A happy byproduct of the bumper crop of spring musical openings is a wealth of breakout performances--i.e., excellent work by actors who were previously unsung or who, whatever their past credits, have only now been given the chance to shine at full wattage.
Over at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey, Leslie Kritzer is more phenomenal than anyone had a right to hope she would be as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. Of course, the role bears the indelible stamp of Barbra Streisand, who created it three-and-a-half decades ago in her second and last Broadway musical appearance (!!) and then preserved her interpretation with her big-screen debut in the 1968 film version. But Kritzer, a tiny, very young woman with a big, beautiful voice and far more than "36 expressions," is so good (and so different from Streisand) that she makes the role her own. Happily, she's partnered by the perfectly cast Robert Cuccioli as "Nicky Arnstein, Nicky Arnstein," and her breakout performance is properly showcased within the setting of a typically lavish Paper Mill production.
Though the Roundabout Theatre Company's Follies opened to largely negative reviews, patrons are speaking very well of Erin Dilly, Lauren Ward, Richard Roland, and Joey Sorge, who play the younger counterparts of the show's starry leads. Ward got a lof of attention Off-Broadway in the title role of Violet, but she and Roland have previously had only a nodding acquaintance with Broadway, while Dilly and Sorge are hereby making their Main Stem debuts. "You're Gonna Love Tomorrow"/"Love Will See Us Through," their second-act contrapuntal quartet, goes over like gangbusters. Disappointing though it may be, this Follies is a high-profile project, and the excellence of its two young couples has definitely not gone unnoticed.
It wasn't unexpected that Faith Prince would be wonderfully warm and endearing as the star of Bells Are Ringing, but many theatergoers will be pleasantly surprised by the performance of Prince's leading man, Marc Kudisch. No Broadway tyro, Kudisch has previously been seen in the vicinity of Times Square as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, as George Kittredge in the short-lived High Society, as Chauvelin in the final edition of The Scarlet Pimpernel, and as Jackie in the Michael John LaChiusa-George C. Wolfe version of The Wild Party. But only now, as the redeemed playboy Jeffrey Moss in Bells, is he getting the chance to really show us everything he's got in terms of acting ability, vocal chops, dancing skill, and killer charisma. Aside from Kudisch, Bells has at least one more trump card in the brilliantly over-the-top performance of Martin Moran as Dr. Kitchell, the dentist who wants desperately to be a songwriter. In his fairly brief time on stage, this actor--so terrific in the less flashy role of radioman Harold Bride in the Broadway musical Titanic--prompts such wild audience laughter that the Plymouth Theatre threatens to levitate.
Though it might seem impossible to take even momentary focus away from Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, the buzz is that Gary Beach, Roger Bart, and Brad Oscar manage to do just that as (respectively) a nutso director, his unbelievably gay private secretary, and a crackpot ex-Nazi playwright in The Producers. You may know Beach from Beauty and the Beast (in which he played Lumiere) and Oscar from Forbidden Broadway (in which he played a score of characters), but you've never seen them like this. And though Bart won a Tony Award as Snoopy in the revival of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, even he is surprising people with his capacity for manic stage behavior in his present role. (I sure hope you already have your tickets for The Producers because, if you don't, you'll probably be seeing the second or third replacement cast.)
Finally, Deven May is giving a performance that lends new meaning to the term tour de force in Bat Boy The Musical. Though this curious little show at the Union Square Theatre is not everyone's cup of blood--er, tea--there seems to be unanimous agreement that May is a star-in-the-making. If he can get through this grueling assignment without permanent damage to his voice, there's no limit to the heights his career may achieve. Watch him fly!