New and Once-New Faces of Broadway

Clockwise from top left: Jonny Orsini, Matthew James Thomas, Valisia LaKae, Annaleigh Ashford , Matthew Maher
Clockwise from top left: Jonny Orsini, Matthew James Thomas, Valisia LaKae, Annaleigh Ashford , Matthew Maher

In its Spring Theater section, the Times features five “new faces” with forthcoming “high-profile stage roles”:

Jonny Orsini who will play a naif taken in by Nathan Lane in “The Nance”:  He auditions “pretty much every chance I get,” but  “I try not to covet anything…I just try to do what feels right.”

Matthew James Thomas, who will star in the revival of “Pippin,” had his Broadway debut in “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark.” “I want to do something risky. I want to jump. I want to feel alive.”

Valisia LeKae who will play Diana Ross in “Motown The Musical,” has worked steadily on Broadway and on tour, but this is her first starring role. “I like to think of my first four years on Broadway as Broadway conservatory because I didn’t go to school for this.”

Annaleigh Ashford plays Lauren, a boot  factory worker who falls in love with her boss  in “Kinky Boots.” I love finding ways to make familiar characters into someone unique…[Lauren is] a little bit kooky now too, and I love me some kooky.”

Matthew Maher, the only of the five in an Off-Broadway show (and the only one who reveals an age not in the 2o’s) portrays a movie house usher in Annie Baker’s “The Flick” at Playwrights Horizons. “Everyone I play, they’re all very unhappy with their jobs and unhappy with their love lives. And I’m definitely the opposite.”

It is always nice to see a new face. I used to love getting assigned these profiles for the Times. I’ve since learned that, when new faces earn a few creases, they get even more interesting (There can be no greater curse than being “promising.”)

Here are a few of those new faces I profiled a decade ago in the Spring Theater section:

Anthony Mackie (second from left, playing the piano) in his Broadway debut in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"
Anthony Mackie (second from left, playing the piano) in his Broadway debut in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

AnthonyMackieAnthony Mackie, who was debuting on Broadway in August Wilson’s ”Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,”  began his career because he was acting up in grade school, so they put him in the drama class.

By age 16, he was playing Edmund in a local production of ”King Lear,” and though he was one of the bad guys, when he was run through by a sword about five girls stood up spontaneously in the audience and gasped, ”Anthony, no!”

”As I lay there dying, I realized I wanted to do this for a living.”

Ten years ago, Mackie told me he wanted a career like that of Don Cheadle, alternating between serious roles and popular ones.

Since then he’s been in “Drowning Crow” and “Behanding Spokane” on Broadway and dozens of movies, including “The Hurt Locker.” In a clear sign of hipster success, he also opened a bar in Brooklyn.


MattCavenaughMatt Cavenaugh was cast as the lead in “The Urban Cowboy” shortly after graduating from Ithaca College. ‘I’ve got 14 boxes sitting in my mom’s house in Arkansas; they’re being shipped Monday,’

”Being an artist is a scary idea for me. But I try to be one. I have a sense of the nuts and bolts needed to complete a task.”

He since has gone on to “Grey Gardens,” “A Catered Affair,” and to star as Tony in the revival of “West Side Story.”

Kenny Leon

Kenny Leon made his Broadway directorial debut with “A Raisin in the Sun” starring Sean Combs. ‘There aren’t enough hip-hop people on Broadway.”

He has since gone on to direct three August Wilson plays for Broadway, including the much-praised revival of “Fences” starring Denzel Washington, and two new plays by women playwright making their Broadway debuts, “The Mountaintop” by Katori Hall  and “Stick Fly” by Lydia Diamond.

Kate FodorA decade ago, Kate Fodor was making her playwriting debut with ”Hannah and Martin” about the relationship between Hannah Arendt, the Jewish philosopher who became famous covering the trial of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, and Martin Heidegger, her former teacher and lover, who had been a member of the Nazi Party.

Although her background was in philosophy, Fodor was drawn to theater. ”There was something about the communal nature of the theater that got me moving along. You spend time alone in front of your computer terminal, but you don’t spend all your time there.”

She’s remained a playwright, most recently of “Rx.”

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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