When it was announced early today that Audra McDonald and Kelli O’Hara were Tony nominees for best actress in a musical, both actresses took it lying down — literally.
Each was asleep in her Westchester bed at the time of the announcement.
“I have to be honest,” O’Hara says from her northern Westchester home. “I thought about it last night and we turned off our phones and I slept. My husband just came in the house and said ‘You have to call (manager) Erica! You have to call Erica!’
“When you have a little kid, you have to get sleep once in a while,” says O’Hara, whose son, Owen (with actor Greg Naughton) is nearly three.
The nomination, for O’Hara’s work in the new Gershwin musical “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” is the fourth for O’Hara, after “South Pacific,” “The Pajama Game” and “The Light in the Piazza.”
Meanwhile, not too far away, in Croton-on-Hudson, four-time winner McDonald had already driven her daughter Zoe to school on a rainy morning and had headed back to bed when the 8:30 a.m. announcement came. She was awakened by her vibrating cellphone, heralding congratulatory text messages.
“I’m just so happy for everyone,” says McDonald, of the show’s 10 nominations. “Of course, awards are not why we do what we do, and certainly it’s not for money. We do it for the love of the art. In the end, it’s going to be rewarding just to get back up on that stage tonight.”
It was a great morning, but tonight means heading back to the Richard Rodgers Theater and Catfish Row and the world of Bess, a character who has known few great mornings.
“It’s nice on my performers’ weekend — Sunday through Tuesday — to come up here to the house and do laundry,” McDonald says. “I mean, it’s still laundry, but it’s laundry in the woods and making Jell-o with my daughter and getting her off to school this morning. All of that stuff means leaving Bess at the Richard Rodgers, because it’s a heavy heavy role. And it means a sort of mind re-set as I head into the theater.”
She explains sleeping through a big announcement: “For singers, if we don’t get enough sleep, we can’t sing. Our voices go kaplooey. Even if we’re excited, it’s so important to try and put whatever sleep you can in the bank. I can imagine for Kelli, too, she has a little boy, so any minute you can sleep, you do.”
Heading for the Rodgers with 10 Tony nominations, she says, promised to be a boost for tonight’s show.
“But then you get back up on the stage and it’s like ‘That’s right. That’s what this is. That’s what I do.’ We’re living our dream. Regardless of whether we had gotten nominated or not, I’m living my dream. This is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. The nomination is fantastic and wonderful and I’m thrilled. But I’d be happy just to get up on that stage with a group of people every night.”
With Tony wins for “Carousel,” “Master Class,” “Ragtime,” “Raisin in the Sun,” does this Tony thing ever get old?
“No. Of course not, It doesn’t get old. God no,” McDonald says emphatically. “But it really is one of those things that is out of your hands. People say ‘Are you going for a Tony this year?’ How do you ‘go for a Tony’? You can only do your work and if people recognize you for it, that’s wonderful. But you don’t go, ‘This is how I’m going to play this role so I can get a Tony.’ I want to discover the truth about that character and unlock it. And that’s my goal every night.”
Besides having a toddler, O’Hara could sleep for another reason.
“I’m thrilled by the nomination, but I didn’t want to put too much weight on it and get too wrapped around it,” she says. While the nomination is exciting, O’Hara says she’s disappointed her “Nice Work” co-star Matthew Broderick wasn’t nominated.
“I don’t think the show would work without him and we’re a team,” she says. “It’s a little bittersweet.”
His “Leap of Faith” and “Newsies” were both nominated for best musical, as was his score (with lyricist Jack Feldman) for “Newsies.” Menken’s “Leap of Faith” score (with lyricist Glenn Slater) was not.
“As you can imagine, it’s a topsy-turvy situation for me,” he says. “I’m pleased and relieved on many fronts and I’m sad on certain fronts. The meat of this whole thing in our business is how much we care for those we collaborate with. I’m thrilled for me and for Jack and everyone on ‘Newsies’ and I feel bad for Glenn, my brilliant collaborator who I feel got cheated on ‘Sister Act’ and who now is not nominated for a Tony. But he’s fine.”
Menken also had a word about “Leap of Faith” star Raúl Esparza, who was not nominated for his turn as con-man Jonas Nightingale.
“I feel especially hard for Raúl (Esparza) who I think is fantastic in ‘Leap.’ That was a shocker,” Menken says. “And I’m very happy that ‘Leap’ got a best-musical nomination.
“It is what it is,” says the eight-time Tony-winner who has yet to win a Tony Award. “Nothing is a given in our business. We’ve all been reaching out to Raúl and he is totally committed to our show.”
In the harsh business world of Broadway, Menken sees a bit of peril in this morning’s nominations.
“People are seeing ‘Newsies’ right and left. We need more people to see ‘Leap of Faith’ — fast — if they want to see it at all,” he says with a laugh. “It’s a hard show to sell, but obviously, with the nomination, it’s one of the best musicals of the year.”