Jayne Atkinson, in The Rainmaker
This is Atkinson's first Tony nomination, though she is a stage veteran of many years' standing. In N. Richard Nash's drama, she played a spinster on a Great Plains farm whose life is transformed by the title fly-by-night con man who promises tobring an end to the current drought. Atkinson's many applauded credits include The Skriker and Ivanov.
Jennifer Ehle, in The Real Thing
Ehle makes her Broadway and New York City debut as a vibrant, loving, though unfaithful actress in this revival of the Tom Stoppard play. She is an accomplished performer with many credits in her native England. In an odd twist, Ehle is the daughter of fellow nominee, Rosemary Harris.
Rosemary Harris, in Waiting in the Wings
Harris won a Tony Award for The Lion in Winter in 1966. A familiar figure to Broadway audiences, she has since been nominated for Old Times, The Royal Family, Heartbreak House, Pack of Lies, Hay Fever and A Delicate Balance. In Noel's Coward's Waiting in the Wings, she plays May, the most imperious of the women in a home for retired actresses.
Cherry Jones, in A Moon for the Misbegotten
Cherry Jones, a veritable theatre workhorse, won a Tony Award for her 1995 performance in The Heiress. She has since played Broadway in Night of the Iguana, though she is more frequently seen Off Broadway in plays like Pride's Crossing and Tongue of a Bird. In Moon, she plays the tough-but-tender Josie Hogan, traditionally regarded as a mammoth assignment for actresses.
Claudia Shear, in Dirty Blonde
Given that this is Shear's first Broadway appearance, it is obviously her first Tony Award nomination. Shear is the only nominee in this category who can also claim authorship of the show in which she is starring. Shear's previous acting credits include her Off-Broadway smash, Blown Sideways Through Life, in which she also starred. In that show, she played herself; in Dirty Blonde, she is Jo, a cheerful, blowzy Mae West fan who must confront her romantic idealism when she encounters a kindred spirit. Analysis: This is a particularly strong category, with no clear frontrunner. The Tony Committee reached back to last fall in nominating Atkinson, whose work has long been widely admired. Shear's performance is also admired, though her status as a Broadway neophyte will probably work against her. Jones is a favorite of theatregoers, but it may be too soon since she won for The Heiress, and many think her slightly miscast in Moon. The fact the Harris and Ehle are mother and daughter presents a tricky proposition to Tony voters, who probably don't want to pit family members against each other. Still, Harris is a theatre veteran, widely respected and hasn't won a Tony for 34 years. Though Wings is perhaps not her best role, she may be recognized for her body of work.
--By Robert Simonson