Get ready for the awards on June 12 and brush up on your knowledge of the 39 acting nominees with Back Stage's annual Tony Awards voters guide.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Brian Bedford, "The Importance of Being Earnest"
Back Stage's David Sheward called the Roundabout Theatre Company's staging of "The Importance of Being Earnest" the "sharpest production" of the Oscar Wilde comedy he had ever seen. But Sheward saved his highest praise for Brian Bedford, who directs and also stars in drag as Lady Bracknell. "This is no stunt casting," Sheward wrote. "Bedford makes a convincing woman without stooping to drag-queen excesses or even raising his voice to a falsetto. His timing, pauses, and reactions are all pitch-perfect." Bedford has professed himself "not a huge fan of drag," but his performance in frock has garnered near-universal praise—which is all the more impressive, given the potential for sniping the casting could have engendered. The lack of complaints about his performance is as much a credit to it as the acclaim is.
For this performance, Bedford won Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards in the category of outstanding featured actor in a play. He won a Tony in 1971 for "The School for Wives" and was also nominated in 1992, 1994, 1995, 1997, and 2003.
Bobby Cannavale, "The Motherf**ker With the Hat"
In Stephen Adly Guirgis' "The Motherf**ker With the Hat," Bobby Cannavale has the odd task of playing the lead while sharing the stage with one of the most recognizable performers on the planet. Reviews for Chris Rock's supporting work have ranged from "solid" to "meh," but Cannavale's performance has been warmly received—so warm that The New York Times' Ben Brantley called him "blazingly good." As ex-con and sort of recovering alcoholic Jackie, Cannavale shines brightest in a strong cast. "Cannavale is a ferociously compelling Jackie," USA Today's Elysa Gardner wrote, "embracing the character's pain and his flaws but also conveying a certain rough dignity."
For this performance, Cannavale won a Drama Desk Award and a Theatre World Award for outstanding ensemble and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award. He was previously nominated for a Tony in 2008.
Joe Mantello, "The Normal Heart"
Joe Mantello sets the John Golden stage ablaze as Ned Weeks, a Jewish writer at the dawn of the AIDS epidemic, in the revival of Larry Kramer's "The Normal Heart"—which was awarded a special citation by the New York Drama Critics' Circle. His performance is especially remarkable since it's a return to acting after several years of a successful directing career. "I've seen Davis, Grey, and Raúl Esparza play three quite different but equally memorable Neds," wrote Back Stage's Erik Haagensen. "Now Joe Mantello, one of today's finest directors, back on Broadway as an actor for the first time since 'Angels in America,' gives the role his own idiosyncratic spin that's as blazing and brilliant as his predecessors.' "
For this performance, Mantello won a Drama Desk Award as a member of the outstanding ensemble and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award. As a director, he won Tonys in 2003 for "Take Me Out" and in 2004 for "Assassins" and was also nominated in 1995 and 2005. He was nominated for performance in 1993.
Al Pacino, "The Merchant of Venice"
Few performances were more hyped this season than Al Pacino's in The Public Theatre's transfer of "The Merchant of Venice" from Shakespeare in the Park to Broadway—and few were as widely praised. "Shylock has been played as a heartless villain and an innocent victim of anti-Semitism, but Pacino combines elements of both to create a multilayered interpretation of arguably Shakespeare's most controversial character," Back Stage's David Sheward wrote. The New York Times' Ben Brantley offered similar praise: "Taking on one of the juiciest and most unsavory roles in the canon, Mr. Pacino avoids the classic characterizations of Shylock as either devil or martyr."
For this performance, Pacino was nominated for Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. He won Tonys in 1969 for "Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?" and in 1977 for "The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel."
Mark Rylance, "Jerusalem"
As the drug-dealing, hard-partying, earth-shaking rascal in Jez Butterworth's "Jerusalem"—a transfer from London's Royal Court Theatre—Mark Rylance is at the center of one of the season's most divisive plays. Many love it (the New York Drama Critics' Circle named it the best foreign play of the season), some hate it. But Rylance has earned acclaim for his turn, which The New York Times' Ben Brantley called "a seismic performance that threatens to level the old Music Box Theater." The New Yorker's John Lahr was equally effusive. "Rylance makes you believe not only that giants exist but that he is one of them," Lahr wrote. "And he is." Earlier this season Rylance gave an equally gigantic performance in the comedy "La Bête."
For this performance, Rylance won Drama League and Outer Critics Circle awards and a special citation from the New York Drama Critics Circle (which also includes his work in "La Bête") and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award. He won a Tony in 2008 for "Boeing-Boeing."
