Blythe Danner, Follies
A previous Tony Award winner for Butterflies Are Free, Danner is not widely known as a singing actress, yet she bites into the bitter, jaded Phyllis in Follies with style and feeling, singing "Could I Leave You?" as if she were spitting nails. Other Tony noms were earned for Betrayal and A Streetcar Named Desire, and Danner is a 22 year veteran of the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Did anyone ever expect to see her vamping it up in a scarlet dress, surrounded by hot chorus boys?
Christine Ebersole, 42nd Street
The well-liked character actress also starred this season in the Broadway revival of Gore Vidal's The Best Man, and played the choice role of Ado Annie in the 1979 Oklahoma! revival. Her reviews as the aging diva, Dorothy Brock, in 42nd Street, have been nothing less than golden for this onetime "Saturday Night Live" cast member.
Randy Graff, A Class Act
Graff (High Society, Moon Over Buffalo) has but one solo in the new biographical musical about songwriter Ed Kleban, but she sells it in such an uncluttered, sincere way that you like the character even more for being clear-eyed. (The song, "The Next Best Thing to Love," is sung in the context of two former lovers deciding to not go back to their relationship). A Tony winner for City of Angels, Graff does indeed have other musical moments in the unique musical, but her Act Two solo is what everybody keeps talking about.
Faith Prince, Bells Are Ringing
Prince took home the Tony for playing Adelaide in the Jerry Zaks revival of Guys and Dolls and earned a reputation for being daffy and goodhearted, which is what Ella Peterson is all about in the revival of Bells Are Ringing. As dignified as her roles in The King and I and James Joyce's The Dead were, audiences are happy to see Prince back in pure musical comedy.
Marla Schaffel, Jane Eyre
A Juilliard School drama graduate, Schaffel appeared on Broadway in Titanic and Les Miserables, but six years ago she embarked on a journey that took her to Broadway. Formative stagings of the Paul Gordon-John Caird musical based on the Charlotte Bronte novel have paid off in a Drama Desk Award for the actress, who seems to thrive inside the spiritual skin of 19th-century Jane. The demanding role takes the actress from innocence to experience, from ruminative self-doubt to exploding musical belt. When she sings of "sweet liberty" in the show, your spirit soars with her. Analysis: Mixed reviews for their shows may weigh against Prince and Danner, making the category feel like a three-way race. For her Herculean performance in a role that requires a great deal of emotional, vocal and acting muscle, Schaffel may wind up a winner despite the solid work of Graff and Ebersole, who have been lauded for their contributions to their shows.