1. Jon Jon Briones, Miss Saigon
The role of the Engineer is a complicated one — and not only because of its controversial history (amid whitewashing protests, white actor Jonathan Pryce won a Tony in 1991 for a character that is French-Vietnamese). The Engineer is complex, wavering between charming and reprehensible, and Jon Jon Briones manages to adroitly walk that line. Despite the fact that Miss Saigon is clearly more about lead character Kim’s journey than The Engineer’s, Briones’ performances of the showstopper “The American Dream” at least establishes him as a star.
2. Nick Cordero, A Bronx Tale
Nick Cordero is often the best thing about the shows he’s in. His performance in the largely forgettable Bullets Over Broadway earned him a Tony nomination in 2014 (he played a mobster in that, too). That A Bronx Tale was mostly overlooked this season isn’t really a surprise, but Cordero once again surpasses the material he was given. As Sonny — the part played by Chazz Palminteri in the film — he has to be convincingly menacing but also paternal, and he pulls off both with a sense of comic timing that also provides some of the show’s funniest moments.
3. Corey Cott, Bandstand
Corey Cott does much of the heavy lifting in Bandstand — sure, there are plenty of big brassy numbers and swing dancing — but Cott’s Donny Novitski is the heart of the show, even more so than war widow Julia Trojan (Laura Osnes). What Cott does remarkably well is portray the trauma that’s always lurking below the surface: Even when he seems to be having the time of his life, there’s a persistent darkness underneath. Bandstand is at its best when Cott is center stage, reflecting a time when people were haunted by their violent pasts and desperate to move forward by any means.
4. Barrett Doss, Groundhog Day
Andy Karl has gotten most of the attention — and the Tony nomination — for Groundhog Day, but Barrett Doss’ relentlessly endearing turn as Rita Hanson deserves a second look. To be honest, it would be hard not to look likable next to Phil Connors, the philandering dick that Karl plays. But Doss’ Rita not only endures Phil’s bullshit, but stands on her own, sweet but self-possessed. It’s refreshing that it’s Phil who has to change for Rita — given that Rita isn’t stuck in a time loop, that’s kind of inevitable — but Doss keeps things interesting in the way she portrays the slow softening and budding feelings between Phil and herself.
5. Gideon Glick, Significant Other
Had Significant Other found its audience on Broadway — the fact that it never did is a tragedy of its own — there’s no question Gideon Glick would have earned a Tony nomination for his stunning work. As Jordan Berman, he was almost never offstage, playing his character’s crippling neuroses, hopeless romanticism, and seething bitterness with endless compassion and nuance. Those who did catch Glick’s performance in Significant Other, either in its off-Broadway run at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theater or at the Booth Theatre on Broadway, should consider themselves lucky.
6. John Goodman, The Front Page
The Front Page’s cast was an embarrassment of riches — and thankfully Nathan Lane, the standout of the production, got a nod. But John Goodman was a riot as the bumbling Sheriff Hartman, reminding audiences that he has always been a tremendously gifted comic actor. Next to Lane, he most often stole the show — no small feat when you’re working alongside John Slattery, Robert Morse, Holland Taylor, and a number of other top-level performers. His pitch-perfect timing should be celebrated.
7. Amber Gray, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
It would be easy to play Hélène as one-dimensional: Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet’s “Prologue” identifies her simply as a “slut.” Amber Gray delivers such a engaging performance, however, that she’s always one of the richest characters onstage. In manipulating innocent Natasha and pushing her into the arms of Anatole, Hélène might be the show’s villain — that’s debatable. But what’s not is that with Gray in the role, she’s easily everyone’s favorite. Her Act 1 song “Charming” is one of Great Comet’s most riveting moments.
8. André Holland, Jitney
The past year has been good to André Holland, who earned acclaim for his work in Moonlight and, to a lesser extent, American Horror Story: Roanoke; in a crowded theater season, his great performance in Jitney was somewhat forgotten. That’s a shame, because he brought pathos and passion to the role of Youngblood, the Vietnam War vet trying to get his life together. Holland’s part wasn’t particularly flashy, which might be why he got overlooked, but — as in Moonlight — his strength as a performer lies in his ability to mine the emotional depths of those subtler, more restrained scenes.