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Nina Arianda, "Born Yesterday"
Most MFA graduates struggle to find work, but Nina Arianda has done pretty well for herself since graduating from NYU. Her breakout turn in David Ives' "Venus in Fur" earned her critical acclaim, and she has wowed critics again in her Broadway debut, as Billie Dawn, the dumb blonde gone smart, in a new revival of Garson Kanin's "Born Yesterday." Back Stage's Erik Haagensen raved, "The pugnacious Nina Arianda triumphantly makes the role her own." But the New Jersey native, who also studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, doesn't read the reviews, and she vowed not to see Judy Holliday's career-making performance in the 1950 film until this production closes. "This woman has just changed Broadway," raved legend Liza Minnelli to Broadway.com on opening night. "Everybody was so nervous because we all thought, 'Judy Holliday, how can you beat that?' [She] did it."
For this performance, Arianda won an Outer Critics Circle Award in a tie with Frances McDormand and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award. This is her first Tony nomination.
Frances McDormand, "Good People"
Frances McDormand and Margaret could not be more different. McDormand's South Boston character in David Lindsay-Abaire's "Good People" is down on her luck, while McDormand has garnered wide and varied career success in film, on television, and on stage. The Illinois-born actor is known for her work in the Coen brothers' films—she's married to director Joel Coen—and she won an Academy Award for her performance as Sheriff Marge Gunderson in "Fargo." She is also an associate member of the experimental New York theater company the Wooster Group, and "Good People" marks her fourth time on Broadway. As Back Stage's Erik Haagensen put it, "This is Frances McDormand's show, and she grabs it and doesn't let go." Maybe she'll have something else to hold on to come awards night.
For this performance, McDormand won a Drama Desk Award and an Outer Critics Circle Award in a tie with Nina Arianda. She was nominated for a Tony in 1988.
Lily Rabe, "The Merchant of Venice"
Entering the family business can be tricky for some, but Lily Rabe has done it in style. The daughter of the late Jill Clayburgh and playwright David Rabe took on Portia in Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" alongside superstar Al Pacino, both in its Central Park and Broadway runs. Some may have been intimidated by Pacino's chops, but Rabe is hardly a rookie. Since graduating from Northwestern University, she has performed in three previous Broadway productions. Director Daniel Sullivan thought only of Rabe for the role, and, of her transition from the Delacorte Theater to the Broadhurst, Back Stage's David Sheward said, "Rabe has also incorporated more shading into her finely etched portrait of the perceptive Portia…. Rabe gives us a supremely intelligent woman not satisfied with the limited choices of her time." Hopefully, she has many interesting choices to come.
For this performance, Rabe was nominated for a Drama Desk Award. This is her first Tony nomination.
Vanessa Redgrave, "Driving Miss Daisy"
Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller called her the greatest living actress of our time, and for her fifth Broadway turn, legend Vanessa Redgrave took on the title role in the Main Stem premiere of the Pulitzer Prize–winning play "Driving Miss Daisy," alongside James Earl Jones. While the production received mixed reviews, Redgrave maintained her iconic status, drawing crowds every night and earning the show an extension of its limited run. As arguably the most prominent member of the Redgrave acting dynasty, she rose to fame for her work with the Royal Shakespeare Company and in the West End, and she is the only British actress to have won an Oscar, a Tony, a Golden Globe, a Cannes Film Festival award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award. Another Tony would just be icing on the already delicious cake.
Redgrave won a Tony in 2003 for "Long Day's Journey Into Night" and was nominated in 2007.
Hannah Yelland, "Brief Encounter"
Hannah Yelland journeyed with "Brief Encounter" from a small theater in Cardiff, Wales, to a Broadway house. In this multimedia adaptation of the classic 1945 film, based on a Noël Coward play, Yelland shined as Laura, a bored suburban housewife who has a short romance with a married doctor she meets at the train station. In his Back Stage review, Erik Haagensen wrote that Yelland, the daughter of British actor David Yelland, "wisely underplays" the role and "excels at the instinctive modesty" of Laura. Yelland started with the Kneehigh Theatre production more than two years ago, traveled with it to its Off-Broadway opening at St. Ann's Warehouse in 2009, and then made her Broadway debut in the role. Haagensen raved about the show, saying, "Work as imaginative and wholly successful as 'Brief Encounter' doesn't come along every day. Indeed, for me it was an exhilarating reminder of why I fell in love with the theater in the first place."
