Accomplished actress, singer and Southern Utah University alumna Keala Settle joins an elite group of performers as a Tony Award nominee. Up for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her Broadway performance as Norma Valverde in Hands on a Hardbody, Settle is one of five actresses in the running for the award, to be granted in New York City’s Radio City Music Hall this Sunday.
And though, perhaps, live theatre’s best known award, Settle’s Tony debut comes on the tails of an equally impressive feat when, earlier this same week, she was awarded the coveted Theatre World Award for a Broadway debut performance.
"It's been an incredible ride," said Settle of her rise into the spotlight.
The 69th Annual Theatre World Awards ceremony remains the oldest award given for a debut theatre performance, on or off Broadway. This award, which is earned solely one the merits one’s first Broadway debut, encourages newcomers to the stage to continue to pursue his or her dreams.
In the 2013 awards ceremony on June 3, Settle stood alongside fellow recipient and two-time Academy Award-winning actor Tom Honks for his Broadway debut in Lucky Guy, as well as rising television star Yvonne Strahovski for her performance in Golden Boy.
The New York Times hailed Settle as “winning, big-voiced,” citing her solo, “Joy of the Lord” as an “a cappella gospel hootenanny and is one of the show’s few out-and-out upbeat songs.” And The Hollywood Reporter praised the production’s “Standout…the mighty-lunged Settle’s rousing Hallelujah chorus, ‘Joy of the Lord’.”
With an obvious standout performance among a talented Hardbody cast, Settle’s Broadway debut performance also garnered attention as a final nominee for the Drama Desk Award and the Outer Critics Circle.
During her time at SUU, Settle is remembered best for similar show-stealing performances in South Pacific and Nunsense, and her former professors vividly recall Settle’s ability to command the stage with her emotion, voice and raw talent.
“I remember Keala stepping on the stage and absolutely commanding it with her booming voice,” said dean of the College of Performing and Visual Arts, Shauna Mendini. “It wasn’t just loud, it was expressive. She has this ability to tell a story through song that absolutely floors the audience.”
After leaving SUU, Settle won praise for her performances as Tracey Turnblad in the national tour of the award-winning Hairspray the musical, and Bloody Mary in the Lincoln Center revival of Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. Before starring in Hardbody, Keala first experienced Broadway’s highs and lows as an ensemble member of the musical adaptation of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in 2011.
The Tony Awards will be broadcast live on CBS Sunday, June 9, 7 to 10 p.m. (MST). No matter the evening’s outcome, there is little doubt that we will continue to see Keala Settle on centre stage.