First Time’s a Charm for Tony-Nominated Artists Making Broadway Debuts

Patti LuPone, Kevin Kline, Bartlett Sher: There are plenty of Broadway veterans among this year’s Tony nominees, but there are plenty of newbies on the list, too. In fact, several people were nominated this year for their Broadway debuts. We spoke to several of these nominees who are batting 1000.

Irene Sankoff & David Hein
Nominated for: Original Score and Book of a Musical, “Come From Away”
Before Broadway: Toronto Fringe Festival success “My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding”
On Becoming Broadway Talent: “Broadway was a really, really far away goal that happened to other people. I think everyone will attest that we’re having a hard time switching our thinking. We really are trying, but it’s a ‘haven’t taken our names off the roster at the day job’ kind of thing.” — Sankoff
On the Oddest of Odd Jobs: “We used to work as standardized patients. There’s a whole arts community that pretends to be sick so a doctor or a police officer can practice on you, and you can answer their questions. It spans the gamut from playing a schizophrenic to just, ‘I’m a little sad.’” — Hein

Josh Groban
Nominated for: Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical, “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”
Before Broadway: Sold more than 30 million albums and DVDs; guest spots on TV and in films
On The Broadway Community: “I knew coming into this that it would be a hell of a lot of hard work and that there would be a certain amount of skepticism and a feeling of perhaps stunt-casting. It’s been a wonderful discovery that there has been such an open-arms welcoming, in a way that I have not even felt being in the music business for 15 years.”
On his Broadway bucket list: “Something Sondheim would be a thrill. I would love to be George in ‘Sunday in the Park With George’ someday. ‘Sweeney Todd’ is another one I would love to do. Billy Bigelow in ‘Carousel’ would be amazing. I’m big on the baritone roles that don’t involve dancing!”

Steven Levenson
Nominated for: Book of a Musical, “Dear Evan Hansen
Before Broadway: Off Broadway plays “The Language of Trees” and “If I Forget,” TV’s “Masters of Sex”
On Broadway audiences: “What’s so different about Broadway, which I never would have guessed: I didn’t realize how difficult the audiences are Off Broadway. Audiences Off Broadway, they’re New Yorkers mostly, and so they’re really people who are seasoned theatergoers. They know what they like. You really have to prove it to them.” On Broadway, audiences have decided to come to your show; it’s not part of a subscription series. They bought tickets. You feel a receptivity there. I would think the bar would feel a little bit higher, but it actually feels like audiences on Broadway are a little more excited to be there.”

Denee Benton
Nominated for: Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical, “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”
Before Broadway: “UnReal,” the national tour of “The Book of Mormon”
On her role: “I think Dave [Malloy, the show’s creator] wrote one of the greats. I think about ‘Funny Girl’ and ‘Evita’ and all these parts that require everything you have to offer, but they bring out a greatness in you. Natasha really does that for me. And what it means for me, Denee, and all the labels and symbols that are attached to me as I walk through this world — the fact that I get to represent Natasha, and little girls of color get to represent Natasha? It means everything to me.