This is Yelland's first Tony nomination.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Norbert Leo Butz, "Catch Me If You Can"
The last time Norbert Leo Butz had a date with Tony, he was playing a charming con artist in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and took home the trophy for best actor in a musical. In "Catch Me If You Can," he's hardly recognizable behind a thick mustache and even thicker glasses, and he's playing Carl Hanratty, an FBI agent assigned to bring down charming con artist Frank Abagnale Jr. But Butz's dynamic stage presence shines just as brightly as it did six years ago. He not only morally grounds the musical, but in a show filled with splashy production numbers, he practically stops it when he leads a business-attire-clad chorus through the bouncy "Don't Break the Rules." It's the kind of finely tuned yet ferocious performance that we've come to expect from Butz, whether he's playing a hero, a villain, or something in between.
For this performance, Butz won Astaire and Drama Desk awards and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award. He won a Tony in 2005 for "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and was also nominated in 2002.
Josh Gad, "The Book of Mormon"
When Josh Gad makes his entrance in "The Book of Mormon," you think you know what to expect from his character, nerdy second banana Elder Cunningham, a Mormon missionary assigned to a dangerous and disease-stricken Ugandan village. He'll be a little dense, he'll make some quippy remarks, and we'll all have a good time. But how many second bananas get to lead the first-act finale, as Gad does with great fire when he rocks his way through the exhilarating "Man Up," or sing tenderly to the leading lady, as he does with Nikki M. James in the duet "Baptize Me"? The childlike innocence and longing for friendship he portrays so splendidly make him the perfect foil for Andrew Rannells' glory-seeking Elder Price. The curly-haired, heavyset, bespectacled Gad also brings unexpected depth and warmth to a character that could be shrill and annoying. In his hands, Elder Cunningham is a cuddly bundle of comic wizardry.
For this performance, Gad won an Outer Critics Circle Award. This is his first Tony nomination.
Joshua Henry, "The Scottsboro Boys"
Joshua Henry stepped into the role of Haywood Patterson for the short-lived Broadway transfer of "The Scottsboro Boys" and commanded it as if it had been written for him. And that was no easy task. In an unconventional musical structured like an early-20th-century minstrel show, Henry was its emotional core as one of the nine young black men tried and wrongfully convicted in Scottsboro, Ala., in 1931 for raping two white women. Henry, whose previous Broadway credits were "American Idiot" and "In the Heights," delivered a powerful performance that reverberated with the emotional roller coaster his character endured. His smooth, strong voice made John Kander and Fred Ebb's beautiful, lingering score soar, whether he was singing the exuberant "Commencing in Chattanooga" or the persistently haunting "Go Back Home." Whatever the task, Haywood was always more than a two-dimensional tragic figure. He was a flawed but fully realized survivor, and we can't wait to see what Henry has in store for his next role.
This is Henry's first Tony nomination.
Andrew Rannells, "The Book of Mormon"
You might expect an actor with golden-boy good looks to be gifted with an impressive singing voice, but rarely does he also possess great comedic flair. Andrew Rannells, however, is thrice blessed, as anyone who's seen his devilishly funny performance as Elder Price in "The Book of Mormon" can attest. Rannells isn't new to Broadway—his two previous appearances were in "Jersey Boys" and "Hairspray"—but this is the first time he has originated a role. As a cocksure Mormon missionary longing for a Disney World adventure but ending up in the disagreeable confines of Uganda, he brings an irresistible guilelessness to a comic character who never becomes a caricature. A lesser actor easily could have been upstaged by the outrageous antics of a co-star like Josh Gad, but whether Elder Price is trying to convert a less-than-enthusiastic Ugandan warlord or snapping and going on a caffeine binge, Rannells plays his zealous character with spontaneity, sincerity, and a twinkle in his eye.
For this performance, Rannells was nominated for a Drama Desk Award. This is his first Tony nomination.
Tony Sheldon, "Priscilla Queen of the Desert"
Not many people on Broadway knew the name Tony Sheldon until the buoyantly bright "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" parked itself at the Palace Theatre. When opening night rolled around, Sheldon quickly became one of Broadway's "overnight" successes—even though the 55-year-old actor (and nephew of Helen Reddy) is a veteran stage performer in his native Australia. Sheldon, who has previously played the role of transsexual Bernadette in Australia, Toronto, and London, brings great warmth, humor, and pizzazz to the musical stage version of the hit movie. An aging showgirl who returns to the stage in the wilds of Australia with a pair of younger drag queens by her side, Bernadette embarks on a journey that's also a spiritual rejuvenation. While singing and dancing his way through a score of glittering numbers, Sheldon never forgets the humanity behind his searching character. That's why we remember him long after the bright sequins have faded in memory.
