The Broadway Class of 2015 — We Name This Year's Valedictorian, Class Clown, Innovator and More!

News   The Broadway Class of 2015 — We Name This Year's Valedictorian, Class Clown, Innovator and More! Broadway talent has made some serious strides in 2015. From creating innovating new work to battling breast cancer, from winning a long-deserved Tony to making a long-awaited Broadway debut, we recognize this year's most notable names and their crowning achievements.

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The Innovator – Lin-Manuel Miranda
Lin-Manuel Miranda pulled out all the stops (and all the historical documents) for Hamilton, his acclaimed musical that fuses contemporary and classic to tell the story of America's Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. The game-changing piece caught national attention and is now the hottest ticket in town. The New Yorker has compared him to Stephen Sondheim; Sondheim himself called Miranda's songs from Hamilton "fresh and meticulous and theatrical." But, none of it would have been possible if it weren't for his father's encouragement. "Hunter [College High School] had asked me to stay on to continue to teach part time," Miranda explained over morning coffee with his father, Luis. "And, I asked you [Luis], 'What should I do? Should I keep teaching or should I just kind of sub and do gigs to pay the rent and really throw myself into writing full time?' And, you wrote me a very thoughtful letter, in which you said, 'I really want to tell you to keep the job — that's the smart 'parent thing' to do — but when I was 17, I was a manager at the Sears in Puerto Rico, and I basically threw it all away to go to New York, [and] I didn't speak a lot of English. It made no sense, but it was what I needed to do.' So you were like, 'It makes no sense to leave your job to be a writer, but I have to tell you to do it. You have to pursue that if you want.' That was very opposite advice from, 'Be a lawyer,' and I'm glad I took it." Of his early days in theatre, he said, "I think we all start in theatre — if we went to elementary school or high school and did the school play. Most of us go onto other things, and then there are some of us who fall in love with it so deep that we never want to do anything else, and that's us!"

Lin-Manuel Miranda and cast
Lin-Manuel Miranda and cast Photo by Joan Marcus

The Newbie – Sara Bareilles
Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles made her musical theatre debut this year with Waitress, a show bound for an anticipated Broadway opening next spring. Throughout the process, the singer-songwriter has been more than outspoken about her newfound love for the project and the theatre community. "[It's been a] delightful surprise. I didn't know that I was going to fall in love with this show as much as I have and yes, I have put my entire life on hold… It was something that was happening to me while the show was running up in Boston and I was back in New York, there's just a part of me that Waitress has enlivened," she said. Read more about what Bareilles is re-examining before Waitress bows on Broadway. "There's a part of my heart that is spoken for while this show is in existence...It's been a lot of years since I've felt as impassioned by a project as I have with this one. I know that that's a rare phenomenon and I'm really grateful to be in the middle of that right now." She revealed that writing the project moved her to tears.

Sara Bareilles
Sara Bareilles

The Romantic – Amanda Seyfried
Known for her leading lady roles in romantic movies, Amanda Seyfried made her stage debut Off-Broadway in Neil LaBute's relationship comedy-drama The Way We Get By in April. "I love being in romantic movies," she said. "It's hard to make good ones but I love being in love, playing in love. It's really wonderful…that's one of the things that I'm just drawn to." Seyfried said she could relate to her character Beth, who is struggling to find a meaningful relationship: "She's at the end of her rope, in terms of meeting somebody. She's done the whole casual dating thing. I did that and you come to a point where you're like, 'I need something…I need a deeper connection.' I wouldn't date here [in New York City]. I'm so glad I don't...The whole Tinder thing…I am so glad I missed that boat. I don't ever want to be single again, for that reason." 

Thomas Sadoski and Amanda Seyfried in <i>The Way We Get By</i>
Thomas Sadoski and Amanda Seyfried in The Way We Get By Photo by Joan Marcus

The Role Model – Lupita Nyong'o
Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o made her New York stage debut this fall in the Public Theater's production of Eclipsed, Danai Gurira's gripping Broadway-bound drama about women in the Liberian war. The actress continues to take on roles that are challenging and meaningful, making her a positive role model for women of color in particular. "For me, I think, it's not so much a responsibility, but an opportunity to really do something and be something meaningful to people," she said. "I'm definitely humbled by it and also really encouraged by it, that people are responding positively to the person I am. I just see it as an opportunity to keep doing what I'm doing. I don't necessarily focus on it because at the end of the day, I think it's something that takes care of itself, if I just keep doing what I feel I'm supposed to do."

