10 Groundbreaking Broadway Musicals

West Side Story' musical
Actors and dancers perform in a 50th anniversary production of 'West Side Story,' at Paris' Chatelet Theatre, 2007. PIERRE VERDY/AFP/Getty Images

Back in 1866, a New York theater producer was juggling two shows: One was a melodrama about man who'd sold his soul to the devil and then regretted it (as people are wont to do). The other was a revue featuring a troupe of sexy — for the 19th century — French dancers. The theater he'd booked for the dancers was damaged in a fire. Not having anywhere else to hold that second show, he decided to incorporate the dancers in the melodrama.

The result was the first Broadway musical. By that we mean, a live play featuring music and a "book" — the narration that moves the story forward and keeps the production from being just a collection of songs. That first musical was called "The Black Crook" and was enormously popular — it toured for decades and was even revived in 2016 [source: Viagas].

Since then, there have been musicals on just about every topic under the sun, whether it's a group of cute orphans ("Annie"), some foul-mouthed puppets ("Avenue Q") or the wife of an Argentinian dictator ("Evita"). Not all musicals originate on Broadway, but the most iconic have spent some time there. Broadway, of course, is the famous district in Manhattan spanning 41st to 53rd streets (between Sixth and Ninth avenues), with 40 theaters to its credit. Ironically, only four of these actually have Broadway addresses. Broadway is big business for NYC, too, selling more than 13 million tickets and injecting more than $16 billion into New York's economy during 2017 [source: Broadway League].

The list of impactful musicals is enormous but the 10 we've chosen to feature stand out as exceptionally groundbreaking. Here they are in chronological order, using the date of their Broadway debuts.