Theatre Veterans, But First-Time Nominees Reflect on Their Noms | Playbill

Tony Awards Theatre Veterans, But First-Time Nominees Reflect on Their Noms Dear Evan Hansen’s Rachel Bay Jones, Jitney’s John Douglas Thompson, Sweat’s Michelle Wilson, and more express what it means to be nominated at this stage in their careers.
Rachel Bay Jones, Michelle Wilson, and John Douglas Thompson
Rachel Bay Jones, Michelle Wilson, and John Douglas Thompson

The 2017 Tony Awards nominations boasts 34 first-time nominees. While about half are those nominated for their Broadway debuts, there are also the first-timers who have built lives in the theatre. Undoubtedly, a nomination is always special, but what meaning does it hold after charting a career onstage? Here, we recognize the veteran actors who have earned their first Tony nomination. For more information, visit

Michelle Wilson Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Michelle Wilson, Sweat
Nominated for: Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play
Her character: As Cynthia in Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about friends who have spent their lives alongside each other on the factory floor, Wilson balances her portrayal of a woman discovering her own agency, crippled by the struggle of choosing between the opportunity she has earned and the friendships to which she’s bound.
Her résumé: Wilson made her Broadway debut in the 2014 revival of A Raisin in the Sun, understudying the role of Ruth Younger. But Wilson has cultivated a long career in theatre from Fahrenheit 451 and For Colored Girls at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre to Detroit ’67 at New York’s Public Theater. She’s worked on productions at New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Classical Theater of Harlem, the Goodman Theatre, Premiere Stages, and the O’Neill Conference.
How the nomination feels: “I still am waiting for someone to say, ‘Psych!’ I’m waiting for it all to fall apart and say, ‘We punked you.’ But it’s awesome and it’s particularly awesome getting recognized for this piece and with this ensemble. It’s quite lovely, but it’s still surprising. I’m still not used to it yet. [Co-star Alison Wright]’s been known to poke me and say, ‘It’s real. Enjoy it!’”

Michael Aronov Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Michael Aronov, Oslo
Nominated for: Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play
His character: As bombastic Uri Savir, Aronov embodies the brazen Israeli negotiator whose presence initially disrupts and then progresses the back-channel peace process that led to the Oslo Accords.
His résumé: Aronov made his Broadway debut in 2012’s Golden Boy, also at Lincoln Center. Still, Aronov has been building his career Off-Broadway and across the globe. He wowed in LCT’s Off-Broadway Blood and Gifts, earned praise for his solo performance in Manigma, and has worked on such stages as New York’s Signature Theatre, Cherry Lane Theatre, Lucille Lortel Theatre, and Inside the Actor’s Studio.

Richard Thomas Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Richard Thomas, The Little Foxes
Nominated for: Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play
His character: As husband to the ruthless Regina Giddens, Thomas provides a humanity and decency crafted as the ideal foil to either Cynthia Nixon or Laura Linney on any given night.
His résumé: The Little Foxes marks Thomas’ 13th Broadway credit, including such roles as Hildy Johnson in the 1986 revival of The Front Page, Charles Strickland in Mamet’s Race, and patriarch Paul Sycamore in the most recent revival of You Can’t Take it With You.
How the nomination feels: “I’m thrilled. It’s wonderful. It’s always good news, right? The first big award I won was my Emmy [for The Waltons] when I was 22 years old and that was wonderful to have that experience as a young actor, but there’s something maybe even more precious to me about getting this nomination after all these years of working in the theatre in New York. It’s such a good production and the company is so good. It’s very gratifying.”

John Douglas Thompson Joseph Marzullo/WENN

John Douglas Thompson, Jitney
Nominated for: Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play
His character: Playing the owner and seeming patriarch of the jitney station, Thompson epitomizes the fortitude and earnestness of the self-made man and deeply wounded father at the center of August Wilson’s play.
His résumé: Jitney marks Thompson’s fourth Broadway outing (he made his debut opposite Denzel Washington in Julius Caesar), and his name signifies a theatrical warrior. In 2015, he was awarded the Drama Desk Special Award “for invigorating theatre in New York through his commanding presence, classical expertise, and vocal prowess [particularly his] exceptional versatility in Tamburlaine the Great, and The Iceman Cometh. The year prior he won the Drama Desk for Solo Performance for his work in Satchmo at the Waldorf. He has an Obie Award and a Lortel Award to his name and has carved out roles in such notable institutions as the Public Theater and Shakespeare in the Park.
How the nomination feels: “It's truly a tremendous honor. And it is especially significant to earn a nomination for my work in an August Wilson play. I was inspired to become an actor many years ago after watching August Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone at Yale Rep. So this nomination represents a full circle event in my life. Somehow in my stage career one play often seems to feed and inform the next. From Othello to Emperor Jones to Tamburlaine to Satchmo, and many in between, and now to Jitney; each project has prepared me for the next challenge in a way that I could have never planned or expected. So in my heart of hearts this Tony nomination is not only for the work in Jitney but also a confirmation of the body of work that led to it.”


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Denis Arndt Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Denis Arndt, Heisenberg
Nominated for: Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play
His character: Arndt played Alex Priest, the surprise “December” in a delicate telling of a May-December romance.
His résumé: At the age of 78, Arndt is the oldest nominee, but nominated for his Broadway debut. He came to acting late, having served in Vietnam and then working as a commercial helicopter pilot. Still, Arndt has cut his teeth onstage as a member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and at theatres around the country, including Chicago’s Goodman, D.C.’s Arena Stage, Seattle Repertory, and more. Arndt had “basically retired” when he received the call about Heisenberg Off-Broadway.

Jenn Colella Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Jenn Colella, Come From Away
Nominated for: Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical
Her characters: As part of the ensemble of 12 capturing the stories of 7,000 in Come From Away, Colella plays the first female American Airlines captain, Beverly Bass, and the sweet and frisky schoolteacher, Annette.
Her résumé: Colella made her Broadway debut in 2003 in Urban Cowboy, a role she originated out of town. Since then, Colella also began with the out-of-town productions of her other four Broadway credits: High Fidelity, Chaplin, If/Then, and now Come From Away.
Reflecting on her career: “I’ve had the good fortune to originate all five of the roles that I’ve played on Broadway, which is really cool, right? Essentially what it means is the writers are trusting me with new work, so that is awesome. … I do feel like I’m able to put my own stamp on it and there are a lot of moments where I’m able to genuinely collaborate with the creative team and that’s extraordinary.”

Rachel Bay Jones Marc J. Franklin

Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen
Nominated for: Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical
Her character: Much more than “Evan’s mom,” Jones’ performance as Heidi Hansen captures the extreme sense of loss and profound uncertainties in motherhood.
Her résumé: Jones began her theatrical career 30 years ago, when she made her Broadway debut in Meet Me in St. Louis. She toured with Grand Hotel in the 1990s, and even played the title role in Evita in English and Spanish. In and out of New York, Jones rebooted her New York stage career with the Broadway revival of Hair, then as part of the cast of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and playing the role of Catherine in the most recent revival of Pippin.
Reflecting on her career: “I can look back and I feel so lucky that all of these beautiful opportunities fell into my lap, and they did. But there was a determination on my part after I had my daughter, something clicked inside of me that made me finally grow up and be ready to be bigger than I was. As an artist, it kind of freed me up to think like an artist, to think like an artist again.”

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