Pascale Armand, Saycon Sengbloh and Lupita Nyong’o in <i>Eclipsed</i>
Pascale Armand, Saycon Sengbloh and Lupita Nyong’o in Eclipsed Photo by Joan Marcus

The Rebel – Wayne Brady
Emmy winner Wayne Brady returned to the Broadway stage this year as the fierce and fabulous Lola in Kinky Boots. It turns out that Brady is no stranger to difficult relationships with fathers and was happy to get behind the show's message of staying true to yourself whatever your family or society may think. "Rarely do you come from a household where everybody goes, 'Yay! You want to be onstage and be broke most of your life and live a life of uncertainty and maybe not have insurance? Yay.' Most parents don't do that. My parents didn't. My dad, God bless his soul, was for most of my life an army drill sergeant: very G.I. Joe and by-the-book. Really awesome guy, I loved my dad, but I was growing up in the kind of household where a performing arts career wasn't practical… So at my graduating high school we had a tremendous falling-out over my chosen craft. Luckily, they came around. I know what it's like to have everyone looking at what you do and refuse it. For them to say: 'That's not going to be the thing for you.' Like Lola, I know what it's like to have people want you to be one thing, but you know that you're something else."

Wayne Brady and The Angels
Wayne Brady and The Angels Photo by Joan Marcus

The Survivor – Krysta Rodriguez
Two months after her 30th birthday, Krysta Rodriguez was diagnosed with breast cancer, but launched KrystaCouture.com to blog about kicking cancer in style and her experience with chemotherapy. "Everything that was scary before is now exciting because I can write about it, and I can try new ways to fix it — and not just ways to make myself look exactly like I did before," she said in her very first interview after going public with the diagnosis. "I'm going to make myself look completely different. I am the Wendy Williams of cancer right now! I am just going to go for broke! I've got purple, I've got blue, I've got everything you can imagine, and I've never really been an accessory gal, so it's been really fun to open my eyes to new things and new adornments. In some ways, I feel like a queen. And, that's what I wanted to share with everybody. This is my particular interest, and maybe it wouldn't make everyone else feel good, but I don't know a woman who doesn't want to feel beautiful… When I realized that what I thought is beautiful was going to be taken away from me, I wanted to see what else beautiful was, and I'm really finding it and enjoying it a lot." Her blog took off — she was soon asked to blog for Cosmopolitan — and it wasn't long before she returned to Broadway with Spring Awakening. Talk about inspiring.

Daniel N. Durant and Krysta Rodriguez in <i>Spring Awakening</i>
Daniel N. Durant and Krysta Rodriguez in Spring Awakening Photo by Joan Marcus

The Class Clown – Annaleigh Ashford
The morning after winning the Tony Award for her comedic tour de force in You Can't Take It With You, "I had on a onesie sweatpants outfit — they're called one-pieces, they're really cool," said Ashford during an afternoon interview and photo shoot in Central Park. "I had my dress in a bag, I had my jewels in a bag, my shoes in a bag and my Tony in a really ugly tote bag. I took the Tony to the American Theatre Wing, dropped that off to get engraved, took my dress back to Zac Posen, dropped that off, and I took my jewels back to Fred Leighton, dropped that off! Then, I went and had some nachos, and I went to the airport." (She was flying out to Los Angeles, where she films Showtime's "Masters of Sex.") "But, most people, that morning, get a message from the American Theatre Wing saying, 'We can pick up your Tony at any time…' We don't have a doorman, we don't have anybody you can pick that up [from]. 'You can pick it up from the Thai restaurant underneath our apartment, but they're really rude to us, so I'm sure they wouldn't have held it for me.' So, I was keeping it real!" (As she always does!)

