The Tony Awards are not just a celebration of excellence in broadway theater, but also a national showcase and public record of performances that are otherwise local and fleeting. The most memorable Tony moments can echo in theater history for decades to come. But which are the best of the best? We've surveyed every performance of a nominated musical or musical revival since CBS's first Tony telecast (in 1967), and here's our list of the top 30. Note that we're limiting ourselves to Tony-nominated shows in the years they were nominated; don't look here for special material, musical guests, opening medleys and the like. But do expect plenty of thrilling music, go-for-broke dance numbers and dazzling Broadway divas. So without further ado—and steeling yourself for the possibility that some of your facorite Broadway shows didn't make the cut—prepare to be razzle-dazzled by the greatest of the Great White Way.
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42nd Street, “Lullaby of Broadway” (1980)
Having created many ornate dance sequences for 42nd Street, the final show of his celebrated career, Gower Champion pared his choreography way down for the show's rousing centerpiece. In lieu of fancy stepwork is the simplest possible movement: legs kicking up in cakewalks, arms waving from side to side or rising like corkscrew wings. It's show dancing scraped to its bones, and the magic is in how well it still works.
The Life, “My Body” (1997)
Cy Coleman's final Broadway musical, a look back at the seedy lives of Times Square hookers in the 1980s, was not a hit, but its several standout numbers included "My Body," in which sex workers of all shapes and sizes (Tony winner Lillias White among them) flout their haters and flaunt their wares. In contrast with the weary come-on of "Big Spender" in Coleman's Sweet Charity, "My Body" is a sassy come-off-it, and that energy has earned the song a solid after-Life among Tony aficionados.
Company, “Being Alive” (2007)
In musical theater, leading ladies get most of the big emotional songs, but composer Stephen Sondheim has often shared the wealth with the male characters—such as Company's Bobby, played with unusual depth and intensity by Raúl Esparza in the musical's 2006 revival. The sheer capaciousness of Esparza's voice—it's as though he had a microphone built into his vocal cords, complete with reverb switch—helps give Bobby's personal breakthrough in "Being Alive" an almost cosmic resonance.
The Wild Party, “Welcome to My Party”/“When It Ends” (2000)
Toni Collette made a striking Broadway debut as a trouble-prone showgirl (opposite Mandy Patinkin's abusive clown) in Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe's underappreciated 2000 adaptation of a Jazz Age poem. And the unique Eartha Kitt—returning to Broadway after a 22-year absence, with her trademark felinity honed to claw and fang—brought down the house with her ferociously dire "When It Ends": part warning, part curse and part bloodied lament.
Annie, “Tomorrow”/“You're Never Full Dressed Without a Smile”/“Easy Street (1977)
The long medley of songs from the orphan fantasy Annie would be remarkable enough for its opening salvo alone: Andrea McArdle's poignantly belted, nonsaccharine delivery of "Tomorrow," the show's famous paean to implacable optimism. This is followed by more adorable kid stuff with Annie's fellow ragamuffins, before the peerless Dorothy Loudon spikes the punch with "Easy Street." If her lips are not always in sync with the prerecorded vocals (a common practice in Tony numbers from that period), her bumping hips and flouncing blouse put her in her own league of gleeful malice.
Evita, “A New Argentina” (1980)
Evita was the show that put Broadway superdiva Patti LuPone on the map—or at least the map of South America. The unlikely subject of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's pop opera was the former first lady of Argentina, Eva Peron, and her oft-repeated theme song, "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina," was the show's signature tune. But for the Tonys, the show chose Harold Prince's brilliant staging of its Act I closer, in which an aquiline, predatory LuPone knocks out huge notes that help explain Eva's role in the political rise of her populist-strongman husband: When this lady belts, people listen. (The performance might rank higher on this list if those money notes were not pretaped for the telecast.)
Guys and Dolls, “Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat” (1992)
The beloved 1992 revival of Frank Loesser's classic Guys and Dolls had a lot going for it, including a swell cast led by Nathan Lane and Faith Prince and an old-school aesthetic that went hand in glove with the show's colorfully cartoonish world of lovable New York gangsters. The show's liveliest number found a minor character, Nicely-Nicely Johnson—played by Walter Bobbie, who went on to direct the Chicago revival—pretending to have seen the religious light. Choreographer Christopher Chadman, a longtime associate of Bob Fosse's, came up with a staging that is pure musical-comedy elation.
La Cage Aux Folles, “We Are What We Are”/“I Am What I Am” (1984)
Broadway finally came out of the closet, where it had apparently been trying on its mom's nuttiest clothes, with the groundbreaking 1983 musical comedy La Cage Aux Folles. Introduced as though they were exotic flowers in some alien garden, the show's unabashed transvestites shed their puffy gowns and perform a snappy tap number in sparkly miniskirts. And although George Hearn—as the show's drag queen bee, Zaza—bizarrely performs the show's gay-pride anthem in a tuxedo instead of a frock, the former Sweeney Todd star sings with forceful dignity.
Chicago, “All That Jazz”/“Hot Honey Rag” (1997)
The hugely successful Broadway revival of Kander and Ebb's cynical Chicago began as a concert staging at Encores!, and the production's sleek, pointed style retains an air of presentational formality that is in perfect tune with Bebe Neuwirth's icy-hot delivery of the show's opening number. Ann Reinking's choreography summons the spirit of Bob Fosse, but this Tony sequence is most compelling when, in "Hot Honey Rag," Neuwirth and Reinking dance the 90-second synchronized duet that Fosse himself devised for the musical's original 1975 production.
Spring Awakening, “Mama Who Bore Me”/“The Bitch of Living”/“Totally Fucked” (2007)
One of the first rock musicals to sound like contemporary rock music, Spring Awakening throbbed with new blood—a quality accentuated by an attractive young cast (fronted by Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele). By offering a medley instead of a single number, the show smartly emphasizes newness, speed and change. And when the cast explodes into the last song, whose unsafe-for-TV language the actors preemptively struck, the nothing-to-lose wildness of Bill T. Jones's choreography is heightened by herky-jerky pans and zooms of the camera.