Lucas Hnath, Lynn Nottage, J.T. Rogers, Paula Vogel
Nominated for: Best Play: “A Doll’s House, Part 2” (Hnath), “Sweat” (Nottage), “Oslo” (Rogers), “Indecent” (Vogel)
Before Broadway: Off Broadway successes, including three Pulitzer Prizes — two for Nottage (“Ruined,” “Sweat”) and one for Vogel (“How I Learned to Drive”)
On the rise of edgy new work on Broadway: “There is always that kind of movement of the downtown to the uptown that happens, but it does feel like there’s been a very abrupt shift on Broadway towards being interested in experimentation with form, or in plays that are not reaching toward verisimilitude. There seems to be a greater tolerance for it. I’m not sure why. Is it that there’s been more experimentation in form in television, and that’s sort of primed people? But then, ‘Angels in America’ was wildly experimental at the time. Maybe it’s more that it comes in waves, and with each wave we move a little further along on some sort of style continuum.” — Hnath
On star casting: “One of the things that I find particularly exciting about all the plays that have been nominated in this category is we’re not driven by shiny celebrities. It really is about the art. It’s about the words. Hopefully this is going to be a trend, the beginning of a movement to reclaim theater for the artist and not commerce. I think there’s a level of fatigue. Artists are tired of having to create work that’s then coopted by commercial demands. When you begin souping up the car, the car no longer feels like your own.” — Nottage
On the Broadway boost: “You have this sense of being lifted. Both you and, more importantly, the play you’ve written. It’s being talked about on a different level. I’m a longtime fanboy of ‘The Brian Lehrer Show.’ It’s hard news; they don’t do arts. But he had Christiane Amanpour on his show, and she said, ‘I just saw this play “Oslo” on Broadway, and I know we’re supposed to talk about something else, but I want to talk about the play.’ And suddenly I went on the show, and I got to have a discussion about art and politics with Brian Lehrer!” — Rogers
On making Broadway debut at 65: “I think age helps. I’m much calmer. It’s like, ‘Well, this isn’t cancer, and it’s not brain surgery.’ The other thing is, I’m competitive for me, but I’m not competitive against these people because I’ve known them for so long and I love their work. My own work has been influenced by my years of teaching in that it’s very hard for me to be cynical. When you’re working with emerging, brilliant talent, you have to believe in the future. It makes me hungry, as a 65-year-old. I’m not thinking about the time that is behind me. I’m thinking of these people that I watch to catch up with and be in their company. So I’d better start writing many more plays!” — Vogel

Eva Noblezada
Nominated for: Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical, “Miss Saigon”
Before Broadway: Plucked from obscurity by producer Cameron Mackintosh for the popular West End revival of “Saigon”
On making her Broadway debut at 21: “Broadway has been a dream of mine since I was about 4. I just loved singing and performing. I went through like a year of wanting to be an opera singer, because ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ movie came out. But Broadway to me was like this glittery finale of the ultimate goal. Now, to be here and know what it is, well, it’s not my ultimate goal anymore, because I’m only 21. But I’m still not over the fact that I’m here!”

Rebecca Taichman
Nominated for: Direction of a Play, “Indecent”
Before Broadway: Off Broadway and regional work (“Familiar,” “How to Transcend a Happy Marriage”)
On being a female director: “As a female director, honestly, Broadway is something you don’t dare to dream too much about. I didn’t dare to make it a goal. For me, the goal has always been to tell stories in a powerful way that deeply impacts people. Broadway is a way to do that on a large scale, so that means a tremendous amount. It wasn’t that long ago that no woman had ever won a Tony Award for directing. I remember when Garry Hynes won that first time, and thinking, ‘Oh wow, maybe the doors will open.’ I can’t believe they have, and I can’t believe I’ve walked through them.”

Dave Malloy, Rachel Chavkin
Nominated for: Score, book and orchestrations for “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” (Malloy), Direction of a Musical for “Great Comet” (Chavkin)
Before Broadway: Unconventional works like “Beowulf — A Thousand Years of Baggage,” (Malloy) and “Hadestown” and shows with The TEAM (Chavkin)
On being the artsy downtown kids: “I come from the downtown experimental theater scene, and for me the experiment of this show was: Can I write a show in the form of a Broadway musical? ‘Les Miz’ was such a template for this show. But practically, I was like, ‘No, of course that’s not something that I get to do.’ It’s been amazing to watch it evolve into a proper Broadway show. All during tech, that was a running joke for all of us. We’d encounter a problem, and Rachel would just turn to our choreographer or our lighting designer and go, ‘Well, what do they do on real Broadway?’” — Malloy
On irregular Broadway: “We would be flummoxed about setting up these systems for maintenance, and teaching, and even tech, and we would ask Paloma Garcia-Lee, who was our dance captain when we opened, how we would do something. Paloma would be like, ‘Well, on regular Broadway…’ And she then very kindly dubbed up ‘Extraordinary Broadway.’ I had never assisted on Broadway. I had never been in a Broadway house during tech, other than 15 minutes when I visited my friend once. But it’s good if you don’t know any better, because then you don’t worry about how far out what you’re doing might be.” — Chavkin