For this performance, Sheldon won a Theatre World Award and was nominated for Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. This is his first Tony nomination.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Donna Murphy, "The People in the Picture"
According to Ben Brantley of The New York Times, without veteran Broadway headliner Donna Murphy, "The People in the Picture," the musical about Raisel, a veteran Yiddish-theater headliner, "would be a thin treacle indeed." Back Stage's David Sheward agreed, observing that "Murphy gives a lesson in how to handle an overblown script by underplaying the bigger scenes while maintaining her character's larger-than-life charisma…. She also skillfully transitions from a frail old yenta to a younger, dynamic theatrical personality, and though Raisel is far from a selfless martyr, Murphy makes us care for her even when her behavior is less than admirable."
For this performance, Murphy was nominated for Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. She won Tonys for "Passion" in 1994 and "The King and I" in 1996 and was also nominated in 2004 and 2007.
Sutton Foster, "Anything Goes"
Sutton Foster made her Broadway debut in 1996 at age 21 as Sandy Dumbrowski in "Grease." Over the years, she has garnered multiple Tony nominations and one win. As Foster continues to grow as a performer, her turn in the smash revival of "Anything Goes" has received numerous accolades. Back Stage's David Sheward raved: "As that scintillating showgirl Reno Sweeney, Sutton Foster ascends another level into the Broadway stratosphere, evoking dozens of past musical comedy stars yet imparting her own unique charm and pizzazz." He adds, "She combines the sass of Ginger Rogers, the elegance of Eleanor Powell, the sensuousness of Cyd Charisse, and the pipes of Debbie Reynolds."
For this performance, Foster won Astaire, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle awards. She won a Tony for "Thoroughly Modern Millie" in 2002 and was nominated in 2005, 2006, and 2009.
Patina Miller, "Sister Act"
At age 26, Patina Miller has already received an Olivier Award for the London production of "Sister Act," the stage version of the hit film comedy, and now she's wowing Broadway audiences. Her biggest challenge was overcoming memories of Whoopi Goldberg, who starred in the movie and is one of the show's producers. She clears that hurdle every night. The New York Times' Charles Isherwood wrote that Miller's performance as Deloris Van Cartier, a lounge singer hiding from her gangster boyfriend in a convent, "is a delight to watch" and added that she has "a radiant presence." Back Stage's Erik Haagensen concurred: "Patina Miller sings like a dream, looks like a million, and has confidence to spare. She's a real pro."
For this performance, Miller won a Theatre World Award and was nominated for Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. This is her first Tony nomination.
Beth Leavel, "Baby It's You!"
"If your show is in trouble, be sure to get Beth Leavel in your cast," wrote Back Stage's David Sheward. He continued, "She is the best reason to see 'Baby It's You!'...With subtle humor, expert timing, and knockout pipes, Leavel strives mightily to bring this mishmash of a rock tuner up to her level, but she can't perform miracles." Though the jukebox musical may not be up to par, the "rock-solid" Leavel uses her decades of Broadway experience—which includes 1980's "42nd Street," a Tony-winning turn as the title character in "The Drowsy Chaperone," and this season's "Elf"—to captivate audiences in her latest venture.
For this performance, Leavel was nominated for Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. She won a Tony for "The Drowsy Chaperone" in 2006.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Mackenzie Crook, "Jerusalem"
English actor Mackenzie Crook is well-known for his portrayal of Ragetti, the wooden-eyed pirate in the first three "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies. He made his Broadway debut three years ago playing Konstantin in Ian Rickson's production of "The Seagull." In Jez Butterworth's three-hour-plus comedy-drama "Jerusalem, also directed by Rickson, he plays Ginger, an unemployed plasterer who aspires to be a DJ but lacks the motivation. Ginger is part of the motley group of malcontents who hang out in the woods with "Rooster" Byron, the play's central, anti-social character portrayed by Mark Rylance. Crook's performance as the tart but not-so-bright Ginger was cited as one of the "best" in the production by Erik Haagensen in Back Stage and dubbed a "standout" by David Rooney in The Hollywood Reporter.
This is Crook's first Tony nomination.
