Three Philly-area actors vie for Tonys
Three young natives of metropolitan Philadelphia have a special something in common: All are nominated for Tony Awards for their performances in different musicals.
The annual awards — Broadway's highest honors — will be broadcast beginning at 7 p.m. Sunday on CBS3, with much hoopla (well, it's Broadway) and many performances among the opening of envelopes.
For the three Philadelphians, all first-time nominees, it has been a heady month since the nominations were announced.
It was a revelation to hear Cristin Milioti speaking in her native Cherry Hill English. Milioti plays a young Czech immigrant in the musical Once and speaks with such a convincing accent, you'd think she was born to it. For her role in that show, she's nominated as best actress in a musical.
"Many of my roles have been with accents," she says — and none has been on a Philadelphia-area professional stage. For a year, she was in a singing group organized by Prince Music Theater, but sang only at special events.
The slender, compact Milioti, 26, graduated from Cherry Hill East High School and knew she wanted to work in theater, "but didn't know really what I wanted to do until I was about 20."
She dropped out after a year at New York University — "it must have been about being an angry 18-year-old," says Milioti, who didn't believe she was getting what she wanted from the university's Tisch School of the Arts.
In fact, the place gave her a career boost. An agent had seen Milioti in a play at Tisch, then called and sent her on auditions. Milioti landed a part for three episodes of TV's Sopranos. She has worked steadily ever since.
In Once, a bittersweet love story fashioned after an independent movie of the same title, Milioti plays the character called Girl. She's stalwart, mysterious, and charming as a pianist who has come from the Czech Republic to Ireland, where she meets a young guy (played by Steve Kazee, up for best musical actor). He's about to give up on the songs he creates, but she persuades him to keep writing, helps make him a success — and they begin to fall in love.
"Here you have this young woman — incredibly strong and intelligent — who goes after other people's lives full-force and helps everyone around her, but is ultimately unable to help herself."
Onstage, "it's an intoxicating feeling. In the audience, everyone's laughing, everyone's crying, people gasp."
Milioti auditioned for the role of the piano-playing woman, but she herself does not play the piano. "They gave me two days to learn two different numbers for the show." She mastered them. "Those songs in the show are basically the only songs I can play."
Vogue has been following her for a shoot. "I got to go in and try on the best fancy dresses" for Sunday night, she said last week, "and I'm going to try on more.
“I never thought I would be experiencing anything like this."
Da'Vine Joy Randolph graduated with a master's degree in theater from Yale and figured that she'd have to take a day job to make ends meet as an actor. So she became a nanny for a family on New York's Upper West Side.
That was last year. On Sunday night, she's up for a Tony Award as best actress in a featured musical role — Tony's supporting actress category. In the new musical of the film Ghost, Randolph, 26, plays Oda Mae Brown, Whoopi Goldberg's role in the movie. Randolph steals the show, along with the creators of the high-tech imagery that is its Broadway trademark. But for all the electronic geegaws, there's nothing like good old-fashioned showstopping numbers — and that's where Randolph shines.
She grew up in Philadelphia's Mount Airy neighborhood until high school, when, in a job relocation, her family moved to Hershey.
Randolph came back — to Temple University, where she began studies in classical vocal performance and switched to theater "in my senior year, which is crazy, but I did it." The faculty at Temple's theater department strongly encouraged graduate school; in between, Randolph appeared in Philadelphia at the Prince Music Theater's Hair.
When she left Yale School of Drama last year with the higher degree, Randolph considered Los Angeles, "although I'm an East Coast girl, I was thinking, and I don't really fit that type of flavor." So she stayed in New York, took the nanny job, and figured — like many actors — that a New York agent could find work for her on either coast.
The casting description for her Ghost role sought women in their 40s, but the pretty, imposingly built Randolph auditioned anyway. She sought an understudy part. Randolph was at a restroom in Pennsylvania Station, on her way to a New Jersey hair salon, when she was told she'd be more than an understudy. "My agent called and said, ‘I was just checking in with you to let you know you're going to be on Broadway for real.' I thought, You definitely get your hair done, now!"
She learned the role in five days and went to London, where Ghost premiered before hitting Broadway.
"I never get used to it," she said last week about Broadway. "We've been doing it quite some time together, and yesterday, we were all on fire, and the audience was there with us — it never gets old. Every time I take my bow, I say to myself, Thank you for giving me one more day to do this show."
It's already been a wildly busy week for Josh Young. Take Tuesday — he began at the top of the Empire State Building for a class picture with his fellow Tony nominees. Then, it was on to the prestigious Theatre World Awards for Broadway and Off-Broadway debut performances, where Young was among the honorees for his portrayal of Judas in the revival of Jesus Christ Superstar. Then, the after-party, and by evening, he was back on stage.
His powerful portrayal, sung in his wide range that Young has labeled bari-tenor, has earned him a Tony nomination as best featured actor in a musical — Tony's supporting actor category. The curly-haired, classically handsome Young, 32, went to Bryn Mawr's Shipley School and Strath Haven High, then graduated from Syracuse University. He began voice lessons at 11 and was a part of Swarthmore's Young People's Theatre Workshop (his first play: Bye Bye Birdie) and Upper Darby Summer Stage.
Young has appeared at the Walnut Street Theatre as Marius, the lover in Les Miz, and as Link, the heartthrob in Hairspray. He'd been in the national tour of Les Miz and the international tour of West Side Story, and played Che in Evita at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario. He got the role of Judas in the production of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Stratford festival, and no one knew at the time that it would move, after a stint at La Jolla Playhouse in California, to Broadway.
"I was so happy to be in Stratford — it's the best place in the world to do theater," Young says. "I intend to go back whenever they will have me." He has an apartment there. "They just build upon excellence and take care of their actors in every way — we get voice lessons, we get movement lessons, everything we could possibly want to become better actors."
On the May morning the Tony nominations were announced, Young slept in, then got up to walk his dog. He saw a blinking light on his answering machine — his agent, saying, "Attaboy!" "I went online and was just hugely surprised and delighted."
Young, who is Jewish, became well-versed in the gospels to prepare for the role. He read the New Testament "and every interpretation I could possibly find." Little is known about Judas, and Young developed his own backstory, from his readings, to shape his character.
Jesus Christ Superstar is demanding — especially for Young, who has much to forcefully sing and is pivotal, of course, in the plot. "Over the year, I figured out you have to take care of yourself. I don't go out after shows. I don't talk much during the day. I put all my energy into the two hours the show lasts. It's so fulfilling. It's worth it."