36 of Broadway’s Newest Faces Share Their Reactions to Making Their Broadway Debuts

Special Features   36 of Broadway’s Newest Faces Share Their Reactions to Making Their Broadway Debuts
From The Great Comet to Anastasia to Oslo, performers and creatives making their first Broadway bow this season share the emotional stories of their debuts.

Each season, hundreds of actors, writers, musicians, and designers get the once-in-a-lifetime experience of making their Broadway debuts. Whether it’s as an above-the-title star player or as a design assistant, the feeling of seeing your name in a Broadway Playbill for the first time is a thrill unlike any other.

And while we love seeing our favorite stars return to the stage in new roles, there is nothing quite like the electricity of witnessing a fresh new talent burst onto the scene.

We take a look at some of Broadway’s newest talents, all of whom made their Broadway debuts in new shows this season. From both onstage and behind the scenes, these are the rising stars to watch.


Shoba Narayan
Swing and Natasha understudy, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Hometown: Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
Training: Boston Conservatory
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Teaching dance to pre-teens

“My debut as Natasha is something I’ll never forget. I walked onstage for my first entrance in that gorgeous coat, and then the next two-and-a-half hours were a whirlwind. I was acting with some of the most talented people I’ve ever met, interacting with audience members, and riding this insane emotional rollercoaster. The icing on the cake was going out the stage door and getting to know the fans—hearing where they traveled from and what the show means to them. I met a little South Asian–American girl that was so excited to see someone that looked like her on stage, playing a role like that. We took a photo together. It was a beautiful moment.”


Denée Benton
Natasha, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Hometown: Winter Park, Florida
Training: Carnegie Mellon University

“I am overwhelmed. I break into tears when I think about it too much because I’m so happy.”


Josh Groban
Pierre, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Training: Los Angeles County High School for the Arts

“This has been absolutely a magical dream come true from day one of rehearsals. This cast—many of whom I’ve admired since I first saw the show in the tent—are the hardest-working, most brilliant people I’ve ever had the honor of being in an ensemble with. It’s very inspiring daily for me.”

Marc J. Franklin

Sammi Cannold
Associate Director, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Hometown: Bedford Corners, New York
Training: Stanford University
Favorite Pre-Broadway Job: A concert of songs from Ragtime on Ellis Island this past summer


“Part of my role as associate director on Comet entails teaching principal tracks to our understudies. It’s endlessly thrilling to be part of a performer’s journey, in many cases, from the moment they enter the audition room right through to the moment they walk onstage and make their debut.”


Randy Blair
Ensemble, Amélie, A New Musical

Hometown: Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia
Training: NYU/Tisch School of the Arts
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Performed and wrote Perez Hilton Saves the Universe (or at least the greater Los Angeles area) at Barrow Street Theatre


“I tried to keep my cool throughout the process and not make a big deal about it being my first time, but as I was sitting in the cab with my box of dressing room stuff coming toward the theatre with the marquee all lit up, I got major butterflies. I was like Harry Potter pulling up to Hogwarts.”


Mary Ernster
Ensemble, War Paint

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois, and Colorado
Training: University of Northern Colorado and Northwestern University
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Anna in The King and I

“I do a scene with Christine Ebersole in the second act that is so perfectly constructed—it is a joy to do every night. Patti LuPone and I have one brief look to one another right before the end of the play that puts the icing on my Broadway cake.”

To purchase War Paint tickets, click here. For discount tickets on select performances, click here!


Sean Thompson
Ensemble and Joe Gillis understudy, Sunset Boulevard

Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Training: Temple University
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls at Creede Repertory Theatre

“I went on as Joe Gillis a couple weeks ago, but it didn’t hit me that it was happening until the moment I found myself sitting in an actual car onstage with 1,700 people outside the window, amazed. Glenn Close was sitting next to me, and I was slyly making a quick shoe change on the floor of the car. I couldn’t get them on—I hadn’t realized there was a shoehorn sitting in one of the shoes. Glenn was delivering her line: ‘Tell him that without me, he wouldn’t have any job, because without me there wouldn’t be any Paramount studio.’ It was then that I forgot about the stress of the shoehorn for a moment and let myself realize that I was playing a lead role on Broadway.”



Katie Ladner
Ensemble, Sunset Boulevard

Hometown: Madison, Mississippi
Training: Belmont University
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Gretchen in Disney’s Freaky Friday

“I think the most memorable moment for me so far was on opening night at the end of Glenn [Close]’s song, “As If We Never Said Goodbye.” To look out and see over 1,000 audience members dressed in beautiful gowns and a sea of tuxes who were captivated by Glenn was really something special. That’s when it started to sink in for me that I was actually on Broadway.”


Rob Falconer
Trevor, The Play That Goes Wrong

Hometown: Hartlepool, North East England
Training: Rose Bruford College in London
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Sinbad the Sailor or Sword in the Stone, at the New
Wolsey Theatre

“At the very first curtain call on our opening night, the response to our funny little comedy show from England was astonishing, and I will never forget thinking ‘I’m just about to take a bow with my mates on Broadway—wow!’”


