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This Year's Tony Nominees Include a Slew of Recognizable Faces From TV

Think you don't know Broadway well enough to enjoy the Tonys? Think again.
  • Tony nominees Mary Louise Parker, Jessie Williams, Uzo Aduba, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson. (Photos: Netflix, ABC, Robert Maxwell,  Luke Fontana)
    Tony nominees Mary Louise Parker, Jessie Williams, Uzo Aduba, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson. (Photos: Netflix, ABC, Robert Maxwell, Luke Fontana)

    This Sunday marks the return of the Tony Awards to their usual June perch, where they'll honor the best of a challenging season full of COVID precautions and canceled performances but also some really exhilarating live theater. The Tonys are Broadway's best vessel to advertise itself to the huge swaths of the American public who appreciate the talent that goes into live theater but can't make it to New York to see the productions. After getting turned on to these new shows via the televised awards, producers hope they'll buy a ticket to a touring production. Still, that can often make for categories where home viewers don't have much of a rooting interest in the outcome.

    Ah, but there is a way. Because Broadway performers also cross over into the world of television, and for decades we've been able to watch the Tonys and learn that those character actors we love on Law & Order and NYPD Blue are also acclaimed theater stars. In that spirit, we offer this guide to the 2022 Tony Awards' acting nominees for the TV enthusiast:

    Best Performance by a Lead Actor in a Play

    From left to right: Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley, David Morse, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, and Sam Rockwell. (Photos: Everett Collection)


    • Simon Russell Beale – The Lehman Trilogy
    • Adam Godley – The Lehman Trilogy
    • Adrian Lester – The Lehman Trilogy
    • David Morse – How I Learned to Drive
    • Sam Rockwell – American Buffalo
    • Ruben Santiago-Hudson – Lackawanna Blues
    • David Threlfall – Hangmen

    Among this year's nominees for Lead Actor are several character actors whose faces you know even if their names you don't. Simon Russell Beale is a British actor who American TV audiences may know best as the Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle in Penny Dreadful. Adam Godley appears in a LOT of TV shows, most recently playing the Archbishop on Hulu's The Great and Jocelyn Pugh on Lodge 49. Godley also provides the motion-capture performance and voice for Pogo on The Umbrella Academy.

    David Morse played George Washington in the HBO miniseries John Adams and police officer Terry Colson on Treme. Or perhaps you remember him from the CBS drama Hack, in which Morse played the lead role for 40 (!) episodes. Ruben Santiago-Hudson is in the rare position of being best known to TV viewers for the project he's nominated for, the revival of his play, Lackawana Blues, which was produced as an HBO movie in 2005.

    And then of course there is Oscar-winning actor Sam Rockwell, whose best-known TV role was playing Bob Fosse opposite Michelle Williams's Gewn Verdon in FX's Fosse/Verdon.

    Best Performance by a Lead Actress in a Play

    Mary Louise Parker, Ruth Negga, and Deirdre O'Connell. (Photos: Everett Collection/Hulu)


    • Gabby Beans – The Skin of Our Teeth
    • LaChanze – Trouble in Mind
    • Ruth Negga – Macbeth
    • Deirdre O'Connell – Dana H..
    • Mary-Louise Parker – How I Learned to Drive

    For as big of a star as she is on the stage, Mary-Louise Parker is also a TV star, known for her roles as pot-dealing Nancy Botwin on Weeds, politico Amy Gardner on The West Wing, and her unparalleled performance as Harper in the 2003 HBO version of Angels in America.

    Another recognizable face in this category is Ruth Negga, nominated for playing Lady Macbeth, but best known to TV viewers for her roles as Tulip O'Hare on Preacher and Raina on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Deirdre O'Connell, nominated for her one-woman performance in Dana H., is a character actress most familiar to TV audiences for playing Alison's mother on The Affair.

    Best Performance by a Lead Actor in a Musical

    Billy Crystal, Hugh Jackman (Photos: The Everett Collection)


    • Billy Crystal – Mr. Saturday Night
    • Myles Frost – MJ
    • Hugh Jackman – The Music Man
    • Rob McClure – Mrs. Doubtfire
    • Jaquel Spivey – A Strange Loop

    This is the category with the least TV crossover, unless your main touchstones for Billy Crystal are his stints on Soap and Saturday Night Live in the 1980s. He and Hugh Jackman face a field of Broadway newcomers in Frost, Spivey, and McClure.

    Best Performance by a Lead Actress in a Musical

    Sutton Foster, Sharon D. Clarke, Mare Winningham, Carmen Cusack, and Joaquina Kalukango. (Photos: Everett Collection)


    • Sharon D. Clarke – Caroline, or Change
    • Carmen Cusack – Flying Over Sunset
    • Sutton Foster – The Music Man
    • Joaquina Kalukango – Paradise Square
    • Mare Winningham – Girl from the North Country

    Fans of Bunheads and Younger will know and love two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster, who's nominated this year for her performance as Marian the librarian in The Music Man. Her top competition is likely Sharon Clarke, the British actress best known to American TV viewers for her role as Grace O'Brien on Doctor Who.

