Tonys: Catching Up With Last Year's Acting Contenders

THR's awards analyst reports on the recent and upcoming activities of last year's 39 nominated thesps, from Neil Patrick Harris and Idina Menzel, who recently crossed paths at the Oscars, to Lena Hall and James Monroe Iglehart, who are now involved with solo shows.
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Lena Hall accepting the best featured actress in a musical Tony in 2014

The 2014-2015 Tony nominations will be announced on April 28, one day shy of a year since last year's announcement. Before The Hollywood Reporter deep-dives into covering this season's race — and deep-dive we will, as I have once again relocated from Los Angeles to New York for that specific purpose — I thought it might be fun to catch up with last year's acting nominees and winners and see what they've been up to.

Everyone knows that If/Then's Idina Menzel (a nominee for best actress in a musical) sang the national anthem at the Super Bowl on Feb. 1, before reconvening, on Feb. 22, with John Travolta at the Oscars, which happened to be hosted by Hedwig and the Angry Inch's Neil Patrick Harris (the winner of best actor in a musical). But what about the other 37 (there was one double-nominee)?

On Saturday night, Lena Hall, last year's best featured actress in a musical winner for Hedwigand, before that, my Times Square interviewing partner — took her final bows with the show, surrounded on stage by Harris and the three other men who played her character's "wife" over the course of 22 previews and 337 performances dating back to March 29, 2014. After all that physically and vocally punishing work, not to mention the mental exhaustion that must come with doing seven shows a week, Hall would have been well within her rights to take a long vacation. But instead, on Tuesday night, she reported to New York's historic Cafe Carlyle supper club, just two miles from Hedwig's home base at the Belasco Theatre, to perform a a one-woman show for the first of 12 consecutive nights.

Hall has brought to this incredibly different venue her punk-rock musical style — crossed with a sweet look (kimono-type dress, a gardenia in her hair) and giggly-ish banter (perhaps encouraged by the whiskey she nursed between songs). She totally won over a room that is far more accustomed to the jazz and classical genres. Afterwards, she told me how she ended up going from Hedwig to the Carlyle instead of some beach in the Caribbean.

"It was one of the greatest experiences of my life," Hall said of Hedwig, "but I knew I needed to charge forward and venture into new material and new experiences." On Nov. 17, a Broadway off-day, she sang "Broadway Baby" at a tribute to Elaine Stritch, and the next day, the Carlyle approached her about doing her own show for them when she was ready. Having already resolved to leave Hedwig at the end of co-creator John Cameron Mitchell's run as her "wife" (he later extended his engagement), she was intrigued. "The idea of going from one of the most rock 'n' roll shows ever on Broadway to the swanky Carlyle sounded cool to me."

But wasn't Hall craving a break? Apparently not. "I am a work horse, and I am happiest when I'm performing constantly," she explained. "I've always been this way. I'll take a little time off [after her Carlyle run ends she'll be heading to San Francisco to see family and friends — and to do two nights of her solo show at Feinstein's at the Nikko], but I'll still be singing my face off wherever I can and working on new projects of my own. So I'm tired and my body is beat up — but my energy comes from performing."

James Monroe Iglehart, last year's best featured actor in a musical winner for Aladdin, has a solo gig of his own coming up — even though he is still playing Genie eight times a week at the New Amsterdam. He's slated to make his solo concert debut, "How the Heck Did I Get Here?," on May 4 and 18, two "off-day" Mondays, at the 54 Below supper club.

He's not the only nominee from last year who's still hitting the boards in the same role. A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder's Jefferson Mays (best actor in a musical) is still with his best musical-winning show. Jarrod Spector (best featured actor in a musical) and Anika Larsen (best featured actress in a musical) are both still with Beautiful: The Carole King Musical — although Larsen is currently on maternity leave. And until Aug. 15, you can still catch best actor in a musical nominee Ramin Karimloo with Les Miserables.

In the trouper tradition, a number of others who left their shows — or who were a part of shows that left them — have quickly moved on to other productions on the Great White Way. You can now find The Bridges of Madison County's Kelli O'Hara (best actress in a musical) in The King & I, Rocky's Andy Karl (best actor in a musical) in On the Twentieth Century and Mothers and Sons' Tyne Daly in It Shoulda Been YouBryce Pinkham (best actor in a musical) has a more specific arrangement: he's on a "hiatus" from A Gentleman's Guide in order to appear in The Heidi Chronicles, a limited engagement play.

Bullets Over Broadway's Nick Cordero (best featured actor in a musical), meanwhile, just wrapped a run in the off-Broadway superhero musical Brooklynite.

