The Tony Awards are known to have plenty of repeat customers — folks making their way back year after year in pursuit of Broadway's ultimate prize. But no matter how many times they go back, they never forget that first nomination. We caught up with a handful of this year's first-time nominees to celebrate the landmark accomplishment — a milestone built on first apartments, first jobs, and first trips to the theater.


Nominee: Rachel Bay Jones
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical, Dear Evan Hansen

Jones as Heidi Hansen in a scene with Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen.
Rachel Bay Jones as Heidi Hansen in a scene with Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen.
(© Matthew Murphy)

First Job: I was hired for my dream job — working at a local ice cream parlor. I remember my first day as being completely overwhelming with math anxiety and wrong change given — and a mess of drippy, late-to-the-tables ice cream sundaes. I was gently asked not to return for day two.

First New York City Apartment: Subletting my older friend's rent-controlled tenement apartment in Hell's Kitchen in 1989. The neighborhood was incredibly rough, the apartment was full of decades of dust and antiques, and the "bedroom" was a converted closet that just fit a full-size bed I climbed into from the doorway. I loved it. It was everything my white, flowery-wallpapered childhood bedroom in Boca Raton was not. Nothing had ever felt more real.

First Theatrical Experience: My mother, who gave up her very promising, successful career as an actress in N.Y.C. to be a mom, returned to the stage as Golde in Fiddler on the Roof at the Burt Reynolds Theatre in Jupiter, Florida. I will never forget how brilliant she was, the combination of heartbreak and pride I felt to see her shine like that, as who she was apart from me.

First Role You Played Onstage: Narrator in the Christmas play, elementary school. The only non-singing role, and I wanted so to be the singing angel. Terrified to talk in front of all those people. I wore a tee shirt and bell-bottom jeans at a stand microphone while everyone else was in costume.

First Award You Remember Winning: Team participation certificate for synchronized swimming in sixth grade. I felt like a mermaid.


Nominee: Mike Faist
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical, Dear Evan Hansen

Mike Faist is nominated for his performance as Connor Murphy in Dear Evan Hansen.
Mike Faist (left) is nominated for his performance as Connor Murphy in Dear Evan Hansen.
(© Matthew Murphy)

First Job: Growing up I did a lot of construction/odd jobs around the neighborhood in order to make some money. Mowed lawns, cleaned gutters, shoveled snow. I had a paper route for a little while. So I was used to freelancing, but the first "company" I worked for was Dairy Queen.

First New York City Apartment: 127 and Lenox. I shared it with three other guys and had a bunk bed with my sister.

First Theatrical Experience: My first Broadway show was Fosse. Chris Gattelli was in the ensemble, and he later was my first Broadway choreographer.

First Role You Played Onstage: One of the lollipop guild from The Wizard of Oz.

First Award You Remember Winning: I did competition dance growing up, and I won Mr. Junior Dance America, I'll have you know.


Nominee: Irene Sankoff
Best Book of a Musical / Best Original Score, Come From Away

Irene Sankoff is co-author of the new musical Come From Away.
Irene Sankoff is a coauthor of the new musical Come From Away.
(© David Gordon)

First Job: Mary Brown's Fried Chicken. It was my favorite fast-food restaurant, and they hired me. And no, I never got tired of it. Sadly.

First New York City Apartment: It was on 3rd near 21st, I believe...I was so homesick I spent most of my time crying and scaring off my roommate and any potential friends until I finally got a room at International House near Columbia University and a fresh start.

First Theatrical Experience: The Best of Broadway at Canada's Wonderland. I went every weekend on a season's pass and memorized the choreography. Fellow Canadian Sergio Trujillo was a dancer in that show, and when I first met him, I told him I still remembered the choreography, and we've had some nice bonding moments over the memories of a time when "Broadway Style" shows were appreciated alongside roller coasters.

First Role You Played Onstage: Betty, one of the Kit Kat girls in Cabaret at Earl Haig S.S. I still remember most of the choreography.

First Award You Remember Winning: I won the "School Show" award in grade seven. I basically spent all my spare time choreographing and rehearsing with the other students and being involved in every aspect of the show possible. I remember the award ceremony where they described this newly created award and being so sure that this other girl would get it, but I wanted it so badly. I was absolutely shocked when they called my name! (Yes, I still remember most of the choreography. Can I remember to pack a lunch? No.)


