A Survey of Firsts With This Year's First-Time Tony Nominees
Find out whose first New York apartment was next to Audra McDonald's voice lessons, whose stage debut was in a gender-bending Nativity, and whose career started at Pottery Barn.
It's become one of TheaterMania's favorite traditions to spotlight the first-time Tony nominees of each Broadway season. From Broadway debuts to London imports to opera stars to comedy queen bees, this year's list is full of first-timers, and they shared a few of their other momentous firsts ahead of the big night — June 10. Watch the Tonys Awards live on CBS from 8pm`-11pm. Or set your DVR if it's past your bedtime.
Nominee: Lauren Ridloff
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play, Children of a Lesser God
First Job: I worked as an assistant at a flower shop.
First New York City Apartment: Dilapidated three-bedroom apartment in Hell's Kitchen.
First Theatrical Experience: Preschool. I played a mouse and couldn't keep my dang whiskers on. (Got a picture to prove it!)
First Role You Played Onstage: Dorothy in The Wiz at my high school.
First Award You Remember Winning: I won a citywide poetry award when I was in kindergarten or so. It was a poem titled "I'm Deaf, So What?"
Nominee: Denise Gough
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play, Angels in America
First Job: My first proper job was as a chambermaid in a hotel when I was 12. I mean...12!! I hated it. I used to steal cigarettes from the tourists and then watch Dallas when I'd finished cleaning.
My first acting job was at the Actors Centre in London. There were never more than about seven people in the audience. No money and I worked in a pub during the day. I was elated because I felt like a real actress.
First New York City Apartment: On Willow street in Brooklyn when I worked at St. Anne's Warehouse. I burst into tears when I realized the street was next to Pineapple Street, which is where Harper from Angels lived. It felt like my two New York plays were informing each other. I had never been here, so I didn't really know where Harper lived when I was playing her in London. So finding myself living in Brooklyn Heights while doing People, Places and Things made me feel very emotional.
First Theatrical Experience: Being in the chorus of Fiddler on the Roof in my hometown when I was about nine. Needless to say I was upset that I wasn't one of the daughters.
First Role You Played Onstage: Miss Hannigan in Annie when I was 12. I remember something went wrong in one of the scenes and I improvised, and the audience laughed a lot, and I thought, "Yep, I'll have more of that please." I haven't done a comedy since.
First Award You Remember Winning: My drama teacher Lourdes O'Donoghue had a little medal made for me when I was 12. It said "excellence" on the back. She presented it in front of a big room of people and made a speech about me. I had no idea that she had thought that of me, and I was sort of bewildered by it. But I liked someone telling me I was good at this thing that I really, really loved. I think she was one of the first people to tell me I was good at it.
Nominee: Grey Henson
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical, Mean Girls
First Job: Working at a burger restaurant in Macon, Georgia. I was terrible. I spilled an entire tray of sodas on a family of five.
First New York City Apartment: 107th and Broadway with Mark Evans (star of The Play That Goes Wrong).
First Theatrical Experience: Seeing a community theater production of Cinderella when I was three or four. I was obsessed. I told people I wanted to be Cinderella when I grew up.
First Role You Played Onstage: The smallest little lost boy in Peter Pan.
First Award You Remember Winning: The Sneaky-Truth award at summer camp. Apparently I would tell people shady things to their face, and then follow it up with "Just kidding!"
Nominee: Itamar Moses
Best Book of a Musical, The Band's Visit
First Job: I did some theater internships that paid either nothing or almost nothing. But my first job-jobs were probably all office temping gigs back in the early 2000s. I temped through an agency that employed a lot of aspiring artists, and they claimed to cater to that, but what that turned out to mean was you'd end up filling out excel spreadsheets in the finance office of, like, Radio City or Madison Square Garden. So there'd be art nearby! While you sat in your cubicle. I worked at Nickelodeon Junior Magazine for a month at one point. I had to call the winners of a contest at home to tell them they'd won ,and every call went like this: "Hi, is Peter home?" "Peter is at school. He's 10. What do you want?" "Nothing creepy! He won a prize!"
