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Awards Season

A Salute to the 64th Annual Tony Awards

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A Salute to the 64th Annual Tony Awards
Photo Source: Johann Persson
Though the economy was still in dire straits, Broadway carried on during the 2009-10 season, with visits from such high-voltage marquee names as Hugh Jackman, Daniel Craig, Christopher Walken, Denzel Washington, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Liev Schreiber, and Scarlett Johansson. A little group called Green Day rocked Broadway's world with the stage adaptation of the band's hit album "American Idiot," Twyla Tharp paid tribute to Frank Sinatra in "Come Fly Away," and Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins formed a "Million Dollar Quartet."

"Fela!," Bill T. Jones' combination dance party, concert, and musical biography, transferred to the Main Stem from its Off-Broadway run, as did Geoffrey Nauffts' tender and moving play "Next Fall." "Red" and "Time Stands Still" offered searing portraits of artists coping with crises, while Sarah Ruhl's "In the Next Room or the vibrator play" captured the repressive Victorian era. Broadway fare also examined race relations in the 1950s ("Memphis") and today ("Race"). We were given new perspectives on familiar works like "A Little Night Music," "La Cage aux Folles," "Fences," "A View From the Bridge," and "Hamlet." But while revivals of "Brighton Beach Memoirs," "Ragtime," and "Finian's Rainbow" had their champions, they fell victim to weak box-office performance.

As the season ends, we salute all 39 actors nominated for Tony Awards. They range from veterans such as Rosemary Harris, Angela Lansbury, and Barbara Cook to first-time nominees like Levi Kreis, Montego Glover, and Maria Dizzia. The awards will be handed out June 13 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The ceremony will be broadcast on CBS, and Back Stage will be there on the red carpet.

David Sheward
Executive Editor, New York
Back Stage


Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play

Jude Law
'Hamlet'
Back Stage's David Sheward may have been less than thrilled by Michael Grandage's "uneven staging" of the Donmar Warehouse production of "Hamlet" that moved last fall from the West End to Broadway, but his feelings about its star were just a tad more positive. "Law is a Hamlet to remember, bringing exciting physical life to each line and gesture," Sheward wrote. "This dynamic film star proves he's more than just a pretty face as he invests Hamlet's quest for revenge with an intellectual vigor and an athletic attack." Jude Law is, of course, pretty, and the physicality of his Dane was noted by detractors and admirers alike. But many saw more than just athleticism in his performance, and liked it. As Time Out New York's David Cote wrote, "He holds court at the center of his scenes with an intensity, intelligence, and awestruck wonder that puts most Hamlets I've seen to shame."

For this performance, Law was also nominated for Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. He was previously nominated for a Tony in 1995.

Alfred Molina
'Red'
The New York Times' Ben Brantley called Alfred Molina's turn in "Red"—another import from London's Donmar Warehouse, also staged by Michael Grandage—"his strongest Broadway performance to date." That's no small praise to heap on a guy who was already nominated for Tonys in 1998 for "Art" and in 2004 for "Fiddler on the Roof." But as the painter Mark Rothko in John Logan's two-hander, Molina, according to Brantley, "embraces the artist's egotism unconditionally, and he makes us feel the necessity of an overweening, humorless vanity." John Lahr of The New Yorker was equally impressed. "As Rothko, the strapping Molina burns up the stage," Lahr wrote. "Head shaved, striding across the studio with his barrel chest thrust forward, he is all feistiness and creative ferocity. Even in silence, he exudes a remarkable gravity."

For this performance, Molina won the Drama League's Distinguished Performance Award and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award. He was previously nominated for Tonys in 1998 and 2004.

Liev Schreiber
'A View From the Bridge'
Liev Schreiber is, as Back Stage's David Sheward noted, "one of the few American star-level actors to return to the stage on a regular basis." That is true. And the man gets attention pretty much every time he makes said return, having won a Tony for "Glengarry Glen Ross" in 2005 and been nominated for "Talk Radio" in 2007. Sheward praised Schreiber's performance in the revival of Arthur Miller's "A View From the Bridge" with an eating analogy: The actor "sinks his teeth into this meaty steak of a character and has a regular feast." Adam Feldman of Time Out New York chose cooking terms to praise Schreiber's Eddie, writing, "This is ultimately Schreiber's play, and his hooded emotionality—first guarded, then blubbering—is exquisitely matched to Eddie's self-deflating sense of manhood: menacing in simmer but pathetic in boil."

For this performance, Schreiber won a Drama Desk Award and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle award. He won a Tony in 2005 for "Glengarry Glen Ross" and was nominated in 2007.

Christopher Walken
'A Behanding in Spokane'
It's possible that Christopher Walken is best known—to those under age 35, at least—for poking fun at himself in low-grade comedies and the occasional episode of "Saturday Night Live." But according to The Hollywood Reporter's Frank Scheck, Walken's performance in Martin McDonagh's new play "A Behanding in Spokane" is "proof that the actor still has game." On the evidence of his brilliant performance, Walken "should have returned to the stage a long time ago," Scheck wrote. "Fueling the evening with his endlessly entertaining physical mannerisms, offbeat comic timing, and hilarious vocal inflections, Walken lifts this slight shaggy-dog story into the comic stratosphere." The Chicago Tribune's Chris Jones echoed that sentiment, calling "Behanding" an "interim joke" for McDonagh, then adding, "In Walken, it has the perfect standup."