Nominee: David Hein
Best Book of a Musical / Best Original Score, Come From Away

David Hein is the other half of the Come From Away writing team.
David Hein is the other half of the Come From Away writing team.
(© David Gordon)

First Job: I was a clown for a flower shop. I stood outside with a "Select Roses" sign on...and I had a giant mouse puppet...I may have scared some children. One time, some kids told me the previous clown got arrested for making obscene balloon animals.

First New York City Apartment: I followed a girl I was in love with (Irene) down here, and we got an apartment at International House, this amazing castle near Columbia for international graduate students. There were people from 110 countries from around the world. We were there on 9/11, and this international community taking care of each other reminds us of what happened in Newfoundland.

First Theatrical Experience: I saw Romeo and Juliet on the banks of the Saskatchewan River in a tent. I remember Mercutio driving in on a motorcycle and it blowing my mind.

First Role You Played Onstage: Brindsley in Peter Shaffer's Black Comedy at my high school. It went great until I knocked a table off the stage into a drum set.

First Award You Remember Winning: I broke the record for hurdles in Ottawa. I was always choosing between track and theater, but at the track finals, the hurdles were weighted differently, and I fell on my face. Now I work in theater.


Nominee: Jenn Colella
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical, Come From Away

Jenn Colella in a scene from Come From Away.
Jenn Colella as pilot Beverley Bass in a scene from Come From Away.
(© Matthew Murphy)

First Job: Skate guard at a roller rink. I've always loved wheels.

First New York City Apartment: A one-bedroom in the same building I've been in for 15 years. Now I'm in a two-bedroom.

First Theatrical Experience: I saw The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, and I lost my mind over it.

First Role You Played Onstage: Gertie in Oklahoma!

First Award You Remember Winning: Best First Soprano in Concert Choir in high school.


Nominee: Dave Malloy
Best Book of a Musical / Best Score / Best Orchestrations, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Great Comet composer Dave Malloy is nominated for his book, score, and orchestrations.
Great Comet composer Dave Malloy is nominated for his book, score, and orchestrations.
(© David Gordon)

First Job: The Record Exchange, the small local record store in Lakewood, Ohio, when I was 16 and profoundly awkward. The cool older employees would play Fugazi and Henry Rollins to shake me up.

First New York City Apartment: Rogers and Franklin, in Crown Heights. Via Craigslist.

First Theatrical Experience: I think A Christmas Carol at Cleveland's Playhouse Square? Have a strong memory of being terrified by a 50-foot-tall Ghost of Christmas Future. Then Les Misérables came to town, and Javert's suicide made me a Broadway baby.

First Role You Played Onstage: I played one of the children in A Doll's House when I was like five but don't really remember it. Freshman year of high school I got the lead (a bumbling detective) in a murder mystery farce, Any Number Can Die by Fred Carmichael.

First Award You Remember Winning: Second grade, math trophy. I still have it on my shelf.


Nominee: Lucas Steele
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Lucas Steele as Anatole with 
Denée Benton (Natasha) in a scene from Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.
Lucas Steele as Anatole with Denée Benton (Natasha) in a scene from Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.
(© Chad Batka)

First Job: Nine years old. Washing cars at my dad's automotive shop.

First New York City Apartment: A four-bedroom apartment on 108th and Central Park West...with three other roommates. Rent stabilized — back when apartments were almost affordable.

First Theatrical Experience: I was four years old, and my mom and grandmother took me to the high school play. I have no idea what the show was. I specifically remember sitting there in the dark theater and watching a scene bathed in blue light. There was an actress and actor in the center of the stage holding each other, singing a love song. I remember being overwhelmed...in particular by the visual image. I knew in that moment that I would like to be up there in that magical light.

First Role You Played Onstage: The Woodsman in the sixth-grade play of Snow White — entitled Mirror, Mirror.

First Award You Remember Winning: In fifth grade. A bowling trophy for being the best team in our league.


