The 11 Best Broadway Debuts of 2018
Meet this year's breakout stars, as picked by TheaterMania's editorial department.
The past 12 months were filled with terrific Broadway debuts by performers of every age, and even one 2,000-pound puppet. Here are our picks, in alphabetical order, for the most memorable appearances of 2018.
Quinn Carney in The Ferryman
by David Gordon
There are all sorts of critical adjectives that can be used to describe Paddy Considine's performance as Quinn Carney in Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman: magnetic, explosive, sexy, charismatic, simmering, slow-boiling. All that and more, Considine makes an absolutely tremendous Broadway debut as the central character in the three-hour drama about family, loyalty, and buried secrets. He grounds the play in a brooding, sobering reality as each scene leads him closer and closer to his breaking point. His work is even more remarkable when you learn that Considine not only has Asperger's syndrome, diagnosed in 2011, well into his acting career, but also Irlen syndrome, a condition in which the brain inadequately processes visual stimuli. Considine is truly an inspiration, on stage and off.
Mrs. Greene in The Prom
by Hayley Levitt
Courtenay Collins is an Atlanta-based actor, wife, and mother to a teenage son who had put the idea of Broadway behind her — until she got invited to The Prom. Collins joined the cast during its premiere run at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre and landed the offer to move with the company to Broadway as Mrs. Greene, a conservative Indiana mother who butts heads with the Broadway liberals who come to town championing a gay-friendly prom at her daughter's high school. "It's a really beautiful thing to have had a career in theater this long," said Collins during the festivities of her first-ever Broadway opening. "I think I appreciate it more than I would have if I had made my debut 20 or 30 years ago." Broadway appreciates it too, and her inspiring story makes Collins one of our favorite debuts of 2018.
Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
by Bethany Rickwald
Ever since the world (wizarding and otherwise) was first introduced to Hermione Granger in 1997, the persistent polymath has been serving as a role model for bookish, bossy kids everywhere. And sure, teenage Hermione was a badass, but for those of us who grew up trying to emulate her every trait, the real question is, "What is Hermione like as a grown up?" Our inquiring minds want to know!
Enter Harry Potter and the Cursed Child's Noma Dumezweni. As Hermione in her mid-30s, Dumezweni maintains everything we loved about the younger version of the character (her loyalty and sense of justice) while delightfully leaning even further into traits that develop with time and self-confidence, like fierceness and leadership. Dumezweni effortlessly turns the dial up or down on these traits as we see different versions of adult Hermione, but even in the darkest timelines, it's always clear that the soul of our beloved hero is buried just underneath her stern countenance.
The casting of Dumezweni in Cursed Child represents the first time Hermione has been played by an actor who's not Caucasian — a wonderful development that makes Hermione an accessible role model for even more children — and Dumezweni couldn't be a more perfect vector for her spirit.
Tewfiq in The Band's Visit
by Bethany Rickwald
Tony Shalhoub left a big pair of immaculately shined shoes to fill when he departed Broadway's The Band's Visit this past May. Having originated the musical's role of Tewfiq during the show's off-Broadway run, it was hard to imagine another actor who could inhabit the character so fully. But his replacement turned out to be, if anything, more intimately acquainted with the role. Sasson Gabay, the Israeli actor who played Tewfiq in the movie on which the musical is based, made his Broadway debut in the same role on June 26.
Gabay brought a twinkly-eyed softness, lurking just below the brim of his commanding peaked cap, to the quiet Colonel Tewfiq. His gentle read on the character brought welcome pathos to a story that's built on a foundation of sentiment. Where Gabay's take on the part most shone, however, was in the ways his tender core added to the story, from Tewfiq's almost-romance with the dissatisfied Dina to the show's final gently heartbreaking moments.
Harper Pitt in Angels in America
by Ashley Van Buren
If you were lucky enough to catch Denise Gough during her tour-de-force run off-Broadway or at London's National Theatre in People, Places & Things, you knew Broadway had better buckle up. West End audiences got a chance to see Gough's performance in Angels first, and by the time the production hit Broadway, theater nerds were buzzing about how she would tackle the tricky role of Harper Pitt, the Mormon pill-popping wife of Roy Cohn's lackey Joe Pitt. In a part that flutters between reality and drug-induced fantasy, Gough went against the obvious choice to play Harper as a sensitive broken doll and instead made her a ferocious being, fighting for life, railing against everything familiar, and bending like a flame that seems to defy the wind. In Gough's hands, Harper became a force to be reckoned with in a world where even angels fear to tread.
