Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2012 Tony Awards: Best Featured Actor in a Play

Note: My personal rankings are listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite, while predictions for the actual winners will be in orange. Those that are listed but not ranked are performances that I was not able to see.


1. Christian Borle

2. Tom Edden

3. Michael Cumpsty

4. Jeremy Shamos

Andrew Garfield

Should be here: John Larroquette, Gore Vidal’s The Best Man

I’m being slightly unfair to first-time nominee Jeremy Shamos, mostly because it’s been over two years since I saw him in Clybourne Park (in the off-Broadway incarnation of the play). Playing Karl Linder, the jackass from A Raisin in the Sun who attempts to bribe a black family into leaving a white suburb in the 1950s, he’s visually and verbally awkward, and in the second act, when he plays one half of a white couple in 2009, he’s once again a racist asshole who doesn’t think he’s a racist asshole (can you tell how I feel about the play yet?). When I say Shamos isn’t at all in the running, it’s not to say he’s untalented — I especially enjoyed him in Second Stage Uptown’s production of Rajiv Joseph’s Animals Out of Paper — but he’s not in the running.

It’s hard to believe that End of the Rainbow — of all plays — marks Michael Cumpsty‘s first Tony nomination, but such is the case. A well-seasoned Shakespearean actor, who’s also appeared in various Broadway musicals as well as popular films, the British Cumpsty does typically solid work as Anthony, Judy Garland’s longtime pianist. Playing the devoted confidant with a depth and pathos unworthy of the mediocre material, his nomination feels a bit like Colin Firth’s for The King’s Speech — it’s wonderful he’s nominated, but for this, really? Alas, unlike Firth, Cumpsty won’t go home the winner come Awards day.

Making his Broadwy debut, Tom Edden, caked in white old-age makeup and sporting some wispy salt and pepper hair, plays Alfie, an octogenarian waiter who’s nearly blind, basically deaf, slurs his speech, and dodders along with zero sense of urgency or cognition. In what is by far the most side-splitting, stomach-cramp-enducing, so-funny-I-can’t-breathe scene in the One Man, Two Guvnors, Edden with only a handful of lines, and too many pratfalls to count, steals the scene with his masterful sense of slapstick comedy. Just when you think he physically can’t take anymore, he does. And then he does again. A true discovery, he’s an absolute pleasure to watch.

And then there was two. In the age-old battle of comedy versus tragedy, Christian Borle and Andrew Garfield go head-to-head. I wasn’t able to see Death of a Salesman, but from all accounts, Andrew Garfield more-than-pleasantly surprised movie-star-doubting critics. The Social Network star has never before been on Broadway, and has barely worked in theatre at all (just a handful of appearances on the English stage), but most found his Biff, the former high school quarterback and golden-boy son, to be played with eviscerating intelligence. Even those who weren’t initially sold on Garfield’s casting came around with his ferocious and devastating truth-telling confrontation with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Willy.

As the proto-Captain Hook, Christian Borle (Smash star and Tony nominee for Legally Blonde) shamelessly sashays and swashbuckles his way through pseudo-Neverland in a performance that is utterly infectious in its over-the-top goofiness. He’s like a cross between Captain Jack Sparrow (only less drunk) and Charlie Chaplin, as he flutters across the stage and gnashes his teeth villainously. It’s a great scene-stealer of a performance, and Borle’s energy and pleasure in hamming it up — in the best possible way — is gloriously infectious. While there’s a lot of buzz for both Borle and Garfield, Borle’s surprisingly got the edge with his foppish Black Stache.


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