The 11 Best Broadway Debuts of 2014
Our picks for this year's breakout stars.
In 2014, Broadway saw fantastic performances from a number of seasoned stage veterans like Sutton Foster and Nathan Lane. Working alongside these titans was a whole new wave of performers making their Broadway debuts. As the year draws to a close, we look back at some of our favorite breakout performances from the past year.
The show may not have been long-lived, but The Bridges of Madison County's surprise standout Whitney Bashor made a lasting impression as Marian, the folk-singing ex-wife of wandering photographer Robert Kincaid. She had exactly zero spoken lines and took the stage for a total of less than 10 minutes, but her performance of Jason Robert Brown's Joni Mitchell-esque "Another Life" made everyone in the Schoenfeld Theatre stop and take notice. If you don't believe us, take a listen for yourself.
In the biggest career change maybe ever, Bryan Cranston went from venomous meth dealer to American president. Right after his hit television series Breaking Bad ended its five-season run, Cranston jumped into All the Way, Robert Schenkkan's three-hour drama about Lyndon Baines Johnson's first year in office and subsequent election campaign. Cranston conquered Broadway with a titanic performance that ran the gamut of emotions, from funny and frightening, to psychologically ornate and vigorously physical. That he won every award in sight was no surprise.
Kieran Culkin is best known as one of the several actor siblings in the Culkin clan, including older brother Macaulay. This fall on Broadway, however, the performer took a big step out of the shadows. Culkin, who is currently starring with Tavi Gevinson and Michael Cera in Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth, turns in a stellar performance as drug-dealer deadbeat Dennis Ziegler. He creates a character who charms the audience in spite of itself, even while he mistreats the friends who look up to him — a feat of performance that evokes the likes of a young Robert Downey Jr.
Trading her jet-black locks for a Pippi Longstocking-style wig in The Cripple of Inishmaan, Martin McDonagh's portrait of the influence of film on a small seaside community, the Irish actress Sarah Greene defined the word fiery with a performance as hilarious as it was terrifying. As the blistering Helen McCormick, she also played up the character's dark psychological underpinnings in a way few actors could — and wasn't afraid to show that even bullies have bruised hearts. Just don't get in her way.
In 2013, Cush Jumbo captivated audiences at St. Ann's Warehouse with her simultaneously sensitive and masculine performance as Mark Antony in Phyllida Lloyd's women's prison production of Julius Caesar. Unfortunately, she remained unknown to the Brooklyn averse. This year, that all changed when she made her Broadway debut in The River opposite Hugh Jackman. Jumbo brings an earthy realness to the occasionally ethereal play; she's a life raft in a sea of questions and doubt. All that considered, we're positively thrilled that Jumbo will be sticking around New York to star in Josephine and I, her solo show about Josephine Baker, which was a big hit in at London's Bush Theatre.
Ramin Karimloo was already a star when he made his Broadway debut. The Iranian-Canadian actor had played The Phantom twice in London: in the original The Phantom of the Opera and the sequel Love Never Dies, in which he originated the role. His decade-long career in the U.K. helped him land the role of Jean Valjean in the Broadway revival of Les Misérables at the Imperial Theatre, where he's still killing it every night. Seriously, his simultaneously muscular and buoyant rendition of "Bring Him Home" has become our all-time favorite, and it was doubtless one of the things that clinched him a Tony nomination this year. He's also a total stud.
The rising star of Irish actor Chris O'Dowd flashed briefly on Broadway in 2014 when he appeared opposite James Franco in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men at the Longacre Theatre. Though both O'Dowd and Franco gave solid Broadway debut performances in the play, it's O'Dowd who really shone. Best known for his comedic work (in shows like The IT Crowd and films such as Bridesmaids), O'Dowd gave the childlike character of Lennie a perfect innocence that's impressive from a man with such a commanding physical presence.
Those of us who caught Margo Seibert's Drama Desk-nominated performance in Tamar of the River were astounded by the actress' powerful and unique voice. When she made her Broadway debut this year in Rocky, we knew for certain: Seibert is a star. Her voice brought a memorable blend of control and raw emotion to the Ahrens & Flaherty score, making a lasting impression in our minds. While Rocky is sadly no longer with us, we look forward to seeing Seibert in a whole lot more.
Playing Mini-Me to two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster is a tall order for a Broadway debut, but Emerson Steele did it with gusto in last season's Broadway premiere of Violet. The teenage actress took on the role of young Violet, a Southern girl whose face was permanently disfigured by a blade that came loose from her father's ax. Throughout the production, she and Foster had several opportunities to duet, giving Steele ample time to claim her place among the next generation of Broadway stars. Next stop for the budding performer: Lincoln Center.
It's hard to make your Broadway debut when you're playing opposite scene-stealers like Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, F. Murray Abraham, Stockard Channing, and Megan Mullally. But in Terrence McNally backstage satire It's Only a Play, Stock impressively holds his own opposite these Broadway powerhouses. That he managed to even steal a moment for himself, singing a shockingly dramatic version of Wicked act-one closer "Defying Gravity," was icing on the cake.
Saul Williams is a force to be reckoned with in the worlds of hip-hop and spoken-word poetry. He was relatively unknown to Broadway audiences, however, before he took the lead role of John in Holler If Ya Hear Me, the short-lived Tupak Shakur-inspired musical that played the Palace Theatre over the summer. With irrepressible flow and exquisite diction, Williams illuminated an ex-convict's story using Shakur's timeless lyrics. An author in his own right, Williams is a recent recipient of an Amtrak Residency, which outfits writers with a private room (complete with a bed and desk) on a long-distance train. We sincerely hope that he rides that train back to Broadway sometime soon.