For this performance, Walken was also nominated for Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. He was previously nominated for a Tony in 2000.

Denzel Washington
'Fences'
Following James Earl Jones is an imposing task—but also one that, by most accounts, Denzel Washington has proved more than up to in the Broadway revival of August Wilson's "Fences," in which he plays Troy Maxson, a role originated by Jones. In his review, Back Stage's Erik Haagensen called Washington "magnificent," adding, "Troy is a character of Shakespearean dimension, and Washington doesn't miss a facet, in particular investing the uneducated Troy, who can't read, with a piercing, sardonic intelligence. The performance is so powerful that during the play's final scene, set on the day of Troy's funeral, this patriarch still thoroughly dominates." Jason Clark of Slant Magazine gave Washington equal due, writing, "Washington gives a revelatory performance here."

For this performance, Washington won an Outer Critics Circle Award. This is his first Tony nomination.



Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play


Viola Davis
'Fences'
Apparently, Viola Davis doesn't do Broadway without a Tony nomination. She's now had three in three appearances. But for the first time, she's up for leading rather than featured actress, for her powerful performance as Rose Maxson, wife of Tony-nominated Denzel Washington's Troy, in the revival of August Wilson's "Fences." Mary Alice, who originated the role, took home a Tony in the featured category for her work opposite the legendary James Earl Jones. But the Tonys are nothing if not inconsistent (Dick Van Dyke won as best featured actor for "Bye Bye Birdie," for example), and the role is certainly important enough to be a lead, so it's probably the excellent Alice who was placed in the wrong category. What's more, the strength of Davis' notices makes hers stand out in an extraordinary collection of performances. More than one critic, including Back Stage's Erik Haagensen, called her "astonishing." "Electric" is another adjective he employed, going on to note that Davis "makes Rose's response to Troy's betrayal so brutal that the audience gasps." We'll see if Davis does some happier gasping of her own come Tony night.

For this performance, Davis won a Drama Desk Award (in the category outstanding featured actress in a play) and an Outer Critics Circle Award. She won a Tony in 2001 for "King Hedley II" and was nominated in 1996.

Valerie Harper
'Looped'
Valerie Harper achieved stardom as Rhoda, Mary Tyler Moore's sidekick on her 1970s sitcom, but she began her career as a Broadway baby, appearing as a dancer in "Take Me Along," "Wildcat," and "Subways Are for Sleeping" in the early 1960s. Harper was also part of the brilliant ensemble in the 1971 hit "Paul Sills' Story Theatre," playing a dizzying variety of roles, from Venus to a farmer's wife to Henny Penny. So the formidable stage chops she displayed incarnating Tallulah Bankhead in Matthew Lombardo's "Looped" should have come as no surprise. Faced with the difficult task of making a much-caricatured star into a human being, Harper succeeded beyond expectation, as Back Stage's David Sheward pointed out: "She's not just doing a funny impersonation…. She invests the heavier moments with the same honesty and concentration as the big-yuck payoffs." Nevertheless, he noted, "Her timing on the laugh lines is impeccable, and her follow-up reactions wring every last guffaw from them." The result? "A tour de force."

This is Harper's first Tony nomination.

Linda Lavin
'Collected Stories'
This is not Linda Lavin's first brush with Donald Margulies' play "Collected Stories," having played the role of writer Ruth Steiner in 1999 at L.A.'s Geffen Playhouse, a production that was subsequently taped for PBS, and then again at her own Red Barn Theater in North Carolina. Clearly, she knows it's a good fit for her, and Manhattan Theatre Club, which produced the play's debut Off-Broadway in 1997, agreed. With a long and varied career covering everything from musicals to sitcoms to serious drama, Lavin, says David Sheward, is giving "a master class in acting." He elucidates why when discussing how Lavin plays her climactic scene, in which Ruth grapples with the betrayal of a protégé and close friend: "Ruth has been through a debilitating illness and is suffering from a cold. Rather than ranting and raving, Lavin eats soup and cottage cheese, blows her nose, and piles on blankets to keep warm. It's a brilliant tutorial in physicalizing an objective—treating her sickness—rather than 'acting' a generalized feeling."

Lavin won a Tony in 1987 for "Broadway Bound" and was nominated for Tonys in 1970, 1998, and 2001.

Laura Linney
'Time Stands Still'
Laura Linney is fast becoming playwright Donald Margulies' muse. They first joined forces in 1992, when Linney had a small part Off-Broadway in Manhattan Theatre Club's production of his play "Sight Unseen." When MTC revived that play on Broadway in 2004, Linney graduated to the lead and wound up with a Tony nomination. Now she has created the role of Sarah Goodwin, a tough photojournalist, in MTC's presentation of the Pulitzer Prize winner's latest play, "Time Stands Still," and once again is up for the Tony. If a minority of critics, Back Stage's Erik Haagensen among them, felt the play wasn't quite up to Margulies' best, there was virtual unanimity on the high quality of Linney's performance. Indeed, Haagensen made his admiration the lead of his review: "Linney proves yet again she's one of our finest actors. Even when others are speaking, we are drawn back to Linney, watching her reveal more and more simply by listening and observing. I can think of no one today who achieves quite the same empathetic translucency." Is this the year Tony and its perennial best-actress bridesmaid finally tie the knot?

