This is one category we'll be watching very closely on Tony Sunday! A mix of Broadway debuts and Broadway royalty, these ladies are all deserving of the award for their powerhouse vocals and unique interpretations (4/5 nominees are originating their roles on Broadway!). We have fallen in love with each and every one of them and we're so glad someone else has to decide the ultimate winner!
Today's Spotlight: Best Performance by an
Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Meet Laura Benanti
She Loves Me (Amalia Balash)
Hometown: Kinnelon, New Jersey
Training: She attended N.Y.U. for 2 weeks before she booked The Sound of Music. The rest is history.
Big Break: At 16, she won Paper Mill Playhouse’s “Rising Star Award,” and when The Sound of Music Broadway revival (1998) Casting Director called Paper Mill up for Liesl recommendations, Laura was sent in. She was better suited for Maria and she ultimately made her Broadway debut as Rebecca Luker’s understudy and took over the role of Maria at 19. She went on to receive Best Featured Actress in a Musical Tony Award nominations for Swing! (1999) and Into the Woods (2002) and won the award for Gypsy (2008). On TV, she is best known for her work on Nashville, Supergirl, and of course, Sound of Music Live!
Fun Fact: Her mom (also her voice teacher) and her dad were performers and she was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma…while her parents were doing Oklahoma! She literally grew up in their dressing room and everyone took turns taking care of her when they weren’t on stage. Also, she believes in the power of Twitter. She swears that she got her role on Nashville because she tweeted about how much she loved the show. “If you tweet it, it will come!”- Laura Benanti
Meet Carmen Cusack
Bright Star (Alice Murphy)
Hometown: Denver, Colorado, but grew up in Fountain, Florida and Houston, Texas
Training: University of Northern Texas (opera & performing arts)
Big Break: While living in the UK, Carmen was a West End star, playing Christine in Phantom of the Opera and Fantine in Les Miserables. She moved back to the United States to play Elphaba in Wicked and Nellie in South Pacific on the national tours and Dot/Marie in Sunday in the Park with George at Chicago Shakespeare. She auditioned for Bright Star via a VHS tape and sang “Wayfaring Stranger” and Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,”accompanying herself on the guitar.
Fun Fact: She started singing because as a child, her church’s pastor promised that she could have first pick of candy from a chocolate box, if she sang “Amazing Grace” for youth chapel. A truly inspirational story of perseverance, Carmen’s mom was 16 and her dad was 15 when they had her and she spent her childhood growing up in Fountain, Florida with her grandparents. She worked as a singing waitress, a cruise ship singer, and a jazz singer to pay her way through college. Ultimately, she took a job on the MS Queen Elizabeth 2 and moved to London at the age of 20.
Meet Cynthia Erivo
The Color Purple (Celie Harris)
Hometown: London, England
Training: She studied music psychology for a year at the University of East London, but transferred to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
Big Break: Although The Color Purple marks her Broadway debut, she has toured the UK as Sister Mary Clarence/Deloris Van Cartier in Sister Act and played Celie at the Menier Chocolate Factory production of The Color Purple. She even played the Earl of Douglas in an all-female production of Henry IV at Donmar Warehouse. Talk about range. Huge things to come from this 5’1” powerhouse!
Fun Fact: Cynthia loves to knit in her spare time. She also only applied to RADA because Director Rae McKen (who directed her as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet in a youth production at the Young Vic when she was 15) made her! Her heart wasn’t in her psychology degree and she decided to change course. "I thought she was joking, but then she said if I didn't sign the [audition] papers I'd always regret it.”- Cynthia Erivo
Meet Jessie Mueller
Hometown: Evanston, Illinois
Training: Syracuse University
Big Break: A staple in the Chicago musical theatre scene, Jessie played Tzeitel in Fiddler on the Roof, Anne Egerman in A Little Night Music, Carrie Pipperidge in Carousel, Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, and Amalia Balash in She Loves Me before making her star-turn Broadway debut in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (2011) and earning her 1st Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. She went on to play Helena Landless in The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2012) and replaced Kelli O'Hara in Nice Work If You Can Get It (2013) before playing Carole King in her Tony Award winning performance in Beautiful (2014).
Fun Fact: The cast of Waitress has nicknamed her "The Unicorn" for being so talented and remarkably humble at the same time. She also wrote one of her college essays on Into the Woods. Dying to read that!
Meet Phillipa Soo
Hometown: Libertyville, Illinois
Training: The Juilliard School (Class of '12)
Big Break: Phillipa made her NYC debut in Natasha Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 in 2012/2013 and caught the attention of Thomas Kail and Lin-Manuel Miranda who scouted her at a performance and asked her to be a part of a table read of Hamilton. She has been a part of Hamilton since 2014. This is her Broadway debut.
Fun Fact: After her husband's death, Eliza Hamilton started the first private orphanage in New York City in her husband's honor. Phillipa is continuing Eliza's legacy along with two dozen members of the cast and crew. They have become pen pals to the agency's children, and through "The Eliza Project," she has recruited teaching artists to provide the kids with acting, dancing, and rap lessons.
What an inspirational group of ladies! Who is your favorite?
Let me know in the comments below!
Check back on Wednesday to
Meet the 2016 Tony Awards Nominees:
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Tom Morin is a NYC-based acting coach, co-founder of Polish Your Passion, and a professional actor/singer. He holds a B.A. in Theatre & Political Science from the College of the Holy Cross and an M.F.A. in Acting from Ohio University and has been teaching for the past 9 years, advising and coaching students through the college audition process and beyond. He loves coffee, Shakespeare, and YouTube.