Dennis Arndt
Nominated for: Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play, “Heisenberg”
Before Broadway: “Basic Instinct,” “L.A. Law,” regional theater work including 11 seasons at Oregon Shakespeare Festival
On debuting on Broadway at 77: “Well, I never thought of Broadway as a career goal, because the career goal was to do good work in the next project. My philosophy throughout it all was to wait ’til the 11th hour and then take the best offer. ”
On returning to acting after 10 years as an army helicopter pilot in Bavaria, Germany, and Vietnam: “I was going to the University of Washington on the G.I. Bill, and managing an apartment house for my rent. And into the apartment house moved a guy who knew of my early theatrical training when I was in high school. The night of the first read-through for one of his shows, there was a snowstorm. I had a car, so he rang my doorbell and asked me to drive him to the theater, so I did. He said, ‘While you’re here, come in and have a cup of coffee.’ I listened to these actors read this stuff in the other room and I thought, ‘Jesus, these guys are really bad.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you read these for me?’ So I went in and read. I’ve been making a living at it since 1973.”

Tipsheet
What: The 2017 Tony Awards
When: 8 p.m. June 11
Where: Radio City Music Hall
Web: tonyawards.com

More Legit

  • The Twilight Zone review

    London Theater Review: 'The Twilight Zone'

    Patti LuPone, Kevin Kline, Bartlett Sher: There are plenty of Broadway veterans among this year’s Tony nominees, but there are plenty of newbies on the list, too. In fact, several people were nominated this year for their Broadway debuts. We spoke to several of these nominees who are batting 1000. Irene Sankoff & David HeinNominated […]

  • HadestownNew York Theatre WorkshopBy Anaïs MitchellDeveloped

    Streaming to Broadway: How New Titles, Talent Grow Buzz Online

    Patti LuPone, Kevin Kline, Bartlett Sher: There are plenty of Broadway veterans among this year’s Tony nominees, but there are plenty of newbies on the list, too. In fact, several people were nominated this year for their Broadway debuts. We spoke to several of these nominees who are batting 1000. Irene Sankoff & David HeinNominated […]

  • Chrissy Metz

    Chrissy Metz to Star in Neil LaBute's 'Fat Pig' at Geffen Playhouse

    Patti LuPone, Kevin Kline, Bartlett Sher: There are plenty of Broadway veterans among this year’s Tony nominees, but there are plenty of newbies on the list, too. In fact, several people were nominated this year for their Broadway debuts. We spoke to several of these nominees who are batting 1000. Irene Sankoff & David HeinNominated […]

  • 'Death Becomes Her' Musical in Development

    'Death Becomes Her' Musical in Development for Kristin Chenoweth

    Patti LuPone, Kevin Kline, Bartlett Sher: There are plenty of Broadway veterans among this year’s Tony nominees, but there are plenty of newbies on the list, too. In fact, several people were nominated this year for their Broadway debuts. We spoke to several of these nominees who are batting 1000. Irene Sankoff & David HeinNominated […]

  • Stagecraft podcast John Leguizamo

    Stagecraft Podcast: John Leguizamo Says He's a 'True Ghetto Nerd'

    Patti LuPone, Kevin Kline, Bartlett Sher: There are plenty of Broadway veterans among this year’s Tony nominees, but there are plenty of newbies on the list, too. In fact, several people were nominated this year for their Broadway debuts. We spoke to several of these nominees who are batting 1000. Irene Sankoff & David HeinNominated […]

  • Farinelli and the King Broadway

    Broadway Box Office: 'Farinelli and the King' Makes Royal Debut

    Patti LuPone, Kevin Kline, Bartlett Sher: There are plenty of Broadway veterans among this year’s Tony nominees, but there are plenty of newbies on the list, too. In fact, several people were nominated this year for their Broadway debuts. We spoke to several of these nominees who are batting 1000. Irene Sankoff & David HeinNominated […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content