The nominees in acting categories for this year’s Tony Awards include rising and established stars, from previous winners and returning favorites to performers who made their Broadway bows during the 2017–2018 season.
The newcomers range from film and comedy star Amy Schumer, praised for her turn as a game but eventually frazzled dinner-party hostess in Steve Martin’s Meteor Shower, to Lauren Ridloff, the deaf actress who wowed critics in a revival of Children of a Lesser God, and Hailey Kilgore, the fresh-faced, siren-voiced star of the new staging of Once on This Island.
Ridloff and Schumer are competing with two women familiar to all theater fans — Condola Rashad, who earned her fourth nomination in the title role of Manhattan Theatre Club’s Saint Joan, and five-time nominee Glenda Jackson, appearing on Broadway for the first time in 30 years in a revival of Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women — in the category of performance by a leading actress in a play. At a reception for nominees, Ridloff marveled, in sign language, “I’ve been marginalized, as a woman, as a person of color … and now I’m on Broadway.”
Kilgore, who is also African American, is up for performance by a leading actress in a musical — a field that also includes LaChanze, one of Kilgore’s idols and the woman who introduced her role in Island, spirited orphan Ti Moune. “We met over a phone call,” Kilgore recalled of LaChanze. “I was performing on a show and the host had her number, and she gave me so much love and support. That really helped.”
LaChanze spoke of playing a late disco icon in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. “This is a great time for Donna’s story to be told,” she said. “We’re having a women’s movement, a #MeToo movement, and she struggled with sexism and racism. Now we have a platform for celebrating her life and the changes she made at that time.”
Jessie Mueller, another contender for leading actress in a musical — alongside Lauren Ambrose (My Fair Lady), Katrina Lenk (The Band’s Visit), and Taylor Louderman (Mean Girls) — collected a Tony several years back for playing Carole King in Beautiful. This year Mueller was recognized as Julie Jordan in a new production of Carousel. “It’s a show I’ve always loved, a character I’ve sort of admired from afar,” Mueller said. “I just think [Julie]’s such a conduit of love above all else, and that’s something we need in this world right now.”
Downton Abbey alumnus and The Crown star Harry Hadden-Paton, an acclaimed British stage actor, spoke of the topicality of My Fair Lady, the musical that in its Lincoln Center Theater revival gave him his Broadway debut and a nomination for performance by an actor in a leading role, as Henry Higgins. “We can’t ignore the conversations going on around us,” Hadden-Paton said of the production’s emphasis on class and gender, which always factors into the show and its source material, George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. “That’s the point of doing revivals: to see how we’ve changed since the last time it was on.”
The nominees for performance by an actor in a leading role in a musical include another newcomer, Ethan Slater, cast as the perpetually positive-minded hero of SpongeBob Squarepants, along with Joshua Henry, collecting his third nomination for Carousel, and Tony Shalhoub, receiving his third nod — and his first in a musical — for The Band’s Visit. The field for actors in a leading role in a play is studded with film and stage stars, from Andrew Garfield and Denzel Washington — for new stagings of Angels in America and The Iceman Cometh, respectively — to three-time Tony winner Mark Rylance, for his portrait of a troubled monarch in Farinelli and the King.
Jamie Parker and Tom Hollander, both among several British actors recognized for their work in U.K.-based productions (Garfield is another), were also tapped in this category — Parker for playing a certain boy wizard as a middle-aged father in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Hollander for his turn in Tom Stoppard’s ingenious brain-teaser Travesties, produced in New York by Roundabout Theatre Company. “It’s just a great honor and a big thrill if what you do is recognized in another country,” says Hollander, known here primarily for his film work.
The featured-performance fields also offer plenty of star power, with nominees including Laurie Metcalf (winner for leading actress in a play last year, and this year Jackson’s costar in Three Tall Women), two-time Tony winner Nathan Lane (for Angels), opera star Renée Fleming (Carousel), David Morse (Iceman) and Norbert Leo Butz and Dame Diana Rigg, both previous Tony winners (Butz twice), for My Fair Lady.
Says Morse of Iceman, “Our stage is filled with some of the best actors you will ever see gathered together, with every character allowed their story to be told front and center. It is a joy for me to share that stage with them.” If past ceremonies are any indication, expect to see plenty of that generosity and camaraderie at this year’s Tony Awards.