First New York City Apartment: When I first moved to the city, I lived in a fifth-floor walk-up on 10th avenue in Hell's Kitchen. This was back in 1999, so there was nothing over there. It was, like, The Daily Show surrounded by an industrial wasteland. And the apartment was tiny. I did have roof access, though, if I was willing to make an extremely dangerous climb out my roommates window and up the fire escape. And it's to this day one of the most expensive places I've ever lived. Also, I walked by recently and looked at the buzzer and my old apartment is still labeled with my old roommate's last name. Neither of us has lived there for 16 years. You'd think someone in the course of that time would have wanted their own name on the buzzer, but apparently not.
First Theatrical Experience: The first experiences I remember non-fragmentally are all seeing my older sister do musicals at the Bay Area Youth Theatre. She was Tzeitel in Fiddler and Kim in Bye Bye Birdie and I think one of the Boylan Sisters in Annie — although until I googled it just now I literally to this day thought they were called "The Boilin' Sisters," which is apparently how I misheard it as a child? She was in The Mikado, which was probably problematic, but I didn't know what that meant in 1984, and also I was 7. And she played a teacher in a musical called The Boy From New York City, which was written by some local Bay Area writers I think? But because I saw it in the context of all these other shows, I assumed for years that it was in the canon of musical theater along with them. "Sure, the canon is Annie, Fiddler, and The Boy From New York City, don't you know it?"
First Role You Played Onstage: Well, see, then I followed my sister's footsteps and did a play at Bay Area Youth Theatre myself. I was 9, and I think it was a piece the director had written himself or adapted from something? It was about three siblings — one assayed by yours truly — living in, like, a pseudo-fascist state that was also, like, a medieval kingdom? And end up separated and on the run from the secret police and then on some misty moors running from blue monsters? I swear I am not making this up. Anyway, I loved it.
First Award You Remember Winning: I won an award for excellence at my eighth grade graduation, though I should emphasize that there were 11 people in my eighth grade class, so it really should have been an award for "canny choice of sampling size."
Nominee: Jamie Parker
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
First Job: After the Dance by Terence Rattigan. I played Peter. Regional UK tour. Easily the most heavy-drinking company I've ever been in before or since.
First New York City Apartment: A walk-up brownstone on West 75th. Russell Tovey and James Corden were in the same building. As were lots of cockroaches.
First Theatrical Experience: I think it was Darlington Operatic Society's production of The Music Man sometime in the early 1980s. My dad was Mayor Shinn, and my sister Emma was in the marching band.
First Role You Played Onstage: The Virgin Mary in the nativity play at school. Two years running. I was about 6 or 7, I think.
First Award You Remember Winning: Scottish Schools bugling champion, 1993. Need someone to reveille you the hell out of bed? I'm your man.
Nominee: Anthony Boyle
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
First Job: My first job was working in a nightclub in Belfast when I was 16. My older brother got me a job collecting glasses at the club, and I got fired after my third shift because I was drinking vodka and Red Bull and dancing with people. My ma wasn't best pleased.
First New York City Apartment: My first New York apartment is the one I live in now! This is my first time living in NYC.
First Theatrical Experience: I can't remember my very first theatrical experience (I think I was too young), but I do remember doing a play at 16 years old and being in a proper rehearsal room for the first time. Everyone brought in pieces of art that reminded them of the play we were doing, and we sat in a circle on the floor, people played music from their phones and read poems, and I thought "I never want to leave this room." I still feel like that.
First Role You Played Onstage: I left drama school early to play Scorpius in Harry Potter in the West End, so this is the first proper onstage role I've ever had a crack at.
First Award You Remember Winning: The first award I won was the Critics Circle Award for Best Newcomer in London last year (for Harry Potter). One of our producers rang me, and I thought I was in trouble, but they were telling me about the award. Then they told me about all of these amazing actors I look up to who had won in previous years, like Eddie Redmayne, Daniel Kaluuya, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andrew Garfield, etc., and I couldn't believe it. I remember being ridiculously nervous giving the speech, even though it was only in front of about 30 people.
