The casts of ‘Cinderella’, ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’, ‘Matilda’, and others talk on the eve of the Tony Awards

Rob McClure

Rob McClure

Hours before the Tony Awards, and between a two-show day, some of Broadway’s best and brightest attended a cocktail party to celebrate their nominations and to end this year’s whirlwind awards season on a high. But before sneaking in for their private reception, many of our favorite stars stopped to chat with Stage Door Dish about the Tonys, what it means to be a nominee and their stellar performances.

SDD: If you could talk to Charlie [Chaplin] tonight, what would you say in that conversation?

Rob McClure (Nominated for Best Leading Actor in a Musical, Chaplin): I would thank him for changing my life. I would thank him for changing lots of lives. I would tell him about all of the people at the stage door who told me how much he meant to them and how much our show meant to them. And I would tell him that his legacy lives on and he didn’t have to worry so much because he went through a lot and I think if he could see how the world perceives him now…what’s sad is that toward the end of his life he felt a little forgotten and a little betrayed and rightfully so. I wish he could’ve seen all the standing ovations for our show because they weren’t for me, they were for him. The moment when I became the Little Tramp every night, the hair would stand up on the back of my neck because I felt all of this third-party affection for him being bestowed on me. So I’d try to share it with him as much as I could because it’s his.

SDD: Jasper’s so different from every character you’ve played. What did you enjoy about him?

Will Chase (Nominated for Best Featured Actor in a Musical, The Mystery of Edwin Drood): Well, you know, I like playing the lovable jerks or jerks that have some redeemable qualities, of course he doesn’t at all, so it was even more fun to just make him maniacal and crazy because that’s what Rupert [Holmes] wrote, to be just crazy one second and then a full-of-myself actor, which was really easy to do. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had onstage. And then you look around the stage like ‘I’m onstage with all these awesome people?’ It was one of those things that you didn’t want to end. It was like ‘Why is it over?’ That’s been the drag about this last month.

SDD: What’s it like to be nominated for playing such a worldwide icon?

Valisia LeKae (Nominated for Best Leading Actress in a Musical, Motown the Musical): It’s really, really great because it’s people saying they really accept this portrayal of her and it’s saying that they enjoy what you do and to keep on doing what you do. I feel really, really blessed to be nominated for such an iconic role as Diana Ross.

SDD: What’s it like to originate a Broadway role based on such an iconic character?

Laura Osnes (Nominated for Best Leading Actress in a Musical, Cinderella): It’s such a thrill because Cinderella is so iconic and everyone feels this kind of innate heart connection to this character. So, in a way, it’s kind of big shoes to fill with Julie Andrews and Lesley Ann Warren and everyone who knows the story but the book was completely rewritten. Douglas Carter Beane has created a new Cinderella for this generation and for audiences today. It feels like I’ve gotten to have a fresh look on it by a lot of the work that he’s done for me. It’s really and honor and such a thrill to get to play this beautiful princess every night and tell this rags-to-riches story.

SDD: What’s it like to have taken the Trunchbull from the West End to Broadway now? Is there a transition involved with playing the character or has she remained the same?

Bertie Carvel (Nominated for Best Leading Actor in a Musical, Matilda): Actually, we started in Stratford Upon Avon so we already have remounted it once before we took it to the West End. It’s like seeing someone you know really well after a year away and you still know them really well but you’ve changed in little ways and you don’t have to start again from scratch, but they’re not the same person. I’ve certainly changed in the times in between leaving London and starting here and I had changed and grown in between leaving Stratford and starting in London so you see different things in someone that have changed. I don’t know if it’s true to say they’ve changed. She is whatever I make of her but some of it has changed. 

SDD: So, I have to ask because of “Telly”, how much television do you watch?

Gabriel Ebert (Nominated for Best Featured Actor in a Musical, Matilda): Wow. To be honest, I grew up without a television and I still don’t own a television. I’m a sucker for sports. I love baseball, I love basketball, so I watch that through the windows of bars as I walk home but I actually don’t watch much television at all.

SDD: What’s it like to be part of this ensemble that has been so warmly accepted by Broadway?

Lesli Margherita (Matilda): It’s icing on the cake. We were so happy as an ensemble already that this is so amazing and we’re just really so excited to be at the awards. We went to Radio City yesterday to block up the number and everyone was crying. It’s been really amazing.

