Bette Midler wins her first Tony, and will not be played off the stage (2017)
Miss M. truly proved her divinity when she accepted the Tony — her first in a competitive category — for Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for the 2016 revival of Hello, Dolly! “I’d like to thank the American Theatre Wing, to begin with, and all the Tony voters — many of whom I’ve actually dated,” she began in an acceptance speech for the ages. As Midler ran over her allotted time at the podium, the orchestra started playing to prompt her to leave the stage, but the legendary actress wasn’t having it. “Shut that crap off!” she said, dismissing the musicians with a wave of her hand, to great applause.
Lin-Manuel Miranda delivers a poignant Hamilton acceptance speech in iambic pentameter (2016)
The 2016 show was, appropriately, dubbed the “Hamiltonys,” since Lin-Manuel Miranda’s wildly original Founding Father rap-musical netted a record 16 nominations and collected 11 of the trophies. The cast opened and closed the show (and, of course, took the stage to receive awards all throughout), but the most indelible moment had to be creator-star Miranda’s acceptance speech for Best Original Score, which took the form of a sonnet that honored his wife, Vanessa, as well as the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting, which had happened early that very morning. “Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside,” he read. “I sing Vanessa’s symphony, Eliza tells her story / Now fill the world with music, love, and pride.”
Neil Patrick Harris gets friendly with the audience (2014)
Before Neil Patrick Harris won the Tony for Best Lead Actor in a Musical for his performance in Hedwig and the Angry Inch in 2014, he proved how much he deserved it with a show-stopping performance of “Sugar Daddy.” During the second half of the song, he walked off the stage and into the audience, where he gave Orlando Bloom a “car wash,” licked Samuel L. Jackson’s glasses, treated Sting to a lap dance, lounged in Kevin Bacon’s lap, and finally kissed his own husband, David Burtka.
Avenue Q beats Wicked for Best Musical (2004)
In one of the biggest upsets in Tony history, the little-show-that-could, which started in a 120-seat Off Broadway house, bested the 1,000-pound, movie-studio-backed gorilla (even video screens flashed Wicked after Avenue Q‘s victory). It seems their campaign mantra (“Vote with your heart”) worked.
Neil Patrick Harris and Hugh Jackman play dueling hosts (2011)
The two dashing former Tonys hosts mixed it up musically in a rivalry-tinged duet medley about which of them did the job better — including a side-by-side dance-off to music from A Chorus Line. ”But if, buddy, I’m the bottom, you’re the top!”
Jennifer Holliday brings down the house performing from Dreamgirls (1982)
Forget Jennifer Hudson. ”And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from the ’82 Tonys settles once for all any debate about who is the definitive Effie White.
Lin-Manuel Miranda raps his acceptance speech for In the Heights (2008)
While on stage accepting his first Tony (for Best Original Score for In the Heights) Lin-Manuel Miranda turned his speech into an extraordinary off-the-cuff rap: “I used to dream about this moment, now I’m in it,” he started. “Tell the conductor to hold the baton a minute.” Miranda went on to thank all those who helped him out — and, as evidenced by Radio City-wide laughter, the audience thanked Miranda for keeping the awards show poppin’. — Tanner Stransky
Elaine Stritch finally wins, only to be cut off mid-speech (2002)
This self-proclaimed ”existential problem in tights” finally captured Tony glory (after nearly 60 years in the biz) for her searing one-woman show. But, of course, her triumph was cut waaaay short, with trigger-happy producers axing her speech early on.
Hugh Jackman performs from The Boy from Oz (2004)
Jackman was not allowed to transfer to New York with the West End production of Oklahoma! due to union quibbles in 2002. But his Broadway debut was worth the wait. His exuberant take on pop singer/songwriter Peter Allen, which he reprised while hosting the ’04 ceremony, set hearts everywhere aflutter.
Jerry Herman wins for La Cage aux Folles, makes backhanded remark about the "hummable showtune" (1984)
Winning a Tony for the score of La Cage aux Folles, the legendary maestro remarked on the appeal of the ”simple, hummable show tune,” which many interpreted as a big ol’ slap in the face to Stephen Sondheim, whose more experimental scores were pointing to Broadway’s evolution. (Herman has denied that was his intent.)
Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman share a big kiss (2003)
The pinnacle moment of the 2003 ceremony was a giant, same-sex smoocheroo from the composers of Hairspray, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.
Daisy Eagan has a weepy moment at age 11, becoming the youngest winner ever (1991)
At 11 years old, Eagan became the youngest winner in history for the musical adaptation of The Secret Garden (which featured a pre—Hedwig and the Angry Inch John Cameron Mitchell), and her waterworks-laden speech tugged at hearts all over the nation.
Mary Martin wins for Peter Pan, becoming the first of only three honorees to ever win a Tony for playing the opposite sex (1955)
Like olden Shakespearean times in reverse, Mary Martin became a boy and waltzed off with a Best Actress in a Musical Tony, which marked the first reverse-gender win. (Hairspray‘s Harvey Fierstein became the second in 2003, and Twelfth Night‘s Mark Rylance and Hedwig and the Angry Inch‘s Lena Hall joined them in 2014.)
The Lion King wins Best Musical, Disney becomes a player, and women win both directing categories for the first time (1998)
Despite The Lion King‘s critical plaudits, sell-out crowds, and visual dazzle, people still expected the more traditional Ragtime to prevail in 1998. But the Mouse House walked off with six Tonys, including one for director Julie Taymor, who, along with Best Director of a Play winner Garry Hynes, became the first female to be honored for directing a production.
Juanita Hall becomes the first African-American Tony winner for South Pacific (1950)
For her portrayal of the shady, money-minded Bloody Mary (who is actually a Pacific Islander), Juanita Hall became the first African-American to win a Tony. (She would later reprise the role in the 1958 film version.)