Nominee: David Cromer
Best Direction of a Musical, The Band's Visit
First Job: I was too lazy to get a job before college. I was a work aid in the Columbia College costume shop. All I remember is borrowing cool vintage sweaters from storage and forgetting to return them, so I guess my first job was lazy thief.
First New York City Apartment: I was explicitly told not to take the first apartment I looked at, so I diligently toured 10 apartments in a single day before taking the first apartment I looked at where I've lived happily for nine years. Someday I will hang pictures on the walls.
First Theatrical Experience: See below.
First Role You Played Onstage: I played the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland' at College Hill Elementary School in 1974. Absolutely everything about the entire process made perfect sense to me despite having no previous theater experience. This supports the theory that people are not drawn to certain preexisting art forms, but that the forms themselves exist only because the desire naturally occur as inborn traits in certain people.
First Award You Remember Winning: I was temping in the mortgage refinancing department at Citibank in the summer of 1991. Men who sounded like Moss and Aronow from Glengarry Glen Ross cold-called people to convince them to borrow money they didn't need on homes they did not yet own. They generated thousands of giant handwritten forms (leads), and I had to fax them all somewhere and/or receive similar faxes from all over the country. One day, every single paper lead that had been generated in the previous year arrived at my cubicle, and I was told to put them in numerical order by zip code. No one knows why. I got it done in about four weeks at which point I received, via interoffice communication, a Citi-Star. I mean, it was an honor just to be nominated.
Nominee: Tina Fey
Best Book of a Musical, Mean Girls
First Job: My first "job" job was at 14 scooping "water ice" and making cheesesteaks at a local swim club so my family could get a free membership. My first theater job was at 17, working the night box office at our community theater. I took the job because a boy I was going out with did plays there, and he said it would be fun if I worked there and we could hang out all summer. He immediately broke up with me, and I sat in the 4x6 box office all summer. But I also met some of the best friends of my life there, so it all worked out.
First New York City Apartment: A tiny one-bedroom on West 80th Street. I used to joke that it was so small that I could sit on the toilet and stir my soup at the same time. But the cool thing was I used to see Audra McDonald come in for voice lessons downstairs, and I could hear her through the walls.
First Theatrical Experience: When I was in kindergarten, the sixth-grade play about America needed a little kid to dress up like Mickey Mouse. I volunteered, my mom made the costume, then I got scared because I had to go to "rehearsal," and I didn't know what that was, so I refused to do it. Now I love rehearsal!
First Role You Played Onstage: In ninth grade I played Mercy Lewis in The Crucible. They told us to write down what part we wanted to audition for, and I wrote "Mercy Lewis" cause I had only read the first three pages. I was so proud that I got the part I requested, then I read the rest of the play and saw that she basically never talks again.
First Award You Remember Winning: In elementary school I won an art contest at the library. You had to draw an original illustration for your favorite book. I made a watercolor for Babar Comes to America, and I won first prize. And to this day, I draw exactly as well as I did in 1977.
Nominee: Jeff Richmond
Best Original Score, Mean Girls
First Job: My first job was actually a theater job. I played the Artful Dodger in Oliver! at a dinner theater. It paid $225 for the run, but they ran a scam where they sold you 8x10 glossies from the show and would let you charge the cost of photos against what they owed you. In the end I took home about $50 for three months of work.
First New York City Apartment: When I first came to New York I moved into a tiny apartment on West 80th Street with my girlfriend, Tina Fey. Later we found out that it was the apartment the Mayflower Madam once used as a rendezvous location. That still does not trump being able to hear Audra McDonald practicing scales through the bathroom pipes.
First Theatrical Experience: Warren, Ohio. Packard Music Hall. The Kenley Players production of Once Upon a Mattress, starring Lucie Arnaz. Every summer I'd attend as many shows as I could and would often see John Kenley hanging out before the show. Once I asked him (he was very approachable) about how one would break into show business. I don't remember his advice, but it did end with a flourish with him doing a cartwheel landing in a perfect split in the middle of the lobby. He must have been 90 years old.
First Role You Played Onstage: I was in Oliver! more than once. Who wasn't? My first role was actually Fagin in junior high. I was shorter than every boy in the chorus. And they were mostly played by girls.
