BEST ROAD SHOW (1998)
No contest. Despite its generally lame music and a plot as original as sin, this show rewrote the book on scenic design and costumes for big-budget musicals. Designer/director Julie Taymor's minimalist evocations of an African savannah and her doppelganger/companion animal costumes went way beyond the call of duty, and spoke to something almost unspeakable about the ways humans communicate with other animals and, ultimately, rely on them--for friendship, for a sense of our own identity, for the knowledge that we're not alone. Runner-up: Chicago, whose sound design was unusually impeccable and whose cast was Broadway-caliber all the way.