Annaleigh Ashford
Annaleigh Ashford Photo by Joan Marcus

Mr. Popular – Cary Tedder
Some strive to get cast in one Broadway show. But, this season, Cary Tedder scored two. Before signing on to star as Dames at Sea's tap-happy sailor Dick, he was enlisted for the ensemble of the Japanese-American drama Allegiance (a project he had to withdraw from in order to take the principal contract at Dames). "I did a reading of Allegiance four years ago, and then I did the workshop of Dames at Sea a year-and-a-half ago, so these were seeds that had been planted sometime back," said 28-year-old Tedder, who's been working on Broadway since he finished his freshman year of college at the University of Michigan. "In my experience, if someone tells you you're going to Broadway, you're not. Unless you're standing on the stage with the footlights blaring and the audience there, you're not going to Broadway, so you just have to be very careful." So, Tedder put in the work — auditioning and workshopping — until everything came together for two shows at the same time. This summer, after getting the call that he was headed back to Broadway in Allegiance, "I got a call not two weeks later from my agent, saying, 'Dames at Sea got a theatre.' I thought, 'Oh, no!' or rather, 'Oh, yes!' Obviously, you want to pick a show that you think will have the longest-running life or help be a vehicle for what you do, and I think that obviously you would want to pick a principal contract over a chorus contract."

Eloise Kropp and Cary Tedder in <i>Dames at Sea</i>
Eloise Kropp and Cary Tedder in Dames at Sea Photo by Jeremy Daniel

The Success Story – Josh Grisetti
Six years back, while in his twenties, Josh Grisetti was to debut as the star of Neil Simon's Broadway Bound. However, that show closed 17 days before its first preview. How could that even be possible? Simon's Broadway Bound was to run in repertory with Brighton Beach Memoirs at the Nederlander Theatre, but when Brighton Beach opened to weak ticket sales, Broadway Bound was halted before it even began. Both shows closed Nov. 1, 2009. And, Grisetti — only part of the Broadway Bound cast — never made it to the Great White Way. "When I got that phone call, the disbelief of it — I literally fell down to my knees and just wept, in sheer shock and utter mourning for the loss of what was a dream coming true that was cut out right from underneath me," he openly admitted about the experience as he readied to (finally) make his Broadway debut in It Shoulda Been You. "It was devastating. It really was. And, I had romanticized it and put so much — I don't know what you call it — sentimentality behind it about everything that it meant for me to be starring in a play on Broadway as my Broadway debut, and then to have it all taken away… It was a shock to my system and to my soul." In It Shoulda Been You, he played the "You" of the show's title — Marty Kaufman, the bride's ex-boyfriend who crashes the wedding — and following the show's close, he shipped out to Tokyo as part of the starry cast of Hal Prince's Prince of Broadway.

Chip Zien, Anne L. Nathan, Josh Grisetti, Tyne Daly and Adam Heller in <i>It Shoulda Been You</i>
Chip Zien, Anne L. Nathan, Josh Grisetti, Tyne Daly and Adam Heller in It Shoulda Been You Photo by Joan Marcus

The #Blessed One – Brandy Norwood
"I'm going to make a long story short," Brandy Norwood explained — chronicling her time before she bowed on Broadway in Chicago. "It was a long time I was sad and a long time I was depressed. I just didn't believe in myself. I didn't have the strength to do anything but just make it through the day, and of course, I had that moment with God where I said, 'Listen, I need you to come and get me because I don't have the strength to come and find you… I just need you to come and get me, and I'll follow whatever you want me to do.' I believe that higher power came and got me and led me to do the work that it took to change my life. All it took was to make a decision to change my mind about who I was and stop believing the lies about myself — stop believing that I was a has-been, stop believing that I'm not going to ever make it again, or I'm not going to ever be able to inspire people again. No. That wasn't true. I had to start telling myself a different story." Norwood began a discipline: gym time, meditation, affirmative speaking and journaling. Six months later, she got the call to make her Broadway debut as Roxie Hart in Chicago.

Brandy Norwood in <i>Chicago</i>
Brandy Norwood in Chicago Jeremy Daniel

The Activist – Patti LuPone
This summer, Patti LuPone seized the cell phone of a woman who was using it during an evening performance of her recent play, Shows for Days, at Lincoln Center. Following the incident, LuPone explained, "We work hard on stage to create a world that is being totally destroyed by a few, rude, self-absorbed and inconsiderate audience members who are controlled by their phones. They cannot put them down. When a phone goes off or when a LED screen can be seen in the dark it ruins the experience for everyone else — the majority of the audience at that performance and the actors on stage. I am so defeated by this issue that I seriously question whether I want to work onstage anymore. Now I'm putting battle gear on over my costume to marshall the audience as well as perform."

