Matthew Broderick, The Producers
Just a year ago, Matthew Broderick was playing a neurotic dweeb who tries to make a radical change in his life in the embarrassing flop comedy, Taller Than a Dwarf. What a difference a year makes. Now Broderick is Tony nominated for playing a variation on that same character, albeit with better jokes, some winning musical numbers to boot, and an overall production that may make The Producers the biggest Broadway hit in decades. Not that Broderick hasn't paid his dues on Broadway. Though he has a film career ("Inspector Gadget," "The Road to Wellville"), Broderick's most notable achievements have been in theatre, from his early years in Torch Song Trilogy and Master Harold...and the Boys to How to Succeed in Business opposite real-life wife, Sarah Jessica Parker.
Nathan Lane, The Producers
If The Producers' Max Bialystock is "the king of Broadway," then Nathan Lane is the crown prince, perhaps the largest and most overwhelming theatre personality of our times (it's no accident that he's playing a role originated on film by Zero Mostel, the previous ruler). Lane's had forays into other media, including success on film ("The Birdcage", "Mouse Hunt") and a failed TV sitcom, but theatre is his true home. Lane came to the fore in a host of plays by Terrence McNally, including Bad Habits and The Lisbon Traviata, capped by his role as Buzz in Love! Valour! Compassion!. He's also been well rewarded for his work in musicals, scoring a Tony nomination for Guys and Dolls and a win for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Lane is having an especially strong (and busy) season, having played Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner for the Roundabout this past fall.
Kevin Chamberlin, Seussical
For all the hoopla surrounding the various famous felines wearing the hat, Seussical was really about Horton, the shy, loyal elephant. He was embodied throughout the show's run by Kevin Chamberlin, a Tony nominee for playing another shy guy in Dirty Blonde last season. Chamberlin's Off-Broadway work includes the Drama Dept.'s acclaimed revival of As Thousands Cheer and the popular Smoke on the Mountain. Uptown credits include the underrated musicals Triumph of Love and My Favorite Year and the Encores! Stagings of One Touch of Venus and Ziegfeld Follies of 1936.
Tom Hewitt, The Rocky Horror Show
Tom Hewitt first got noticed for playing a sweet gay man in Jeffrey and a sweet goyische boyfriend in Beau Jest. Who knew he could play a Sweet Transvestite? Well, Rocky Horror director Christopher Ashley did and asked the actor to audition for Frank `N' Furter. In a December 2000 Brief Encounter interview with PBOL, Hewitt recalled, "I got mismatched fishnets — I put one fishnet on my arm and I got a lab coat from the puppet shop at the Lion King. My hair looked like this, I had it sort of bleached and it was grown out, so I think I actually got the role because I was blonde. I knew I had a lot of leg, so I knew that I could do some leg stuff. I got a pair of pumps from a hair guy at Lion King that I squeezed into. I wasn’t scared, I just went in and showed off. I just had fun for that day and tried to let that audition be what it was: `There, I sang "Sweet Transvestite,” thank you very much for lettin’ me. Goodbye...you’ll never see me again.' But then, they cast me!". Previously, the Montana native has played in regional and international theatres, as well as stints in The Sisters Rosensweig and The Lion King on Broadway.
Patrick Wilson, The Full Monty
Had either The Gershwins' Fascinating Rhythm or Bright Lights, Big City been a hit, Patrick Wilson might've already had his break-out role. Instead, he had to wait two years (and be content with a 1999 Drama League Award and a Drama Desk nomination for City). He's paid his dues regionally (the Goodspeed, La Jolla, Mark Taper Forum) and has the obligatory Encores! credit (Tenderloin), but it's as Jerry Lukowski, the well-meaning but undependable, out-of-work steelworker dad in The Full Monty that Wilson proved he could carry a big Broadway musical (and charm the ladies by giving them "The Goods"). Analysis: What's to analyze? The Producers is bigger than Jesus, and Nathan Lane is widely seen as the only human who could take on God — aka Zero Mostel — and come out victorious. Broderick has received his share of kudos as well, but Bloom doesn't carry the show, Max does. Had The Producers not come along this year, Patrick Wilson might've been the favorite for his easygoing leader role, but Full Monty will come home empty-handed in a lot of categories, only because of its competition. Had Seussical been a huge hit (and Producers not opened) Chamberlin would've had an outside shot; but it wasn't, and that show had so many characters, his role almost felt more feature-y than lead-y. The playfully salacious Tom Hewitt surprised everyone by showing there's life in Frank `N' Furter after Tim Curry, but no one really expects Tony voters to opt for Transylvania over ol' Broadway.
—By David Lefkowitz