James Monroe Iglehart performs a scene from “Aladdin” (credit: Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
(CBS SF/AP) – Bryan Cranston won as expected at the Tony Awards and Mark Rylance added to his haul. Neil Patrick Harris got his first, which seems like an awfully small number for him. And Audra McDonald? Was there any doubt the Meryl Streep of Broadway wouldn’t take home a prize? But behind the big headlines, there were four breakout, first-time wins from rising stars who deserve another look.
James Monroe Iglehart, who won as the electric Genie in “Aladdin,” was destined for show business but fought the impulse. His mother is a retired music teacher, his dad was an actor in the 1970s and an aunt was a dancer. Some of his fondest memories are watching “Singing in the Rain” or “Cabin in the Sky” as a kid. By high school, he gave up and embraced his skills. During his senior year at California State East Bay University in Hayward, he auditioned for a swing role in a tour of “Showboat” and got it, not knowing what a swing does. He later was a replacement in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” on Broadway and a longtime star in “Memphis.” A Disney and comic book fan, he’s also a member of the improv hip-hop act Freestyle Love Supreme.
Jessie Mueller, who plays Carole King and beat out heavyweights Kelli O’Hara, Sutton Foster and Idina Menzel for best leading actress in a musical, is the third of four children raised by actors in Chicago. She previously starred in “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” with Harry Connick Jr. and replaced O’Hara in “Nice Work If You Can Get It.” All of Mueller’s siblings are in the business. At one point late last year, her sister Abby was in “Kinky Boots” nearby on Broadway, her brother Matt was appearing in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” in Chicago and her brother Andrew was in the off-Broadway production of “Peter and the Starcatcher.” Her father wasn’t able to come to the opening of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” Why? He was performing in “42nd Street” back home.
Lena Hall won the Tony for best supporting actress in a musical, but another lady went up to cradle the award: Celina Carvajal. The young lady had been using Carvajal for her acting credits and Hall for her singing career. Now it’s Hall all the time and that name has been increasingly cemented in the public eye as she tackled the role of drag king, roadie and husband to Neil Patrick Harris’ transgender East Berlin rocker in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Hall previously starred as the success-hungry fiancee Nicola in “Kinky Boots” and has been in “Cats” and “Tarzan” on Broadway. She’s also making a name for herself with her band The Deafening.
Sophie Okonedo may not have been the first person you think of to play the very American role of Ruth Younger in 1950s Chicago for a revival of “A Raisin in the Sun.” After all, she’s a Jewish British actress of Nigerian descent who had never been on Broadway before. But the Oscar nominee for the 2004 movie “Hotel Rwanda” is remarkable opposite Denzel Washington and took home a Tony for best featured actress in a play. Her other film credits include “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls” and “The Secret Life of Bees” and she’s been onstage at the Royal Court, with the Royal Shakespeare Company and at the National Theatre.