Billy Crudup, "Arcadia"
Billy Crudup is no stranger to Tom Stoppard's playfully erudite romantic comedy "Arcadia," which is set in a stately English country house and takes place in the early 19th century as well as the present. In its original Broadway production in 1995, Crudup played the role of the tutor Septimus, a friend and contemporary of Lord Byron. In the current Broadway revival, he plays one of the modern-day characters, Bernard Nightingale, a self-centered professor of literature who is working on a book about Byron. Nightingale is convinced that he has uncovered a mystery about the great poet and leaps at the opportunity expose a scandal. Reviewing Crudup's performance, Ben Brantley of The New York Times commented that the actor "makes a scenery-chewing meal of Bernard's smarmy aggressiveness."
Crudup won a Tony in 2007 for "The Coast of Utopia" and was also nominated in 2002 and 2005.
John Benjamin Hickey, "The Normal Heart"
In "The Normal Heart," Larry Kramer's powerful call to arms, written in the early years of the AIDS crisis in New York City, John Benjamin Hickey plays Felix, a style reporter for The New York Times. Felix falls in love with activist Ned Weeks, the playwright's stand-in, played by Joe Mantello. Speaking to Broadway.com about the current Broadway revival, Hickey said, "I was not prepared for what an unbelievably prescient, relevant, ticking-time-bomb of a play it remains." In his review for Back Stage, Erik Haagensen wrote that Hickey "has great chemistry with Mantello and delivers a nuanced, multileveled turn notable for its unflinching depiction of Felix's harrowing battle with AIDS." Currently filming the second season of Showtime's "The Big C," Hickey has previously been seen on Broadway in such diverse fare as "Love! Valour! Compassion!" and the 1998 revival of "Cabaret."
For this performance, Hickey received a special Drama Desk Award for outstanding ensemble. This is his first Tony nomination.
Arian Moayed, "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo"
Comic genius Robin Williams plays the titular character in "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo," Rajiv Joseph's theatrically imaginative meditation on the Iraq War. However, as David Sheward noted in Back Stage, "the play really belongs to Arian Moayed, whose Musa has the most stage time and goes through the most changes." Moayed plays a translator for the American occupying troops who had previously worked as a gardener for Saddam Hussein's sociopathic son, Uday. This production marks the Broadway debut for the Iran-born actor, who is also co-founder of the New York–based theater company Waterwell. In his review of "Bengal Tiger," Sheward noted, "We read the play on Moayed's eloquent face and in his supple, subtle body language as Musa relives the terror of Saddam's regime, attempts to regain his humanity, and then loses it."
For this performance, Moayed won a Theatre World Award. This is his first Tony nomination.
Yul Vázquez, "The Motherf**ker With the Hat"
Cuba-born actor Yul Vázquez has a featured role in "The Motherf**ker With the Hat," which marks the first Broadway venture for the LAByrinth Theater Company. Vázquez is also co-artistic director of LAByrinth, along with the playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis and Mimi O'Donnell. In Guirgis' raucous and profane comedy, recovered alcoholic Ralph D. (Chris Rock) is a mentor and questionable friend to Jackie (Bobby Cannavale), who is struggling to stay sober. Vázquez is hilarious as Jackie's cousin, Julio. David Rooney in The Hollywood Reporter commented on Vázquez's "sly line readings" and wrote, "He's like a hybrid of Hank Azaria and Sofia Vergara, and his scenes with Cannavale have so much spark, you start wishing someone would cook up a sitcom for this odd couple."
For this performance, Vázquez won a Theatre World Award for outstanding ensemble and was nominated for Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. This is his first Tony nomination.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Ellen Barkin, "The Normal Heart"
Though best known as a film actor, Ellen Barkin is also a consummate stage performer, to judge by her Broadway debut in the revival of Larry Kramer's "The Normal Heart." In this emotionally raw drama set at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the early '80s, Barkin plays the tormented, wheelchair-bound Dr. Emma Brookner, a paraplegic who knows that the prognosis for every one of her patients is death. Barkin combines passion, rage, and anguish, made all the more pointed by her character's immobility. Brookner is a brittle woman devoid of a bedside manner, yet as she confronts a disinterested medical committee on the rampaging illness, the intensity of her concern for the men infected with the disease is explosive. Her showstopping monologue also evokes the tenor of the doctor's thwarted life.
For this performance, Barkin won an Outer Critics Circle Award for outstanding Broadway debut, a Theatre World Award, and a Drama Desk Award as part of the show's ensemble. This is her first Tony nomination.
