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Historians of the Broadway musical, from the academy to the piano bar, tend to agree on one thing: the archetypal Broadway star is a woman. Icons such as Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Gwen Verdon and Carol Channing were the bulbs that lit the Great White Way in its golden and silver ages, and they still dominate the mythology of the genre. There's something deeply personal about choosing one’s favorites: Back in the day, show-tune aficionados argued the merits of Merman versus Martin; today, one might find similar divisions among partisans of Patti LuPone and Bernadette Peters, or Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel. We've chosen our list with an ear to history as it continues to resonate with musical-theater enthusiasts today. That's bad news for early stars like Marilyn Miller and Fanny Brice, whose marks have faded somewhat with time, but good for newer talents like Audra McDonald and Jessie Mueller, who are redefining what a Broadway diva can be. Naturally, we expect a few heated arguments as we offer our own ranked choices of the greatest leading ladies—ever—in Broadway musicals. To your stations, fans! Let the diva wars begin!
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