First Award You Remember Winning: I was a dedicated high school band member. I played alto saxophone in concert and pep band but switched over to tuba during senior year because our marching band needed one. When I graduated in 1979, I won the John Philip Sousa Award. It still sits in a place of honor in our apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It sort of sums up everything.
Nominee: Lindsay Mendez
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical, Carousel
First Job: Sales associate at Pottery Barn.
First New York City Apartment: A couch in a one-bedroom in Harlem that I shared with two other people.
First Theatrical Experience: Seeing my sister in a local production of Annie.
First Role You Played Onstage: Gretyl in The Sound of Music (My first R&H!)
First Award You Remember Winning: First place in the Song and Dance category for my song and tap dance of "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun." Yes…I danced with a rifle.
Nominee: Ethan Slater
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical, SpongeBob SquarePants
First Job: My first job was at a restaurant called Morty's Delicatessen (formerly Krupin's) when I was in high school. I loved that job for so many reasons, not the least of which was the Nova Eggs and Onion scramble that I ate nearly every shift I worked (which, in retrospect, was a risky move nutritionally). But it was an experience that has stuck with me years later in my love of food, and my skills as a waiter. I learned so much from the wait staff there who treated me like an apprentice as opposed to some kid they had to work with. Unfortunately, Morty's has since closed. But it's legacy lives on every time I cook myself a Nova Eggs and Onion.
First New York City Apartment: My first NYC apartment was my friend's apartment on St. Marks in the East Village, on whose couch I crashed during the first (two-weeks-long) workshop of SpongeBob. It was an amazing location, and a tiny railroad apartment that I made considerably smaller by freeloading. When she moved out, I moved to a room in Bushwick with some other friends where I slept on a blow-up mattress and lived out of my suitcase. I was in an NYC Fringe show that summer, and since it paid just barely enough to cover my rent, I busked in the park with my guitar (and often a friend or two) to make enough money for food. It was an incredible summer.
First Theatrical Experience: It's hard for me to remember a "first" specifically. My parents took us to a fair amount of theater growing up in Washington, DC. I remember seeing shows at Arena Stage, the Shakespeare Theater, Roundhouse, and so many more. But one that really stuck out to me was seeing a production of Damn Yankees. I was obsessed with baseball, and seeing that I could combine two things I loved was eye-opening. It made me realize what being an actor can be: living out the various lives you've always dreamed of.
First Role You Played Onstage: My first role onstage was as Toto in a children's community theater production of The Wizard of Oz. My sister was Dorothy. And I was 4. We were a good team.
First Award You Remember Winning: I remember winning the times table "award" in third grade when they tallied up all of the quizzes. Does that count? It was a proud moment for me, and a promising start to a math career that never flourished.
Nominee: Harry Hadden-Paton
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical, My Fair Lady
First Job: My first job was working behind the bar in our local country pub. I remember the dim lighting and the cigarette smoke. And the regulars who'd been there almost as long as the jars of pickled eggs you could buy as snacks!
First New York City Apartment: I'm in it now! It's beautiful, with a terrace, and only a couple of blocks from the theater. A long way from our suburban home in London!
First Theatrical Experience: I remember seeing a reenactment of St. George and the Dragon in some arena in London. They'd built the dragon around a big van, it was huge, had wings that moved, and even breathed fire. I was so terrified I hid under my seat and had to be taken backstage to be shown that the dragon wasn't real!
First Role You Played Onstage: I was third policeman in a school production of The Pirates of Penzance. I remember getting a few laughs, which really boosted my confidence.
First Award You Remember Winning: I won the school poetry reading competition with my reading of "Silly Old Baboon" by Spike Milligan. I'm told it was quite an energetic recital.
Nominee: Brian Tyree Henry
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play, Lobby Hero
First Job: American Eagle Outfitters. I was a denim specialist at one point. And to them, that was a promotion. I hated it and upgraded to visual specialist so I never had to interact with customers.
First New York City Apartment: I lived on Columbus between 82nd and 83rd in an apartment lended to me by a mentor. I was doing Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and this apartment was walking distance from the Delacorte. It was awesome. It was the first time I ever slept on a Murphy bed.
