With Tony nominations out this week, there’s an abundance of talent to celebrate. But this year, rather than the attention being drawn by leading actors or celebrity names, there are a number of featured actor nominees whose performances shone out. Nicole Serratore picks out the scene stealing support acts from last season
Ali Stroker (Oklahoma!) This is not Stroker’s first Broadway rodeo but it’s her red-hot performance in Oklahoma! that sears into the memory. Stroker shines as Ado Annie in this experimental production that has a decidedly sensual look and twangy musical feel. Stroker’s Annie is confident, self-possessed, and won’t take any slut-shaming from her pal Laurey. She sings with a throaty urgency that matches her character’s desire. That she nails the comedic undertones of Annie too shows her incredible range.
Amber Gray (Hadestown) As Queen of the underworld, Persephone, Gray commands the room. And it’s easy to forget the main love story in this new musical about Orpheus and Eurydice when Gray takes centre stage. With an eye-catching shimmy, diabolical laugh, or dramatic swig of her flask, she’s an electric performer who will have audiences willing to follow her to the underworld. She can not only sing and dance the jazz-inflected numbers with gusto – and the air of a 1940’s screen siren – but she brings great depth to Persephone’s heartbreak, disillusion and lament.
Ben Walker (All My Sons) Playing the straight-arrow son Chris in this Arthur Miller classic, it would be easy to get lost behind stage veteran Tracy Letts as Joe Keller or Annette Bening as Kate. But Walker is the heart of this production. War wounded, suffering from survivor’s guilt, and just trying to allow himself some happiness, Walker’s Chris is teetering on a razor’s edge throughout the entire play. Every thin-lipped smile he gives is laced with a twinge of pain. With each grasp he makes towards personal joy, Walker bears a little more of Chris’s agony. When the truth is finally revealed, Walker’s full-bodied teary breakdown is not just the crumbling of one man or a family but a piece of American mythology shattered.
Jeremy Pope & Ephraim Sykes (Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations) While the musical is narrated by the last surviving original member of The Temptations, Otis Williams, Pope and Sykes play two other legendary performers in the group, Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin. Pope debuted on Broadway earlier this season and earned two Tony nominations right out of the gate. His charismatic supporting turn shows off his steely mettle alongside his beatific falsetto. Sykes is the showboating Ruffin who pulls focus from the group with some big dance moves and vocal finesse. But it’s when Ruffin loses his bearings that Sykes’ delicate performance shows his fragility in the face of loss.
Andy Grotelueschen (Tootsie) Just about all the best lines in the new musical Tootsie get delivered by Grotelueschen as Jeff, Michael Dorsey’s roommate. Jeff is the sarcastic, exasperated voice of reason when Michael puts on a dress and ends up getting a starring role in a Broadway musical as a woman. But while the writing may be funny, Grotelueschen knows how to punctuate the comedy in a subtle, understated way. His delivery is so good he does not have to say anything as his dumbfounded silence also get laughs.
The Tony Awards are held at Radio City Music Hall New York on June 9