Skip To Content
    Updated on Sep 2, 2020. Posted on May 3, 2016

    18 Incredible Broadway Performances That Deserve Celebration

    Tony nomination or not, these actors delivered some of the best performances of the season.

    1. Kimiko Glenn, Waitress

    Joan Marcus

    Kimiko Glenn is making her Broadway debut in Waitress, and it's a fantastic one. As Dawn, Glenn has one of the show's most satisfying arcs, from shy and submissive to sexually liberated and bursting with love. She is aggressively likable, a far cry from Glenn's best known role as Brook Soso on Orange Is the New Black. And while Dawn begins the show as essentially a sidekick to Jenna — for which Jessie Mueller earned a well-deserved Tony nomination — Glenn more than holds her own in her triumphant breakout song "When He Sees Me."

    2. Nina Arianda, Fool for Love

    Joan Marcus

    Manhattan Theatre Club's revival of Sam Shepard's Fool for Love boasted dynamic performances from Sam Rockwell and Nina Arianda as sparring on-again, off-again lovers Eddie and May, but the latter has left the most lasting impression. Arianda's volatility kept audience members on edge as May's passion wavered from lust to rage and back again. If Fool for Love hadn't been a limited run, Arianda — who won a Tony for Venus in Fur and was nominated for Born Yesterday — might have earned more recognition.

    3. Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Fully Committed

    Joan Marcus

    Jesse Tyler Ferguson is certainly playing more roles than any other actor on Broadway, but what's more impressive is how easy he makes it look. In Fully Committed, he stars as Sam, who is responsible for reservations at a trendy Manhattan restaurant, but he also plays the hopeful diners whose calls Sam takes. For audience members who know Ferguson solely for Modern Family, Fully Committed is a brilliant showcase of his range: Rather than just doing voices, Ferguson is embodying dozens of characters, and it's a feat to behold.

    4. Sarah Charles Lewis, Tuck Everlasting

    Greg Mooney

    It's not easy to be the star of the show at 11, but Sarah Charles Lewis pulls it off in Tuck Everlasting. Yes, there's a natural sweetness to her performance as Winnie Foster, and a rich emotional component that comes with the territory. But Lewis deserves credit for her ability to lean into Tuck Everlasting's more adult themes — namely the question of death versus immortality, and the staggeringly difficult choice Winnie has to make. Lewis's vocals are also top-notch: Her performance of the showstopper "Everlasting" is stunning.

    5. Annaleigh Ashford, Sylvia

    Joan Marcus

    Last year, Annaleigh Ashford won a Tony for her scene-stealing role in You Can't Take It With You. While a nomination for Sylvia was less likely, it would have been fitting for Ashford to have gotten recognition for her memorable performance as an emotionally complicated canine in the revival of A.R. Gurney's play. Her Sylvia was darkly funny and deeply sympathetic, and Ashford's physicality lent itself perfectly to Sylvia's more primal characteristics. You never forgot she was human, but you accepted her as a dog.

    6. Zainab Jah, Eclipsed

    Joan Marcus

    While it's wonderful to see Lupita Nyong'o, Saycon Sengbloh, and Pascale Armand honored for their tremendous work in Eclipsed, let's not forget Zainab Jah as Wife Number Two (Maima), who helps transform Nyong'o's Girl into a soldier. When she arrives toting a gun and a callous demeanor, Maima is not instantly sympathetic. But Jah — along with Danai Gurira's sharp script — pushed through the front Maima has put up to reveal the difficult choices that led her to that point.

    7. Ben Whishaw, The Crucible

    Jan Versweyveld

    Ben Whishaw is not the obvious choice for John Proctor, the tragic hero of Arthur Miller's The Crucible. But director Ivo van Hove has never been much for traditional casting. Alongside Sophie Okonedo, who was nominated for a Tony, as Elizabeth Proctor, Whishaw delivers one of the play's most powerful performances. That his John Proctor may not, on the surface, be what audience members expect makes his command of the role that much more impressive. He commits fully: His complete emotional breakdown at the play's climax is nearly unbearable to watch in the best way.

    8. Tracee Chimo, Noises Off

    Joan Marcus

    It sounds trite to say that Tracee Chimo is great in everything, but she really, really is. She was sensational in the off-Broadway play Bad Jews, for which she earned a Lucille Lortel Award, and she aptly took on multiple roles in last year's revival of The Heidi Chronicles. She was equally exceptional in Noises Off, playing poor, pathetic Poppy: Her comedic timing was put to great use, and she also provided the heart of the play through Poppy's romantic desperation.