Gabriel Ebert (Nominated for Best Featured Actor in a Musical, Matilda): It’s a beautiful thing. In a way, my role is very singular and I sort of have my own little scenes on the side and I don’t really get to interact with the ensemble onstage but backstage it’s an incredible vibe. We have all these great backstage rituals and all the kids have brilliant minds and all the adults just hold it down every night. It’s a very humbling thing just to be part of that ensemble. It’s a really beautiful group of people.

SDD: Were you surprised by the warm reception of you and the ensemble of Matilda received here?

Bertie Carvel (Nominated for Best Leading Actor in a Musical, Matilda): No, not surprised, because I’d seen it work so much and I think the reason it works is because it’s really fully imagined and wonderful writing, incredible invention, great heart and spirit, incredible performers, but it isn’t to say that one expected it to do as well as it has. One hopes that it would, and it has and that’s fantastic. The big variable always is the audience and what they bring into the theatre but I think there’s something so universal about the story because it’s about childhood and growing up and it’s something everybody can relate to. Even though [Roald] Dahl and Dennis [Kelly] and Tim [Minchin] all use very bold, bright colors in their storytelling, they’re telling a story that everybody relates to, so it’s not really a surprise.

SDD: What’s the difference between theatre and performing on television, which is obviously what you’re best known for?

Richard Kind (Nominated for Best Featured Actor in a Play, The Big Knife): Your own timing. You can make your own transitions. Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of an editor.

 SDD: What have you learned from being a nominee and part of this process?

Benj Pasek (Nominated for Best Original Score, A Christmas Story): I’ve learned that the community that we are a part of is the most unbelievable group of people. I am so proud to be part of the theatre community and so proud to be a member of this group of people who I respect and admire. Their talent is unbelievable and to be surrounded by them, it’s like the best company I could ever imagine and it’s really humbling.

Justin Paul (Nominated for Best Original Score, A Christmas Story): I have learned that I don’t have enough clothes for all these nice events so I have to get more clothing. I’ve also learned that everything you think of as the Tony Awards, that they’re prestigious and that they’re an honor, they honor excellence, that it really is true. The people who run the organization care so deeply about it and it’s one of those things that you see from afar and you think ‘Gosh that must be amazing, that must be so cool,’ but maybe when you’re inside it, it’s not the neatest thing. But I know at least for the Tony Awards that I looked at it from afar and thought ‘That would be the coolest thing in the world to be part of and it looks glamorous and amazing and beautiful and excellent,’ all those things are true. It’s been an incredible experience to be a nominee, and every event is as glamorous as I dreamed it would be or thought it was from the outside and now experiencing from the inside. It’s a real honor.

SDD: What have you gained from this experience of being part of the Tonys?

Carrie Coon (Nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf): Well it’s kind of ridiculous, really. I was so thrilled to be cast in the show in Chicago and that was enough for me. The fact that it moved to New York at all was remarkable, and I certainly didn’t expect on top of that to be nominated for a Tony. I feel like Cinderella. It’s wonderful. I feel like Laura Osnes, that I’m the luckiest person in the whole world.

SDD: You have been nominated and won a Tony before but I read that you feel like this year’s event is like your first time. What has made this Tonys season so special?

Judith Light (Nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Play, The Assembled Parties): To have been nominated for Lombardi and to have won for Other Desert Cities and now to be nominated for it again, I keep thinking about what an amazing community this is, that even somebody like me who had gone away from the theatre for such a long time, the level of generosity and welcoming me back in this way has been really extraordinary. It is like the first time. It’s just as exciting. It’s different because it’s a different play and it’s a different piece and it’s a different character, but it’s just as exciting and just as rewarding and just I’m just as grateful. Maybe even more so, actually.

SDD: What does it mean to you to be nominated for a Tony Award?

Santino Fontana (Nominated for Best Leading Actor in a Musical, Cinderella): It’s an honor to be recognized for what I love to do. It’s sweet. It’s very kind and unexpected and generous and surprising.

SDD: Does a Tony Award change the way you approach acting or change your mindset at all?

Santino Fontana (Nominated for Best Leading Actor in a Musical, Cinderella): No, no. It changes nothing. In my mind, it really doesn’t change anything. It’s very nice and it’s lovely and it’s like a great ‘Yay!’ and then it’s back to what I do.

Will Chase

Will Chase

SDD: After such a long, wonderful career, what does it mean to be a Tony nominee?

