7 Drama Desk Nominees to Watch
The Drama Desk Awards recognize theater on and off Broadway, which is why many Tony Award winners were Drama Desk Award winners first. Here are seven 2016 Drama Desk nominees you should keep an eye on:
1. Cynthia Erivo
Rarely is a Broadway debut as momentous as the one Cynthia Erivo is making in the revival of The Color Purple. Erivo has already garnered an Outer Critics Circle Award for her performance as Miss Celie, and she looks poised to win the Drama Desk and Tony (a feat sometimes referred to as the "Triple Crown" of stage acting). This is all the more remarkable considering that the unassuming British actress was practically unknown in New York before last year, having starred in the U.K. tour of Sister Act and the ill-fated X-Factor musical, I Can't Sing, on London's West End. "I was fully satisfied with just going to Broadway. That was enough for me," says the unfailingly modest Erivo, "To have all of this recognition is like icing on a very big cake."
2. Jeanine Serralles
Jeanine Serralles scared the heck out of us last summer with her shocking performance in the title role of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' Gloria at the Vineyard Theatre. This capped a busy year for Serralles, who also starred in Verité at Lincoln Center and Dying for It at Atlantic Theater Company. Additionally, she was three months pregnant by the time Gloria opened, which seems like lucky casting considering that her second act character, Nan, is an expectant mother. Serralles, who will reprise her Drama Desk-nominated performance next winter at the Goodman in Chicago, heaped praise on the playwright: "He's a mad genius. He's the only reason I'm here right now. He writes these incredibly rich, delicious characters. He's a generous soul and a real gift to the American theater."
3. A.J. Shively
Just eight years ago, A.J. Shively worked as a shirtless model on the red carpet of the Mamma Mia! movie premiere, a job that called for him to be seen and not heard (and one with unexpected hazards). He's now a newly minted Drama Desk nominee for his performance as Billy Cane in the Steve Martin-Edie Brickell musical Bright Star, which is only his sophomore outing on Broadway. "I'm very humbled and flabbergasted," he says about his nomination. "It feels incredibly validating that I can be here with people I look up to."
4. Carmen Cusack
Like her co-nominee Cynthia Erivo, Carmen Cusack seems to have come out of nowhere to make one of the most stunning Broadway debuts in recent memory. Her powerful performance as Alice Murphy in Bright Star has earned her Drama Desk and Tony nominations. "I couldn't have dreamed up a better role to come to Broadway with," says Cusack, who began her career singing on the QE2 ocean liner. She happily recalls Neil Sedaka's advice to her when he met her after a show on that ship: "You've got what it takes. Don't give up."
5. Andrew Garman
Andrew Garman has spent a lot of time thinking about God, or more precisely about people who spend a lot of time thinking about God. He's recently played two true believers: First in The Christians, in which he played a progressive pastor, and then in The Glory of the World, in which he portrayed a pugnacious Buddhist. Apparently, his performance in the former (for which he was nominated for a Drama Desk) was so convincing that audiences had a hard time separating him from his character. "I had people come up to me afterwards and they treated me like a pastor," he admits. "They would say, 'I'm praying for you.'"
6. Joshua Bergasse
This is the second year in a row Joshua Bergasse has been nominated for the Drama Desk for Outstanding Choreography following his spectacular Broadway debut in 2014 with On the Town. This year's nomination is for his work on Cagney, the off-Broadway bio-musical about actor James Cagney. Bergasse possesses a vast knowledge of dance history, which is why he was the perfect choreographer for such a project. "When Cagney did Yankee Doodle Dandy, he was imitating George M. Cohan, but Cagney had his own style," he explains. "Finding the difference between the two and presenting them together was something that really attracted me to the piece."
7. Saycon Sengbloh
Eclipsed marks Saycon Sengbloh's eighth Broadway show, which makes her one of the more seasoned actors on this list. Still, her Drama Desk- and Tony-nominated performance in Danai Gurira's drama about the Liberian Civil War has come as something of a surprise from an actress hitherto known for her work in musical theater (she has previously appeared in Hair, Fela!, and Motown the Musical). "I want to show people that I can do more than just sing and dance," she says, adding, "I also wanted to show people what I really look like, because my character is kind of busted." Impeccably dressed at the recent Drama Desk nominees reception, it seems that she has succeeded on all fronts.