Newspaper article International New York Times

Grabbing a Dream and Making It Come True ; 5 Actresses Nominated for Tony Awards Discuss Their Lives in the Theater

Newspaper article International New York Times

Grabbing a Dream and Making It Come True ; 5 Actresses Nominated for Tony Awards Discuss Their Lives in the Theater

Article excerpt

Nominees for Tony awards for best actress discuss career aspirations, recognition and the current struggle to fill seats for the big productions.

"You're not going to get us to pull each other's hair," Kelli O'Hara said as she and her four fellow Tony Award nominees for best actress in a musical -- one of this year's most competitive races -- met recently to discuss life in the theater. But as warm as they were to one another, their words carried some bite about the business.

In a coincidence of timing, the five women gathered just two hours before the producers of Ms. O'Hara's musical, "The Bridges of Madison County," announced that the show will close on May 18 because of poor ticket sales. Ms. O'Hara, now a five-time Tony nominee, spoke with the insight and occasional bluntness of a survivor of flops past and present. So, too, did the other seen-it- all members of the group, the two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster (nominated for "Violet") and the Tony winner Idina Menzel ("If/ Then"), though their current shows are selling well.

Then there were the two relative newcomers: the best actress nominees Mary Bridget Davies ("A Night With Janis Joplin," a flop) and Jessie Mueller ("Beautiful: The Carole King Musical," a hit). They arrived first for the gathering, and still seemed in the thrall of Broadway. No matter their levels of experience, though, all five spoke with wonder about their careers: None had expected to make it big when they were belting in their bedrooms as teenagers. These are excerpts from the conversation.

Q. If you could go back and say something to your teenage self, what would it be?

Sutton FosterI was very overeager and chatty, so I would tell her to shut up and listen. Slow down. Watch.

Kelli O'HaraThat you'll have a place as long as you know what your place is and do that. Find out what you sell.

FosterDon't try to be us.

O'Hara Though there was a time when I thought, 'If only I could sing like Sutton.'

Jessie Mueller It's harder to be yourself, though. There's much more a chance of failure if you come across as unique, new. And it's hard to be confident as a woman. The day we shot our photo together, I kept thinking: "What's Kelli going to wear? What's Sutton going to wear?"

O'HaraBut, Jessie, you're the most individual person who has showed up in this town in a long time.

MuellerDirectors didn't know what to do with me in college. I didn't really sound like a belter. I didn't look like a soprano. But in New York, I was in the right place at the right time, where my unusualness fit the bill.

Mary Bridget Davies My first performance is on VHS. A dance recital in a basement. I'm 3. My bun is the sloppiest. My little undies are sticking out underneath my tights. I can't keep my arms up. I touch my feet and fall. People didn't know what to make of me. I would go back and tell myself: Don't let other voices get you down.

Q. How much of your character this season is you?

DaviesJanis is me. She was an outcast growing up. I was always talented enough to hang with the cool kids, but they didn't accept me. I was better than them, technically, but they were prettier than me, so they couldn't understand how I could be given attention.

MuellerGrowing up, I never felt like the pretty girl. Carole King felt that.

Idina MenzelIn "If/Then," art's imitating my life a little too much for me. Balancing kids, career, self, family. Starting over and taking risks, whether you like it or not. My character lets me get out onstage and work through my own stuff. I feel like every experience I'm having right now is preparing me for the next man I might meet, the next conflict I have with my son.

Q. Sutton, you're known for jubilant, glamorous roles in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and "Anything Goes." The character of Violet is anything but. Are you more in sync with one of those types?

Foster Violet's from the South. I'm from the South. …

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