13 Broadway Breakout Stars of 2017

7:00 AM 12/23/2017

by David Rooney and Ashley Lee

The Hollywood Reporter spotlights some of the fresh faces who turned heads on the Great White Way this year.

From left, Hailey Kilgore in 'Once on This Island,' Corey Hawkins in 'Six Degrees of Separation,' Eva Noblezada in 'Miss Saigon' and Michael Aronov in 'Oslo'
From left, Hailey Kilgore in 'Once on This Island,' Corey Hawkins in 'Six Degrees of Separation,' Eva Noblezada in 'Miss Saigon' and Michael Aronov in 'Oslo'
Joan Marcus; Getty Images; T. Charles Erickson

This list could have been twice as long, but we stuck to a baker's dozen outstanding new talents that highlight a welcome increase in the racial inclusivity of Broadway casting, along with the incandescent spark that comes with encountering an unfamiliar stage presence for the first time. There also were noteworthy debuts from celebrated names this year, but as marvelous as he was in Arthur Miller's The Price, calling Danny DeVito a breakout at age 73, with a distinguished film and TV career behind him, seems a stretch. Likewise a stage newcomer with the superstardom of Amy Schumer, though she aces her Broadway bow alongside gifted fellow first-timer Keegan-Michael Key in Meteor Shower. A couple of our picks, like Six Degrees of Separation's Corey Hawkins, had already drawn attention in film roles. But the majority are just now making their marks, like the ebullient Beanie Feldstein, little sis of Jonah Hill, who delighted audiences this year in Hello, Dolly! on stage and Lady Bird on screen. And some of our breakouts can be commended for putting their own distinctive stamp on star-making roles that helped launch careers, including those of LaChanze, Lea Salonga, Courtney B. Vance and B.D. Wong.

The Hollywood Reporter salutes 13 Broadway breakout stars of 2017:

  • Christy Altomare

    Anastasia

    Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

    Previously seen on Broadway in the blockbuster musical Mamma Mia!, Altomare landed the eponymous princess role in this new musical, inspired by the 1997 animated feature, with a score by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty that expands on the songs in that film. Among those tunes is the Oscar-nominated hit "Journey to the Past," which regularly sets the girl-centric audience swooning when it closes the show's first act. Altomare hits every beloved beat of the movie, and also summons new strength as the lost, amnesiac protagonist discovers who she is — not just as a Russian with a history but also in more universal terms of youthful female empowerment.

  • Michael Aronov

    Oslo

    T. Charles Erickson

    This Tony-winning political drama, about the secret back-channel talks between Israeli and Palestinian authorities that led to what become known as the Oslo Accords, was very much an ensemble piece. But Aronov, who spent three seasons on FX's The Americans, took on its most dynamic character: director general of the Israeli foreign ministry Uri Savir. Wearing a sharp suit and an even sharper smile, he bit into the role with take-charge swagger, mischievous humor and sexual magnetism to spare. Previously seen on Broadway in the 2012 revival of Golden Boy, Aronov took home the Tony for best featured actor in a play for his work in Oslo; he next appears onscreen in Heather Graham's directorial debut Half Magic and Chris Weitz's WWII thriller Operation Finale.

  • Barrett Doss

    Groundhog Day

    Courtesy of Joan Marcus

    Just as the evergreen movie on which it was based was a vehicle for the gale-force comedic talents of Bill Murray, this musical with songs by mad genius Tim Minchin was dominated by the bravura performance of dazzling triple-threat Andy Karl, playing jaded Pittsburgh TV weatherman Phil Connors. Not even a serious injury on the eve of opening night could keep him down. But among the show's high notes was the unassuming, though quietly funny and affecting work of Doss, who brought an appealing freshness and crisp, warm vocals to a role that felt more substantial than its 1993 screen forebear (played by Andie MacDowell). As TV news producer Rita, the Minneapolis native commanded the stage during bittersweet songs like "One Day" and "If I Had My Time Again," melting hearts when she joined Karl's reformed bad boy Phil at the end in "Seeing You." Also of Netflix's Iron Fist, Doss will next be seen onscreen in the Grey's Anatomy spinoff series.