For this performance, Linney was also nominated for Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. She was previously nominated for Tonys in 2002 and 2005.

Jan Maxwell
'The Royal Family'
It's not often that an actor is nominated for two Tonys in a single season, but Jan Maxwell has turned the trick, up this year for her work in two of the four shows nominated for best revival: a commercial presentation of Ken Ludwig's "Lend Me a Tenor," as best featured actress, and Manhattan Theatre Club's production of George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's theatrical valentine "The Royal Family," as best leading actress. Interestingly, both performances feature manically comic meltdowns, though "Family" is not the full-out farce "Tenor" is. That's doubly unusual, because when actors pull off the two-in-one coup that Maxwell has, it's usually for contrasting roles. Calling her work as leading lady Julie Cavendish "magnificent," David Sheward made note of Maxwell's combination of "off-the-wall comic desperation with a refined sense of poise," calling the result "totally convincing as that extinct species, a national star of the stage." With Maxwell's rapidly expanding body of excellent work, however, that species may not be quite so extinct these days.

For this performance, Maxwell won a Drama Desk Award and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle award. She was previously nominated for Tonys in 2005 and 2007.



Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical


Kelsey Grammer
'La Cage aux Folles'
The role of Albin may be the flashier one in "La Cage aux Folles," but Georges, the owner of the title club and the steadier, calming influence in this couple, provides the rock-solid foundation so that Albin can take off on his flights of fancy. It's a somewhat thankless role, but Kelsey Grammer brings out Georges' devilish charm and deep love for Albin. The actor makes a complete about-face from his buttoned-up "Frasier" role when he gives this emcee of "La Cage" an outrageously seductive style, openly flirting with male audience members in the front row. Frank Scheck of The Hollywood Reporter summed up Grammer's career trajectory toward Georges: "The actor most recently appeared on Broadway in an ill-fated stab at 'Macbeth,' which was simply too jarring for audiences that had grown used to his comic 'Frasier' persona. But, as he proved in a concert version of 'My Fair Lady' here a few years back, he's a natural musical leading man. Displaying a fine baritone voice and, less surprisingly, superb comic timing, his Georges commands the proceedings."

This is Grammer's first Tony nomination.

Sean Hayes
'Promises, Promises'
Sitcom stars are often confined to playing variations on the roles that made them famous. Sean Hayes, best known as the flamboyant and flaky Jack MacFarland on the long-running series "Will & Grace," appears to be breaking away from that curse. Two summers ago he displayed a devilish wit and impressive musical ability as the impish Applegate in the Encores! presentation of "Damn Yankees." Now he's going further by endearing himself to theatergoers as the corruptible but lovable corporate climber Chuck Baxter in the Broadway revival of "Promises, Promises." Chuck commits some pretty sleazy acts, such as lending out his bachelor pad to randy executives for adulterous trysts. But Hayes maintains a sweet demeanor and gains our affection through his self-effacing delivery of the Burt Bacharach–Hal David score and the Neil Simon monologues spoken directly to the audience. As Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post wrote, "The 'Will & Grace' star is a revelation. Chuck is a paradox—a self-effacing lead—but the actor handles the transitions between the character's passive bearing and his active imagination with dexterity."

For this performance, Hayes was also nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award. This is his first Tony nomination.

Douglas Hodge
'La Cage aux Folles'
With both the original production and a recent revival of "La Cage aux Folles" still fresh in the memories of many theatergoers, some theater pundits wondered if yet another staging of the Jerry Herman–Harvey Fierstein tuner was a good idea. But when Douglas Hodge, Olivier Award–winning star of the Menier Chocolate Factory's London production, burst onstage in the Broadway transfer as Albin, the drag star of the title establishment, all doubts vanished. As Back Stage's David Sheward wrote, "Hodge is a master comic and devilish mimic…. Not only is Hodge at home in the glittering make-believe world of 'La Cage,' but he makes Albin a loving partner for Georges and a caring parent to Georges' son, Jean-Michel. For the first time, I actually believed Georges and Albin as a devoted longtime couple, and the silly plot involving hiding their gayness from Jean-Michel's conservative prospective in-laws had an added resonance. When the onstage and backstage worlds collide in 'I Am What I Am,' Albin's anthem of self-expression, Hodge shows us both a consummate performer and a betrayed husband defiantly holding on to his identity."

For this performance, Hodge won a Drama Desk Award and an Outer Critics Circle Award. This is his first Tony nomination.

Chad Kimball
'Memphis'
Chad Kimball has come a long way since his Broadway debut in the revival of "Into the Woods," in which he played a cow. After that inauspicious beginning, Kimball appeared in small roles in the flops "Good Vibrations"
and "Lennon." But the fourth time is the charm for the young actor-singer, who goes from supporting player to star with his charismatic performance as disc jockey Huey in "Memphis." Back Stage's David Sheward noted in his review, "Resembling a young George W. Bush both physically and vocally, Kimball combines laid-back charm with an irresistible rough energy. He really
does appear to be an uneducated country boy with an ear for what the kids will listen to rather than just another New York singer-actor putting on a Southern accent."

