The 500 guests at the American Theater Wing dinner dance at the Plaza Hotel on April 1, 1956, were not the only ones who saw Gwen Verdon, Paul Muni, Bob Fosse and Lotte Lenya accepting their Tony Awards. So did fans all over New York City, who for the first time in the history of the honors, which began in 1947, could watch the event live, on DuMont channel 5.
Since the broadcast went national in 1967, it has been an unmissable rite for theater lovers everywhere, many of whom have limited access to Broadway. More recently, thanks to YouTube, ranking (and ranking on) the winners, losers, excerpts and showstoppers has become a perennial pastime. So with the awards on hold for the first time this year, we decided to look back on the most memorable moments of Tonys past.
Mostly those moments are acceptances and musical numbers. (Except in the years when PBS provided an illuminating preshow, television has botched the dramatic and technical categories.) But that still leaves plenty. Whether your taste runs more to Angela Lansbury or Neil Patrick Harris as host, or whether you are a partisan of Bernadette Peters or Patti LuPone singing “Rose’s Turn,” there’s something to enjoy and fight about in the highly idiosyncratic highlights below.