a matter of time before Hello, Dolly! comes back and if the inevitable revival would be hard pressed to escape the shadow of Gower Champion's iconic dance for Dolly and her adoring public as she makes her grand return to the Harmonia Gardens, singing "Hello Dolly!" Champion's trademark "Duck Walk" step is always left in, even if a production features new choreography and that is the bit of the number that gets reprised as an encore if the spectators demand it.
5. "Shall We Dance?" from The King And I
Another Jerome Robbins number that had to make this list is The King And I's famous Act Two pas de deux, "Shall We Dance?" Buzz around town is that Kelli O'Hara and Ken Watanabe are burning it up with chemistry in Bartlett Sher's revival at Lincoln Center Theater's Vivian Beaumont. It's no surprise, as the same has been true almost anywhere the song has been danced since Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner introduced it in 1951. You see a woman in a hoop skirt and a kingly-looking man and you know the polka is coming.
4. "Big Spender" from Sweet Charity
When you think sexy Broadway, you think Bob Fosse. Although he's been gone for almost 30 years, no one has come close to creating the kind of steam heat he generated in pretty much every piece he staged. The effect is that we keep reviving and celebrating his work, often recreating his unbeatable original choreography. One of his biggest hits — and perhaps the show that solidified his distinctive stamp — Sweet Charity, emblematized that stamp with its seductive staging of the classic "Big Spender."
3. "Prologue" from West Side Story
Yet another Jerome Robbins number that seems to define Broadway is the "Prologue" from West Side Story. It was relatively unheard of for ghetto characters to be on stage at all, let alone enacting elaborate ballet moves, but Robbins boldly used this style to tell their story in song. Right from Leonard Bernstein's opening chords there is no doubt Robbins' experiment was a phenomenal success. Even the mere still image of those "Sharks" flying through the air immediately conjures West Side Story, and indeed, musical theatre in general.
2. "Audition" from 42nd Street
Another Gower Champion triumph — and the last of his long career (he legendarily died on opening night!) — 42nd Street raised its curtain and roof with a bang. The show began with the curtain rising only enough to reveal a throng of dancers in long rows, from the knees down, tapping furiously to, of course, enormous applause. The very idea of classic Broadway dance is associated with tap, and it has never been more dazzlingly, exuberantly bounteous than in Champion's swan song at its opening. You want tap? You want dancing? You want Broadway? Look no further.
1. "One" from A Chorus Line
Finally, there is no dance moment more synonymous with Broadway than the singular sensation "One" from A Chorus Line. The Pulitzer Prize-winning megahit of the 1970s (and 1980s!) was a musical about musicals in a way that was really about life, about everybody. This show touched people in a very meaningful way and when its cast, at last formed the shimmering golden line as the orchestra began the insinuating vamp for "One," director-choreographer Michael Bennett's contribution to musical theatre blossomed in full, never to wilt. It's hard to believe this song was a last-minute addition to the show. If you need any proof that musicals get written in previews, there it is.
(Ben Rimalower is the author and star of the critically acclaimed solo plays Patti Issues and Bad with Money. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)