For this performance, Kimball was also nominated for Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. This is his first Tony nomination.

Sahr Ngaujah
'Fela!'
When "Fela!" opened Off-Broadway last season, everyone wanted to know who Sahr Ngaujah was and where he came from. The amazingly talented star of Bill T. Jones' "Fela!," a combination dance party, concert, and biography of the Nigerian musician-activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, seemed to come out of nowhere. Raised in Indiana and Georgia, Ngaujah spent several years in Europe performing in underground theater and returned to the States to audition for his current gig, which moved to Broadway last November. The show is set in the Shrine, Fela's nightclub in the capital city of Lagos. Government forces have surrounded the club, and Fela is giving a final performance before he is arrested for acts against the brutal state. Through songs, dance, and scenes from memory and dreams, he retells his volatile life story. As David Sheward wrote in his Back Stage review, "Sahr Ngaujah repeats his exciting performance from the Off-Broadway version. Not only does Ngaujah project Fela's wicked sense of humor, charismatic sexuality, and fiery temperament; he also inhabits several other characters, including an annoying British journalist and a sadistic Nigerian general. He even plays a mean saxophone and trumpet."

For this performance, Ngaujah won an Obie Award and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for the show's Off-Broadway run last season. He won a Theatre World Award for the Broadway production. This is his first Tony nomination.



Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical


Kate Baldwin
'Finian's Rainbow'
Despite its unfortunately short run, the revival of "Finian's Rainbow" garnered arguably the most glowing set of critical notices of any Broadway show this season. Chief among its attractions was Kate Baldwin's warm, gutsy Sharon McLonergan. It was Baldwin's first chance to create a leading role on the Main Stem, and she sure didn't waste it. Whether Sharon was battling feistily with her beloved father, Jim Norton's pixilated Finian; flirting merrily with Christopher Fitzgerald's antic leprechaun, Og; or striking sexual sparks with Cheyenne Jackson's hunky Woody Mahoney, the preternaturally composed Baldwin riveted attention by, as Back Stage critic Erik Haagensen put it, finding "strength through stillness." It didn't hurt matters that her singing was, in Haagensen's word, "glorious." Her renditions of such Burton Lane–E.Y. Harburg standards as "Old Devil Moon," "Look to the Rainbow," and "How Are Things in Glocca Morra" seemed newly minted and fully rooted in character. Hers is one of three auspicious debuts in this category.

For this performance, Baldwin was also nominated for Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. This is her first Tony nomination.

Montego Glover
'Memphis'
The second debut belongs to Montego Glover, who plays Felicia, an up-and-coming singer, in Joe DiPietro and David Bryan's "Memphis," one of only two musicals with original scores to open on Broadway this season. "Memphis" charts the forbidden interracial romance of the African-American Felicia and the white disc jockey Huey, who is the first to play authentic African-American music on the radio in 1950s Memphis, rather than the more popular sanitized white cover versions. Back Stage critic David Sheward praised Glover's "powerful set of pipes," but it's undoubtedly her soulful acting that clinched the deal on this nomination. Sure, Glover impresses mightily in the various performance numbers she's given in the course of playing a singer, but her way with a book song is even more assured. In fact, it's the combined power of her acting with that of the Tony-nominated Chad Kimball as Huey that elevates "Memphis" above what Sheward termed its "simplistic book."

For this performance, Glover won a Drama Desk Award (in a tie with Catherine Zeta-Jones) and an Outer Critics Circle Award (in a tie with Catherine Zeta-Jones). This is her first Tony nomination.

Christiane Noll
'Ragtime'
Christiane Noll originated her first Broadway role back in 1997: Dr. Jekyll's fiancée, Emma Carew, in Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse's "Jekyll & Hyde." Shockingly, except for a brief 1999 stint as a replacement in the musical revue "It Ain't Nothin' but the Blues," she hasn't been back since. That's not to say she's been cooling her heels. Noll has a thriving concert career and has been seen in many an Off-Broadway and regional production, including a well-received 2006 turn in Back Stage critic Erik Haagensen's musical "A Fine and Private Place" at the York Theatre Company. Now, for the first time, she's had a chance to show Broadway what many audiences have already discovered: She's a superb actor. As David Sheward put it, "As the strong-willed Mother, Noll clearly details every step of this woman's journey from protected housewife to self-aware individual. During her intense delivery of 'Back to Before,' you can feel her uncertainty changing to conviction as she realizes that her world has changed forever, and for the better." And with this nomination, it's likely Noll's world has changed for the better as well.

For this performance, Noll was also nominated for a Drama Desk Award. This is her first Tony nomination.

