Laura Benanti, in Swing!
Benanti, whose suggestive duet with a trombone is one of the most memorable moments in Swing!, made her Broadway splash understudying and eventually replacing 2000 Tony Award nominee Rebecca Luker in the recent revival of The Sound of Music. She's been a workshop staple since, singing Julia in Time and Again, Esmeralda in Disney's Hunchback and City of Dreams . Her triumph as Eileen in the Encores! revival of Wonderful Town may be her next big Broadway role, if the production moves to Broadway as is hoped.
Ann Hampton Callaway, in Swing!
The popular cabaret performer and sister of Liz makes her Broadway debut as one of Swing!'s singing quintet. A songwriter as well as a singer, she has received the Johnny Mercer Songwriting Award and eleven MAC Awards. She wrote and performed the theme song for TV's "The Nanny," and her songs "At the Same Time" and "I've Dreamed of You" were recorded on Barbra Streisand's CD's Higher Ground and A Love Like Ours.
Eartha Kitt, in The Wild Party
Immortalized by her throaty kitten's purr (she was "Batman"'s Catwoman back in the 1960's), Kitt has had more than her share of accolades, beginning with two Tony Award nominations. After making her Broadway debut in New Faces of 1952, she went on to be recognized (but not win) for Mrs. Patterson and Timbuktu (she also appeared in Shinbone Alley, The Skin of Our Teeth, and The Owl and the Pussycat). Emmy nominated and Grammy nominated (twice), Kitt has written three autobiographies, including the best-selling "I'm Still Here: Confessions of a Sex Kitten," and recently released a greatest hits CD, "Eartha Kitt, Greatest Hits." In Wild Party, she plays a showbiz veteran very much like herself.
Deborah Yates, in Contact
This former Rockette seemed to come out of nowhere as Contact's mysterious Girl in the Yellow Dress. But she's done some Broadway time in the Johnny Mercer revue, Dream and appeared with Encores! Ziegfeld Follies of 1936, alongside her nominated castmate Karen Ziemba. Yates was nominated for an Outer Critic's Circle Award and won an Astaire Award.
Karen Ziemba, in Contact
Ziemba received her first Tony Award nomination for Steel Pier. Her extensive musical career includes Roxie Hart in Chicago, Crazy for You, 42nd Street, A Chorus Line, And The World Goes Round (for which she won a Drama Desk Award) and I Do! I Do! (Drama Desk nomination). Ziemba won the 2000 Drama Desk Award and Outer Critic's Circle Award for her role as the timid, abused mafioso's wife with a healthy fantasy life, in Contact. Analysis: It should be Kitt all the way. While Ziemba took home the Drama Desk Award (where she didn't have to compete against co-star Yates) and Outer Critics' Circle Award (where she didn't have to compete against Kitt), the Tony is a more traditional award, honoring the long career first and often noting the splits (the two Swing!-ers and the ladies of Contact may cancel each other out). Kitt's been twice nominated, but never won and the return of the performer, nearly 50 years after her debut, is welcome -- especially in The Wild Party, where her performance is seen as the production's highlight.
-- By Christine Ehren