I previously chose my top ten favourite Broadway leading ladies in musicals here; this week it’s the turn of the gents. And the same ground rules apply: they’ve all got to be people who are still regularly active on Broadway, or at least were when the theatres shut down nearly a year ago. So there are no names from the past and have sadly already left us, or who’ve not been on Broadway in a long while.
As ever, I could easily stretch to a #ShenTwens (as Betty Buckley suggested to me on Twitter, expanding the list to twenty). In fact, I may not have done so in the podcast, but there’s nothing to stop me doing so here — so while this column today reflects my #ShenTens, come back tomorrow for the second half and my countdown from 11-20, to make a #ShenTwens. (It means you get more bang for your buck, with video links to 20 performers!)
1. Hugh Jackman
After starting his career in his native Australia as a musical theatre actor, Hugh Jackman’s breakthrough role was when he came to London’s National Theatre in 1998 to star in Trevor Nunn’s glorious Olivier Theatre reimagining of Oklahoma! By the time the production transferred to Broadway, however, Jackman was already on his way to global superstardom as Wolverine in what would become The X-Men film franchise (and he was replaced by Patrick Wilson, himself destined for movie stardom).
VIDEO: Singing Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’ at Hey, Mr Producer, a 1998 benefit concert to honour producer Cameron Mackintosh
He hasn’t, however, deserted the theatre — returning to the stage to headline The Boy from Oz (2003, a show about fellow Aussie showman, the late, great singer-songwriter Peter Allen), and as well as bringing a concert show Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway to the Broadhurst in 2011, he’s also done two plays on Broadway, A Steady Rain (2009, co-starring with Daniel Craig) and The River (2014). He should have been back on Broadway last year, starring in the title role of a new revival of The Music Man; but the pandemic has delayed that to 2022 now (his co-star will be one of my top ten favourite leading ladies, Sutton Foster).
VIDEO: Performing as Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz at the 2004 Tony Awards:
2. Nathan Lane
There’s no actor on Broadway of quite such unfettered ebullience as Nathan Lane, a theatrical clown of the old school, who is equally adept in musicals as he is in plays. I first saw him making a riotous comedic splash as Nathan Detroit (a character he’s taken his stage name from) in a day-glo revival of Guys and Dolls in 1992, before playing Pseudolus in an equally hilarious revival of another Broadway classic, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in 1996, winning his first Tony for best actor in a musical.
He’d win it again in 2001 for his performance as the original Max Bialystock in the stage musical version of Mel Brooks’s The Producers (in 2005, he also won the Olivier when he reprised that performance in the show’s London premiere at Drury Lane, after being brought in at short notice to replace the originally cast Richard Dreyfuss, who was let go during rehearsals when it became apparent that he could not meet the role’s demands).
VIDEO: Nathan Lane, Lee Evans and the West End company in The Producers, at the 2004 Royal Variety Performance.
He’s done two more Broadway musicals, a revised version of the Sondheim-scored The Frogs (2004, which he was partly responsible for adapting) and The Addams Family (2010, playing the patriarch Gomez Adams), but many more plays in the years since, including a sell-out revival of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple (2005, opposite his Producers co-star, Matthew Broderick), an all-star revival of Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play (2014, again with Broderick, as well as Stockard Channing, Megan Mullally, Rupert Grint and F. Murray Abraham), the National’s revival of Angels in America (first in London, then on Broadway in 2018, winning the Tony for Best Featured Actor in a play as Roy Cohn), and most recently the short-lived Taylor Mac play Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus (2019).
3. Norm Lewis
A welcome fixture on Broadway since the early 90s when he made his Broadway debut in The Who’s Tommy (1993), Norm Lewis has played such iconic roles as Javert in Les Miserables (first in 2006, then reprising it in the West End in 2010 before playing it in the show’s 30th anniversary concert at the 02 Arena in London) and the title role in The Phantom of the Opera (2014, the first black actor to play the role on Broadway).
His sole Tony nomination was for Leading Actor in a Musical for playing Porgy in a revival of Porgy and Bess opposite Audra McDonald.
VIDEO: Performing You Is My Woman Now, with Audra McDonald.
But he is equally wonderful in everything he does, which has also included the Broadway premiere of Disney’s The Little Mermaid (2008) and the revue Sondheim on Sondheim (2010, in a company that also included Barbara Cook and Vanessa Williams). He was also a brilliant Sweeney in the pie shop version of Sweeney Todd that transferred to Off-Broadway’s Barrow Street Theatre from London. Most recently, he took over as Agwe in a revival of Once on this Island at Circle in the Square in 2018 — and I went to see both Sweeney Todd and Once on this Island again just to see him!
4. Danny Burstein
A Broadway character actor who has evolved into a performer with leading man stature, Danny Burstein steals the show in the currently-suspended Moulin Rouge (playing Harold Zidler, a kind of MC character at the fabled club, for which he has been Tony nominated).
VIDEO: A scene from Moulin Rouge:
Other leading musical roles have included Tevye in Broadway’s last Fiddler on the Roof revival (2015) and Buddy Plummer in Broadway’s last Follies revival (2012, opposite Bernadette Peters as his wife Sally Durant Plummer), both of which he was Tony nominated for leading actor in.