Sherie Rene Scott
'Everyday Rapture'
The lone veteran in this category, Sherie Rene Scott has already created sizeable Broadway roles in "Aida," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," and "The Little Mermaid." But she's got a unique challenge this time at bat, because she's playing herself—well, what's termed a "fictionalized version" of herself—in this autobiographical musical produced by Roundabout Theatre Company. When the show debuted Off-Broadway at Second Stage last spring, Back Stage critic Adam R. Perlman called it "the role of her career" and praised Scott's "dazzling array of tools: Vain and vulnerable, silly and sexy, wistful and wise, she's a mess of contradictions as riveting as Bernadette, Patti, or any of those divas who don't need three names but just one." David Sheward checked out the Broadway version and agreed, praising Scott's "insightful self-examination, razzle-dazzle showmanship, and dynamite vocals." Also Tony-nominated for her script, written in collaboration with Dick Scanlan, it's a sure bet that Scott has hit a career high point, no doubt experiencing a rapture that's very far from everyday.

For this performance, Scott was also nominated for a Drama Desk Award. She was previously nominated for a Tony in 2005.

Catherine Zeta-Jones
'A Little Night Music'
From the way the box-office grosses plunged during Catherine Zeta-Jones' preplanned absences from the hit revival of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's "A Little Night Music," it's clear that her star power, combined with that of co-star Angela Lansbury, is what's driving the show's financial success. Though Zeta-Jones began her career in the London theater, it's been quite a while since she's trod the boards, so making her Broadway debut in the demanding role of Desiree Armfeldt was quite a risk. But unlike many a Hollywood star who comes to Broadway only to crash and burn, Zeta-Jones has pulled it off, successfully competing with the memory of Tony winner Glynis Johns' performance in the original production, not to mention lauded work over the years by such heavyweights as Jean Simmons, Sally Ann Howes, Dorothy Tutin, Juliet Stevenson, Natasha Richardson, and Judi Dench. Under Trevor Nunn's intimate, Chekhovian direction, Zeta-Jones reinterprets the role with a bawdier, one-of-the-gang approach, winding up with what Erik Haagensen called "a unique and memorable creation, leading to a terrific 'Send in the Clowns,' notable not for its rue but for its self-laceration."

For this performance, Zeta-Jones won a Drama Desk Award (in a tie with Montego Glover) and an Outer Critics Circle Award (in a tie with Montego Glover). This is her first Tony nomination.



Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play


David Alan Grier
'Race'
As the dour, often dry, ever-strategizing Henry, partner in a small law firm defending a white man accused of raping a black woman, in David Mamet's seriocomic "Race," David Alan Grier has his work cut out for him. After all, Henry is a grandmaster of sarcasm, easily given to the stony glare and the vindictive barb. Even when the other characters—James Spader's fellow lawyer and partner, Jack, in particular—occupy center stage, Grier is commandingly present. In a feat of acting that can only result from experience, security, and insight, Grier's Henry never flinches, never misses a beat, even when serving as a mouthpiece for Mamet himself. Watching Henry deliver bruising race-tinged commentary that most of us would never dare utter in public or private is like seeing a successful race to the finish. Grier acquits himself so beautifully because he persuades the jury—that is, the audience—that behind Henry's rabid, racy, radical political humor lies the spirit of a serious and provocative man.

Grier was previously nominated for a Tony in 1982.

Stephen McKinley Henderson
'Fences'
In August Wilson's drama "Fences," the character Jim Bono, played by Stephen McKinley Henderson in the Broadway revival, has two goals. First, he must impart wisdom to Troy Maxson, portrayed by fellow Tony nominee Denzel Washington. For Bono knows that if he should unwisely counsel the soul-searching Troy, with whom he bonded in prison long ago, Troy could easily make a set of self-destructive decisions. Second, once Troy does make those fateful choices, Bono must be equally wise and stay out of the way. For Henderson, essaying his third character in an August Wilson play on Broadway, all this means having an unshakable trust in Wilson's work, a palpable affection for the playwright's enduring genius. Henderson's Bono has brio and bonhomie—and a solid-brick interior. Sure, Wilson has tricks up his sleeve for the character—clunky exposition here, odd character development there. But in the end, Henderson succeeds in revealing Bono's uncomplicated moral core. His Bono, in fact, isn't just a featured character but a superb symbol of the playwright's mystical dramatic universe.

For this performance, Henderson won the Richard Seff Award. This is his first Tony nomination.

Jon Michael Hill
'Superior Donuts'
Performers in New York and L.A. hear endless prattle about the superior ensemble acting of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company. But with Jon Michael Hill's Broadway debut in Tracy Letts' "Superior Donuts," they had a chance to observe one of Steppenwolf's youngest, most promising members in action. The play is set in the titular shop in a slowly gentrifying section of the Windy City, and Hill played Franco Wicks, a young African-American man who effortlessly charms the proprietor, played by Michael McKean, to get a doughnut-making job. Slickness, sass, and a sense of sang-froid are mere arrows in Hill's acting quiver, however. The underlying reason why Wicks wants to work at the shop is sewn subtly into the play by Letts and slowly, carefully revealed. With deftness and grace, Hill laid the groundwork for Letts' plot turns directly within his character, not only endowing Wicks with empathy-inducing light and shade, but presenting the secret life of his character such that Wicks seems part mystery, part morality tale. That's genius.

For this performance, Hill won Outer Critics Circle and Theatre World awards. This is his first Tony nomination.

