Broadway attracts the best stage actors on earth, performing at the peak of their powers. In a year filled with great dramas and scintillating musicals, Broadway.com's editorial staff came to a consensus on five 2011 performances we won't forget.
Bobby Cannavale in The Motherf**ker With the Hat
He’s tall, dark, handsome and funny, which means that Bobby Cannavale could coast through any number of stage dramedies. He did a hell of a lot more than that in The Motherf**ker With the Hat, Stephen Adly Guirgis’ profane yet hopeful portrait of a recovering addict and his colorful cohorts. In this unusual Broadway offering, Cannavale served as both anchor and engine, sharing a series of frenzied scenes with Chris Rock, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Yul Vasquez and Annabella Sciorra. After reveling in his bravura demonstration of emotional range, we’re eager to see what Cannavale tackles next.
Sutton Foster in Anything Goes
Broadway musical directors clamor to work with Sutton Foster because she makes everything she does on stage look easy. Clogging on a hay wagon in Young Frankenstein? Check. Cartwheels and splits in The Drowsy Chaperone? No problem. A song about farting in Shrek? Sign her up. Anything Goes became Foster’s latest slam-dunk, but it was more than that: She stepped out of her comfort zone in portraying bawdy, sexy diva Reno Sweeney, a grown-up role in every sense of the term. Tossing off an eight-minute-long tap number in the process, Sutton reigned as Broadway’s musical queen in 2011.
Joe Mantello in The Normal Heart
Anyone fortunate enough to have seen him as Louis Ironson in the original Angels in America knows that Joe Mantello is an outstanding stage actor. After Angels, Mantello turned to directing, where his triumphs include Other Desert Cities, Assassins, Glengarry Glen Ross and, of course, Wicked. It took another classic drama of the early AIDS era, The Normal Heart, to lure him back on stage, and his performance as activist Ned Weeks was electrifying, brave and heartbreaking. Mantello’s name belongs above the title, and we hope he doesn’t wait a decade to act on Broadway again.
Jan Maxwell in Follies
From scene-stealing comic turns in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Lend Me a Tenor to leads in The Royal Family and off-Broadway’s Wings (as a stroke victim), Jan Maxwell has been an unparalleled theatrical shape-shifter. In 2011, she pulled off her most impressive transformation as super-glam former showgirl Phyllis Rogers Stone in Follies. Angry, wounded Phyllis is the trickiest of the four Follies leads, but Maxwell’s one-two punch of “Could I Leave You” and “The Story of Lucy and Jessie” (those Sondheim lyrics! those legs!) left us in awe.
Donna Murphy in The People in the Picture
This brilliant musical star goes missing from Broadway for years at a time, making every show she chooses to do an event. Although critics were divided about The People in the Picture, Donna Murphy’s dual performance as the older and younger versions of a 1930s Yiddish actress in Warsaw won raves—and moved audiences to tears. Murphy’s quick switches between portraying a vibrant young leading lady and an elderly, post-Holocaust “Bubbie”—at one point within a single musical number—displayed her gifts for comedy, tragedy and every emotion in between.