Sutton Foster, Lena Hall and More Inspire Us! But Who Paved Their Roads to the Tonys?

It's a marathon, not a sprint, right? For many of the 2014 Tony nominees, that's the hard-earned truth; but to become an artist of their caliber, there had to be fans cheering them on along the roadside. Inspirations, mentors and personal credos are essential to the careers of the best of Tony-nominated Broadway. Fourteen of the nominees, from Sutton Foster to Lena Hall to Douglas McGrath respond in personal, endearing and truly inspiring ways below.

The day after the Tony nominations were announced, Playbill.com asked the nominees what some of the greatest inspirations have been in their careers so far. Click through to read more. 

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Andy Karl
Photo by Matthew Murphy

Andy Karl, Best Leading Actor in a Musical (Rocky)

I've had a lot of great directors, but back from Baltimore where I'm from there was Todd Pearthree. He was one of my first directors in a show at my college and he told me, "You can make it doing this." And that stuck with me forever. It's never left. He's one of the sparks.

James Monroe Inglehart
Photo by Monica Simoes

James Monroe Iglehart, Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Aladdin)

My dad was one because he used to be an actor. My mom was one. I had a lady named Celestine Ranney-Howes back at Cal-State Hayward, she was a mentor. She was a costume designer, and she was also the head of the costume department. She was a big mentor in my life. Then there are guys who don't even know, like Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Robin Williams, Bill Cosby, Whoopi Goldberg, John Leguizamo, Billy Crystal... I looked up to all those people. I would watch them constantly, trying to get my comic timing down. Something as silly as Goofy and Bugs Bunny and try to get that timing down; those were inspirations. I wanted to be like those characters, which paid off when it came to the Genie.

Douglas McGrath
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Douglas McGrath, Best Book of a Musical (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical)

Well, I had great teachers at school, but this is one of the other miracles of my life: I came to know Woody Allen who is someone whom I had always idolized. I was a little afraid to meet him because they always say, "Don't meet your idols." But he was everything I could ever have imagined he would be, and he has been so generous to me. He's a great mentor, teacher and friend. I'd be ten years younger if I could get back all the times I said, "I can't believe I'm friends with Woody Allen! I can't believe I wrote a movie with Woody Allen! I can't believe I'm going to dinner with Woody Allen!" He's so generous. He never presents himself as the superior intellect to my inferior intellect, though he doesn't have to. He's a gentleman and a friend and a very giving one.

Sutton Foster
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Sutton Foster, Best Leading Actress in a Musical (Violet)

The first person I thought of is Jeanine Tesori, because without her I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't be where I am. I admire her so much as a creative person, because she never stops growing, learning and challenging herself. And the person that I credit with teaching me how to be an actor is Craig Carnelia. He's a brilliant songwriter, but he teaches a vocal performance class in the city that I started taking when I moved to New York. He really taught me how to interpret lyrics and that singing a song was more than just hitting high notes. He really is my greatest teacher to date.

Cherry Jones
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Cherry Jones, Best Leading Actress in a Play (The Glass Menagerie)

I am only standing here today because of a woman named Linda Miller, now Wilson-Miller. She was only a few years older than we were when I was on the high school speech team and in her drama class. Now she's been teaching about 44 years. She's about to retire. This is her last year teaching and she still looks younger than any of us. She literally spent more than half of her life devoted to us. We were always at her house late into the evening being coached for the speech tournaments. Then there were the several plays a year. We would get up at the crack of dawn every Saturday morning to drive to Nashville, or Paducah or Jackson, TN to do a speech tournament. And those tournaments were so remarkable for someone about to go into the theatre, because you would get to do your speech over and over again throughout the course of the day if you kept winning. You kept getting to refine it like a pro does. It was like having a matinee and an evening performance. [Laughs.] In a way, that was more helpful to me than almost any of my other training, including college, and she gave me that and so much more. I don't think I'd be here, but for her.

Jessie Mueller
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Jessie Mueller, Best Leading Actress in a Musical (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical)

Certainly my parents. My parents are both actors, and my brothers and sisters, too, are all actors. My older brother and sister, I always watched them. High school was when I started acting, and I think I did it because of them. It's what they were doing, and I wanted to do everything they did. Certainly now in my life, there are people like Harry Connick, Jr. He's the reason I sort of came to this city. He fought for me for casting in On a Clear Day. He's somebody that I still look up to now. He's a friend, but he's also a mentor. I value the way he handles his career, the kind of person he is, the kind of artist he is. And now I certainly look to Carole King. I wish I had one of those bracelets like a "What Would Jesus Do?" but "What Would Carole Do?" I think, "How would Carole handle this? She would handle it in a really good way, you know?" [Laughs.] That kind of thing.