Stephen Kunken
'Enron'
Staying grounded in the role of Andrew Fastow—protégé to the felonious corporate chieftain at the center of director Rupert Goold's souped-up, whiz-bang production of Lucy Prebbles' "Enron"—was surely not easy. For one thing, there was that scene in which actor Stephen Kunken, playing Fastow, had to face a passel of reptiles called raptors, in perhaps the most fantastical scene in a Broadway play since Andre DeShields played a gorilla in "Prymate" a few years ago. Fortunately, Kunken determined that Fastow, who in real life did help to mastermind Enron's massive false-accounting scheme, should be played as a man, not a concept. Kunken clearly understands, too, that it's far more difficult to play a human being, much less one still alive and still in prison, than it is to swagger about as the embodiment of unchecked capitalistic greed and avarice. But Kunken—whose work as James Reston in "Frost/Nixon" on Broadway was rightly saluted—exhibits a rare quality: the ability to subsume himself in a character while keeping showiness at bay. On anyone's ledger, his "Enron" work was well balanced.

This is Kunken's first Tony nomination.

Eddie Redmayne
'Red'
John Logan's two-hander "Red" asks audiences to endure the volcanic temper and monumental neuroses of artist Mark Rothko. At least Rothko, portrayed by Tony nominee Alfred Molina, was a real individual. In many respects, Molina's counterpart, Eddie Redmayne, has the harder role. He is called upon to infuse and saturate Ken, a mythical assistant to Rothko, with all the trappings and contours of a plausible existence. On the surface, Redmayne proves game for the task, masking his native British accent behind a pitchy, mildly nasal Midwestern twang. Yet it's what Redmayne discovers by exploring Ken's shape-shifting, subterranean qualities that proves astonishing; his work is as fine a model of theatrical veracity as director Michael Grandage could expect. Young Ken, wide-eyed and green, saddled with a tragic past, is more a servant of Rothko's than an assistant—the play, after all, does revolve around the artist and the art of making art. By the time the play is over, however, Redmayne has proved there are two creative masters on stage, each one elegantly framed.

For this performance, Redmayne won a Theatre World Award and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award. This is his first Tony nomination.



Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play


Maria Dizzia
'In the Next Room or the vibrator play'
A lot of good buzz surrounded Maria Dizzia in her Broadway debut, as a dispirited 19th-century wife in Sarah Ruhl's riotous and absorbing "In the Next Room or the vibrator play." As Mrs. Daldry, a woman whose hysteria is treated by the medical ministrations of an early-model vibrator, Dizzia delivered more than a mere comedic tour de force, although she certainly earned lots of laughs as her character went from limp and listless to robust and rosy-cheeked. She brought a beguiling innocence to Mrs. Daldry's slow and steady self-discovery, as the woman released her inhibitions (and more) and emerged from her stimulating treatments fresh and liberated. Her transformation was the play's driving force, and Dizzia navigated her character's journey with aplomb.

This is Dizzia's first Tony nomination.

Rosemary Harris
'The Royal Family'
While chaos unfurled around her in "The Royal Family," Rosemary Harris remained a beacon of equanimity. In her first Broadway appearance since "Waiting in the Wings" a decade ago, she was brilliant as Fanny Cavendish, the retired, but definitely not retiring, matriarch of a devoted, slightly batty family of thespians. The fictional world that Harris inhabited is one she knows well. She truly has spent a life in the theater—she even played Fanny's daughter, Julie, in the play's 1975 Broadway production—and this is the 82-year-old's ninth Tony nomination. Maybe the reason she hasn't won more than once (for "The Lion in Winter") is that the best actors make their labors look effortless. She positively sparkled in a scene in which Fanny describes the joys of her profession, and for Harris those pleasures still seem plentiful.

For this performance, Harris was also nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award. She won a Tony in 1966 for "The Lion in Winter" and was nominated in 1972, 1976, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1996, and 2000.

Jessica Hecht
'A View From the Bridge'
The marketing campaign for the Broadway revival of "A View From the Bridge" pegged the show as a star vehicle for Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson. Jessica Hecht may not have a marquee name, but her wonderful performance as Beatrice, wife to Schreiber's Eddie Carbone, was just as deeply felt and riveting as theirs. It's not surprising. Since making her Broadway debut in "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" in 1997, Hecht has become something of a go-to gal for steady celebrity support in Broadway plays. She shared the stage with Denzel Washington in "Julius Caesar" and with Peter Krause and Carla Gugino in "After the Fall." As Beatrice awakened to her husband's desire for his niece, Hecht deftly depicted a woman struggling to keep her family intact, and audiences went on a harrowing emotional journey with her.

This is Hecht's first Tony nomination.

Scarlett Johansson
'A View From the Bridge'
Movie stars young and old still trek to New York for their Broadway debuts, but few make the stellar impression that Scarlett Johansson did in "A View From the Bridge," let alone pick up a Tony nomination in the process. The 25-year-old actor was simply sensational starring opposite a theatrical force as powerful as Liev Schreiber. Not only did she seamlessly transform herself into an unsophisticated 1950s girl; she breathed vibrant life into Catherine's complex emotional predicaments, coping with her uncle's increasingly uncomfortable affections and falling in love for the first time. Devoid of glamour, Johansson blended perfectly into Arthur Miller's working-class Brooklyn world. She's currently starring in a Hollywood blockbuster ("Iron Man 2") but, hopefully, won't wait long before booking a return trip to Broadway.