    9. Nicola Walker, A View From the Bridge

    Jan Versweyveld

    Ivo van Hove's staggering production of A View From the Bridge has closed, but audiences who made it through those unbearably tense two hours of theater haven't forgotten the show or its excellent performances. Mark Strong, who earned a Tony nomination, was a standout, but Nicola Walker was fantastic in a quieter and in some ways more complicated role. Beatrice is torn between her husband and her niece, struggling to be the voice of reason as the situation escalates around her. Walker played her with a memorable blend of strength and desperation.

    10. Brian Stokes Mitchell, Shuffle Along

    Julieta Cervantes

    Brian Stokes Mitchell is being honored with the Isabelle Stevenson Award at the Tonys this year, and while his charitable work is surely commendable, let's not forget that he's also one of the finest actors on Broadway. It's easy to take Mitchell for granted. (See also: Audra McDonald, who didn't get nominated for Shuffle Along either.) As narrator F.E. Miller, Mitchell anchors much of the rather complex Shuffle Along while delivering the kind of pitch-perfect performance we've come to expect from this Broadway great.

    11. Lesli Margherita, Dames at Sea

    Jeremy Daniel

    If Dames at Sea had lasted longer on Broadway, it likely would have earned more nominations. It was a charming revival of the off-Broadway show, with some truly impressive tap-dancing (and at least choreographer Randy Skinner was recognized). With a cast of six, all of the actors had to do a lot of heavy lifting, but none more so than Lesli Margherita, who literally walked off with a ladder in the funniest moment in the entire show. Margherita's comic timing — which won audiences over in Matilda — greatly elevated Dames and, in another year, would have gotten her a nod.

    12. Lydia Wilson, King Charles III

    Joan Marcus

    There were plenty of great performances in King Charles III, but none caught the audience more off guard than Lydia Wilson as Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge. Whether or not you're a Kate Middleton fan, there was something tremendously satisfying about watching an underestimated figure morph into a (far more likable) Lady Macbeth. Wilson's monologue about the role of women was one of the best moments in the show, but she was delightful throughout, blending ambition and poise to create a wonderfully well-rounded character.

    13. Daniel Durant and 14. Alex Boniello, Spring Awakening

    Joan Marcus

    Daniel Durant and Alex Boniello were two parts of a whole in Deaf West's revival of Spring Awakening, which was nominated for Best Revival and Best Direction. In the innovative production, Durant, a deaf actor, played Moritz, and Boniello, a hearing actor, provided Moritz's speaking and singing voice. The two actors, both of whom made their Broadway debuts, moved seamlessly together, Durant showing how much emotion one can convey without speaking aloud, and Boniello displaying major stage presence while remaining mostly unseen.

    15. Samantha Massell, Fiddler on the Roof

    Joan Marcus

    Samantha Massell made her Broadway debut at 12 in Baz Luhrmann's La Boheme. She's always been a talented vocalist, but her work in Fiddler on the Roof shows how much she's matured since then. Under Bartlett Sher's measured direction, all of the actors in this production of Fiddler on the Roof deliver honest, grounded performances. But Massell is especially moving as Hodel. Her "Far From the Home I Love," always a stirring song, is perhaps the most emotionally resonant moment in the entire show.

    16. Isaiah Johnson, The Color Purple

    Matthew Murphy

    The Color Purple is all about the women at its center: Making their Broadway debuts, Cynthia Erivo, Danielle Brooks, and Jennifer Hudson are breathtakingly good, and Erivo's and Brooks's Tony nominations are well-deserved. But when it comes to the male actors in the show, Isaiah Johnson merits particular acclaim as Mister. His growth doesn't match Celie's, but Mister does undergo a serious transformation from reprehensible to redeemed. Johnson is adept at playing both sides of this complicated character: In the end, the compassion the audience feels for him is hard earned.

    17. Gavin Creel, She Loves Me

    Joan Marcus

    The entire cast of She Loves Me is an embarrassment of riches, and kudos to the Tonys for honoring Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi, and Jane Krakowski with nominations. But Gavin Creel should also be singled out for his performance as Kodaly. Creel, who was previously nominated for Thoroughly Modern Millie and Hair, finds that delicate balance between smarm and charm to make his Kodaly one of the most likable (albeit sleazy) characters in the show. His "Grand Knowing You" is a major highlight.

    18. Benjamin Walker, American Psycho

    Jeremy Daniel

    Like the novel and the movie before it, American Psycho is a divisive show. But even critics who miss the biting satire of the musical — which is a pity — have acknowledged the exceptional performance by Benjamin Walker as homicidal investment banker Patrick Bateman. It's not an easy role to pull off: Walker has to ooze seduction while also being believably threatening; he has to be insane but likable, sadistic but sympathetic. Few could do Patrick justice. And Walker totally nails it.

    TV and Movies

    Get all the best moments in pop culture & entertainment delivered to your inbox.

    Newsletter signup form