    Mare Winningham is an Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning actress whose most recent TV roles have been on Hulu's Dopesick as the mother to Kaitlyn Dever's opiate addict, on The Affair playing Joshua Jackson's mother, on several iterations of American Horror Story, and as Meredith Grey's stepmother who — SPOILER ALERT— dies from the hiccups.

    Less well-known to TV audiences are Carmen Cusack, who had a small role on the Elizabeth Olsen show Sorry For Your Loss, and Joaquina Kalukango, who was last seen on HBO's Lovecraft Country.

    Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play

    Alfie Allen, Ron Cephas Jones, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Jesse Williams. (Photos: Everett Collection)


    • Alfie Allen – Hangmen
    • Chuck Cooper – Trouble in Mind
    • Jesse Tyler Ferguson – Take Me Out
    • Ron Cephas Jones – Clyde's
    • Michael Oberholtzer – Take Me Out
    • Jesse Williams – Take Me Out

    This category features actors from some of the biggest TV shows of the last decade, thus offering TV viewers the most mainstream bang for their buck. Alfie Allen, best known for playing poor pathetic Theon Greyjoy on Game of Thrones is nominated for his role in Martin McDonagh's Hangmen. An Emmy winner for playing William on This Is Us, Ron Cephas Jones is up for his first Tony for his role in Lynn Nottage's play Clyde's.

    The revival of Take Me Out, the revival of the 2002 play about a professional baseball player who comes out as gay, scored three nods in the Featured Actor category, including first-ever Tony nominations for Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family's Mitchell), and Jesse Williams, best known as Grey's Anatomy's Jackson Avery.

    Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play

    Uzo Aduba, Rachel Dratch, Phylicia Rashad, and Julie White. (Photos: Everett Collection)


    • Uzo Aduba – Clyde's
    • Rachel Dratch – POTUS
    • Kenita R. Miller – for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf
    • Phylicia Rashad – Skeleton Crew
    • Julie White – POTUS
    • Kara Young – Clyde's

    In her third Broadway production, Uzo Aduba scored her first-ever Tony nomination, which fits well with the scores of Emmy nominations she received for her work in Orange Is the New Black, where she played Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren. Rachel Dratch has been acting in comedies for decades now, although she's likely most famous for her years spent in the cast of Saturday Night Live.

    Tony-winner Phylicia Rashad has become a legendary stage performer over the last few decades, but her signature TV performance will always be as Clare Huxtable on The Cosby Show. Julie White, another returning Tony winner, co-starred for four seasons on the 1990s sitcom Grace Under Fire on ABC, and can be heard voicing Matthew's mom on Big Mouth.

    Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical

    Matt Doyle (Photo: Everett Collection)


    • Matt Doyle – Company
    • Sidney DuPont – Paradise Square
    • Jared Grimes – Funny Girl
    • John-Andrew Morrison – A Strange Loop
    • A. J. Shively – Paradise Square

    In this lineup of relative newcomers, you may remember Matt Doyle from the original Gossip Girl, where he played Eric Van Der Woodsen's boyfriend, Jonathan.

    Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical

    Jayne Houdyshel, Jennifer Simard, and Patti LuPone. (Photos: Everett Collection)


    • Jeannette Bayardelle – Girl from the North Country
    • Shoshana Bean – Mr. Saturday Night
    • Jayne Houdyshell – The Music Man
    • L Morgan Lee – A Strange Loop
    • Patti LuPone – Company
    • Jennifer Simard – Company

    The great Jayne Houdyshell is a fixture on the Broadway stage, but TV viewers will likely recognize her most readily as Bunny, the ill-fated tenant board president on the first season of Only Murders in the Building. Girls5Eva devotees may remember Jennifer Simard as AirBnB host/stowaway Daphne in the "Catskills" episode in Season 1. And then there is Patti LuPone, who needs no introduction but if you're wondering where you've seen her on TV, how about the early '90s family drama Life Goes On, the Showtime horror romance Penny Dreadful, or any number of Ryan Murphy series, including American Horror Story, Hollywood, and Pose.

    The 75th Annual Tony Awards air live coast-to-coast Sunday, June 12 at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on CBS and Paramount+.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: The Tony Awards, Alfie Allen, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Jesse Williams, Julie White, Mare Winningham, Mary-Louise Parker, Patti LuPone, Phylicia Rashad, Rachel Dratch, Ron Cephas Jones, Ruth Negga, Sam Rockwell, Simon Russell Beale, Sutton Foster, Uzo Aduba