Each season, Broadway is infused with fresh talent as stage newcomers take center stage in dynamic debut performances. In 2012, theater audiences were treated to a slew of star-making debuts. From English actors to opera vets to movie stars, these 10 performers commanded the spotlight in their first Main Stem outings. In alphabetical order, they are:
Tracie Bennett (Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow)
West End star Tracie Bennett had the daunting task of taking on an American icon for her Broadway debut, but Bennett’s Judy Garland was an original and utterly captivating creation. She enthralled audiences and critics alike with a magnetic performance and powerful vocals, particularly a manic “Come Rain or Come Shine” and devastating “The Man That Got Away.”
Phillip Boykin (Crown in Porgy and Bess)
Opera singer Phillip Boykin made an unforgettable debut as Audra McDonald’s abusive lover in Diane Paulus’ Tony-winning adaptation of the Gershwin opera. Boykin’s booming voice and domineering physical presence added an element of real danger to the revival—so it was a bonus to discover that offstage, Boykin is a big, sweet teddy bear.
Carrie Coon (Honey in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)
Carrie Coon has a boozy cousin to thank for her scene-stealing debut as a drunk newlywed trapped in a nightcap outing from hell. Nailing the familiar mannerisms of an inebriated person desperately trying to pass as sober and alert, Coon's Honey provided plenty of laughs, but it was the character’s somber realizations about her life and marriage that stayed with us.
Crystal A. Dickinson (Francine/Lena in Clybourne Park)
In this year's Tony-winning Best Play, Crystal A. Dickinson created two strong-willed characters. In Act One, she played a '50s-era maid with quiet strength and a comic edge. In Act Two, set in 2009, she responded to the Caucasian characters' racism with blunt sarcasm, delivering one of the most hilarious and jaw-dropping jokes heard onstage in 2012.
Tom Edden (Alfie in One Man, Two Guvnors)
British comedian Tom Edden needed only one scene to make his mark on Broadway and earn a 2012 Tony nomination. As the unsteady octogenarian waiter Alfie, Edden repeatedly threw himself down flights of stairs, took a beating with a cricket bat and allowed himself to be dragged around the stage in one of the most genius physical performances of this or any year.
Richard Fleeshman (Sam Wheat in Ghost)
Another British import, Richard Fleeshman melted Americans’ hearts this year as the recently deceased Sam Wheat in the musical adaptation of Ghost. Fleeshman possessed all the characteristics of a classic matinee idol: strong voice, solid acting chops, likeable demeanor, ability to lead a big-budget musical and, of course, that gorgeous face.
Andrew Garfield (Biff Loman in Death of a Salesman)
Movie star Andrew Garfield gave an electric performance as emotionally damaged Biff Loman in the Tony-winning revival of Death of a Salesman. His excruciating Act Two breakdown put him on par with experienced co-stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Linda Emond, and all three were rewarded with Tony nominations.
Nicole Ari Parker (Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire)
A few eyebrows were raised when it was announced that TV actress Nicole Ari Parker would make her Broadway debut as Blanche DuBois, but Parker left us stunned with a fragile, complex and heart-wrenching performance. She brought new life to Tennessee Williams' classic character, and through her, audiences saw Streetcar anew.
Da’Vine Joy Randolph (Oda Mae Brown in Ghost)
One of the more colorful breakout stars of 2012, Da’Vine Joy Randolph sparked the short-lived musical Ghost with her larger than life, Tony-nominated performance as misguided medium Oda Mae Brown. (Afterlife: Randolph is currently wowing off-Broadway audiences in the dramedy What Rhymes With America).
Richard Schiff (George Aaronow in Glengarry Glen Ross)
Timid schlub George Aaronow is the least flashy real estate salesman in David Mamet's ensemble drama, but Emmy winner Richard Schiff made a big impression in the role. The West Wing vet created a dynamic character arc and presented audiences with the sole likeable character in this prickly group of con men.