  • Beanie Feldstein

    Hello, Dolly!

    Julieta Cervantes

    It takes a special quality to get noticed in an ensemble led by the megawatt power of Bette Midler, not to mention when she's flanked by the seasoned comic chops of David Hyde Pierce. But this bright newcomer (pictured left) brought a bubbly personality and an inspired grasp of physical comedy to the blockbuster revival of the classic musical, whether buzzing around as impressionable shopgirl Minnie Fay, playing comic sidekick to Kate Baldwin's more worldly Irene Malloy, or falling head-over-heels in love with Taylor Trensch's equally guileless Barnaby Tucker. She's a walking, talking, singing, dancing exclamation point. The younger sister of actor Jonah Hill, Feldstein also makes an impression onscreen, opposite Saoirse Ronan in Greta Gerwig's coming-of-age movie Lady Bird, the cast of which is stacked with great New York and Chicago stage talent.

  • Jin Ha

    M. Butterfly

    Matthew Murphy

    This alum of Hamilton's Chicago production made a striking impression in his Broadway debut, stepping into the same role that brought then-newcomer B.D. Wong acclaim 30 years ago. Starring opposite Clive Owen in Julie Taymor's production, Ha played secretive Beijing opera performer Song Liling with an enigmatic air, moving sinuously from a convincing affectation of graceful subservience to teasing manipulation and survivalist cunning as the story, inspired by real characters and events, weaves in espionage and betrayal. The revival drew a mixed response and was a commercial disappointment, but it served as a strong platform for Ha's mesmerizing turn.

  • Corey Hawkins

    Six Degrees of Separation

    Joan Marcus

    This sadly short-lived John Guare revival with Allison Janney and John Benjamin Hickey made a lasting impression thanks in part to Hawkins' take on the beguiling young African-American trickster Paul, who pulls the wool over the eyes of a couple of sophisticated Upper East Side Manhattan liberals. The breakout actor of Straight Outta Compton — who next appears in Spike Lee's Black Klansman and Christoph Waltz's Georgetown — imbued the character with both obfuscation and naked yearning, but the magic ingredient of his expertly judged performance was not his character's calculation; it was his spontaneity, projecting an openness that suggested he seemed almost to believe the fictions he was spinning. Playing a character (first played on Broadway by Courtney B. Vance) whose dishonesty borders on the sociopathic, Hawkins' vulnerability was equal to his intensity.

  • Hailey Kilgore

    Once on This Island

    Courtesy of Joan Marcus

    This immersive revival of the much-loved 1990 musical folktale set in the French Antilles put out an international casting call to find its poor teenage orphan Ti Moune, who breaks the rules, Romeo and Juliet-style, by falling for a pale-skinned aristocrat from behind the walls on the wealthy side of the island. The role in the original production launched the career of Broadway favorite LaChanze. Making the part her own, Oregon-born Kilgore is an enchanting discovery who embodies both strength and vulnerability with a natural exuberance that never feels forced. In addition to her gut-wrenching numbers, she brings primal energy to Ti Moune's empowering eruption of African dance in the show's intense climactic scenes. In terms of knockout Broadway debuts, the production also showcases Glee alum Alex Newell as the Goddess of the Earth, who all but blows the roof off the theater, belting out a fierce "Mama Will Provide."

  • Katrina Lenk

    The Band's Visit

    Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

    Following directly from her impassioned work last season in Paula Vogel's Tony-winning drama Indecent, this classic beauty landed a legitimate star-making role as Dina, the sultry, terminally bored local café owner who hosts a group of stranded Egyptian musicians in a nowhere town in the middle of the Israeli desert. Just watch the subtle shifts in Lenk's inscrutable features as her character's world-weary numbness gives way to sly flirtation (with a superb Tony Shalhoub as the marooned bandleader) and then to dreamy romantic longing as she recalls the Egyptian songs and movies of her youth in "Omar Sharif." The tenuous connection between these two cross-cultural strangers was the most infectiously romantic non-romance of the year.