Edie Falco, "The House of Blue Leaves"
Edie Falco has demonstrated her impressive range in Broadway revivals of "'night, Mother" and "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune" and on TV as the embattled Carmela Soprano and the crusty Nurse Jackie. Now she is bringing to life a totally different character in yet another universe. In a revival of John Guare's surreal 1971 drama-comedy about working-class lost souls in love with celebrity, Falco tackles Bananas Shaughnessy, a heavily medicated schizophrenic desperately trying to keep her marriage from disintegrating, even as her husband (Ben Stiller) plans to dump her. From her reluctant mincing walk to her confused and wounded expression, she's the embodiment of fragility on the verge of splintering. Sporting no makeup, a strikingly unflattering hairstyle, and frumpy clothes, Falco deserves special credit for not allowing vanity to intrude on a truthful performance.
For this performance, Falco won a Drama Desk Award and was nominated fot an Outer Critics Circle Award in the category of outstanding leading actress in a play. This is her first Tony nomination.
Judith Light, "Lombardi"
In Eric Simonson's bio-drama "Lombardi," Marie, the wife of Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, could easily become a caricature, with her blue-collar Italian-American accent, acidic barbs, and heavy drinking. But in Judith Light's capable hands, she is a fully rounded, completely believable human being who is at once endlessly put upon by her obsessive, football-loving husband (Dan Lauria), amused by him, and deeply in love with him. Indeed, it is her intense affection and obvious sexual attraction for a man who can be enraging that makes Light's performance memorable. Though she is identified with her many television roles—most famously on the long-running sitcom "Who's the Boss?"—Light is a serious stage actor who has appeared on and off Broadway, most impressively as the terminally ill but always witty academic in "Wit."
For this performance, Light was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award (for outstanding actress in a play) and a Drama Desk Award. This is her first Tony nomination.
Joanna Lumley, "La Bête"
The British-born Joanna Lumley, who is known to American audiences as the drug-abusing, alcoholic, promiscuous Patsy on the cult Britcom "Absolutely Fabulous," more than proved her comic chops in the Broadway revival of David Hirson's "La Bête" last fall. Written in rhyme and set in the 17th century, the play centers on the aesthetic and personal conflicts between the unendurably crude playwright Valere (Mark Rylance) and the more austere theatrical personage Elomire (David Hyde Pierce). As their royal patron, Lumley vividly created an imperious, self-deluding woman who is pretentious and none too bright as she tries to negotiate a peace between the two, while clearly championing the talents and views of the boor. Lumley's princess was a delightful eccentric seduced by the joys of chaos.
This is Lumley's first Tony nomination.
Elizabeth Rodriguez, "The Motherf**ker With the Hat"
A member of Off-Broadway's LAByrinth Theater Company, Elizabeth Rodriguez is making her Broadway debut in "The Motherf**ker With the Hat," by fellow company member Stephen Adly Guirgis. In the play's downtrodden, semiliterate universe, where betrayal is the name of the game and loyalty has no currency, all the characters were or are drug abusers or enablers. Nobody is especially intelligent, and the preferred form of communication is high-volume, profanity-laced verbiage. Rodriguez fully inhabits the coke-snorting, frenetic Veronica, whose rants cover her desperate need to hold on to her caffeinated and highly jealous boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale). In a cast of stars, including comic Chris Rock (also making his Broadway debut) and Annabella Sciorra (who played Tony Soprano's stalking mistress on "The Sopranos"), Rodriguez more than holds her own.
For this performance, Rodriguez won an Outer Critics Circle Award and a Theatre World Award for outstanding ensemble. This is her first Tony nomination.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Colman Domingo, "The Scottsboro Boys"
Colman Domingo treads on dangerous ground with his razor-edged interpretation of Mr. Bones, the outlandish end man in "The Scottsboro Boys," the John Kander–Fred Ebb–David Thompson musical told in the form of a minstrel show. The role called for Domingo to play numerous racial stereotypes as the traditional clown in a now-forgotten form of American entertainment. He also had to play exaggerated versions of white authority figures such as a bigoted sheriff, an ancient lawyer, and a sadistic prison guard, all while delivering Susan Stroman's intricate choreography. Domingo savagely turned these racist figures inside out, lampooning the ugly sentiments they represent with a shuffle and a buck-and-wing. Domingo has previously been seen on Broadway in "Passing Strange" and "Chicago." Last season, he snared Obie and Lucille Lortel awards and a Drama Desk nomination for his moving autobiographical solo show, "A Boy and His Soul."
This is Domingo's first Tony nomination.
