Skip Navigation Names the 10 Best Performances of 2012 Names the 10 Best Performances of 2012 editors choose the 10 most outstanding stage performances of 2012.

Every year, editors recognize performances we couldn't forget—and our list of the 10 best for 2012 is a mix of laugh-out-loud star turns, musical headliners and more. The Performances of the Year, in alphabetical order, are:

Christian Borle in Peter and the Starcatcher
Beneath Christian Borle’s mild-mannered exterior beats the heart of a fearless physical comedian—and his scene-stealing star performance as flamboyant pirate Black Stache in Peter and the Starcatcher was a fabulous surprise. Capping a year in which he played composer Tom Levitt on NBC’s Smash, Borle took home a well-deserved 2012 Tony Award.

Carolee Carmello in Scandalous
For all its faults, the short-lived Scandalous gave audiences a precious gift: the opportunity to see Carolee Carmello use her formidable talent to deliver more than a dozen songs spanning 35 years in the life of superstar evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. Carmello did everything possible to make the musical work, including a blistering opening night performance after a bout of laryngitis. What a pro!

James Corden in One Man, Two Guvnors
It’s always exciting to watch a character actor nail a leading role, and in One Man, Two Guvnors, James Corden provided a textbook example of what can happen when a stage vet steps up his game to carry a show. And by “carry,” we mean ride a wave of nonstop laughter as nutty servant Francis Henshall, winning a Tony and making this very British farce a Broadway hit.

Ari Graynor in The Performers
We loved everything about The Performers, especially the deliciously devilish performance of Ari Graynor as Peeps, a dim-bulb porn star married to hunky Mandrew (Cheyenne Jackson). “I am a MILF now, okay?” the newly pregnant Peeps shouts to her husband. “I am going to be the MILF of your child!” Nobody could sell those two sentences like Graynor. Brava!

Tracy Letts in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
It’s almost unfair that a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright should also be a first-class dramatic actor, but we won’t begrudge August scribe Tracy Letts, who gave a scary-good—and just plain scary—performance as George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Letts nailed every passive-aggressive moment in Edward Albee’s masterpiece, particularly the toxic co-dependency between George and Martha (Amy Morton).

Rob McClure in Chaplin
Utterly appealing in every way, Rob McClure’s star turn in Chaplin gave the musical biography backbone and heart. In real life, Charlie Chaplin was a control freak and a womanizer (at least until he met Oona O’Neill) but McClure charmingly embodied the creative ambition that drove the Little Tramp. The show is closing prematurely, but McClure’s future in musical theater seems assured.

Audra McDonald in Porgy and Bess
What’s left to say about Audra McDonald’s heart-wrenching performance as Bess in Porgy and Bess? With singing and acting that pierced the heart, McDonald made her damaged character’s star-crossed romance with Porgy (Norm Lewis) achingly real. Her thrilling Bess earned the actress a record-tying fifth Tony, and she’s got at least 40 more years of starring roles left to play!

Cristin Milioti in Once
What a tricky role “Girl” is in Once: a piano-playing Czech single mom who has to haul out a broken vacuum cleaner, be the voice of wisdom for her loudmouth friends and create romantic chemistry with a hot but depressed Irish street busker (Steve Kazee). Amazingly, Cristin Milioti pulled all this off and lots more, winning laughs and the audience’s heart in a Tony-nominated performance.

Michael Shannon in Grace
Michael Shannon can definitely do “angry,” as fans of his work on TV (Boardwalk Empire), movies (Revolutionary Road) and stage (Bug) know well. But in Grace, this remarkable actor moved from rage to tenderness, making his character, a disfigured NASA scientist, the personification of the play’s message about the search for grace and something to believe in. 

Anthony Warlow in Annie
Debonair and powerful, Anthony Warlow gets more from the role of Oliver Warbucks in Annie than anyone dreamed was there. Whether bossing lovely assistant Grace (Brynn O’Malley), sparring with the President or discovering fatherly feelings for the title orphan (Lilla Crawford), Warlow commanded the stage and sang like the superstar he is in his native Australia.

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