Michael Berresse, in Kiss Me, Kate
Berresse, who starred as the original Fred Casely in the current revival of Chicago, made his first big Broadway splash in this Cole Porter musical. As Bill Calhoun, the second male lead in the fictitious show at the center of Kate, he stops the show every night with his set climbing choreography following the number, "Bianca."
Boyd Gaines, in Contact
While he impressed in She Loves Me (winning a Tony Award) and Cabaret, and was selected to play Bobby in the first big Broadway revival of Company, Gaines arguably became a true musical star this season with this performance as a suicidal ad exec transformed by dance and a Girl in a Yellow Dress. Gaines' credits in plays are just as strong, including The Heidi Chronicles (Tony Award), The Show Off and The Extra Man.
Michael Mulheren, in Kiss Me, Kate
The dumber of the two show-stealing thugs who menace Kate's matinee idols, Mulheren received his first Tony nomination for this performance. His many supporting turns include roles in Titanic, Floyd Collins and Captains Courageous.
Stephen Spinella, in James Joyce's The Dead
Spinella played the drunken, sympathetic Freddie in this musical adaptation of Joyce's immortal short story, and routinely received the best notices of anyone in the cast. The nomination is Spinella's third; he was nominated for both part one and part two of Angels in America (he won each time).
Lee Wilkof, in Kiss Me, Kate
The other half of the duo who bring down the house with "Brush Up Your Shakespeare." Wilkof is a theatre veteran whose many credits include She Loves Me, The Front Page, Sweet Charity, Mizlansky/Zilinsky, June Moon, Assassins and Little Shop of Horrors. Analysis: Owning three out of five nominations in this category, Kiss Me, Kate would seem to be the odds-on favorite to win. But, Mulheren and Wilkof, as two sides of a joined-at-the-hip performance, are likely to cancel each other out. And Berresse is a relatively new face to the Tony voters, who may regard his nomination as being earned primarily by the actor's "Bianca" calisthenics. That leaves Gaines and Spinella. Many regard Gaines' dark, dance-challenged exec as the most ingenious musical performance of the year. But The Dead has its champions, too, and voters may wish to reward the experimental show in some way. Thus, it may come down to who the Tonys want to give a third award to: two-time winner Spinella or two-time winner Gaines.