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6 Tony Nominees Remember Their Broadway Debuts

06.09.18

There are a few firsts in life you’ll never forget: your first love, your first heartbreak, and – for the lucky ones – your first role in a Broadway show. In honor of the 2018 Tony Awards, Broadway Spin caught up with six of this year’s Tony nominees to hear about the moment they made their debut on the Great White Way. Spoiler alert: Some memories are fonder than others(!)

Alexander Gemignani in Carousel. Photo: Instagram, @prospecttheaterco.

Alexander Gemignani in Carousel. Photo: Instagram, @prospecttheaterco.

Alexander Gemignani, Tony nominee for playing Enoch Snow in Carousel

The first Broadway show I was in was the revival of Assassins in 2004 at the Roundabout Theatre. I was 25, temping, working at my old job at the UPS store in New Jersey, teaching, and threading the needle paying my rent — doing what all actors do until they get a job acting. And then I got cast in Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins. I always call it my grad school because I was sharing the stage with titans like Michael Cerveris, Denis O’Hare and Becky Baker. It was an incredible bar to set and really, really special.

 

Tom Hollander in Travesties. Photo: Instagram, @team_hollander.

Tom Hollander, Tony nominee for playing Carr in Travesties

My first Broadway show was twenty years ago doing The Judas Kiss with Liam Neeson. It was the first time it occurred to me that if theater worked, it was not about the actors particularly – it was about some sort of collective understanding of what it was to be a human being, and that that was a shared event between the actors, the audience and the writer.

I remember that occurring to me in some matinee. There was nothing really I could do other than deliver the play. What the play was sat somewhere in the darkness between them and us and through the words – and that is what theater is. It is about a feeling in the room at that moment of commonality and of mutual understanding of what it is to be alive. That is what it is at its best.

 

LaChanze. Photo: Instagram, @mslachanze.

LaChanze, Tony nominee for playing Diva Donna in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical

Once on this Island was my first leading role on Broadway. But the first Broadway show I did was a musical entitled Uptown…It’s Hot! And it was at the very same theater where I am now, the Lunt-Fontanne. So this is my return to the Lunt-Fontanne since that show. At the time, I was in college. We did the musical out of town in Atlantic City and it got a stint on Broadway. It starred Maurice Hines. It was my first big break. I had wanted to perform since I was 6-years-old when I was picked out of the audience in a variety show to come to the front and do a trick. The audience just loved me and I ate it up. I was such a ham. I thought, “I want to keep doing this.” My mother put me in all kinds of classes and from there I just never stopped.

 

Gavin Lee. Photo: Instagram, @gavusa.

Gavin Lee, Tony nominee for playing Squidward in SpongeBob SquarePants

The first show I did was Mary Poppins. Back in 2004, I got the role of Bert in Mary Poppins in London, where the show originated. Two years later I was the one lucky cast member who they asked to come and revive the character for the Broadway production. And then I never left Broadway.

 

Jessie Mueller. Photo: Instagram, @jessiermueller.

Jessie Mueller, Tony nominee for playing Julie Jordan in Carousel

My Broadway debut was in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. One of the biggest things that I took away from that experience was Harry Connick Jr. He was so amazing and generous to me through the whole process. Looking back, I thank my lucky stars that I had someone to look up to like him. He was such an amazing leader. He took care of himself. He took care of the company. I often reflect how that bar was set for me early. He was a real-life example of how someone could be a good human being, wonderful artist and good businessman. You can have all those things wrapped up in one and still hang onto your integrity and kindness.

 

David Morse. Photo: Instagram.

David Morse, Tony nominee for playing Larry Slade The Iceman Cometh

About five days before the previews were going to start, I got a phone call saying you’re being offered the role in On the Waterfront on Broadway. It’s going to in front of an audience in five days, and you only have two hours to make a decision because they have to offer it to somebody else. The actor doing the role was quitting and they needed to cast it right away. I would be playing a priest.

James Gandolfini was part of the cast. The actors looked so depressed Not that they were bad, but it was just a mess up on the stage. People were ripping up scripts and threatening to quit. James Gandolfini was fired with three days to go. Another actor was brought in to play Charlie. It was such a story, and then they kept writing me new stuff. We got terrible reviews.

Tickets to every single 2018 Tony nominated show are in play through Broadway Roulette!