Tony Awards: Breakout Debuts Score Nominations for Broadway First-Timers

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Hugh Jackman, Sutton Foster, Phylicia Rashad, Mary-Louise Parker, LaChanze: All of these 2022 Tony Award nominees are Broadway regulars, and they’ve had plenty of experience with nominations and wins over the years. But this year’s list of contenders also includes some outstanding debuts that are now in the running for some of the night’s biggest races. Here are three of those newbies whose first Broadway gigs have netted them big-time noms.

  Myles Frost

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Frost’s road to Broadway was paved by a 2016 YouTube video of the young performer, now 22, dancing to “Billie Jean” in a high school talent show. But don’t go looking there for tips on how to dance like Michael Jackson.

“I see those old videos and I’m like, ‘What was I doing? I’m a hot mess!’” laughs Frost. “I know so much more now, and I have a different work ethic than I did back then. My moves are so much sharper. There’s a silhouette to everything that I do.”

Still, it was that video of the D.C.-area native that prompted a 2021 call from the casting team of the King of Pop musical “MJ.” The video got him the audition, the audition got him the part, and his performance in the demanding, nonstop lead role of “MJ” earned him a Tony nomination.

“It surprised me how much of a family Broadway is,” he says. “It’s rare that you come into such a large space and find so much family. Everyone is so nurturing and uplifting and helpful, especially with me being very, very new. I couldn’t have asked for a better start.”

  Gabby Beans

When Beans was an undergrad at Columbia, she double-majored in theater and neuroscience. The pairing isn’t as wacky as it sounds.

“It’s human behavior from two separate fields of thought,” says Beans, up for a Tony Award for her lead performance in “The Skin of Our Teeth.” “I wanted to understand the biological foundations of how personality manifests and how we experience our lives from a neurobiological standpoint. And then the acting is an exercise in empathy.”

Medicine was the back-up plan for Beans, a self-described “army brat” who grew up all around the U.S. and went to high school in Germany. But it was her theater career that took off, as a string of Off Broadway and regional performances led her to her Broadway debut juggling stylization and sincerity as Sabina in Thornton Wilder’s surreal epic.

Now she finds herself in a Tony category alongside Ruth Negga, LaChanze, Mary-Louise Parker and Deirdre O’Connell.

“I feel like it’s a huge degree of hubris to include myself in that group of women!” she says. “But my hope is that from all of this, I get a little more agency in my career to select work that is rich and meaningful.”

  Jaquel Spivey

The annual Tony-season whirlwind of galas, events, TV appearances and press — all while leading the cast of a Broadway musical eight times a week —  is a lot for any actor, much less one who’s fresh out of college. It’s a good thing, then, that Spivey, the 23-year-old star of “A Strange Loop,” seems a lot wiser  than people twice his age.

“I’m learning that I can be thankful and grateful for all of the good things but also recognize that exhaustion is real,” he says. “Sometimes we can be viewed as products and not as humans. It’s been a mix of happy moments but also very dark and sad moments, and we’re all learning how to navigate all these feelings and emotions.”

Spivey’s nomination for leading actor in a musical is one of 11 noms for “A Strange Loop.”

But rather than focus on trophies or what he’ll do next, he’s trying to stay grounded in the moment.

“I’ve been learning that my expectations may be too low,” he says. “I didn’t know any of this would happen, but every step of the way has been bigger than what I believed for myself. So right now I want to let myself just enjoy the moment and not think ahead this time.”

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