For this performance, Johansson won a Theatre World Award and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award. This is her first Tony nomination.

Jan Maxwell
'Lend Me a Tenor'
No matter the role, Jan Maxwell is bound to be up to the task. Need a funny actor-singer for a musical comedy like "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"? She's your gal. A dramatically dexterous performer who can plumb the depths of her character's despair, as she did in "Sixteen Wounded"? Give her a call. But we got to see her do what she does best—broad comedic characters—twice this season and earn two Tony nods. For a small role in "Lend Me a Tenor," she's been nominated for best featured actress in a play. As Maria, the volatile wife of Anthony LaPaglia's blustering opera divo, Maxwell turns a minimal amount of stage time into comedic gold. Actresses often lament the lack of roles for older women, but Maxwell's stage career is ablaze and shows no signs of cooling off.

For this performance, Maxwell won an Outer Critics Circle Award. She was previously nominated for Tonys in 2005 and 2007.



Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical


Kevin Chamberlin
'The Addams Family'
Kevin Chamberlin's Uncle Fester in "The Addams Family" is quirky, creepy, and in the end just an old sentimentalist. It is one hell of a fun performance, especially as he breaks the fourth wall and invites the audience to come on board. In Chamberlin's sly and comic vision, Uncle Fester, who is in an advanced state of decomposition, is also charming and entertaining, perhaps nowhere more vividly than in the number "The Moon and Me," in which he glides about, extolling the virtues of the moon and his everlasting love for the celestial body as if it were a woman. His high-pitched, periodically cracking voice, hokey though it may be, is very funny. In addition to singing, dancing, and having impeccable timing, Chamberlin also plays multiple instruments, in this instance displaying his ukulele talents. Also evident throughout is Chamberlin's feel-good rapport with his fellow actors.

For this performance, Chamberlin was also nominated for Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. He was previously nominated for Tonys in 2000 and 2001.

Robin De Jesús
'La Cage aux Folles'
Though Robin De Jesús has a relatively small role in "La Cage aux Folles," as the fame-hungry "maid" Jacob, he is a scene stealer. That's not bad considering the top-notch company he's keeping. Saucy, manipulative, deadpan, and campy, Jacob is an oddly traditional creation who is also very much a product of our tell-all, show-all era. It is not hard to envision him prancing about on one of the televised talent competitions or strutting his stuff on YouTube. He is the ultimate embodiment of "living out loud," unabashedly, brazenly, and joyously. In De Jesús' totally zany concoction, which works precisely because of its wonderful incongruity, Jacob is clearly not a French native at all but rather a Bronx transplant who has unaccountably materialized on the Riviera.

For this performance, De Jesús was also nominated for a Drama Desk Award. He was previously nominated for a Tony in 2008.

Christopher Fitzgerald
'Finian's Rainbow'
In the hands of comic actor Christopher Fitzgerald, the fugitive leprechaun Og in "Finian's Rainbow" was at once lusty, gutsy, and totally guileless. Fitzgerald has charm to spare in addition to top-notch musical chops. When he sang the iconic "When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love," it was a hilarious and charismatic number. One felt Og's adolescent dilemma. Fitzgerald is also a nimble dancer, who gracefully suggested klutziness as Og's ill-fitting clothes increasingly shrank with each passing scene. But perhaps most impressive, beneath all the whimsy, Fitzgerald's Og was almost vulnerable as he grappled with falling in love and mortality. The audience felt him struggling with the loss of his leprechaun powers as he moved on, despite himself, to become fully human.

For this performance, Fitzgerald won a Drama Desk Award. He was previously nominated for a Tony in 2008.

Levi Kreis
'Million Dollar Quartet'
Straddling the fine line between impersonation and interpretation, Levi Kreis manages to evoke the frenetic, high-octane energy of rocker Jerry Lee Lewis in "Million Dollar Quartet" while hinting at the musician's sense of himself as an outsider and a newcomer to the music scene. In the impromptu gathering of megastars, it's clear Lewis knows he's up against the heavy hitters—Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash—and there's a great deal at stake. Indeed, his desire to be part of the club is palpable, despite his manic grinning, sly commentary, one-upmanship, and brash piano-playing style: bolting upright, kicking the piano bench away, and banging those ivories. One thing is certain: Lewis' demented persona coupled with his hillbilly sensibility is pure entertainment, whether he's interacting with the guys, flirting with Elvis' lady of the hour, or singing up a storm on "Great Balls of Fire" or "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On."

For this performance, Kreis won an Outer Critics Circle Award. This is his first Tony nomination.

Bobby Steggert
'Ragtime'
As Mother's Younger Brother in the now-closed revival of "Ragtime," Bobby Steggert brought an unexpected complexity and ambiguity to the aspiring radical seeking a worthy cause. The character is an idealistic young man saddened by the injustice and inequality all around him. Yet what most defines him is his sense of aimlessness. His is an insulated and isolated life devoid of purpose, until he joins Coalhouse and his band of revolutionaries. For the first time he has a direction, though it costs him his life. What made Steggert's performance so striking—indeed, nuanced and poignant—was that the character's actions were not altogether altruistic. They were also expressions of loneliness and his yearning for meaning. Perhaps he, more than any other character on stage, embodied the contradictions of a society on the cusp of a seismic shift.

