Special Reports

My First Tony Award Nomination

Neil Patrick Harris, Ramin Karimloo, Anika Larsen, Sophie Okonedo, and more of Broadway’s favorites share their notable “firsts” in honor of receiving their first Tony Award nomination this year.

This year's Tony Award nominees have many things in common; namely, many of them are celebrating their very first nomination. In honor of that momentous occasion, we quizzed several of these newbies on the other major firsts in their lives — from the first role they ever played to the first award they remember winning.

Neil Patrick Harris
Neil Patrick Harris
(© David Gordon)

Name: Neil Patrick Harris
Role: Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch

First Job: Working at a bookstore in rural Ruidoso, New Mexico, called The Aspen Tree. I was, maybe 10?

First New York City Apartment: I did a play called Luck, Pluck & Virtue at the Atlantic Theater years ago. Stayed in a furnished one-bedroom sublet a few blocks away in Chelsea. Lovely, tree-lined street. It all felt very cozy.

First Theatrical Experience: A bus-and-truck tour of Annie came through Alamogordo, New Mexico when I was a kid. I remember being blown away by the (what I thought were) massive and expensive sets.

First Role You Played on Stage: I was Winthrop in a local production of The Music Man. Performed in a gym. "Gary, Indiana" was my jam.

First Award You Remember Winning: I won an Optimist's Club award for giving a speech called "Optimism: A Way of Life." I was all of 12.

Lena Hall
Lena Hall
(© David Gordon)

Name: Lena Hall
Role: Yitzhak in Hedwig and the Angry Inch

First Job: (first professional professional job): Cats 4th national bus-and-truck tour with fellow nominee Andy Karl.

First New York City Apartment: somewhere behind Lincoln Center on 10th Ave and 62nd I think. It was miniature.

First Theatrical Experience: I grew up in the theater so I don't remember. I was probably two years old watching my mother dance on stage.

First Role You Played on Stage: I was a Bon Bon in The Nutcracker, age three.

First Award You Remember Winning: I won the best-dressed award at the 2008 NYMF Prom!!!!!!!!!!!

Ramin Karimloo
Ramin Karimloo
(© David Gordon)

Name: Ramin Karimloo
Role: Jean Valjean in Les Misérables

First Job: Newspaper route in Peterborough. Delivering the Peterborough Examiner around my neighbourhood.

First New York City Apartment: Well it's the one I'm in now. I consider myself lucky to have this amount of space in the city with this incredible view. I say a little thanks every night for this temporary treat.

First Theatrical Experience: Watching Colm Wilkinson play the Phantom of the Opera in Toronto. Life changing.

First Role You Played on Stage: Jay Kurnitz in Lost in Yonkers. This was at the Annex Theatre in Toronto back in the day.

First Award You Remember Winning: I got a medal for player of the game when I scored four goals to bring us back from being down 3-1 to win 4-3 in overtime. My hat trick came in less than three minutes. I will always remember that game as my father was actually at that game. Good times. Especially after the previous game I was benched for fighting. Had to make a better impression on the next outing. Ha.

Bryce Pinkham
Bryce Pinkham
(© David Gordon)

Name: Bryce Pinkham
Role: Monty Navarro in A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

First Job: I worked one summer cleaning up after dogs and cats at a veterinary hospital. I thought I wanted to be a vet until they finally let me watch a surgery on a dog. It was a neuter. I had to excuse myself.

First New York City Apartment: A three-bedroom in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn that I shared with two of my best friends from high school who also moved to the city at the same time. It was one of those places you find on Craigslist and never leave.

First Theatrical Experience: Every year at my kindergarten they had all the students perform in this circus-like performance day (I have no idea). As I recall, kindergartners were chosen to either be clowns, animal trainers, weight-lifters, or…wait for it…skating bears. You guessed it, I was a skating bear, when all my other friends got to be weight-lifters. I remember hating the little construction-paper ears and bow-tie I had to wear.

First Role You Played on Stage: I think it was either as Bossy the Dwarf (we had to change the names to keep from paying royalties to Disney) in Snow White and The Seven Dwarves, or as Willy Wonka in a grade school production of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

First Award You Remember Winning: I don't remember an award, but I did win the election for Student Body President in 5th Grade! I remember my campaign slogan was "The Bryce is right." I also remember that I got to use a gavel at the student-council meetings. That was badass.

Lauren Worsham
Lauren Worsham
(© David Gordon)

Name: Lauren Worsham
Role: Phoebe D'Ysquith in A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

First Job: Line monitor at Spamalot on Broadway.

