For newly minted Tony Award nominee Brandon Uranowitz, his recent success in the new Broadway musical An American in Paris is a family affair.
Uranowitz, who made his Broadway debut in 2011's Baby, It's You!, was eager to play Adam Hochberg, a Jewish-American composer living in Paris after the war. The character of Hochberg, who is struggling to find inspiration for his latest piece, was inspired by George Gershwin, the composer of the score of the movie and a long-time love of Hochberg and his father.
"I grew up listening to Gershwin," Uranowitz said. "My dad was a Gershwin fanatic... He took me to see Crazy For You when I was a kid six times. Six times! He still gets speechless when I talk to him about [An American in Paris]."
Uranowitz's father even traveled to Paris, where the show received its world premiere at the Theatre Du Chatelet. The experience, Uranowitz said, was emotional.
"I very rarely see my dad cry," Uranowitz continued, "I think once when my dog died. The last time I remember my dad crying was when he came to Paris to see this show. This is a big moment for all of us — me and my dad. It's been nice to see his influence sort of come to a head in my career and to feel that. It sort of helps me also connect to the piece a little bit."
Inspired by the 1951 musical film of the same name, An American in Paris follows a complicated romance including Uranowitz's character, the American ex-pat Jerry Mulligan (Robert Fairchild) and a wealthy French man Henri (Max von Essen). The three men vie for the affection of aspiring ballerina Lise (Leanne Cope).
While researching the role of Adam, Uranowitz studied the lives of Jewish Americans and the occupation. He was surprised to find that Gershwin himself had lived in Paris and especially enjoyed learning about the composer writing the "American in Paris Suite."
"[It was] a story of having friends over while he was living in Paris," Uranowitz said. "He's so brilliant about bringing the feel and the tone and the pulse and the rhythm of Paris into music. It doesn't surprise me he was there writing. You can feel it in the music. But I loved the story of him finding the exact notes. It was an F or F sharp — finding exactly the right notes for the car horns."
The sounds, as well as the sights of Paris, are prominent in the production, which also received nominations for scenic design, lighting design and orchestrations, among others. Uranowitz's co-stars, von Essen and Fairchild, also received nominations for Featured Actor and Leading Actor in a Musical, respectively, as well as Cope for Leading Actress. "That's just the icing on the cake," Uranowitz said of being nominated alongside his co-stars. "We got close immediately. We've become best friends and brothers, and to be able to share this with them — this whole thing has been a dream come true."
The castmates had plenty of time to bond during the pre-Broadway run in Paris, where Uranowitz said he had been concerned that the Paris audience would not relate to his character, but he said the musical's emotional story communicated easily to the French audience.
"Everyone can relate to unrequited love. Everyone can relate to fighting, whether it's in a war or not," he said. "And everyone can relate to creative expression and artistic expression. That was most surprising to me. I was going over there with hesitations and a little bit of trepidation: How are they going to in any way connect to a New York Jew? That's so not an archetype there. But because the story is so well told, it wasn't hard for them to connect to him."
"He's got a lot of demons and he's coping with them creatively through his music," Uranowitz said of Adam. "And what's fun about this show — particularly in the moment this show happens — he sort of gets this huge opportunity to express himself and pull himself out of obscurity and give himself purpose."
Along with being a part of the Paris opening, Uranowitz's father played a key role the morning of the Tony nominations. Uranowitz was visiting his parents the morning the nominations were announced, and they were the ones who broke the news to him that he had been nominated.
"I was dead asleep," he said. "Really, honestly, truly, I had no expectation of getting a nomination, so I wasn't going to wake up and not hear my name. I was at my parents' house, and they came and told me, and it was so beautiful. [They woke me up] in hysterics. They barged into my room. I'd love to relive that over and over and over again."
(Carey Purcell is the Features Editor of Playbill.com. Her work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow her on Twitter @PlaybillCarey.)