For this performance, Steggert was also nominated for Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. This is his first Tony nomination.



Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical


Barbara Cook
'Sondheim on Sondheim'
One of the biggest laughs in the revue "Sondheim on Sondheim" comes when Barbara Cook, playing a hopeful young singer auditioning for an Off-Broadway show, is told, "We were looking for someone with more experience." The joke derives from the absurdity of such a statement. Few active musical theater performers have more experience than Cook, and every minute of it shows in her virtuoso turn. This veteran of the golden age of the Broadway musical creates a galaxy of emotions and characters, including the desperate Fosca from "Passion," the self-deluding Sally from "Follies," and an argumentative lover comically quibbling with Tom Wopat's character in the song "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" from "Company." In each, her golden voice still thrills. It's ironic that Cook is nominated as a featured performer when she is clearly a leading lady here. Her first Tony was also for a featured role, although as Marion the Librarian in the original production of "The Music Man," she was unquestionably a star.

For this performance, Cook was also nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award. She won a Tony in 1958 for "The Music Man" and was nominated in 2002.

Katie Finneran
'Promises, Promises'
It's rare that a supporting player with only two scenes steals a show from a pair of top-billed stars, but that's exactly what Katie Finneran does as the dotty and dipsomaniac pickup Margie MacDougall in the Broadway revival of "Promises, Promises." Margie is alone on New Year's Eve and in need of company, but she doesn't want Chuck Baxter, played by Sean Hayes, to think she's easy. Without going overboard, Finneran skillfully enacts the push-pull game of desire and drunkenness that Margie plays with Chuck through a hilarious bar scene and the wry number "A Fact Can Be a Beautiful Thing." Even critics who weren't crazy about the show itself praised Finneran's performance. Ben Brantley of The New York Times found that the revival "comes fully to life only briefly, at the beginning of its second act, when a comic volcano named Katie Finneran erupts into molten hilarity."

For this performance, Finneran won a Drama Desk Award and an Outer Critics Circle Award. She won a Tony in 2002 for "Noises Off."

Angela Lansbury
'A Little Night Music'
When Angela Lansbury received her record-breaking fifth Tony Award last season, for her delightfully daffy Madame Arcati in the revival of "Blithe Spirit," it would not have been unreasonable to conclude it would be her final trip to the Radio City Music Hall stage to pick up Broadway's highest honor. But the indefatigable star is back in the running for yet another indelible performance, this time as a totally different Madame. As the worldly-wise Madame Armfeldt in the scaled-down Menier Chocolate Factory production of Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music," Lansbury is on stage for a relatively brief time and her character is confined to a wheelchair, yet she haunts the audience's imagination. Her rendition of the wistful "Liaisons" conjures a past full of glamorous palaces and enjoyable sexual conquests, yet also expresses Madame Armfeldt's heartfelt regret that those days are gone forever. This cynical former courtesan joins Mame, the countess in "Dear World," Mama Rose, and Mrs. Lovett in Lansbury's gallery of unforgettable musical portraits.

For this performance, Lansbury was also nominated for Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. She won Tonys in 1966 for "Mame," in 1969 for "Dear World," in 1975 for "Gypsy," in 1979 for "Sweeney Todd," and in 2009 for "Blithe Spirit," and was nominated in 2007.

Karine Plantadit
'Come Fly Away'
Like a graceful cheetah, Karine Plantadit takes possession of the fantasy nightclub that is the main setting for "Come Fly Away," choreographer-director Twyla Tharp's dreamy tribute to the music of Frank Sinatra. As Back Stage critic David Sheward enthused, she is "ready to savage or ravish the first attractive man to catch her stunning eye. Dressed by costume designer Katherine Roth in a copper-toned shift…Plantadit stalks the dance floor for fresh meat and leaps into the fray with abandon when she finds it. Her partner is Keith Roberts, a Tharp veteran, who matches her intensity in 'That's Life,' the highlight of the show, in which the two throw each other around the stage like intoxicated wrestlers." Raised in Cameroon and trained in West Africa and France, Plantadit was a soloist with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for seven years. Her sensual, sexy performance shows she has the potential to solo on Broadway as well.

This is Plantadit's first Tony nomination.

Lilias White
'Fela!'
Lilias White probably has the toughest assignment of any musical actor on Broadway this season. Not only did she take over an important role with an already established company, but she has to give life and body to a memory figure with almost no spoken dialogue. White joined the cast of "Fela!" as Mama Kuti, the late mother of the title character, after the show's successful Off-Broadway run last season. The role represents the spiritual presence of the Nigerian musician-activist's mother, who was killed while fighting for her country's freedom. But the fiercely talented singer-actor brings vitality to this disembodied spirit. As David Sheward wrote in his Back Stage review of the Broadway transfer, "Though the character appears as a ghost, White endows her with passionate nobility, as her soaring voice cries for justice and urges her son to remain true to his principles."

White won a Tony in 1997 for "The Life."

Written by Erik Haagensen, Daniel Holloway, Simi Horwitz, Leonard Jacobs, David Sheward, and Diane Snyder

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