Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 Tony-Nominated Choreographer Sam Pinkleton Counts Down His 10 Ultimate Tony Moments
May 26th, 2017
by Sam Pinkleton
Sam Pinkleton has the distinction this season of choreographing four original Broadway shows: Significant Other, Amelie, Heisenberg, and the most Tony-nominated show of the year, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. For his work choreographing an immersive theatrical experience, Sam received his first Tony Award nomination.
Scroll on as Sam Pinkleton shares with BroadwayBox his 10 all-time favorite Tony Awards night performances.
10. "Scatter/Upside Down"Fela, 2010
It's hard to watch this performance without your jaw on the floor. I wish this show had run for 30 years and every student was required to see it. In addition to being a stunning story with some of the best music thats ever been on Broadway, THE DANCING IS INSANE. INSANE. BILL T JONES BILL T JONES BILL T JONES.
9. "Lot's Wife", Caroline, or Change, 2004
Caroline, or Change remains perhaps the most transformational experience I've ever had in a Broadway theatre. This show cracked my brain and heart open and turned what I thought a musical could do and be on its head. And then Tonya Pinkins did THIS on the Tonys and all of the volcanoes of the world went off at the same time.
8. "Forget About the Boy", Thoroughly Modern Millie, 2002
I recorded this number from the Tonys on VHS when I was in high school in Virginia, played it on loop, and taught myself the entire tap dance. It remains the ONLY tap dance I can actually sort of do. It was candy to a 16-year-old cast-album-obsessed gay kid, and I was always brilliant in the role of Anne Nathan. Later in high school, I met Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan through an amazing ASCAP workshop I was lucky to participate in (shoutout to Michael Kerker and ASCAP for bringing free arts programming into public schools) and was able to nerdily profess my love for the show to them. They were encouraging and generous in a way that went beyond anything I had known. It was one of the first moments I thought making a life in the theatre might actually be possible. Jeanine and Dick remain friends and mentors to this day.
7. "My Body", The Life, 1997
This is another one for which I originated a role in my high school bedroom. The song is amazing (I mean maybe also troubling because it's entirely about hookers with pretty lousy lives but also everyone seems to be having a REALLY GREAT TIME so, hmm, maybe feminism...I'm not sure). Anyway the great joy to me in addition to the women EATING THE SONG is Joey McKneely's CHOREOGRAPHY—which feels completely masterful to me. Simple, messy, from way down low—and you learn everything you need to know about these women from how they do it. It's also thrilling to see bodies of all shapes and sizes really go hard and dance.
6. "It's All Happening", Bring It On, 2013
Sometimes when these troubled times get me down and I need a lift, I remind myself that there was once a musical about competitive cheerleading on Broadway. I had SO MUCH FUN at this show, and think if I had seen this Tony performance as a kid I would have just gotten on a bus to New York then and there. Andy Blankenbuehler made the theatre explode with energy and these amazing kids flew through the air with absolutely no thought about what their knees might be like at 40. It's dizzy shameless full-out JOY.
5. "Broadway Blues", Shuffle Along, 2016
Oh man, I loved this show so much. The legendary Savion Glover completely killed me with his work on this show, lifted up even higher by this ferocious ensemble. I love the way the dancers attack the choreography but manage to also dance completely as themselves—seeing the tiny individual ways of moving within the larger structure makes me cry. For real. I've never seen something that was such a fierce combination of intellectual rigor and old-fashioned razzle dazzle.
4. "You Can't Stop the Beat", Hairspray, 2003
Is there a bigger joy machine in the world than "YOU CANT STOP THE BEAT"? I second acted this show probably 30 times in college to watch this number and hear people roar from the back of the mezzanine.
3. "Keys (It's Alright)", Passing Strange, 2008
I first saw this show when I was as an intern at the Public Theater and ended up coming back seven times. The generosity of storytelling, the music that gets in your ear and stays there, the brains of Annie Dorsen and Kevin Adams and Stew and Heidi and so many others, and a cast of magical hilarious heartbreaking virtuosos who remain among my absolute favorite performers in New York. It was total alchemy for me and, again, a huge lesson in what's possible.
2. “Will-O-Mania/Favorite Son”, The Will Rogers Follies, 1991
SERIOUSLY, STOP READING MY JABBERING AND WATCH THIS RIGHT NOW. I honestly think the seated dance is the thing that made me want to be a choreographer. It's a crazy lesson in SIMPLICITY and detail and also GIANT SPARKLY UNAPOLOGETIC OLD FASHIONED SHOWBUSINESS. Tommy Tune!!!
1. Medley, Runaways, 1978
This one is home for me. Liz Swados was my greatest teacher and mentor at NYU and the most fierce, radical, ruthless, loving, brilliant artist I have ever been near. She was nominated for FIVE tony awards for this show at the AGE OF 27 (book, score, choreography, direction, and musical—that's correct). When I directed the revival of Runaways last summer at City Center shortly after Liz passed away (produced and dreamed up by Jeanine Tesori, because the big bad world is actually made of wonder and irony and goodness), the video of this Tony Performance was one of the only clear records I had of the original production. In the Tony performance, "Lullaby From Baby To Baby" was sung by the amazing Trini Alvarado—and in our production the song featured her daughter, Kylie McNeill. Yep—theatre is actually the circle of life. Liz was a true giant and I'm so grateful to be a part of carrying her legacy forward with so many other artists.
And I'm also grateful to YouTube for not only allowing me to do potentially the gayest activity of my entire life by making this list, but also to be reminded of the fierceness and community of generations of theatremakers.
Don't miss Sam Pinkleton's incredible choreography in 'Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812' at Broadway's Imperial Theatre.