Every season features dozens of Broadway debuts, but 2011 was notable for the number of memorable star performances given by actors gracing Broadway stages for the first time. From an Aussie stage vet to downtown favorites and an Oscar and Emmy-nominated TV star, these 10 newcomers brought vibrant life to a variety of Main Stem productions this year.
Nina Arianda (Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday)
As a bubbly blonde learning the ropes of Washington society (and contending with a boorish lover), Arianda bounced around the stage, charming the audience with her character’s ditzy behavior. As the play progressed, however, she infused this former showgirl with warmth and a growing self-awareness and managed to push aside comparisons with the great Judy Holliday, who created the role.
Rachel Griffiths (Brooke Wyeth in Other Desert Cities)
No stranger to family drama on TV’s Brothers and Sisters and Six Feet Under, Griffiths seamlessly joined an ensemble cast that had already earned raves off-Broadway. As an author on the upswing after a crippling depression, Brooke arrived at her parents’ Palm Springs home, tell-all memoir in hand, determined to stand her ground—yet it was obvious she might crumble at any moment.
Jennifer Lim (Xu Yan in Chinglish)
The technical requirements of Lim’s performance alone were impressive: rapidly switching back and forth between dialogue in Mandarin and broken English. More importantly, Lim crafted a smart, sexy, deadpan-hilarious portrayal of a Chinese government official who keeps her new American business associate (and the audience) guessing.
Hamish Linklater (Martin in Seminar)
This off-Broadway regular finally got his Great White Way moment as Seminar’s nebbish aspiring writer, Martin, complete with comic tirades against his teacher (Alan Rickman, no less) and classmates. But Linklater shined brightest once Martin was forced to face his fears and expose his own writing to an expert’s eyes. (Extra credit for a second fab 2011 comic performance in CSC’s The School for Lies.)
Patina Miller (Delores Van Cartier in Sister Act)
As an on-the-run nightclub singer, Patina Miller twirled like a giant disco ball, exuding glitz and glam with every one-liner and carrying Sister Act in an assured star performance. The novelty of nuns singing pop tunes is plenty fun, of course, but the real reason to shout “Hallelujah” was watching Miller tear into the show’s infectious score. Fabulous baby, indeed!
Arian Moayed (Musa in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo)
Moayed gave an unsettling yet gripping performance as an Iraqi translator whose world has been torn apart by the horrors of war. Faced with one atrocity after the next (his home destroyed, his sister brutally raped and murdered), Moayed’s emotionally annihilated Musa somehow found strength to persevere with a life that had little left to offer.
Jessie Mueller (Melinda Wells in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever)
In an anything-but-typical love story, zesty Jessie Mueller (who plays a woman buried in the subconscious of a gay man!) made it clear why Dr. Mark Bruckner (Harry Connick Jr.) would feel pulled into an otherworldly affair. Armed with the jazzy vocal chops of a young Liza or Barbra, Mueller exuded an effervescent old school flair and luminous stage presence.
Condola Rashad (Cheryl in Stick Fly)
Stick Fly focuses on the LeVay family, but it’s Rashad, as their college-bound housekeeper, who walked away with the show. While her wealthy, self-absorbed employers and their guests bickered, Rashad’s expressive eye rolls and well-timed comebacks made her the play’s voice of reason. By the time her storyline moved front and center for the evening’s emotional climax, Rashad had the audience in her pocket.
Elizabeth Rodriguez (Veronica in The Motherf**ker with the Hat)
As a hot-tempered cocaine addict, the physically tiny Rodriguez exploded into tantrums that could rival a Fourth of July firework display. She also managed to imbue her character with an inviting playfulness, making it obvious why her on-again off-again boyfriend, Jackie (Bobby Cannavale), couldn’t walk away from a woman who had continually wronged him.
Tony Sheldon (Bernadette in Priscilla Queen of the Desert)
Between the Sydney, London and Broadway productions of Priscilla, Sheldon has played aging transsexual Bernadette more than 1,000 times, but his performance remained a wonder. Sheldon achieved a seemingly impossible mix of dishing zingers at his companions (Will Swenson and Nick Adams) and displaying a deep tenderness and fragility. Not to mention that he does the whole show in heels!