Top 10 Most Iconic Broadway Performances of All Time



Top 10 Most Iconic Broadway Performances of All Time

VOICE OVER: Emily Brayton WRITTEN BY: Taryn Crankshaw
Even if you never saw them live, you know these Broadway performances are iconic. For this list, we'll be looking at the greatest and most impactful musical theater performances stars have given us to date. Our countdown includes "Hamilton," "Wicked," "Chicago," and more!

Top 10 Most Iconic Broadway Performances of All Time

Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Most Iconic Broadway Performances of All Time.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the greatest and most impactful musical theater performances stars have given us to date.

Which of these performers is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!

#10: Barbra Streisand
“Funny Girl”

Don’t tell her not to live! For many performers, Fanny Brice is the ultimate dream role. And it’s no wonder, since Barbra Streisand became Broadway’s “Greatest Star” when she originated the part. Earning both critical and public acclaim for her show-stopping performance, she took the sassy Miss Brice and turned her into an idol. Her performance was so iconic that it was hard to imagine anyone else filling her shoes, though Beanie Feldstein holds her own in the revival. In 1968, Streisand reprised the role for the film, which won her an Academy Award. The star has since built an illustrious career, so it’s a good thing she didn’t let anyone “rain on [her] parade.”

#9: Chita Rivera

From "West Side Story'' to "Kiss of the Spider Woman," Chita Rivera is Broadway's ultimate triple threat. The singer, dancer and actress knows how to work the spotlight, and in 1975, she created one of musical theater's greatest roles in “Chicago”. She was absolutely magnetic as Velma Kelly, the vaudeville performer turned alleged murderer, starring alongside Gwen Verdon, who played Roxie Hart. Thanks to her skills and charisma, Rivera turned the show into a must-see event for theatergoers. “The name on everybody's lips” might have been Roxie's, but Velma had us singing “All That Jazz” for decades to come.

#8: Angela Lansbury
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

Angela Lansbury had audiences in stitches as Nellie Lovett in the original production of “Sweeney Todd.” The musical about a vengeful English barber divided critics. However, Lansbury's wit, impeccable comedic timing, charm, and nack for keeping up with Stephen Sondheim's challenging music won them over. She was already a three-time Tony Award winner by the time she joined the cast in 1979, but her stellar performance propelled her career even further. Although many other actresses have tackled the role, Lansbury’s performance will always be the most decadent. After all, nobody else can handle a rolling pin quite as masterfully as her!

#7: Lea Salonga
“Miss Saigon”

Lea Salonga took the theater world by storm when she starred in the megamusical “Miss Saigon.” At only 18 years old, the actress opened the show in London’s West End and stayed on when it transferred to New York. Playing the starring role of Kim, Salonga’s performance was emotionally charged and utterly devastating. Her pitch-perfect voice and jaw-dropping acting secured her a Tony win for “Best Actress in a Musical” in 1991. Salonga has gone on to earn a massive amount of both stage and screen credits. Although her Broadway run as Kim ended a while ago, the “heat is [still very much] on in Saigon” thanks to her.

#6: Bernadette Peters
“Into the Woods”

Bernadette Peters has built an incredible career thanks to her distinct voice and undeniable acting chops. Her performance in “Sunday in the Park with George” was nothing short of memorable. She's conquered many special roles, and her turn as the Witch in “Into the Woods” was truly something to behold. The fairy tale-centered musical by Stephen Sondheim premiered on Broadway in 1987, with Peters leading the cast as the magically misunderstood antagonist. Everything from her impressive demeanor to her emotionally gutting rendition of “Stay with Me” was captivating. Musical theater fans are still under her spell, even decades later.

#5: Idina Menzel

Audiences first fell in love with Idina Menzel as Maureen in Jonathan Larson's groundbreaking musical, "Rent". In 2003, theatergoers fell head over heels again when she brought the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, to life in "Wicked." A sort of prequel to "The Wizard of Oz," Menzel took one of cinema's most villainous characters and gave her a heart, soul, and voice. With Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda and Menzel as Elphaba, Broadway's most dynamic duo was born. Today, Elphie is one of musical theater's most sought-after roles, and Menzel's groundwork helped defy the odds, keeping "Wicked" alive for nearly 20 years.

#4: Lin-Manuel Miranda

If anyone has the Midas touch, it’s Lin-Manuel Miranda. A true Renaissance Man, the Pulitzer Prize-winning hitmaker can do it all: sing, dance, write, and act. In 2015, his pièce de résistance, “Hamilton,” opened on Broadway to mass acclaim, and Miranda was front and center as Alexander Hamilton. Initially, he was tempted to play Hamilton’s frenemy Aaron Burr, but ultimately found himself in the titular role. And he played it to perfection, nailing every quick lyric, complex emotion, and intricate movement. Though he’s since departed the show, his work on “Hamilton” continues to open up doors, making him one of show business’ hardest-working and most sought-after artists.

#3: Audra McDonald

By the time “Ragtime” debuted on Broadway, Audra McDonald was already a two-time Tony Award winner. The German-born lyric soprano had been stealing the hearts of theatergoers for many years, but her performance as Sarah catapulted her into stardom. Her emotional “Wheels of a Dream” duet with the amazing Brian Stokes Mitchell was mesmerizing, to put it mildly. The part won McDonald her third Tony, and cemented her spot as one of Broadway’s newest musical theater legends. Since then, she’s gone on to win more Tonys, notably earning one for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill.”

#2: Patti LuPone

“Stand back Buenos Aires!” Broadway’s resident diva Patti LuPone has tackled some of the most sought-after roles, from Reno Sweeney to Mama Rose. Before adding those jobs to her resume, she transformed herself into the former First Lady of Argentina, the late Eva Perón, for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita.” Chronicling the figure’s life, we see everything from her humble beginnings to her political reign. LuPone handled each moment with nuance and poise, notably winning her first Tony for the role. What’s more, she created one of the most iconic moments in musical theater history with the show’s signature number, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.”

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

Gwen Verdon, “Damn Yankees”
Her Work Was Equal Parts Funny & Masterful

Julie Andrews, “My Fair Lady”
A Pitch Perfect Voice & Picture Perfect Performance

Mandy Patinkin, “Sunday in the Park with George”
An Emotionally Impactful Depiction of the Plight of an Artist

Mary Martin, “Peter Pan”
An Iconic Performance That Made Us All Believe We Could Fly

Zero Mostel, “Fiddler on the Roof”
His Performance Was a Celebration of Life, Tradition, & Legacy

#1: Jennifer Holliday

Jennifer Holliday’s life changed in 1981 when she began delighting audiences as Effie White in a new musical by Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen called “Dreamgirls.” It’s hard to believe she was only 21 at the time. The show documents the rise of a girl band known as “The Dreams.” And Holliday’s powerhouse vocals were on fire, turning the Act 1 song “And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going” into a massive success. Gutting and emotionally impactful, her performance brought audiences to their feet night after night, winning her both a Tony and a Grammy. Needless to say, Holliday set an unbeatable standard for every performer that followed in her path.