First New York City Apartment: East Village 1-bedroom, shared with a roommate, we split the room with a bookshelf.

First Theatrical Experience: Playing Jonathan Livingston Seagull in the eponymous musical.

First Role You Played on Stage: See above.

First Award You Remember Winning: Some sort of oral-interpretation award in middle school for reading Briar Rabbit and doing all the voices. They made me do it in an assembly.

Reed Birney
Reed Birney
(© David Gordon)

Name: Reed Birney
Role: Charlotte in Casa Valentina

First Job: I got my Equity card in December of 1974 to tour children's theater with the National Theater Company, which was run by Fran and Barry Weissler before they were fancy. This year's Tony winner Charlotte Wilcox was their company manager. We did soft-rock musicals of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and Swiss Family Robinson.

First New York City Apartment: 112 West 72nd St. Apt 3A

First Theatrical Experience: Kindergarten. The May Day Assembly, dancing around the maypole. I wasn't selected to be the King of the May and was just one of the kids dancing around the pole. My first theatrical rejection and it still pisses me off.

First Role You Played on Stage: Third grade, we put on an assembly presenting the major food groups. I was a kid sick in bed at home and all the food groups came out of the refrigerator box that was the TV. I had to wear pajamas at school. Wildly exciting.

First Award You Remember Winning: Sophomore year of high school I won an award for playing Curly in Oklahoma!

Mare Winningham
Mare Winningham
(© David Gordon)

Name: Mare Winningham
Role: Rita in Casa Valentina

First Job: The summer between 6th and 7th grade, I played Gretel in Hansel and Gretel, at the Teenage Drama Workshop at Cal State Northridge.

First New York City Apartment: My present one, in Greenwich Village, a tiny piece of rental real estate that is a lifelong dream fulfilled, to be a "village girl with a guitar" (there is very little daylight, so it makes me go outside, or helps me sleep in).

First Theatrical Experience: I remember seeing Peter Brook's Midsummer Night's Dream in Los Angeles, when they were on their world tour in the early '70s, the groundbreaking production with the white box set and trapeze bars changed my life.

First Role You Played on Stage: The late great Wendi Jo Sperber and I were Angels 1 and 2 respectively, in 2nd or 3rd grade, Andasol Elementary School.

First Award You Remember Winning: I won 2nd Place in the Junior High School Shakespeare Festival when I was in 8th grade. I did a monologue, playing Puck, from Midsummer.

Andy Karl
Andy Karl
(© David Gordon)

Name: Andy Karl
Role: Rocky Balboa in Rocky

First Job: Cutting grass for the neighbors. Unless you're talking about a theater job, which would be the non-Disney version of Aladdin (I got the lead…I wasn't aware it might be a little racist).

First New York City Apartment: The living-room part of a 400 sq. foot one-bedroom with no kitchen or closets. I was renting illegally. There, I said it.

First Theatrical Experience: Seeing Oliver! at a local dinner theater in Baltimore.

First Role You Played on Stage: One of four lions in the musical Wack-a-Doo Zoo written by my elementary-school chorus teacher.

First Award You Remember Winning: I have many swimming medals from my youth. I was all-county at twelve and gave it up when I discovered girls and laziness at fourteen. I vow to never be lazy again. Girls don't like that.

Anika Larsen
Anika Larsen
(© David Gordon)

Name: Anika Larsen
Role: Cynthia Weil in Beautiful — The Carole King Musical

First Job: Folding "I Heart Boston" t-shirts after school in a warehouse for Boston souvenir stores. Mind-numbingly tedious, but I made $4.25 an hour! I was rakin' it in.

First New York City Apartment: A 4-bedroom duplex at 101st and Broadway. Five of us from college lived there, like a post-dorm dorm. It was a good thing we were all sharing the costs, because I was temping and, I believe, still making about $4.25 an hour.

First Theatrical Experience: Singing with my nine brothers and sisters, some of whom were adopted from all over the world, at my parents’ annual Christmas party. My mother thought we were the multicultural Von Trapps.

First Role You Played on Stage: In the fourth grade I played a grammar detective searching for a missing verb. Spoiler: totally found it.

First Award You Remember Winning: On a cruise with my family, I sang a song in a kids' talent contest. My excitement at winning a trophy was diminished when they gave trophies to everyone else who participated.