9. Allison Janney, Six Degrees of Separation
Allison Janney is never not great, though she’s at her best when she gets to exercise her comedic chops alongside her command of emotional truth. For most of Six Degrees of Separation — in which she plays Ouisa Kittredge, an Upper East Sider who has a transformative experience with a con artist — she’s mostly just playing it for laughs. That’s what makes the play’s somber ending so poignant, as Janney leans into the drama. The production as a whole can be a bit tonally jarring at times, but it’s Janney who works to keep things grounded.
10. Katrina Lenk, Indecent
It’s tough to single out any one performer in Indecent, as the cast moves together seamlessly, each taking on multiple roles throughout the play. Katrina Lenk is such a compelling performer that she manages to stand out no matter whom she’s playing. You can never really take your eyes off of her. Lenk may not have earned a Tony nomination this go-around, but assuming she transfers with The Band’s Visit if it moves to Broadway, she’ll surely be recognized for her work there. Either way, her layered performances and captivating onstage presence mean she’s poised to break through soon.
11. Janet McTeer, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
As the Marquise de Merteuil, Janet McTeer was such a commanding force that it never really felt like a fair contest between her and Liev Schreiber’s Vicomte de Valmont. What made her performance particularly thrilling — and what elevated this production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses as a whole — was how much fun she was clearly having. She didn’t play the role with ironic, winking detachment, but treated the part like the rich meal that it should be. And the audience, on the edge of their seats even knowing how the story ends, got to watch her devour it.
12. Caroline O’Connor, Anastasia
For the stage adaptation of Anastasia, the character of Sophie became Countess Lily Malevsky-Malevitch, and while fans of the film might initially be disappointed, they’ll get over it as soon as they realize what a delight Lily is. Caroline O’Connor delivers the show’s most unabashedly funny moments, particularly when she joins forces with John Bolton. Their duet “The Countess and the Common Man” provokes rapturous applause, though her performance of “Land of Yesterday” might be even more of a showstopper. When O’Connor’s onstage, you don’t miss Sophia — hell, you don’t even miss Bartok the bat.
13. Anthony Rosenthal, Falsettos
Maybe it’s greedy to ask for more recognition of Falsettos when it earned plenty of nominations this year — or maybe it was a goddamn stellar production that deserves to be celebrated in every way possible. So let’s take a beat to recognize Anthony Rosenthal, who managed to be bratty and sympathetic as Jason, a kid who is struggling to grasp the complicated family dynamics he’s suddenly dealing with. What was most impressive about Rosenthal’s performance is that he was able to play Jason’s precocious, hyper-intelligent side without making it seem phony. How rare to see a child actor play a character who is wise beyond his years and still recognizably a kid.
14. Phillipa Soo, Amélie
As the titular character in Amélie, Phillipa Soo has big shoes to fill. Audrey Tautou made such a distinctive impression in the film that it would be hard to replicate; to her credit, Soo doesn’t really try. While the musical itself sticks pretty close to its source material, Soo’s Amélie feels very much like her own. As the actor demonstrated when she played Eliza in Hamilton, Soo is adept at playing characters coming out of their shell. Her Amélie is cute from the get-go, but it’s the way she builds resolve and learns to find her own happiness that makes the performance such a joy to watch.
15. Jennifer Laura Thompson, Dear Evan Hansen
In order to give one of the most powerful peformances in the show, Jennifer Laura Thompson doesn’t get — nor does she need — her own song in Dear Evan Hansen. As Cynthia, whose son Connor’s death is at the center of the story, Thompson plays a mother who is barely holding it together. It’s not always easy to watch — her grief is so palpable, and her eventual discovery of Evan’s betrayal is almost unbearably painful. Often in the periphery, Thompson is integral to the success of the show, offering a gripping and, at times, agonizing portrayal of mourning.
16. Finn Wittrock, The Glass Menagerie
It’s hard to go wrong with a Tennessee Williams play led by Joe Mantello and Sally Field, and indeed, this production is strong from the beginning. The play reaches greatness in the scene between Finn Wittrock as Jim O’Connor and Madison Ferris as Laura. Their dynamic back-and-forth brings the spark The Glass Menagerie needs to succeed. Wittrock is especially impressive in the way he captures the depth of a character who is referred to mostly as just the “Gentleman Caller.” The nostalgia for his former glory, the pathological need to please — it’s all there beneath the veneer of charm that can’t help but accompany Wittrock in every role he plays.