VIDEO: Performing Buddy’s Blues at the 2012 Tony Awards:
He’s also made his mark in featured roles in The Drowsy Chaperone (2006) and South Pacific (2008), both of which he again got Tony nominations for.
He was also married to the late, great Rebecca Luker, who died last year after suffering from the debilitating neurodegenerative disease ALS; during the same period he was struck by a severe case of COVID19 himself. Fortunately he survived but she did not; he wrote movingly of his marriage for the Hollywood Reporter here (https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/danny-burstein-on-the-devastating-loss-of-his-wife-fellow-broadway-star-rebecca-luker-guest-column)
5. Aaron Tveit
The sole nominee for the Tony Award for best leading actor in a musical for his performance in the currently suspended Moulin Rouge, he presumably has the lock on winning it, but he still needs to secure 60% of the Tony voters approval to do so.
VIDEO: Performing Come What May from Moulin Rouge, in an official music video:
After beginning his career as a takeover for Link Larkin in Hairspray (2006) and Fiyero in Wicked (2008), he first came to my attention as Gabe, the deceased son who lives on in the memory of his bereaved mother Diana in Next to Normal (2009, Gabe). He went on to star as Frank Abagnale Jr — the Leonardo DiCaprio role of the criminal chancer — in the stage musical version of Catch Me if You Can in 2011, opposite Norbert Leo Butz (see below). In 2014 he made his London debut as John Wilkes Booth in a revival of Sondheim’s Assassins at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
6. Brian Stokes Mitchell
Known universally on Broadway as simply Stokes, Brian Stokes Mitchell is a leading man of the old, vintage sort in the mould of Alfred Drake (whose roles as Fred Graham/Petruchio he would inherit in a revival of Kiss Me, Kate on Broadway in 1999, winning his first Tony). He was also Tony nominated for playing the original Coalhouse Walker Jr in Ragtime (1997) and Cervantes/Don Quixote in a revival of the title role of Man of La Mancha in 2002. (Don Quixote), More recently he had leading roles in Women on Verge of a Nervous Breakdown in 2010 and Shuffle Along in 2016.
VIDEO: Performing Make Them Hear You from Ragtime:
7. Norbert Leo Butz
Blessed with the oddest name on Broadway, Norbert Leo Butz is an original in other ways, too. He was the first Fiyero in Wicked (2003), and quickly morphed into a leading man in his own right, co-starring the original companies of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (2005, winning the Best Actor in a Musical Tony, opposite John Lithgow), Catch Me if You Can (2011, in the role of Carl Hanratty, played by Tom Hanks in the original Spielberg film, and again winning the Tony) and Big Fish (2013).
VIDEO: Performing Time Stops, from Big Fish (with Kate Baldwin)
Most recently he starred as Alfred P Doolittle in a spectacular revival of My Fair Lady at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre in 2018. He also originated the role of Jamie in Jason Robert Brown’s The Last 5 Years in its first Chicago production in 2001, before reprising it Off-Broadway the following year.
8. Joshua Henry
Since making his Broadway debut in the ensemble of the original production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights in 2008, Joshua Henry has gone on to hit the heights with Tony nominations for leading actor in the Broadway premiere of Kander and Ebb’s The Scotttsboro Boys in 2011 and as Billy Bigelow in an all-star revival of Carousel in 2018; plus a featured actor nomination for Violet in 2015. Most recently I saw him the title role of a brilliant Off-Broadway musical The Wrong Man at MCC in 2019.
VIDEO: Performing If I Loved You from Carousel, with Jessie Mueller
9. Andy Karl
I first noticed — who couldn’t? — Andy Karl as the original UPS mail delivery guy in the original production of Legally Blonde in 2007 (where he met his wife Orfeh, so she clearly noticed, too!), but he then emerged as athletic leading man himself in the stage musical version of Rocky (2014), then showed real comic chops in a revival of On the Twentieth Century (2015, using Kristin Chenoweth as a dumb-bell), before starring in the original productions of two more film-to-stage musical transitions for Groundhog Day (2017, in the Bill Murray role of weatherman Phil Connors) and Pretty Woman (2018, in the Richard Gere role of Edward Lewis).
VIDEO: Performing Seeing You from Groundhog Day, at 54 Below:
10. Alex Brightman
After earning his first Broadway credit as an understudy in the very short-lived Glory Days (2008), which closed on its opening night, Alex Brightman has gone onto his own glory days, leading the cast of the 2016 Broadway premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock as Dewey Finn (the Jack Black role in the film) and then the title role in Beetlejuice (2019), both of which he was Tony nominated for.
VIDEO: Performing Stick it to the Man from School of Rock
TOMORROW, TOMORROW, I LOVE YOU TOMORROW…. I am counting down an extra 10 leading men, from 11-20, so come back!
It’s the turn of the West End’s leading men. To tune in, don’t forget to subscribe on your favourite listening platform. And come back here next Friday for this weekly feature!
Special thanks to my producer Paul Branch; Howard Goodall, for theme music; and Thomas Mann for the logo design