Toni Collette, in The Wild Party
A 2000 Academy Award nominee for "The Sixth Sense," Collette is making her Broadway debut as the dissipated Jazz Age dancer, Queenie. A native Australian, she first captured American attention as Muriel in "Muriel's Wedding." Other film credits include "The Boys," "Velvet Goldmine," "Emma" and the upcoming "Shaft" and "Hotel Splendide."
Heather Headley, in Aida
The Mouse has been good to Headley. Disney first put her on Broadway as the original Nala in The Lion King, before again singling her out for the title role in Aida. Previously she'd sung in Toronto's Ragtime and at Chicago's Marriot Lincolnshire. She also performed Tilda Mullen opposite Brian Stokes Mitchell in Do, Re, Mi, a part of the 1999 Encores! season.
Rebecca Luker, in The Music Man
Luker, who plays the suspicious, but tender-hearted music teacher Marian Paroo, last appeared on Broadway as another blonde leading lady from a classic musical -- Maria Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. She was nominated for Tony for her stint as Magnolia in Show Boat, although she first gained attention as the ghostly presence of Lily in The Secret Garden and as Christine, the young girl haunted by a ghostly presense in The Phantom of the Opera. Regional credits include two musical world premieres, Time and Again and Harmony. She appears on the cast albums for The Sound of Music, Show Boat and The Secret Garden and on her own CD, "Anything Goes: Rebecca Luker Sings Cole Porter."
Audra McDonald, in Marie Christine
Three Tony Award wins later (for Carousel, Master Class, Ragtime), McDonald is up again for the title role of the modern-day Medea in Marie Christine, her first nod for Best Actress (the others were all for featured parts). A hot recording property, McDonald's CDs include the recent release "How Glory Goes," and "Way Back To Paradise," both which highlight new composing talents, and the cast albums of Marie Christine and Ragtime. Last in New York for the Lincoln Center Sweeney Todd, she sang the part of the Beggar Woman with the likes of Patti LuPone and George Hearn and has been making concert appearances across the country. She was seen as Grace in the Disney ABC TV version of "Annie."
Marin Mazzie, in Kiss Me, Kate
This is Mazzie's third Tony nomination (she received the honor for Ragtime and Passion, but not the award). Other Broadway credits include Into the Woods (Rapunzel, Witch, Cinderella), Big River (Mary Jane Wilkes) and the City Center Encores! production of Out of This World (Helen). She recorded Ragtime, "Songs From Ragtime," Passion, Out of This World and I Was Looking at the Ceiling, and Then I Saw the Sky" and can be seen as Clara in the PBS videocassette release of Passion. Analysis: While Oscar did not smile on Collette, Tony appreciates a movie star making a musical Broadway debut. She is, however, against some ladies who have paid their dues on the New York stage. Headley became the new diva of the season, but her somewhat maligned musical, mostly neglected at the Tonys, will hurt her chances. Thrice-nominated, thrice-victorious, McDonald may very well face a first this year -- a loss. That loss may come at the hands of the woman she won a Best Featured Actress Award over two years ago -- Mazzie (for whom the third time could prove a charm). She and Luker are the top contenders for the Actress prize with neither a clear leader. Both women have spent years on Broadway and both are the well-regarded, well-liked leading ladies in two highly popular musical revivals. Perhaps only a Kiss Me, Kate sweep will make this category a given for Mazzie.
-- Christine Ehren