First Theatrical Experience/First Role You Played Onstage: I did A Colored Museum in high school. It was the most awesome experience because at one point as I was performing, a kid in the audience screamed "You suck" after my monologue. That's how I knew I had to always do stage! It was hilarious.
First Award You Remember Winning: The first award I remember winning was for perfect attendance. In kindergarten. It came with a coupon to TCBY. All I knew is that I got frozen yogurt for going to school. I was lit.
Nominee: Alexander Gemignani
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical, Carousel
First Job: TCBY in Tenafly, New Jersey.
First New York City Apartment: A sublet on 43rd and 8th, It was 15x7, which, ironically, are the same dimensions as me.
First Theatrical Experience: I saw my dad conduct Dreamgirls at the Imperial (where Carousel is playing!) when I was two.
First Role You Played Onstage: Hmmm. I think it was "Winter" in a play about the seasons in first grade. Some felt my performance was frigid, but I think the audience was just frozen by my skill.
First Award You Remember Winning: A poetry award in middle school for a poem titled "A Tree." I think I was meant to be an actor.
Nominee: Kyle Jarrow
Best Book of a Musical, SpongeBob SquarePants
First job: My first real job was as an actor in All My Sons at the Hangar Theatre, the regional theater in the town where I grew up. Acting was totally my thing as a kid. Then my voice changed, but I still looked like I was 11, so I stopped getting cast. That's when I started focusing on writing.
First New York City Apartment: I rented a room from a stranger in Astoria. It was a railroad apartment, and mine was the bedroom that had to be walked through. The thing was, my roommate traveled five days a week, so the arrangement sounded fine. That is, until my roommate changed jobs and started working from home. After that, it was…awkward.
First Theatrical Experience: The first theatrical experience I remember was a production of Kismet in my hometown of Ithaca, New York. I remember a lot of veils and Aladdin pants. Six-year-old me was enthralled.
First Role You Played Onstage: See #1.
First Award You Remember Winning: My elementary school had a contest for a new logo, and I won! My design was a kid riding on a flying pencil, pumping his fist. Which is pretty ridiculous, now that I think about it.
Nominee: Susan Brown
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play, Angels in America
First Job: Selling hosiery in a department store in Bristol.
First New York City Apartment: This one — for Angels in America — on Eighth Avenue and 56th Street. Brilliant for the theater, Central Park, and Whole Foods.
First Theatrical Experience: Can I have two? The actual first was Peter Pan at the Bristol Hippodrome when I was 10. But the one that's seared in my memory is Glenda Jackson playing Ophelia with David Warner as Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon when I was 17.
First Role You Played Onstage: The wisest oyster in The Walrus and the Carpenter. I was 7.
First Award You Remember Winning: Senior Girls Athletics Champion at High School.
Nominee: Renée Fleming
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical, Carousel
First Job: Offstage, my first job was in the Churchville Deli, in my hometown. Believe it or not, there was a lie-detector test. I was so overly conscientious, I failed it. They laughed and hired me. My first performing job was singing in jazz clubs in Potsdam, New York, as an undergraduate.
First New York City Apartment: My first NYC apartment was in Washington Heights, where a lot of young performers live. It was on Bennett Ave., directly across from the A train entrance; this as a Juilliard student, and fortunate for me, because I brought my English Setter.
First Theatrical Experience: My first real experience of professional theater, the one that really hooked me and turned me into a theater lover, was Shadowlands with Nigel Hawthorne and Jane Lapotaire. I saw it in London's West End, when I was there during my first engagement at the Royal Opera House.
First Role You Played Onstage: I made a very early debut, playing the baby Jesus in a nativity scene. We had gender-blind casting before it was cool.
First Award You Remember Winning: My first awards were hard-earned ribbons from horse shows.
Nominee: Ariana DeBose
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical
First Job: Dance teacher's assistant at my dance studio in Raleigh, North Carolina.
First New York City Apartment: A second floor apartment in a Harlem brownstone. It had the coolest vintage checkered floors.