Dale Soules and Patti LuPone in <i>Shows for Days</i>
Dale Soules and Patti LuPone in Shows for Days Photo by Joan Marcus

Valedictorian – Kelli O'Hara
Fans of Kelli O'Hara rejoiced when, after 15 years and five nominations, the leading lady of Broadway won her first Tony Award. One month after winning, she reflected on her years on Broadway, what the award meant to her and why she said she was going to do the worm. O'Hara described June 7 as a "heavy" day as well as one of the busiest she can remember. After arriving at the theatre at 7 AM, she and her cast prepared hair and makeup to be at Radio City Music Hall for a dress rehearsal, before returning to Lincoln Center for a matinee performance of the three-hour musical. She then prepared for the Tony Awards red carpet. "I went from the Anna wig and makeup and costume to red carpet four times," O'Hara said. "Back and forth. It was one of those days when I kept thinking, 'At midnight I'll have made it through.' In a good way. There's excitement to it, too, but there's also a lot of fatigue...It kind of feels surreal, the whole day. It kind of exploded with the win." As the awards ceremony approached, O'Hara said she kept telling herself, "Don't be upset." But when her name was announced, she said, "I think I was really, really surprised. I was elated. I kind of lost my mind, I was so excited."

Kelli O'Hara and Hoon Lee in <i>The King and I</i>
Kelli O'Hara and Hoon Lee in The King and I Photo by Paul Kolnik

The Timeless One – Ellen Greene
When Ellen Greene returned to the Little Shop of Horrors this summer at New York City Center, the audience exploded, making it clear that she would forever be the perfect Audrey. "I knew that I would get some reaction, yes, but the force that hit me was…well, forceful and electric," she said following her acclaimed performance opposite Jake Gyllenhaal. "Such a roar filled with so much energy and a joie de vivre…so joyfully alive, so palpable! Exciting, but a bit overwhelming, and I knew I needed not to let it upstage the play. Backstage the assistant stage manager, Sara, said to me in a surprised, excited voice, 'This sounds like a rock concert!'...Maybe they were so explosive for they hadn't seen me in a while, and probably were relieved I wasn't dead and I could still fit into the dress, wig and lashes! The curtain call — well, I have never been very good at that. It was always a note from Howard [Ashman] — to smile and to take it in. But…well, it was [and] felt a bit overwhelming. And, yes, frightening, too, to receive that much love in such a roar of sound....I felt quite shy and humbled. ...I guess I also felt pride, for I so wanted to deliver for Howard and Alan [Menken], and the audiences' reaction said we did."

Ellen Greene and Jake Gyllenhaal in <i>Little Shop of Horrors</i>
Ellen Greene and Jake Gyllenhaal in Little Shop of Horrors Photo by Joan Marcus

The Woman of 1 Million Voices – Christina Bianco
Christina Bianco is known for her fast and furious impersonations of Broadway and pop-singing divas. "The very first thing I do, it sounds so silly, I just make noises," she said in an interview discussing her technique as well as her time in Off-Broadway's Application Pending. "You know how a lot of singers begin a warm-up maybe with a siren, going from low to high...I do make a whole lot of funny noises, and much like I said, with the characters of Application Pending, you do look for the quick thing to grab out of it. What can be heightened about this person? With Kristin Chenoweth, obviously, very few people have a voice like hers because it's quite high, and people say, 'Oh, it's like she's on helium.' So then you take that extreme and you play with that. So very often, I play around with my voice ...For me, with Whitney Houston, this is somebody I'm still working on. Whitney Houston, to me, always sounds a little throaty....Obviously, I'm not going to do that if I'm trying to impersonate Kelli O'Hara, so I pull certain things, but I always say, it's a lot of making really strange noises and really strange faces and finding it. The next thing that I always do is I record into my iPhone a lot of my progress and process. Very often, it's a feeling. I have to know where Kristin feels in my throat, in my voice, in my head, in my mask because it's very different from my own voice. Because what I like to do is switching voices very often, very quickly, from impression to impression, I have to know, comfortably, where each person sits. So very often if I'm starting to work on someone, I don't even really remember the feeling, I'll remember the placement."

Christina Bianco in rehearsal for <i>Application Pending</i>
Christina Bianco in rehearsal for Application Pending Photo by Monica Simoes
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