Many Broadway actors hope to do "a little television on the side to support their theater habit," as O'Hara told me last year during the Tonys actress roundtable, because for many in the theater world, "you can't make a living or you can't get hired because you're not gonna sell the tickets unless you have a name in Hollywood." That might explain, in part, why you can now find Violet's Sutton Foster (best actress in a musical) starring on TV Land's Younger, and why you'll soon see The Glass Menagerie's Brian J. Smith (best featured actor in a play) anchoring the Wachowskis' and J. Michael Straczynski's Netflix series Sense 8. And Mark Rylance, a double-nominee last year for Richard III (best actor in a play) and Twelfth Night (best featured actor in a play — he won), appears as Thomas Cromwell on the PBS Masterpiece adaptation of Wolf Hall. (Rylance also just shot one Steven Spielberg film, Oscar hopeful Bridge of Spies, and is now shooting another, The BFG.)

Others are inhabiting supporting parts on TV: Glass Menagerie's Cherry Jones (best actress in a play) as Lee Harvey Oswald's mother on Hulu's nine-hour miniseries 11/22/63 (she'll also be appearing on the big screen in the Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light and Terrence Malick's Knight of Cups); After Midnight's Adriane Lenox (best featured actress in a musical) on The Blacklist; A Raisin in the Sun's LaTanya Richardson Jackson (best actress in a play) in a few episodes of Blue Bloods; Casa Valentina's Reed Birney (best featured actor in a play), back on House of Cards and The Blacklist; and Of Mice and Men's Chris O'Dowd (best actor in a play), back on Sky 1's Moone Boy (which he's also adapting for ABC, in addition to shooting a number of other movies). The aforementioned Mays and Iglehart have both made cameos on Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, while The Glass Menagerie's Celia Keenan-Bolger (best featured actress in a play), now very pregnant, made a hilarious one-episode appearance in Louie.

In an interesting mini-trend, HBO is adapting a couple of acclaimed Broadway biopics into TV movies with their original stars: All the Way and Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill, for which Bryan Cranston won best actor in a play for portraying Lyndon B. Johnson, and Audra McDonald won best actress in a play for portraying Billie Holliday, respectively. Cranston has also shot several movies, including Trumbo, in which he plays blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. McDonald, meanwhile, is set to star this summer in A Moon for the Misbegotten at the Williamstown Theater Festival, before returning to Broadway next April as 1920s star Lottie Gee in the new musical Shuffle Along, Or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed. McDonald has also been cast in Bill Condon's live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, for Disney.

A number of 2014 alums are also headed to the big screen in supporting parts. Cabaret's Linda Emond (best featured actress in a musical) will appear in a handful of films, including the Katherine Heigl comedy Jenny's Wedding, Jason Bateman's The Family Fang and Terrence Malick's Weightless. Act One's Tony Shalhoub (best actor in a play) will appear in the dramedy The Adventures of Beatle. And Violet's Joshua Henry (best featured actor in a musical) is now in Europe training to play a Navy SEAL opposite Oscar winner J.K. Simmons in The Lake, which is due out in 2016.

Twelfth Night's Stephen Fry (best featured actor in a play) just released a memoir, More Fool Me, and is leading the fight to secure pardons for gays persecuted alongside Alan Turing. A Night with Janis Joplin's Mary Bridget Davies (best actress in a musical) is touring the country performing rock shows. And 87-year-old Estelle Parsons, who became the oldest woman ever nominated for best actress in a play when she landed a nom for The Velocity of Autumn, is apparently laying low.

The others are already focused on their next theatrical endeavors. Twelfth Night's Samuel Barnett (best actor in a play) followed that limited engagement with a small role in the movie bomb Jupiter Ascending, and now seems to be returning to his roots; he'll soon be back at the National Theatre in a revival of the show that made him a star, The History Boys (and reteaming with the original production's director, Nicholas Hytner, in the film The Lady in the Van). Barnett's Twelfth Night costar Paul Chahidi (best featured actor in a play) went into a series of shows — Privacy at the Donmar Warehouse, then Shakespeare in Love on London's West End and now The Vote back at Donmar. And A Gentleman's Guide's Lauren Worsham (best featured actress in a musical), who left that show on Oct. 26, has since tweeted that she's preparing for another operatic role. 

Beautiful: The Carole King Story's Jessie Mueller, who won best actress in a musical, left her show on March 6 and just workshopped the starring role in a Sarah Bareilles-composed musical adaptation of the 2007 film Waitress, which will be staged by Diane Paulus and probably land on Broadway next year. And Cabaret's Danny Burstein (best featured actor in a musical) has been cast as Tevye in Bartlett Sher's revival of Fiddler on the Roof, which will open on Broadway Nov. 17.

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