Jarrod Spector
Jarrod Spector
(© David Gordon)

Name: Jarrod Spector
Role: Barry Mann in Beautiful — The Carole King Musical

First Job: I was a regular singer in the "Teeny Bopper" portion of the Al Alberts Showcase, weekend mornings on the local Philadelphia ABC affiliate every week from age three to six. Wait, does it count if I wasn't paid?

First New York City Apartment: I lived with two friends in one big studio down by Lafayette & Canal. It was a brief but eventful summer in that den of iniquity and I won't soon forget that apartment. Or the smell of Chinatown fish markets when it's ninety degrees in August.

First Theatrical Experience: I was nine years old when my parents took me to see Les Misérables the very night I was cast to play…

First Role You Played on Stage: Gavroche, first on the national tour of Les Miz and eventually on Broadway (at the Imperial Theater, where the revival is now playing). Man, that show seemed larger than life, and remains one of my very favorite pieces of theater. I realize I'm not unique in feeling that way.

First Award You Remember Winning: I won the Director's Medal for having the highest GPA…in my sixth-grade graduating class at Meadowbrook Elementary School. I was (am) a nerd.

Sophie Okonedo
Sophie Okonedo
(© David Gordon)

Name: Sophie Okonedo
Role: Ruth Younger in A Raisin in the Sun

First Job: I was a cleaner in a gym.

First New York City Apartment: the one I am in now, in north Chelsea

First Theatrical Experience: Annie

First Role You Played on Stage: With the Royal Court Youth Theatre, we devised a play called Women and Sisters. I played Sojourner Truth and gave the "Ain’t I A Woman" speech at sixteen years old!

First Award You Remember Winning: I came second in an art competition at school when I was ten. As an adult I have had a lot of nominations but I have never got up on stage and received an award.

LaTanya Richardson Jackson
LaTanya Richardson Jackson
(© David Gordon)

Name: LaTanya Richardson Jackson
Role: Lena Younger in A Raisin in the Sun

First Job: Unfinished Women at The Public Theater in New York City

First New York City Apartment: It was a ground-floor apartment in a Brownstone on 147th Street and Convent Avenue

First Theatrical Experience: Seeing Camelot at Spelman College while I was in middle school.

First Role You Played on Stage: The first role I played was Mrs. Hale in Trifles on stage in Atlanta, GA.

First Award You Remember Winning: I won the Best Supporting Actress Award on behalf of my performance in Trifles at the State Drama Festival.

Nick Cordero
Nick Cordero
(© David Gordon)

Name: Nick Cordero
Role: Cheech in Bullets Over Broadway

First Job: Dishwasher

First New York City Apartment: 348 W. 45th St.

First Theatrical Experience: My parents taking me to a performance of Dancers from Senegal.

First Role You Played on Stage: I was eight when I played Will Smith in a version of Nightmare On My Street by Fresh Prince & DJ Jazzy Jeff that me and some buddies staged for our school air band. We killed.

First Award You Remember Winning: Still waiting…

James Monroe Iglehart
James Monroe Iglehart
(© David Gordon)

Name: James Monroe Iglehart
Role: Genie in Disney’s Aladdin

First Job: Making keys at Sears at the Southland Mall in Hayward, CA.

First New York City Apartment: It was in Brooklyn on the last stop on the 2 train. (I tried to forget it. Ha Ha!)

First Theatrical Experience: Seeing The Wiz on tour around the age of seven or eight.

First Role You Played on Stage: A paper boy in the church play around the age of seven.

First Award You Remember Winning: Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award for playing the role Joe in Show Boat at the Foothill Musical Theatre.

Mary Bridget Davies
Mary Bridget Davies
(© David Gordon)

Name: Mary Bridget Davies
Role: Janis Joplin in A Night With Janis Joplin

First Job: My first-ever paid gig was when my high-school gym teacher asked if I would sing at her mother-in-law's funeral. (But it wasn't the actual funeral; it was at the burial site.) The song was "Sentimental Journey." Her mother-in-law was a, early radio star and it was her signature song…I sang a cappella while they lowered her into the ground and everyone was sobbing. I was handed an envelope with a $100 bill in it when it was over.

First New York City Apartment: I was lucky enough to move here with the Broadway production [of Janis Joplin] so I got a place in Long Island City because online, hundreds of miles away, it seemed perfect. I was wrong! I wanted to be closer to the action. I moved to the Upper East Side a few months back and adore living in Manhattan!

First Theatrical Experience: I started dancing at three years old and was familiar with the stage early. Family trips to see The Nutcracker every Christmas. Lucky kid!

