Special Reports

5 Best Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Performances

This year, we give thanks to the Broadway performers who gave us all a reason to tune in to the Macy’s parade every year.

For many Americans, the Thanksgiving holiday automatically conjures up mental images of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, football games, and, of course, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. For Broadway fans, however, Thanksgiving also means getting a chance to see some of your favorite musicals getting a showcase on a national stage during the annual parade. This year, we here at TheaterMania decided to mark the parade's 93rd year by celebrating the best performances in the spectacle's history. Check out our picks below.

1987: Cabaret

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade typically favors family fare in selecting which Broadway shows will perform at the top of the broadcast — but every so often, a more adult musical makes the cut. Behold the 1987 parade, featuring a performance by Broadway legend (and Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish director) Joel Grey, reprising the role that won him a Tony and Oscar (and not an Emmy, as the announcer erroneously reports). Grey was promoting the 1987 Broadway revival of Cabaret, a musical about the twilight of the Berlin club scene in the 1930s. The performance starts felicitously enough with "Willkommen." I like to imagine Grey is looking off-camera at a 5-year-old with a knockoff Teddy Ruxpin when he says, "So, life is disappointing?" The number transitions to "If You Could See Her," which you might assume is a charming number about a man in love with a gorilla, if you didn't already know it to be about anti-Semitism. But for those of us who do know, it's the perfect way for Broadway to say, Happy holidays, America! Be thankful you don't live in Nazi Germany. — Zachary Stewart

1996: Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk

Every show that took part in the 1996 parade clocked in numbers that rank among my favorites. Bebe Neuwirth sizzled in "All That Jazz" from Chicago, Donna Murphy warbled gloriously in "Getting to Know You" from The King and I, and the cast of Rent warmed that cold November day with "Seasons of Love." But for me nothing compared with the heat generated by Savion Glover and the hard-tapping hoofers from Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk, which ran on Broadway for more than 1,100 performances and won four Tonys. Glover and his troupe knew how to heat things up; plus, unlike so many Thanksgiving Day Parade performers, they got to dress in weather-appropriate clothing so you weren't worrying about them being outside on that 29-degree day. — Pete Hempstead

2002: Thoroughly Modern Millie

We love it when an old-fashioned Broadway tap number makes it into the parade, and that's what Thoroughly Modern Millie gave us back in 2002. What it also gave us was one of Sutton Foster's first major TV appearances just as her name was making the rounds as Broadway's newest breakout star. Two Tonys and 17 years later, I bet she's still thrilled she got to wear long sleeves for this al fresco performance. — Hayley Levitt

2008: In the Heights

The 2008 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade performance of In the Heights has a lot to offer. A pre-Hamilton era Lin-Manuel Miranda leads the cast of his first Broadway musical in a rendition of "In the Heights" with verve (and musical cadences) that any Hamilton fan would find familiar. Andy Blankenbuehler's Tony-winning choreography is similarly reminiscent of the now-iconic turntable choreo in Hamilton. But there's much to set this parade performance apart as well, from In the Heights's salsa-influenced score to the slightly puzzled faces of the crowd around Miranda as he kicks off his performance from the risers. — Bethany Rickwald

2018: The Prom

One of the most memorable of all Thanksgiving Day Parade performances occurred just last year, in fact. The Prom — Chad Beguelin, Bob Martin, and Matthew Sklar's musical about showbiz narcissists trying to help a teenage lesbian fight for her right to bring her girlfriend the high school prom — got a showcase on the national stage last Thanksgiving, and any fears that the musical was going to tame its queer elements for broad US consumption were firmly, jubilantly put to bed the moment Caitlin Kinnunen and Isabelle McCalla kissed each other at the climax of the cast's performance of "Time to Dance." History was thus made: the first same-sex kiss to be aired during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The fact that it drove right-wing commentators nuts made this landmark all the sweeter. — Kenji Fujishima