Exclusive: 33 Portraits of the 2016 Tony Nominees and Past Winners—Plus Their First-Ever Broadway Memory
What’s so special about the world of Broadway, anyway? As Hamilton’s Leslie Odom, Jr. simply put it, a musical or play’s live display of in-your-face drama, spiraling plot lines, and raw, unedited talent is something “you can’t get anywhere else.” There’s also the sensational feeling that comes with stepping foot inside a decades-old Theatre District venue, just moments after scoring big-time inside the beloved TKTS discount booths of New York’s Times Square.
That sense of excitement, plus a passion for singing, acting, writing, and directing, is exactly what moved this year’s diverse batch of Tony Award nominees to hop aboard the performance train. Interestingly enough, there are actors, including Danielle Brooks, who currently star in the latest production of the first show they ever watched live. “That really did inspire me to say, ‘I want to take this seriously,’ and ended up going to conservatory for school and everything,” Brooks, who’s nominated for her role in The Color Purple, told InStyle of seeing the show a decade ago.
VIDEO: Stars Walk The red Carpet at The Tonys
To capture the inspired mood of this year’s top nominees and past Tony winners, photographer Maurizio Bavutti snapped individual and group portraits of the stars. The result is a stunning portfolio of funny and dramatic images that shine, complemented with equally funny and dramatic stories of many of the stars’ first memories of Broadway.
Click through to see all of the standout shots and find out what the stars will never forget.
"I don't know if it's my first memory of Broadway, but the first thing that pops into my mind is seeing Fiona Shaw in Medea. They had to force me to leave the theater. I didn't want to. I couldn't come unglued from my seat. I didn't want the experience to be over."
Williams is nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play for Blackbird.
"Fantine’s death [in] Les Mis. I was 7. I cried. Here we are."
Miranda is nominated in three categories for Hamilton, including Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical, Best Original Score Written for Theatre, and Best Book of a Musical. Hamilton is nominated for Best Musical.
“I want to say Hand to God was the first time I was ever here in New York. I just thought it was an incredible show and I knew that the cast was working really hard. It's just brilliant, like everything about it was really fantastic and I remember sitting in the seat being both petrified and in awe all at once. It was brilliant.”
Erivo is nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for The Color Purple.
“Well, my first Broadway show I saw Beauty and the Beast and I was in 8th grade. Our class took a trip to New York City from Seattle and I was just totally blown away. It was magical and I just remember at that age, especially, being so excited and not quite understanding what that feeling was but knowing that I wanted to make people feel like that too.”
Hilty is nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play for Noises Off.
Brandon Victor Dixon
“I have early memories of musicals. My first memory of Broadway, I can't really say, probably some PBS special, but my first Broadway show was Ragtime, very last row watching Brian Stokes Mitchell and Audra McDonald on that stage when I was in high school and now I’m on the stage with them.”
Dixon is nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical for Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed.
“My first memory was, my gosh it dates me. I must have been, maybe, just double digits and I saw a show called Wish You Were Here with Jack Cassidy, who I then worked with later and had a mad crush on, and there was a swimming pool on the stage and people fell into the swimming pool. That was my first memory.”
Danner won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play for Butterflies Are Free in 1970.
"I think the first show I saw on Broadway was Urinetown, I think. I didn't come to Broadway until later in life, my career started in Chicago and I was there for a long time. Even when I started doing shows in New York it was off-Broadway mostly. I think the first thing I saw was Urinetown, which was a lot of fun."
Shannon is nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play for Long Day’s Journey Into Night.
“It would have to be Topdog/Underdog I think, when I was in grad school. I went to see it, yes. I felt amazed by the experience. I thought it was really beautiful to watch, especially in that play, it’s like, two black men in a very interesting narrative in this very grand theater where the focus and the power, and the essence and the aura is so about a theatrical expression. It just amplifies things in a way I think is really special.”
Gurira is the playwright behind Eclipsed, nominated for Best Play.