Nominee: Denée Benton
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Denée Benton is nominated for her performance as Natasha in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.
Denée Benton is nominated for her performance as Natasha in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.
(© Chad Batka)

First Job: Acting in a sex ed film the summer after my freshman year of college at CMU.

First New York City Apartment: With one of my bestest sister friends in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.

First Theatrical Experience: The first one I remember is seeing Rugrats on Ice around my sixth birthday.

First Role You Played Onstage: In kindergarten I played a rich old woman in the Christmas play who sang a duet called "Just Too Busy for Jesus." I actually cut my chin open the night of the show, and my mom said I rushed the doctor through my stitches because I refused to miss my solo.

First Award You Remember Winning: In fourth grade, I won an essay writing competition from the D.A.R.E organization. I was a Goody Two-shoes.


Nominee: Denis Arndt
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play, Heisenberg

Denis Arndt with his costar Mary-Louise Parker in a scene from Simon Stephens' Heisenberg.
Denis Arndt with his costar Mary-Louise Parker in a scene from Simon Stephens' Heisenberg.
(© Joan Marcus)

First Job: Dishwasher / soda jerk.

First New York City Apartment: West 76th off Central Park West.

First Theatrical Experience: Fourth grade Thanksgiving Play.

First Role You Played Onstage: Miles Standish.

First Award You Remember Winning: Joseph Jefferson Award (Chicago, 1986).


Nominee: John Douglas Thompson
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play, Jitney

John Douglas Thompson (left) as Becker with Michael Potts (Turnbo) in August Wilson's Jitney.
John Douglas Thompson (left) as Becker with Michael Potts in August Wilson's Jitney.
(© Joan Marcus)

First Job: Telemarketer.

First New York City Apartment: Sublet on 835 Riverside Drive.

First Theatrical Experience: The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Broadway).

First Role You Played Onstage: Othello (Rhode Island Shakespeare Theater).

First Award You Remember Winning: Lucille Lortel Award for Othello at Theater for a New Audience.


Nominee: Richard Thomas
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play, Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes

Richard Thomas as Horace Giddens in the MTC revival of Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes.
Richard Thomas as Horace Giddens in the Manhattan Theatre Club revival of Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes.
(© Joan Marcus)

First Job: My first job and my first stage role were one and the same. I sang "You Gotta Have Heart" in a summer theater production of Damn Yankees in upstate New York in 1957. I was six.

First New York City Apartment: My first N.Y.C. apartment was a fifth floor walk-up on West End Avenue.

First Theatrical Experience: I guess the first theatrical experience (aside from being a backstage toddler when my parents danced with the New York City Ballet) that I remember vividly was seeing Mary Martin in Peter Pan. But the first piece of theater that affected me deeply was watching the ballet Illuminations at City Center. I was inconsolable at the curtain.

First Role You Played Onstage: My first role as member of Actors' Equity was as John Roosevelt in the Broadway production of Sunrise at Campobello at the Cort Theatre in 1958.

First Award You Remember Winning: The first award I remember winning was the Emmy for my first season as John-Boy on The Waltons. But it was so unexpected and so exciting that I remember very little, actually.


Nominee: Michelle Wilson
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play, Sweat

Michelle Wilson (back) as Cynthia with her fellow Tony nominee Johanna Day (Tracey) in Lynn Nottage's Sweat.
Michelle Wilson (left) as Cynthia with her fellow Tony nominee Johanna Day in Lynn Nottage's Sweat.
(© Joan Marcus)

First Job: Sales clerk at American Eagle. Long live the mall, baby!

First New York City Apartment: A second floor of a Bed-Stuy brownstone. There was no door separating our space from the rest of the house, which was owned by an 80-year-old who would yell upstairs and tell us to go to bed. My roommate would yell back, "We don't want to go to bed!", but we'd turn down the music and whisper.

First Theatrical Experience: I saw Princess and the Pea at a children's theater in Detroit and never bought the pea, 20 mattresses, sleeping agitation thingy.

First Role You Played Onstage: Dance hall girl in Sweet Charity at Our Lady of Mercy High School. But wait, you might ask, a Catholic all-girls school performing Sweet Charity? Duh...ton o' girl parts!

First Award You Remember Winning: Uh...I'm still waiting?