Adam Godley, "Anything Goes"
Prior to his hilarious turn as that idiotic aristocrat Lord Evelyn Oakleigh in Roundabout Theatre Company's smash revival of "Anything Goes," Broadway audiences knew Adam Godley only as the stuffy husband in the 2002 transfer of a London revival of "Private Lives." He received a Theatre World Award, but Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan were the unquestioned stars of that production. Now Godley comes to the forefront with a smart, cliché-avoiding performance as the clueless peer who sets his cap for Sutton Foster's Reno Sweeney. Back Stage's David Sheward called him "a cartoon of British boobery come to life, all ears, elbows, and long legs. He wisely underplays Oakleigh's mangling of American slang and turns 'The Gypsy in Me' into a riotous celebration of a gentleman getting in touch with his animalistic side." In his native England, Godley has been nominated for three Olivier Awards, and he has appeared in such films as "Love Actually" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."
For this performance, Godley won an Outer Critics Circle Award and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award. This is his first Tony nomination.
John Larroquette, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"
The winner of four Emmys for his performance as Dan Fielding, the pompous prosecutor on the long-running sitcom "Night Court," John Larroquette receives his first Tony nomination, for his Broadway debut as the pompous executive J.B. Biggley in the revival of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." Like all the other characters in this cartoonish 1961 satire of corporate culture, Biggley is a larger-than-life caricature. But the actor tones down Biggley's excesses as a self-centered, lecherous company president, garnering big laughs for small moments such as the delicate way the head of World Wide Wicket hides his secret hobby—knitting. Larroquette skillfully applies the prime lesson of television acting to the big Broadway stage: Less is more.
For this performance, Larroquette won Drama Desk and Theatre World awards and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award. This is his first Tony nomination.
Forrest McClendon, "The Scottsboro Boys"
As Mr. Tambo, the partner of Colman Domingo's Mr. Bones in the sharply satirical "The Scottsboro Boys," Forrest McClendon brought a gruesome galaxy of racial stereotypes—both black and white—to life. He had the added challenge of playing Samuel Leibowitz, the Jewish lawyer for the young African-American men accused of raping two white women. "This is really delicate territory," McClendon told Back Stage's Simi Horwitz. "He was a good guy—he saved our lives—but at the same time he was an outsider. He is seen through a minstrel lens. It's a kind of triple consciousness." McClendon brought this triple interpretation into clear focus, making Leibowitz, and the other characters he portrayed, simultaneously realistic and metaphorical. McClendon has appeared in many productions in the Philadelphia area. He won a 2009 Barrymore Award (the Philly equivalent of the Tony) for his performance in "Avenue X" for the 11th Hour Theatre Company. He is currently an adjunct associate professor at the University of the Arts' Ira Brind School of Theater Arts and an artist-in-residence at Temple University's Boyer College of Music and Dance.
This is McClendon's first Tony nomination.
Rory O'Malley, "The Book of Mormon"
One of the funniest numbers in "The Book of Mormon"—and the show is full of them—comes early in the evening, when the new missionaries Price and Cunningham arrive at the pitiful Ugandan mission house and are greeted by the seemingly gleeful Elder McKinley, played with perky punch by Rory O'Malley. McKinley explains to the fresh recruits that when you're experiencing feelings that might be interpreted as contrary to Mormon teachings—such as attraction for the same sex—you should "Turn It Off." O'Malley pokes riotous fun at the psychological twists and turns that closeted gays like McKinley go through in order to follow the strictures of their church, yet he maintains the humanity beneath the rigor. Watch the joy on his face as McKinley breaks into a tap dance while extolling the virtues of suppressing your passions. As O'Malley told Back Stage's Simi Horwitz, "You don't have to make the characters crazy to be funny." The young actor comes to the show after playing the decidedly different role of white-bread Richie Cunningham in "Happy Days: The Musical" at Goodspeed Opera House and Paper Mill Playhouse and appearing opposite his "Mormon" co-star and former college roommate Josh Gad in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."
For this performance, O'Malley was nominated for a Drama Desk Award. This is his first Tony nomination.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Laura Benanti, "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown"
Fast proving to be one of the New York theater's most versatile actors, Laura Benanti does it all, from the caustic contemporary humor of Christopher Durang's "Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them" to the fantastical period comedy-drama of Sarah Ruhl's "In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)" to the showbiz histrionics of Stephen Sondheim, Jule Styne, and Arthur Laurents' "Gypsy." In Lincoln Center Theater's musical adaptation of Pedro Almodóvar's 1988 film, Benanti struck comic gold as Candela, a dizzy Madrid model who has just discovered that the man she's shacking up with is a Shiite terrorist. Back Stage's Erik Haagensen said she "virtually steals the show in a riotous turn." And that's quite a theft, considering the starry cast. Indeed, Haagensen was so impressed that he named Benanti's work as one of his 10 memorable performances of 2010, praising her "extraordinary mixture of comic style and emotional depth."
