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Our 5 Favorite Broadway Debuts of 2021

These are the ones we will remember.

With the return of Broadway comes the return of Broadway debuts. We were very happy to see so many fine artists getting their first go on the boards this year, and here are our top 5.

Sharon D Clarke sings "Lot's Wife" in Caroline, or Change
(© Joan Marcus)

Sharon D Clarke
Caroline in Caroline, or Change
In London, Sharon D Clarke has had a career that most actors would envy. A well-established fixture of the West End, she's been in all the big shows, ranging from We Will Rock You (she was the original Killer Queen) to The Lion King (a Rafiki at the turn of this century) to Ghost (originating the role of Oda May Brown). In Caroline, or Change, for which she earned her second of three Olivier Awards, Clarke delivers one of those performances that people will talk about forever, an amalgam of simmering rage and resentment that explodes into the astonishing eleven o'clock number, "Lot's Wife." It's an honor an a privilege to see this performance, and I hope she has space next to all those Oliviers. — David Gordon

Emily Davis, Pete Simpson, and Will Cobbs star in Is This a Room, directed by Tina Satter, at Broadway's Lyceum Theatre.
(© Chad Batka)

Emily Davis
Reality Winner in Is This A Room
Emily Davis made me extremely anxious this year, more anxious than I've ever felt in a Broadway theater. She played NSA contractor Reality Winner in Tina Satter's Is This A Room, which used the actual transcript of the FBI's driveway interrogation of Winner as its script. Davis's performance exhumed for me the long-buried memory of being a child caught by an adult in the perpetration of some infraction — which is how the federal government would like our relationship to be. The most compelling aspect of Davis's performance was her physical and emotional struggle against the tide of circumstance, as she tried to keep her cool and show that absolutely nothing was wrong. Davis has shared her gifts as a physical performer with off-off-Broadway audiences, most notably opposite Erin Markey in Singlet. That makes her sudden debut on Broadway (in a show that few people ever thought would end up there) even more remarkable. — Zachary Stewart

Adrian Lester in The Lehman Trilogy
(© Julieta Cervantes)

Adrian Lester
Emanuel Lehman and others in The Lehman Trilogy

Adrian Lester is a legend of the British stage. The Olivier Award winner has a breathtaking résumé that runs the gamut from Shakespeare to Sondheim. Yet Broadway audiences had not had the opportunity to watch him tread the rialto's boards until this year, when he took on the role of Emanuel Lehman (and many others) in Stefano Massini's epic The Lehman Trilogy. It's a beast of a play that would test the endurance of any actor, but Lester's grace and ease onstage, moving from character to character across ethnicities and generations, gives his complex performance a simplicity that does what every great performance should do: make you forget that you are watching a performance. His virtuosity found a worthy vehicle in this exceptional play, and audiences are fortunate to have seen him make his long-awaited Broadway debut in it. — Pete Hempstead

Brittney Mack and the Cast of Six
(© Joan Marcus)

Brittney Mack
Anne of Cleves in Six
Half of the half dozen queens of Six are making their Broadway debuts, and each one is equally deserving of recognition— just as the empowerment-heavy pop musical teaches its audiences every night. Still, we couldn't resist singling out Brittney Mack for her performance as Henry VIII's fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. As the only ex-wife of the bunch without a sob story, she gets to go ham on the party vibes, dancing around the stage like a single girl breaking it down at the club. It takes mountains of energy and charisma to be the lone hype woman for an entire Broadway theater, and at not even five feet tall, Mack makes it look easy. — Hayley Levitt

Keenan Scott II
(© Emilio Madrid)

Keenan Scott II
Playwright of Thoughts of a Colored Man
What a rare thing: encountering a brand-new play on Broadway from a playwright you had previously never heard of, and immediately coming face-to-face one of the finest new theatrical works of the year. Such was my experience with the Broadway play Thoughts of a Colored Man. Sure, to some degree Keenan Scott II owes the kaleidoscopic structure of his play to Ntozake Shange's epochal 1976 choreopoem For Colored Girls…, but he brings his own distinctive warmth, passion, humor, and eloquence to his depiction of what it's like to be a Black man in America today. Not only does Thoughts of a Colored Man announce, in a big way, a new playwriting talent worth watching, but it reminds us that, even in the capitalistic arena that is the Great White Way, artistic discoveries are still possible. — Kenji Fujishima


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