Bryce Pinkham
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Bryce Pinkham, Best Leading Actor in a Musical (A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder)

For me, it's Tony Award winner Bill Irwin. He was somebody that I discovered in college, and I wrote a thesis in college about physical comedy and wrote a chapter on Bill. Since then I've gone on to meet him and worked with him a little bit. He came and saw our show and wrote a letter to me and Jefferson Mays. That was a very special moment, to get that recognition from someone you've looked up to in that way.

Lauren Worsham
Photo by Monica Simoes

Lauren Worsham, Best Featured Actress in a Musical (A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder)

I had a lot of great teachers. My high school choir teacher, who taught me to read music and told me I was a soprano and not an alto. My voice teacher, Virginia Grasso, who helped me open up the top of my voice and changed my life. Those people are huge mentors for me. In terms of role models, I have a ton. From everyone on stage and in our show. I'm a little obsessed with Laura Benanti, I think she's a brilliant singer and a brilliant actor. I'm obsessed with Stephanie Blythe, she's an opera singer and her voice is magnificent. She takes command of the stage.

Ramin Karimloo
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Ramin Karimloo, Best Leading Actor in a Musical (Les Misérables)

Obviously, people like Colm Wilkinson, just watching his career. But then I look at people like Daniel Day Louis and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, and you see the diversity and how they approach roles and the roles they do.

But it all started with my grade seven teacher Mrs. Wainwright when she first took me to Phantom. It's been a collective effort. Johnny Cash and the Avett Brothers now. It's an eclectic group of people and they don't know they're doing it. Colm knows now, cause I think I've said it enough times. And also the people you work with. But it all started with my grade seven teacher in the library, who told me to go read all these books on Meisner and Stanislavski.

Warren Carlyle
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Warren Carlyle, Best Direction of a Musical-Best Choreography (After Midnight)

There's someone this year who's really special to me, her name is Susan Stroman. I had the pleasure of being her assistant in 2001. I sat next to her, as her date, at the Tonys when The Producers won 12 Tony Awards. She has loved me and nurtured me and guided me my whole career. She's seen everything I've ever choreographed from Off-Broadway to Fringe shows. She's been all over the world, in fact. She's my mentor.

Jefferson Mays
Photo by Joan Marcus

Jefferson Mays, Best Leading Actor in a Musical (A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder)

It was my parents. I grew up in a household without a television and so our form of entertainment, this is not to say we were Amish or anything, was passing a family novel around the dinner table after dinner. Through that I was exposed to great works of literature, "Great Expectations," " David Copperfield," James Thurber's writings. I remember sitting there in my pre-literate days utterly transfixed, particularly by the face of my mother. Whenever she was reading different characters her face would change, she would not be my mother anymore. And I thought, "I want to do that. This is magical!" And I think at the bottom that's theatre. Telling stories around the campfire; that's the basic equation. You have an audience, you have a performer and you have a cracking good story, and I think I was lost hook line and sinker from that moment.

Nick Cordero

Nick Cordero, Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Bullets Over Broadway)

I had a teacher in my hometown of Hamilton, ON, There are a couple of them actually. One named David Dayler, who gave me an enormous opportunity to be on stage as a young person and make mistakes and learn from them. Another, Lou Zamprogna, who runs a theatre program at Theatre Aquarius, which is my hometown equity house. The two of them combined were integral in helping me have confidence as a performer and to not be afraid to take chances. I'm forever grateful.

Alan Menken

Alan Menken, Best Original Score (Aladdin)

Number one would be Lehman Engel. He was a great conductor who conducted Porgy and Bess and so many of the shows in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, and then ran the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop where people like Maury Yeston were members.

Maury has been a dear friend and an enormous influence since I was young.

Outside of theatre, there's a man named David Lucas who had a jingle business right above Joe Allen. It was called Lucas-McFall, and he kept me eating for about five years while I was starving and trying to write musicals.

Howard. My God, Howard Ashman. Not only as a collaborator and a friend, but somebody I still feel an enormous emotional and creative connection to on a daily basis.

Lena Hall
Photo by Joan Marcus

Lena Hall, Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Hedwig and the Angry Inch)

Ann Wilson from Heart. She's killer. She's amazing, and a lot of people say that I sound like her, but that's because I listen to her a lot. I really respect her voice and her talent.

Also, Cyndi Lauper, who I worked with. Cyndi called me to congratulate my on my nomination and she said, "I told you, you can't keep that voice under wraps for long." And I was like, "Oh my God, Cyndi Lauper is saying this to me!" That was a total trip. I looked up to Cyndi Lauper for her incredible voice, but also for her individuality and not being afraid to celebrate that. She's like, "This is me. You're gonna deal with it and you're gonna like it. You're gonna understand it, and it might be weird, but this is who I am from deep down." That was always something that helped me keep going and to not just fall into the pack. I always stayed true to myself.