For this performance, Benanti won Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. She won a Tony in 2008 for "Gypsy" and was nominated in 2000 and 2002.
Tammy Blanchard, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"
Tammy Blanchard and her competitor Laura Benanti have some surprising things in common: Both are beautiful and brainy New Jersey girls who've won awards for playing Louise in "Gypsy" on Broadway. (Benanti got the 2008 Tony for it; Blanchard, Tony-nominated in 2003, brought home a prestigious Theatre World Award for her performance.) Blanchard turns that braininess to her advantage in Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows' Pulitzer Prize–winning musical comedy. This is not your father's Hedy La Rue. Blanchard gives the character an innate shrewdness that belies Hedy's conception as a bubble-headed bimbo but still generates big laughs. No less a personage than The New York Times' Ben Brantley, who was less than pleased with the overall production, singled Blanchard out for her "distinctive flair" and "original comic spin." Should either woman take the Tony home, we can only hope the win doesn't give Snooki any ideas.
Blanchard was nominated for a Tony in 2003.
Victoria Clark, "Sister Act"
When Victoria Clark's starchy Mother Superior and Patina Miller's boisterous Deloris Van Cartier finally embrace downstage center after an entire evening of antagonism, "Sister Act" audiences generally respond with spontaneous and heartfelt applause. That kind of emotional reaction is quite a tribute in a show with characters as thin as the ones in this musical adaptation of the well-loved 1992 film comedy, itself not exactly a resident of three dimensions. We're used to seeing Clark in more-challenging fare such as "The Light in the Piazza," but she doesn't condescend to her material for a moment, even when forced to boogie in a garishly sequined habit. Though Back Stage's Erik Haagensen, along with many critics, thought the film distinctly superior to its musical incarnation, he praised Clark for her "properly acerbic reverend mother," created "with impeccable comic timing and genuine humanity."
For this performance, Clark was nominated for a Drama Desk Award and an Outer Critics Circle Award in the category of outstanding actress in a musical. She won a Tony in 2005 for "The Light in the Piazza."
Nikki M. James, "The Book of Mormon"
Though she made her Broadway debut in 2001 in a short-lived musical adaptation of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and was also seen in the unsuccessful Elvis jukebox musical "All Shook Up," Nikki M. James has been one of Broadway's biggest secrets. Her best work has been done regionally, where she has displayed considerable range by first playing Dorothy in the La Jolla Playhouse's production of "The Wiz" and then segueing into one of the two title roles, opposite Christopher Plummer, in George Bernard Shaw's "Caesar and Cleopatra" at Ontario's Stratford Shakespeare Festival. (Her highly acclaimed Cleopatra is available on DVD from the theater.) As a young Ugandan girl who thinks her castoff battered typewriter is a texting device, James perfectly captures the off-kilter comic sensibilities of the creators of "South Park" and "Avenue Q" in a consistently stylized turn that Back Stage's David Sheward found "sweetly winning."
For this performance, James was nominated for Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. This is her first Tony nomination.
Patti LuPone, "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown"
Broadway diva Patti LuPone returned to her Juilliard roots by joining the high-powered ensemble cast of Jeffrey Lane and David Yazbeck's better-than-its-reviews musical adaptation of Pedro Almodóvar's 1988 film. LuPone began her professional career barnstorming the country as a member of the Acting Company, playing everything from the classics to new musicals. Though now a legendary Broadway star, LuPone fit right in to her featured role as a narcissistic and obsessive scorned wife bent on revenge. Indeed, in her best number, Yazbeck's Act 1 closer "On the Verge," she led a chorus of fraying women, prominent characters all, as they dangled above the Belasco Theatre stage while suspended on giant bolts of cloth, a wonderfully surreal image. Back Stage critic Erik Haagensen was impressed, saying that LuPone "knows exactly what to do" with her character and calling her performance "a hoot."
For this performance, LuPone was nominated for Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. She won Tonys in 1980 for "Evita" and 2008 for "Gypsy" and was also nominated in 1976, 1988, and 2006.
Tony nominee profiles written by Suzy Evans, Erik Haagensen, Daniel Holloway, Simi Horwitz, Frank Nestor, Gerard Raymond, David Sheward, and Diane Snyder.