Who Are the 2015-2016 Breakout Musical Theater Performers?
By Barbara & Scott Siegel
In a season loaded with a plethora of high profile musicals, let’s look back at this past season and pinpoint the players who, based on their theatrical impact, appear to have secured themselves a bright future.
We give our highest marks to Ben Platt, who starred in the Second Stage Off-Broadway production of Dear Evan Hansen, that has already been scheduled for a Broadway transfer next season. Ben Platt’s performance was so organic that it was reminiscent for us, of seeing a young Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape in 1993, who was so inside his character that we thought he was a “gifted child” hired for the role and not an actor at all. In addition to his extraordinary acting, Platt sings beautifully (and in character). Simply put, we were knocked out – and rather stunned that he didn’t get more actor accolades this season. Regardless, he is, already, an early major contender for next season’s Tony Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical.
Another breakout performer is Megan McGinnis, of the long-running (but soon closing) little pocket musical, Daddy Long Legs. She has had significant roles in shows like Little Women and Thoroughly Modern Millie, and as a much admired replacement Belle in Beauty and the Beast, but her starring role this past season in Daddy Long Legs has put her on the map as an adorable leading lady. She has shown that she can carry a show, albeit a small one this season, but no doubt major ones in the years ahead.
Two Brits, both in starring roles on Broadway, have established themselves as genuine stars here, in front of the home crowd. Carmen Cusack is breathtaking in Bright Star and Cynthia Erivo builds her performance into something titanic in The Color Purple. But in both of their cases, they were brought to Broadway to do just what they have done. More interesting, in the case of The Color Purple, is the arrival of Heather Headley to play Shug Avery. She has bumped up this already impressive production another notch. This is akin to the arrival of Reba McIntyre to replace Bernadette Peters as Annie Oakley in the most recent revival of Annie Get Your Gun. In other words, Heather Headley has made a triumphant return to Broadway after becoming a star in Aida a decade ago and leaving town to become a pop star. Her performance is more of a comeback than a breakout performance but, either way, she’s pretty damned perfect in the part of Shug Avery.
An actress who has been working and getting great reviews right along, and who has always been a fan favorite, finally got a role that really showed her off to the point where, frankly, she stole the show: Leslie Kritzer in The Robber Bridegroom, played her featured role for laughs – and got them in spades. She was hilarious, original, and downright fierce. Stealing a show from Steven Pasquale is no easy task, but she did – at least whenever she was on stage. This performance should unleash a brand new, and even more “out there” performance style from Kritzer, further enhancing her personal fan base.
Finally, Laura Benanti has broken out of featured status to carry a Broadway musical – She Loves Me – for the very first time. And she is carrying it with style and elan. She has had breakout performances in the past, but this is the payoff! She is now, after a long and distinguished apprenticeship, the star of the show.