Transformation is the common element for this year’s Tony nominees for Best Actor in a Play. Two actors shape-shift into men totally distinct from their familiar film and TV roles, another changes sexes and back again, the fourth conceals his character’s villainous heart beneath a clownish exterior, and the fifth plays three varied roles in the life of a fledgling playwright.
Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwig isn’t the only Tony nominee crossing gender lines. British actor Samuel Barnett is in the running for his interpretation of Viola in the Shakespeare’s Globe, all-male production of Twelfth Night. Fearing that she has lost her twin brother in a shipwreck, Viola disguises herself as Cesario, a male page and woos the lady Olivia on behalf of the count Orsino. Previously nominated for The History Boys, Barnett skillfully straddles the sexual fence, combining male and female elements for a comically feisty hero/heroine.
All the Way
If you thought science-teacher-turned-meth-dealer Walter White, Bryan Cranston’s character on the Emmy-winning Breaking Bad had problems, wait till you see him as President Lyndon Baines Johnson in the award-winning history drama All the Way. The play chronicles LBJ’s first year in office during which he is determined to pass controversial Civil Rights legislation through a reluctant Congress. In his Broadway debut,Cranston transforms himself into the foul-mouthed chief executive, making his body appear taller and smoothing his voice with a molasses-thickTexas accent. Alternating between twisted scowls and dirty guffaws, Cranston forcefully conveys Johnson’s relentless political and personal drive.
Of Mice and Men
Best known for comedy films like Bridesmaids and Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel, Irish actor Chris O’Dowd is almost unrecognizable as the gentle, lumbering giant Lennie in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. He captures Lennie’s sweet, child-like nature and the savage rage which occasionally emerges. O’Dowd’s Lennie is a giant baby, attracted to soft surfaces but capable of dangerous temper tantrums.
Dozens of stars including Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Kevin Kline, Peter Dinklage, and Laurence Olivier have created their own version of the treacherous Richard, but two-time Tony winner Mark Rylance (Boeing-Boeing, Jerusalem) has given the ambitious, murderous monarch his own spin in the Shakespeare’s Globe production of the Elizabethan classic, played in repertory with Twelfth Night. Speaking directly to the audience and even cosying up to theatergoers seated onstage, he reveals Richard’s clever act of pretending to be a joking simpleton in order to seem unthreatening to his rivals in his quest for the British throne. This is a Richard who laughs his way to the crown, killing and slashing into between giggles, which makes him all the more scary.
Best known as the defective detective Monk from the USA cable series, Tony Shalhoub has also turned in a series of varied stage performances including the easily-upset opera manager in Lend Me a Tenor and the overprotective father in Golden Boy. In Act One, James Lapine’s adaptation of Moss Hart’s beloved theatrical memoir, he creates three memorable portraits—Hart as an older man narrating the play; Hart’s loving father Barnett; and the legendary author George S. Kaufman who collaborated with Hart on his first hit play. In the latter role, Shalhoub recreates the eccentric scribe’s tics, habits, and phobias with comic brio.