This year’s crop of Tony nominees includes a number of familiar faces and formidable performers. But arguably no categories are as rife with talent and accomplishment as are the leading actress slates, both for play and musical. Together they include what can safely be called the leading musical theatre actresses of the day: Audra McDonald (Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill), Kelli O’Hara (The Bridges of Madison County) and Sutton Foster (Violet).
Aside from being consistent critical darlings, and actresses never far from their next Broadway starring role, these three actresses have something else in common: They are among the most-nominated actors in the history of the Tony Awards.
McDonald’s near-ridiculous prowess as an award-magnet has been legend for two decades now. From 1994 until today, she has won Tony Awards fives times, for Carousel, Master Class, Ragtime, A Raisin in the Sun and Porgy and Bess. She has been nominated twice more, for Marie Christine and 110 in the Shade.
Sutton Foster’s skill at netting Tonys has been less celebrated. Nonetheless, since 2002, she has collected nominations at an even faster pace than McDonald, drawing six nominations — including Thoroughly Modern Millie, Little Women, The Drowsy Chaperone, Shrek the Musical and Anything Goes. She won the Tony for the first and last credits.
Kelli O’Hara has done nearly as well as Foster over the past ten years, except that she has yet to win a trophy. Instead, she has been nominated for The Light in the Piazza, The Pajama Game, South Pacific and Nice Work If You Can Get It.
As impressive as the achievements of McDonald, Foster and O’Hara are, none of then have yet managed to surpass the long-reigning champion actor in Tony nominations. That would be Julie Harris, who collected ten nominations during her long career and won five Tonys, plus one Special Tony Award, for a total of six. He first nomination was for I Am a Camera in 1952 (she won); her last was for The Gin Game in 1997 (she lost). (McDonald has to win one more time to tie Harris in victories — a likely occurrence given she has a good ways to go in her career, and wins Tonys more often than not.)
Just behind Harris in Tony nominations is Chita Rivera, who has brought home nine nods, beginning in 1961 with Bye Bye Birdie and ending in 2006 with Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life. She won twice, for The Rink and Kiss of the Spider Woman. She’s just one nomination from being the musical theatre world’s version of Julie Harris.
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