  • Eva Noblezada

    Miss Saigon

    Matthew Murphy

    The Filipino/Mexican-American newcomer landed the musical revival's lead role as Kim, the 17-year-old peasant girl who falls for an American soldier during the panicked final days of the Vietnam War, and reconnects with him, heartbreakingly, in Thailand years later. On the West End and then on Broadway, Noblezada's vocals showed an expressive range and sweetness that cuts through all the noise and busy-ness that surrounds her character. Like Lea Salonga the first time around in 1989, she's a bona fide discovery, who puts a face of raw human pain on a mega-musical more often remembered for its showstopping helicopter scene.

  • Ethan Slater

    SpongeBob SquarePants

    Courtesy of Joan Marcus

    How do you bring to life a cartoon creation that's basically a porous, googly-eyed rectangle on legs? Enlist this dynamic young actor, who performs outside the box as the squishy title character — wearing a yellow shirt, plaid clamdiggers, suspenders and a red tie — but unmistakably evokes SpongeBob with his effervescence and lively, rubberized physicality. He also has the helium voice down, along with the irrepressible optimism and bouncy walk. Attached to the show since it was first developed five years ago, Slater shines brightest when surrounded by glow-in-the-dark sponges for the song "(Just a) Simple Sponge," written by Panic! At the Disco; and in his character's outlook-encapsulating signature tune near the end of this delirious musical treat, "Best Day Ever." Just watching him clamber up the jungle gym-like maze of Mount Humongous in David Zinn's wacky set design is a workout in itself.

  • Ari'el Stachel

    The Band's Visit

    Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

    The Northern California native displays killer charm as self-styled heartbreaker Haled, the flirtatious Egyptian trumpeter who asks every attractive female he meets, “Do you know Chet Baker?” before launching into his whispery rendition of "My Funny Valentine." Making his Broadway debut, Stachel (pictured right) uncovers unexpected depths in the smooth-talking musician, who puts his womanizing on hold — at least until later in the evening — to give gentle courtship instructions to a chronically shy Israeli local in the cool, jazzy pep talk, "Haled's Song About Love." It's part of the singular spell of this hypnotic new musical that while Tony Shalhoub's bandleader Tewfiq embodies melancholy regret and old-world, gentlemanly reserve, Stachel's Haled is the spirited personification of slick seduction and unquenchable desire, even if he's a lot goofier than he knows.

  • Taylor Trensch

    Hello, Dolly!

    Courtesy of Julieta Cervantes

    Having appeared in Wicked, Matilda and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Trensch was hardly new to Broadway. But it took the glorious Hello, Dolly! revival to unleash the full spectrum of this terrific performer's idiosyncratic comedic gifts. While his more seasoned stage buddy Gavin Creel took home the Tony Award as under-appreciated Yonkers feed-store clerk Cornelius Hackl, it was his superbly balanced pairing with Trensch's even more lowly shopboy Barnaby Tucker (pictured left) that lifts this comic duo's scenes among the show's highlights. Playing hooky while their curmudgeonly boss was away, they whisked the audience along with them on a giddy adventure to New York, their yearning for romance and excitement quite touching. And while Barnaby was all giggly nerves at first — with Trensch making his every hysterical reaction priceless — he soon got on board with Cornelius' declaration: "We won't come home until we've kissed a girl." Trensch next takes on the title role of the Broadway hit Dear Evan Hansen.

  • Michael Xavier

    Sunset Boulevard, Prince of Broadway

    Courtesy of Joan Marcus

    It's no easy task to go toe-to-toe with the formidable Glenn Close as Norma Desmond, a role for which she won a Tony over twenty years ago, and one that practically demands she chow down on the scenery to gloriously campy effect. But the British actor made an admirable Broadway debut alongside her without getting eaten alive. His powerful singing voice certainly helped, and the chiseled body (that pool scene!) didn't hurt either. Xavier followed his turn as Joe Gillis, the financially desperate screenwriter enticed by Close's Norma to collaborate on her delusional comeback, by jumping directly into the Harold Prince showcase Prince of Broadway. Highlights of that revue included his stirring interpretation of "Being Alive" from Company; and he excelled at playing the straight man to Janet Dacal's sexy, office-inappropriate Daily Planet secretary, angling to uncover the hunk beneath Xavier's Clark Kent in a number from It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's Superman.