If the lights of Times Square seemed to beam a bit brighter last week, it might have been the radiance emanating from Sofitel’s Intercontinental Hotel on 44th and 8th avenue.
On Wednesday morning, Tony nominees descended upon the venue for their annual press gathering where they flashed dazzling smiles and fielded inquiries from various news outlets.
The day before, nominations were announced for the 72nd Annual Tony Awards which will be held at Radio City Music Hall on June 10th and televised on CBS. A complete list of nominees can be found here.
This year’s ceremonies will be hosted by two Broadway alums: Josh Groban, star of last year’s Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 and Sara Bareilles, who wrote the score and starred in Waitress.
Denzel Washington (The Iceman Cometh), Tina Fey, (Mean Girls: The Musical) Renee Fleming (Carousel), Andrew Garfield (Angels in America), and John Leguizamo (Latin History for Morons) were a few of the starrier names present on Wednesday morning’s gathering. Many sat with journalists and photographers for an extended interview.
Others joined the press room for a deluge of questioning. Ethan Slater, who plays the titular role in SpongeBob Squarepants: The Musical was shocked but elated with his Best Actor in a Musical nomination. “It’s been a long road for the show. I’ve been with the show for 6 years and My girlfriend and I have been together for just over 6 years. She knows how much I’ve put into and we got to celebrate the little victories. This has been a big little victory,” he said. The role marks Slater’s Broadway debut.
Broadway’s yellow sponge earned 12 nominations. Producers Susan Vargo and Cyma Zarghami were on hand to discuss how they brought the beloved animated show to the stage. What made them invest? “The only way we’re going to take SpongeBob to Broadway is if somebody comes up with a completely creative way to do it,” Zarghami recalled. “The last thing we wanted was a yellow sponge costume on stage. The minute we met (director) Tina Landau, she basically had us at ‘hello’,” she added. Zarghami, who is also the President of Nickelodeon, is trying to impress upon audiences and potential ticket buyers the fact that this isn’t just a kid’s show. “Word of mouth is also helping us tremendously,” she said.
Tom Kitt orchestrated the show’s score, which includes tons of pop legends. He, along with numerous contributors are nominated for Best Score. “I was in Boston working on Jagged Little Pill yesterday and I face-timed with my wife, who ran home after dropping our 3 kids off at school and turned on NY1. Kitt is currently scoring a total of five musicals that are currently running or planned for the future.
Ari’el Statchel, nominated for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for The Band’s Visit, is also new to the Broadway stage. “Yesterday, the show’s company was performing on the Today Show. We had to swear to leave our cell phones in the green room.,” he said. “We finished around 9 AM and our lead producer came and congratulated us. He told me I had earned a personal nomination. I wept.” He explained the reason for his tears: “For years, I was very ashamed of my Middle Eastern background and pretended to be other identities. To be honored in a role that celebrates that identity was a seismic shift for me.”
His path to the performing arts has been challenging, “Not seeing people who looked like me made it hard. I was told in college that there would be no space for me to pursue characters of my own race,” Statchel noted. “There was always that kid growing up who was so awesome and I never felt like that kid.”
The Broadway revival of My Fair Lady racked up 10 Tony nominations, including Best Revival. Lauren Ambrose, Norbert Leo Butz, and Harry Hadden-Patton all earned personal nods for the show and shared their thoughts. “I was dead asleep in the morning because my 7-year-old had strep throat, so I was up most of the night. My manager called after the nominations were announced and that was lovely,” Butz said.
Paton admitted that he was in his underwear after just having a shower. His wife was doing a school run to drop off his kids. When the phone buzzed with the news, they both simply exclaimed with glee, “Ahhh!”
“To get to work with the people who have made this show has been extraordinary, ” Ambrose said. “It’s such an honor to play this role in my lifetime. I get to go on this journey eight times a week,” she added.
Michael Arden, director of Once on This Island spoke about his show, which garnered 8 nominations. Members of his creative went to Haiti to get research for the show. “My vision was not to be standing here with a nomination. I just wanted to celebrate humanity, to challenge our ideas and inspire people to do good in life even if they don’t see a return on it,” Arden said. He then joked that he drugged the writers enough to join his vision.
Hailey Kilgore plays the lead role of Ti Moune in the musical. This is both her debut and first nomination for Best Actress. “The thing I love about this character is her selflessness. We are living in a time where we are so focused on the next thing or what we need or want. Ti Moune has this sense of curiosity and of the world and people. It makes her so joyful and loving,” she explained. Upon learning of the nomination, she looked at her phone to see a text from last year’s Tony winner, Ben Platt. “YOU ARE A TONY NOMINEE,” the text read.“He even beat my parents by two seconds,” she mused.
“When I was a little girl, my parents taught me the importance of hard work. If you start from a foundation of hard work and then you add a foundation of love and then add another foundation of creativity and allowing yourself a free-flowing imagination, things come so much easier,” she said.
19-year-old Kilgore, who is from Oregon, was selected for the role after a worldwide search.
Kilgore addressed the problematic ending of the show with gender and class inequity. “These problems just haven’t gone away, but what I love about the story is that it is real life.”
Lauren Ridloff, an original Chicago native who now considers Williamsburg, Brooklyn her home, is nominated for Best Actress in a Play. Born deaf, she also plays a deaf character in the revival of 1979’s Children of a Lesser God. With the help of interpreters, Ridloff communicated with the press room. “I was at home getting my first in-house massage when the nominations were announced. It was a gift from my co-star for my birthday,” she signed with a gracious smile. “Today, being on stage with a nomination gives me the ability to become a representation of all the intersectionality that happens out there in our world. I’ve been a person who has been marginalized, right? I’m a woman, a mother, and a person of color and now, I’m on Broadway.”
Other nominees appeared as well. Jessie Mueller from the revival of Carousel, Manhattan Theatre Club’s Artistic Director Lynne Meadow and Executive Producer Barry Grove were on hand. So was Ariana DeBose, nominated for Best Featured Actress in Summer.
A special award for excellence in the theater will be presented to photographer Sara Krulwich, Beading designer Bessie Nelson, and Bruce and Sarah Barish, owners of Ernest Winzer Cleaners.
Bruce is at the helm of this third generation, 110-year-old establishment, which cleans most of the costumes for Broadway. Bruce and Sarah showed up to share their surprise. “We knew it was a possibility to get a Tony Award,” Bruce said, “But once you hear about it?!!? I didn’t expect any of the events that we’ll be going to. I figured they would just hand us the Tony and expect us to go back to start cleaning again,” he joked. “I just need to figure out what I’m gonna wear,” Sarah quipped. “Most of what we see is challenging, but what we do is second nature.” “I’ve been at this since I was 7 years old,” Bruce said, adding, “We’ve done it all and seen it all.”
You can see it all too on Sunday, June 10th at 8 PM on CBS. For more info, visit the 72nd Annual Tony Awards.