At the press day for Broadway’s She Loves Me, prior to the show’s first preview in February, Zachary Levi seemed in awe of joining the company full of musical theatre champions. “I’m learning so much,” he said at the time. “I hope that those will be my people one day, [that I will do this] at the level that they all do what they do.”
Now, Levi is a Tony nominee.
Levi, who made his Broadway debut in the short-lived new musical First Date, plays Georg Nowak, the parfumerie clerk unwittingly sending love letters to his co-worker Amalia, played by Tony winner (and nominee this year) Laura Benanti. Levi received a nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical and learned of the nomination from his agent. “I think he probably called before they even said my last name,” Levi said the morning the nominations were announced. “He wanted to call me, and I woke up and heard the phone ringing, and he said, ‘Good morning, Tony-nominated Zachary Levi.’
“[I’m] completely beside myself,” he continued. “Based on everything, all the warm things we’d been hearing, nominations and stuff, I thought maybe [it was] a possibility. But I was in bed last night and just prayed and wanted to be okay if I woke up in the morning and it didn’t happen—to just be at peace knowing I had a job to do and do the best I can. So, to wake up to that kind of news was really… it’s humbling, and I feel gobsmacked.”
The nod is just the reassurance Levi needed. Throughout the run, Levi has learned a lot about himself, including the revelation he’s “way more insecure than I thought I was.”
“The whole journey’s been super crazy,” he explains now. “I’ve gone through points in this where I felt really confident, and I’ve gone through some really heavy moments where I thought, ‘I’m crap in this show.’ Then for this to happen, it really smacks you in the face and says, ‘Listen to your people that love you and that are telling you you’re doing good work.”
Levi’s had cheerleaders—and guidance—along the way. “My parents were instilling things in me … aunts and uncles, friends, parents of friends. Doing community theatre for so long, you work with so many random people and whether they’re directors or actors or crew, [they all impact] you,” he says. “All the patrons that came through theatres … would encourage me and would pull me aside and say, ‘This is what you do. Don’t stop doing this.’”
And, what is the biggest challenge of playing Georg in the Roundabout Theatre Company production at Studio 54?
“Honestly, the biggest challenge is just my own brain,” Levi answers. “You know, when I stepped into this job, I stepped into an all-star team. And, it’s heady, the collective experience and the collective awards-ship—I don’t even know the word—so many Tonys and Tony nominations between everybody in this cast and crew. I mean, literally, [co-star] Nick Barasch is 17, and he has one more Broadway show than I do. So, it’s heady, you know, and I just didn’t want to come in and be the Hollywood guy making a turn onstage. I wanted people to believe that this is where I belong, on that stage, and that’s tough to get out of your own head and think people might not think that, especially when your leading lady is Laura Benanti!
“And right behind her is Jane Krakowski and Gavin Creel and Peter Bartlett and Michael McGrath and Byron Jennings and the list goes on and on,” Levi says. “And having a director like Scott Ellis and a choreographer like Warren Carlyle and [musical director] Paul Gemignani. It’s so heady, and so I just really hoped and wanted people to come to the show and like it and appreciate it.”
The stage and screen star, best known (at least for now) for his work on TV in Chuck and Heroes Reborn as well as in the 2010 hit film Tangled, now revels in his place in the theatre community. “My whole life, all I’ve ever wanted to do was be an actor and an entertainer and make people happy and also feel like I belonged,” he says. “I feel like [the Tony nomination] definitely helps me believe that a little bit more.”