Honor Carney in The Ferryman
by David Gordon
In a cast of seemingly thousands — and that number is in just children, alone — one youngster's performance in The Ferryman stands out above the rest of her pint-size costars. Ten-year-old Matilda Lawler plays the rambunctious, foulmouthed Honor Carney, daughter to protagonists Quinn and Mary. Lawler makes her mark simply through her precociousness, and her deadpan delivery of one of the play's best lines (so blue it's basically unprintable), and she leaves us in stitches every time we remember it.
Kong in King Kong
by Dan Stahl
The biggest Broadway debut of 2018 — literally, if not figuratively — was that of Kong in King Kong. At 20 feet tall and 2,000 pounds, this animatronic puppet takes up more space than the Empire State Building set piece he perches on near the end of the show. How could we not add him to the list? Even when he's the most high-maintence addition, with 14 humans operating his every move: 10 manipulate his limbs with ropes onstage, while four others sit in a balcony booth, operating motors and hydraulics inside him that make his head, shoulders, and hips move. Actor Jon Hoche voices Kong, aided by a digital processor that amplifies and animalizes his lines. Oh yes, Kong has lines — most memorably, "RRRRRAAAAAAWWWRRRRR!"
Louis Ironson in Angels in America
by Zachary Stewart
When you hear James McArdle's thick Scottish brogue, you might have a hard time believing that the Glasgow native was able to so fully embody the role of Louis Ironson, a Jewish New Yorker and one of the protagonists of Tony Kushner's Angels in America. Yet that's exactly what he did for eight performances a week, playing the musicality of Louis's lines like Itzhak Perlman plays Beethoven. He extracted maximum comedy from each verbose monologue, finding a perfect balance of seriousness and sarcasm in his confrontations with Prior and Joe. Audiences could be forgiven for assuming that McArdle was a hometown boy, because his authentic performance, and striking accent work, never gave them reason to doubt.
Pamela in Head Over Heels
by Pete Hempstead
Heaven is a place onstage — just ask Bonnie Milligan, who gives a hilarious Broadway debut as Pamela, the sexually questioning princess in the delightfully daffy Go-Go's musical Head Over Heels. She ramps up the camp as she belts out Go-Go's favorites like "How Much More" and "Turn to You," with costar Taylor Iman Jones. Milligan's been with the musical since the first table-read four years ago, and her experience originating the role shows in every scene she's in. Catch her performance before the show closes in January, because when it comes to Broadway debuts, we're mad about Milligan.
Sven the Reindeer in Frozen
by Zachary Stewart
In the fantastical world of Frozen, one performance stands out as particularly real: Andrew Pirozzi plays Sven with an animal magnetism that is impossible to ignore. For the unfamiliar, Sven is a reindeer, but Pirozzi's four-legged gait and cuddly nose nuzzles undoubtedly remind many theatergoers of the family dog — a cleverly wholesome choice for this Disney musical. The shaggy full-body puppet Pirozzi dons was designed by Michael Curry, and requires Pirozzi to plank for several minutes at a time, a task that he's up to, if his ab-tacular Instagram is any indication. It is, quite simply, the most impressive physical performance of the year.
Sarah Norman in Children of a Lesser God
by Kenji Fujishima
Though the recent Broadway revival of Children of a Lesser God only served to demonstrate how badly Mark Medoff's well-meaning 1979 play has aged, there was one aspect of it worth celebrating: a truly stunning debut from first-time actor Lauren Ridloff. Her character, Sarah Norman, represents the side of silence in the play's argument between whether it's better for the deaf to learn how to speak or stick with American Sign Language. Ridloff — as with Phyllis Frelich and Marlee Matlin before her — proves a fervent ASL advocate, by turns fiery, playful, and tender as she slowly falls in love with James (Joshua Jackson), the play's paladin for spoken English. Witnessing the passion Ridloff brings to her signing and hand gestures becomes its own mesmerizing spectacle, one that blasts through Medoff's own rather retrograde ambivalence. All by herself, Ridloff's performance brought a measure of poetry to a play otherwise sorely lacking in it.