LESLIE ODOM, JR.
“I couldn't afford to see a Broadway show until I could pay for it myself; they were expensive even back then. I booked a Broadway show when I was 17. I came to New York to do Rent and just in my first couple of weeks while I was rehearsing, I had the evenings free. I didn't always have to watch the show, I could rehearse during the day and then I would have my nights free, and so I bought a ticket to Smokey Joe's Cafe from the TKTS booth ‘cause there were black people in the advertisements, so I wanted to see black people on Broadway. The lights went down and I was never the same. Live performance, as a live performer now, I understand why it's so expensive. It's something that you can't get anywhere else. But because it was so expensive, it was a little prohibitive for my family to see, but sitting that close to something that was happening in the here and now changed me forever.”
Odom, Jr. is nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical for Hamilton.
"Probably Michael Jeter doing a number from Grand Hotel on TV. I think it was the Tonys. I just have a memory of it. That first brought me to what it was. I grew up in Maine and I didn't have a family. We didn't go and see Broadway shows, we didn't necessarily watch the Tonys. I listened to albums all the time, loved musicals, but didn't quite make the connection to what Broadway was until I think I saw that and it kind of awakened me to what the possibilities were."
Fitzgerald is nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical for Waitress.
“My first memory was when I came here in 2014 for A Raisin in the Sun and that was, going up to Lincoln Center for the first day of rehearsals and I was living in Chelsea and I walked up 8th Avenue and I was just in tears all the way. I felt like, 'Oh, I've made it! I'm finally on Broadway.' And I’ve dreamt in England since a little girl [about] being on Broadway and I got here.”
Okonedo is nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play for Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
"My first Broadway memory was my first show that I watched, which was Rent on Broadway. I got cast in Rent to do the national tour and I flew into New York to watch the show, and I was so amazed and so excited."
Sengbloh is nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play for Eclipsed.
“For me, my first Broadway show that I ever saw was The Color Purple 10 years ago. That really did inspire me to say, ‘I want to take this seriously,’ and ended up going to conservatory for school and everything, and 10 years later here I am in The Color Purple. So it's a full circle moment for me.”
Brooks is nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for The Color Purple.
Sara Bareilles and Jessie Mueller
“I grew up in a really small town and my association with Broadway was through regional theater and watching my sister do a production of Evita and getting introduced to, honestly, the scores of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals. And my Christmas presents used to be posters of Broadway shows that my mom would put on poster board and so my room was coated in them. Cast albums. Cast recordings and stuff," Bareilles told InStyle.
Mueller's experience was similar: "I grew up in the Midwest. Broadway was like Guys and Dolls, that was Broadway to me, people walking down the street with high heels being like ‘Hey, where’s the game?’ It was Runyonland in my mind. That’s what Broadway was."
Bareilles is nominated for Best Original Score Written for Theater for Waitress. Mueller is nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for Waitress.
"I saw Annie Get Your Gun when I was 17 with Bernadette Peters and Tom Wopat. My parents just happened to have a business trip to New York and they brought me with them and that was the show that we saw and it was amazing. I was like so beyond impressed with the talent. I was also thoroughly shocked with how small a Broadway theater was. Growing up in Southern California, or really anywhere else outside of New York, you get touring houses, you get like the bigger kind of touring houses and so I assumed that, well, Broadway must be bigger than a touring house and then I walked into the theater and I was like, ‘This is really small!’ Then I was like, well, of course, well, they’re older, and they built them forever ago, and they’re also far more intimate, which I thought was a really beautiful thing, so that would be my first impression of Broadway.”
Levi is nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical for She Loves Me.