First Theatrical Experience: Rent on Broadway! My mom, aunt, and uncle took me to see it during a trip to New York. I think I was 8 or 9.
First Role You Played Onstage: Carmen in my high school production of Fame.
First Award You Remember Winning: First Over All Teen Dancer at a regional Starpower competition for "This House," choreographed by Martha Nichols.
Nominee: Taylor Louderman
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical, Mean Girls
First Job: Radio Disney. We would go to events around the St. Louis area and sing and dance to Disney songs. This was during my braces moment. I will never share these videos.
First New York City Apartment: Kyle Harris (from Freeform's Stitchers) let me sublet his place at 104th and Central Park West. Thank goodness he showed me the ropes as a newbie in NYC. I knew no one.
First Theatrical Experience: The Muny in St. Louis. The city cherishes this theater. It is a tradition for so many families. It was magical! I remember watching and wanting to jump onstage and be a part of it!
First Role You Played Onstage: Annie. I was 10 and I grabbed/rubbed my nose the entire show. I think I picked it up from my dad and thought it was a cool, casual thing to do. We laugh about it now.
First Award You Remember Winning: I won the "Friendship Award" at Camp Kanakuk. This award was the runner-up to the big "I'm Third" award, which my best friend won. So it felt like a consolation prize, but because I won the friendship award I knew I had to be a good sport.
Nominee: Lauren Ambrose
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical, My Fair Lady
First Job: First acting job was a play by Ned Eisenberg, Soulful Scream of a Chosen Son, at the Vineyard Theatre in 1990.
First New York City Apartment: I did a lot of couch-surfing in the old days. I never actually had an apartment in New York until I had a cool one in Tribeca after Six Feet Under. But it was still a fourth-floor walk-up!
First Theatrical Experience: My great uncle Red, a lifelong aspiring actor, came from Miami and took me to see Anything Goes at the Shubert Theater in New Haven, starring Leslie Uggams and Rip Torn. He bought me the soundtrack in the lobby, which I then promptly memorized. The Patti LuPone soundtrack — every note.
First Role You Played Onstage: I played a boy in a school musical about Jesus when I was in second grade. The role of the boy was named Raymond, who was the new kid and wanted to be liked. I tucked all of my long red hair up into a baseball cap to play the part. It actually launched me into my Annie Hall menswear phase when I was 8, which I am grateful for.
First Award You Remember Winning: At Outfest where I won the Best Actress Award for Psycho Beach Party and Swimming.
Nominee: Jennifer Lee
Best Book of a Musical, Frozen
First Job: My first job ever was as a pharmacy technician at CVS when I was 16. They let me count the pills, but I couldn't do much more than that. CVS was right across the street from my high school and I just walked in.
First New York City Apartment: My first New York City apartment was on the corner of 77th and 1st. I was with my sister. She was three years older and had already moved into the city, and I graduated from college and we moved in together in this little one-bedroom that believe it or not was only a thousand dollars a month back then. It was over a bagel shop as I remember, and I absolutely fell in love with the city.
First Theatrical Experience: I saw my very first Broadway show with my sister in New York, and it was the original Once on This Island. I mean first theatrical experience though was you know Jesus Christ Superstar cast album when I was like 3 years old. My sister and I, we were obsessed with cast albums.
First Role You Played Onstage: I was a dancer so I did dance in a homemade musical that someone made in high school. But I was just a dancer so I don't think I've never been in a part that had a name.
I guess my very first role actually did have a name. I was 4 years old, and it was called "Bionic Baby." It suddenly all comes flooding back to me. We were wearing silver, and we lifted these little fake barbells and tap danced, and we were Bionic Babies.
First Award You Remember Winning: I never won things. I was always the person that if you needed a 90, I'd get an 89.2. But in film school at Columbia I won the William Goldman Award for excellence in screenwriting. And that was amazing because you get to eat lunch with him. But the better part was supposed to be that you got to clean his office. Like, that's a big deal. He'd have lunch with you and then you'd get to clean his office. But because I was the first woman who ever won it, it didn't feel right to him to let me clean his office, so I just got to have lunch.