Every year, a new crop of actors—some famous, some unknown—subject themselves to the ultimate challenge: Broadway! Looking back at 2013, we’re struck by the depth and variety of the debut performances we admired. Below, in alphabetical order, are our choices for the 10 best Main Stem debuts of the year:
Orlando Bloom in Romeo and Juliet
Orlando Bloom brought much more to Romeo and Juliet than movie star charisma and a willingness to ride a motorcycle on stage. In a sometimes cluttered production, Bloom wooed Condola Rashad with sweetness and ardor, a combination that proved impossible to resist for Juliet and the audience.
Bertie Carvel in Matilda
Stage villains need to own their evilness, as Bertie Carvel did with relish in Matilda. His physical transformation into hammer-throwing tyrant Miss Trunchbull was so extreme, fans didn’t recognize the handsome young actor at the stage door. And that voice! No wonder the kids of Crunchem Hall were terrified.
Mary Bridget Davies in A Night with Janis Joplin
From “Piece of My Heart” and “Down on Me” to “Me and Bobby McGee,” the songs of Janis Joplin require a no-holds-barred howl. Newcomer Mary Bridget Davies nails the late rocker’s bluesy rasp in A Night With Janis Joplin, but beyond that, she makes Janis a woman we care about, even as we lament her early death.
Shalita Grant in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Sassy sidekicks turn up in almost every comedy, but they’re seldom as memorable as Shalita Grant’s psychic maid Cassandra. In Christopher Durang’s Tony-winning Chekhov mashup, Grant was a one-woman Greek chorus, with timing so good, she became the play’s only non-title character to nab a Tony nomination.
Tom Hanks in Lucky Guy
For his Broadway debut, Tom Hanks could have selected a slice of Americana like Our Town. Instead, the two-time Oscar winner agreed play less-than-likeable tabloid journalist Mike McAlary in an untested play by the late Nora Ephron. Anchoring George C. Wolfe’s fast-moving production, Hanks gave an assured star performance.
Amber Iman in Soul Doctor
Amber Iman’s portrayal of 1960s jazz chanteuse Nina Simone in Soul Doctor gave jaded Broadway theatergoers an exciting “Who is that?” moment. Sexy, smart and in fabulous voice, Iman put a spell on everyone who saw the short-lived musical, setting herself up for a long and successful Broadway career.
Zachary Levi in First Date
Who’s cuter than Zachary Levi? Damn few! In the tricky role of a rather naive blind-dater, the TV star shows off his gift for physical comedy (while singing) with charm to spare. Levi’s confident debut makes us eager to see him tackle more musicals—or revive the lost art of romantic comedy plays on Broadway.
Zachary Quinto in The Glass Menagerie
Narrator son Tom Wingfield is often the weak link in revivals of The Glass Menagerie. Tennessee Williams’ flowery language and the character’s innate dissatisfaction are a dangerous combo, but Zachary Quinto gives the strongest, most sympathetic portrayal of this yearning young writer we’ve ever seen and is an incomparable scene partner with Cherry Jones, Celia Keenan-Bolger and Brian J. Smith.
Tom Sturridge in Orphans
The casting drama surrounding Shia LaBeouf’s ouster from Orphans threatened to obscure the best news about the remounting of Lyle Kessler’s 1983 drama: the Broadway debut of British actor Tom Sturridge as the homebound younger brother of a petty thief. Sturridge's quietly charismatic work earned a well-deserved Tony nod.
Rachel Weisz in Betrayal
It’s easy to get distracted by how gorgeous Rachel Weisz is, but make no mistake: This Oscar-winning actress is a natural stage star, and her performance as an adulterous wife in Betrayal is by far the best of the play's three Broadway productions. The pain and yearning she conveys—in a story told in reverse!—makes us care about Harold Pinter’s love triangle.