Renée Elise Goldsberry
"My parents brought me to see a show. I think I saw Black and Blue on Broadway in the ‘80s. I remember it being a Broadway show and I loved it, and I remember how large the actors and the dancers seemed to me from the audience. I just remember looking up at those dancers and thinking that they were like gods. I always thought I could do this. I was always hoping to be able to do this. Since I was 8 years old at music theater camp I wanted to do this, just because I loved being in plays and I loved being around people that were doing plays and musicals. I always loved to sing. I marvel because I swore that I would try to do this for the rest of my life, so I marvel that I still get to do this. I’m grateful that this still happens at any level, especially at this level. My mind is blown that this is my life. I’m really grateful."
Goldsberry is nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for Hamilton. Watch her dish on her off-stage style here.
David Hyde Pierce
Pierce won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for Curtains in 2007. He's popularly known for his roles on hit TV shows like Frasier, The Simpsons, The Good Wife, and most recently, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp.
"I went and saw Crazy for You in 1993 and we had a talkback afterwards, and seeing all of those actors walk out on stage was the moment that I realized that this is what I want to do, that it was possible."
Jackson is nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical for Hamilton.
"My first musical was School of Rock when I was 22—kidding. I'm trying to think. I feel like I was so, I remember very clearly being about 10 years old in the third row of Chicago with the Gwen Verdon, the Chita Rivera, the Jerry Orbach, and Chita Rivera throwing me a rose in the audience at the end, this like wide-eyed, hopeful girl like dreaming of being on Broadway and throwing me a rose in the audience at the curtain call. And then I so luckily got to work with Chita Rivera many years later on Nine, so that was a full circle moment for me."
Krakowski is nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for She Loves Me.
“I went into Fifth of July on Broadway, the rest of the cast had already done it downtown and then I went on after 10 days of rehearsal because I was doing another play at the same time. In my big long speech I left out a key plot point, otherwise I did really well. Anyway, it was a preview, so I didn’t know I had done it. I was told—believe me.”
Kurtz won the Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play for Fifth of July in 1981 and for The House of Blue Leaves in 1986.
Tommy is the director of Eclipsed, which is nominated across five categories including Best Play, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Lupita Nyong’o), Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (Pascale Armand and Saycon Sengbloh), Best Costume Design of a Play, and Best Direction of a Play.
"Both my parents were Broadway performers, so for me my first memory is literally going and being put to sleep in my crib at the theater and people with crazy faces singing me lullabies. [The show was] Brigadoon."
Benanti is nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for She Loves Me.
Simard is nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for Disaster! This marks her first Tony nomination.
“My first show I ever saw was the Lion King. I remember seeing it and having a major crush on the baby Simba because I was also young, so yeah, that was definitely my first memory. Lion King was so imaginative and it was such an innovative show during that time and I just remember my imagination just soared after seeing it and I never wanted it to end. And during intermission, I couldn’t wait for it to start again and I knew at that point, I said 'This Broadway is a special place.' It’s pretty magical.”
Warren is nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed.
STEVE MARTIN, CARMEN CUSACK, AND EDIE BRICKELL
Martin is nominated for Best Book of a Musical for Bright Star, which also earned him and Edie Brickell a nomination for Best Original Score (Music) Written for Theatre. Cusack is nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for Bright Star.
"My first memory of Broadway was my brother next to me at the Winter Garden Theatre mezzanine. I was 8, he was 7, and I was transfixed with the show and he was crying because there was a cat in the balcony. That’s my very first memory. [The show was] Cats.”
Brightman is nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical for School of Rock—The Musical.
Martin is nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play for Noises off. She won a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for My Favorite Year in 1993 and Pippin in 2013.
"When I was little, I would watch the Mary Martin Peter Pan, the live Mary Martin Peter Pan, and that was something I would religiously watch like every single day when I was a child. So I feel like in terms of my fever for theater, that was the beginning of it.”
Soo is nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for Hamilton. Watch her dish on her off-stage style here.
Diggs is nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical for Hamilton, which leads the pack with 16 nominations, including Best Musical, Best Actor in a Musical (Lin-Manuel Miranda and Leslie Odom Jr.), Best Original Score, and Best Actress in a Musical (Phillipa Soo), among many more.