Will Chase (Nominated for Best Featured Actor in a Musical, The Mystery of Edwin Drood): Me and Stephanie Block say it’s been years in the making. It’s my tenth Broadway show, 15 years in the New York business, and it’s nice to be part of that community. In my category is one of my musical theatre heroes, who is Terry Mann, and tomorrow night, I think, is just going to be us sitting around going ‘How the hell?’ My parents are going to be with me and Debra [Messing]…it’s going to be awesome.

Stephanie J. Block (Nominated for Best Leading Actress in a Musical, The Mystery of Edwin Drood): I feel like I’m getting a big, fat hug from the Broadway community. I think they were so delicious to welcome me in when I played Liza [Minnelli, in The Boy from Oz] and I feel like we’ve been there for each other for the past decade but to finally get the acknowledgement of saying ‘We recognize you, not only in this season but as one of our Broadway gals’ is a lovely, lovely thing. So, I’m happy to work, I hope I continue to work in this field for the next 50 years, and if this only comes around once, tonight and tomorrow, I’m sucking in every second.

SDD: Stephanie’s been at this for so long and we’re so thrilled for her. Can you talk about what it’s been like for to watch her go through everything?

Sebastian Arcelus (husband of Stephanie J. Block): First of all, thank you for saying that and thank you for supporting her like you do. It’s been overwhelming. I mean, like you said, she’s been grinding at this for a long time and to finally get that little bit of recognition on this stage is about as wonderful as it gets. I’m very proud and very happy, and boy is she deserving, not only for this particular show that she was part of but also for her body of work. I couldn’t be more thrilled.

SDD: What’s it been like to see her evolve and become one of Broadway’s most beloved actresses?

Nathan Johnson (husband of Laura Osnes): It’s been very exciting. Since seeing her perform when I first met her in Aladdin, and I actually saw her before I met her performing in another show, she is so phenomenal and has such a gift, I mean I have to say it wasn’t expected but hasn’t come as a surprise. You know what I mean? Because I already believed in her and I knew she had the talent in her but it’s been very exciting. I’m very proud of her.

SDD: What’s it like to see your son get to the Tony Awards?

Kathy Pasek (mother of nominee Benj Pasek): There is a well of pride that I cannot even explain to you because he’s doing what his dream was for his whole life.

Benj Pasek (Nominated for Best Original Score, A Christmas Story): It’s pretty cool. It’s also really exciting because tomorrow’s also my birthday.

Kathy Pasek: Does he throw a party or what? Like is this the coolest thing?

Benj Pasek: My whole family is here obviously for the Tonys and we’re going to go out for a birthday dinner tonight. It’s going to be like a massive celebration. The Tonys is something I’ve always watched! I’ve even wanted to go to, so to go as a nominee is surreal and to get to share it with my family is unbelievable.

SDD: I saw Cinderella’s first preview and several times since and there seems to be a continued evolution with the show. What has the process been like?

Douglas Carter Beane (Nominated for Best Book of a Musical, Cinderella): Something happened in that we cut about 15 minutes and cut four songs. It’s a lot of rewriting and restructured stuff. It was a lot of work and at one point, I felt really bad that the poor cast had to deal with it. Mark [Brokaw] and I decided we were going to get a big crate of wine and give everyone a bottle of wine because we did so many changes. We went down and we told the cast like ‘You know, we’re going to do this and we’re sorry there’s so many changes’ and the cast all got together and looked at us and said, ‘This is what we do. We’re Broadway performers. We love change, we’re here to make the show better.’ That was so moving, and saved us a lot of money on wine, too, but it was really beautiful and touching. It meant a lot to me.

SDD: What’s it like to have the material of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s original music?

Douglas Carter Beane (Nominated for Best Book of a Musical, Cinderella): Oh my gosh, aren’t they the best? Boy, do they do theatre. They know how to do theatre music, right? That was it. You always knew you were in the hands of really great guys. You knew whatever you took from them was going to be the very best and it made everyone step up to their game and try to be as good as they could.

SDD: What’s it like to be part of a reinvention of such a classic story?

Santino Fontana (Nominated for Best Leading Actor in a Musical, Cinderella): It’s a lot of fun. I love this cast, and we have a lot of fun together and it’s a great joy to be a part of telling an old story anew and for a new audience. It’s great.

About Samantha S.

"I found the theatre and I found my home.” ― Audra McDonald

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