First Role You Played on Stage: My high school had a theater company called Stagecrafters and my first true role came when I was fourteen years old as Helsa Wenzel in The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940. My character was the maid, [who gets] killed in the first scene [and] return[s] later as a different character. It was thrilling! I was hooked!

First Award You Remember Winning: The Constructive Criticism Award at my junior high school. Not kidding. Apparently, I can take criticism like a champ…which has actually been a huge benefit in this industry!

Brian J. Smith
Brian J. Smith
(© David Gordon)

Name: Brian J. Smith
Role: The Gentleman Caller in The Glass Menagerie

First Job: I was a grocery bagger at Winn-Dixie at sixteen or seventeen. Looking back on it I'm grateful that my parents insisted that I get a job, but at the time I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. I was shocked at how cruel people could be, and also at how unexpectedly kind. It made me determined to make a life for myself that didn't involve bagging produce or chasing down rogue shopping carts in parking lots. It also gave me a fine eye for the finer points of correct grocery-bagging.

First New York City Apartment: Juilliard students have this great dorm complex on the northwest side of Lincoln Center and I woke up every morning to an amazing view of the Hudson from the 27th floor. After that I moved uptown to Washington Heights to my first actual apartment where I lived for six years. It wasn't as nice as the Juilliard dorms but I was proud to say I was making my own way in this crazy city.

First Theatrical Experience: When I was a kid my mom worked with this lady whose son performed every weekend at these amateur Country Opry contests. It was basically country karaoke. They'd sing Garth Brooks, Reba, The Judds, Randy Travis — if it had a twang, they sang it, and the winner got a cash prize of like a hundred bucks and a bunch of free drink tickets. But it was the first time I saw people get up on a stage wearing a costume and telling a story through music, and I can still remember some of those performances like it was yesterday.

First Role You Played on Stage: It was a children's show we did in middle school called The Land of the Dragon. I played a meddlesome court official. Not an auspicious beginning. I had a hard time keeping it together onstage.

First Award You Remember Winning: I think it was some kind of citizenship award when I was in elementary school. But I did snag a Leon Rabin nomination for a play I did in Dallas at the Pocket Sandwich Theater called Vikings, so that was my first performance-based award.

Paul Chahidi
Paul Chahidi
(© David Gordon)

Name: Paul Chahidi
Role: Maria in Twelfth Night

First Job: Making cappuccinos at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. No one who drank my coffee will ever forget it. And not in a good way. As an actor; playing a monkey in The Jungle Book at the Redgrave Theatre, Surrey. It was their Christmas show. I went deep with the character. It took me two months to readjust to the company of humans. I've found primates deeply unsettling ever since.

First New York City Apartment: West 56th, between Broadway and 8th. A stone's throw from Central Park and a short walk to the Belasco Theatre. It was a gorgeous apartment and a slightly unreal first NYC apartment experience.

First Theatrical Experience: Seeing a production by Cheek by Jowl of Twelfth Night at the Donmar Warehouse. It was directed by Declan Donellan and made me want to be an actor; it was beautiful and sad, dangerous and sexy. I will never forget it.

First Role You Played on Stage: Felicity, one of the young ladies, in The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard. I was thirteen and at an all-boys school. I was dressed in a tennis skirt and stockings. Let's just say that before Twelfth Night, I had previous.

First Award You Remember Winning: A "Blue Peter" badge and certificate. I was about seven years old. It was for raising money for the Cambodian "Boat People," as they were then called. I'm sure (and I hope) that there were thousands handed out, but it was a very proud moment for me.

Sarah Greene
Sarah Greene
(© David Gordon)

Name: Sarah Greene
Role: Helen in The Cripple of Inishmaan

First Job: Empress of India directed by Garry Hynes for Druid Theatre Company.

First New York City Apartment: This is my first time living in New York and I'm down by the Brooklyn Bridge. I love being close to the water!

First Theatrical Experience: My parents brought myself and my sister Edel to see Red Riding Hood one Christmas. I was five and I fell in love. I was promptly enrolled into classes with a school called CADA and was cast as Red when I was twelve.

First Role You Played on Stage: One of the Siamese twins in The King and I at the Cork Opera House.

First Award You Remember Winning: Egg-and-spoon race at Saint Joseph's National School in Cork.

Featured In This Story

Bullets Over Broadway

Closed: August 24, 2014

Les Misérables

Closed: September 4, 2016

The Cripple of Inishmaan

Closed: July 20, 2014