Nancy Zamit
Annie, The Play That Goes Wrong

Hometown: London, England
Training: London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Tinkerbell in Peter Pan Goes Wrong for the BBC

“Our open dress rehearsal was the first time we had performed the show in front of an American crowd and there were lots of other Broadway casts there, which was exciting. The response was insane—nothing like I’d ever experienced. That will stay with me for a very long time.”


Jessica Creager
Assistant Lighting Designer, Dear Evan Hansen
Hometown: Tucson, Arizona
Training: University of Arizona
Favorite Pre-Broadway Job: Lighting Supervisor at Sante Fe Opera

“The energy in the room at the invited dress rehearsal for Dear Evan Hansen was absolutely unreal. To have a fully packed house surrounding the tech table—their excitement was palpable, and it forced me to take a moment, step back, and reflect. ‘You’re a part of this now. Strap in!’”


Kristolyn Lloyd
Alana Beck, Dear Evan Hansen
Hometown: Spring, Texas
Training: Carnegie Mellon University
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Ophelia in Hamlet with the Public Theater

“I got to meet Melissa McCarthy when she came to the show.”


Lauren Blackman
Tsarina Alexandra, Anastasia

Hometown: Marin County, California
Training: Syracuse University
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: The title role in Mary Poppins at Westchester Broadway Theatre

“I have the privilege of wearing the most spectacular gown by Linda Cho—head to toe jewels! The first time that I stepped into the costume—crown, train and all—I welled up with tears. It was an overwhelming moment to realize that the first entrance I’ll ever make on a Broadway stage will be in this very dress. And that first entrance was just as emotional as the first fitting.”

To purchase Anastasia tickets, click here.


Zach Adkins
Ensemble, Anastasia

Hometown: Ashtabula, Ohio
Training: Baldwin Wallace University
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Melchior Gabor in Spring Awakening

“I think one of my favorite moments so far was the day of our sitzprobe. Hearing our wonderful orchestra play Stephen and Lynn’s score for the first time was truly special.”


Will Pullen
Jason, Sweat

Hometown: Wilmette, Illinois
Training: Syracuse University
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Working with Rising Phoenix Rep

“I got to take my mom to the theatre before the show and sit on the stage with her, just the two of us, looking out at all the empty seats. My mom did so much for me and my siblings, and I would never have made it on the stage without her, so getting to share that with her was pretty special.”

To purchase Sweat tickets, click here. For discount tickets on select performances, click here!


Khris Davis
Chris, Sweat

Hometown: Camden, New Jersey
Training: Cheyney University
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Jay in The Royale Off-Broadway at Lincoln Center

“Our first preview I was telling myself, ‘Khris, it’s just another theatre. You got this.’ Then I stepped onstage and I could feel the building vibrate, and the darkness where the audience sat closed in on itself. And it was like there was only us actors living moment to moment. It was an incredible sensation. It was one of the most magical experiences I’ve ever had onstage.”


Maria Briggs
Victoria, Cats
Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Training: American Musical and Dramatic Academy and The New School
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Anybodys in West Side Story at Paper Mill Playhouse

“When I made my debut as Victoria, we had nine people out. I received a text from my stage manager and resident choreographer that morning saying I was on. I had only two rehearsals for Victoria at that time. I went in a couple of hours before the show to rehearse. I started my makeup and then the wig went on. It was becoming a reality! I remember all the excitement and adrenaline rushing through my body.”



Ahmad Simmons
Alonzo, Cats

Hometown: Fort Worth, Texas
Training: Point Park University
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Alonzo in Cats at Pittsburgh CLO

“The energy of opening night gave me a rush like I’ve never felt before. All of my dreams of performing on a Broadway stage—with a packed house screaming for us—were in full effect. That high is still there every time I hear our amazing orchestra play the overture.”


Allison M. Benko
Assistant Director, Oslo

Hometown: Fairfield, Connecticut
Training: Tufts University and the British-American Dramatic Academy in London
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: An outdoor production of Twelfth Night with Bare Bodkin Theatre Company

“The most extraordinary aspect of this experience has been meeting some of the real people involved in creating the Oslo Accords. Meeting such distinguished figures in international diplomacy was inspirational. These are people who risked their careers and their lives for the chance to create a better world.”


Peter Ganim
Understudy, Oslo

Hometown: Cleveland, Atlanta, Zehle, Falougha, Damascus, Slovakia, and Hell’s Kitchen
Training: On the job for 30 years
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Alceste in Nancy Keystone’s production of Molière’s The Misanthrope

“Working alongside the company and crew of Oslo—and getting to watch Bart [Sher] direct some very fine actors—is invigorating, inspirational, and frequently hilarious.”



Marc A. Heitzman
Swing, Bandstand

Hometown: Ames, Iowa
Training: Robert Thomas Dancenter and Steps on Broadway
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Eddie in the national tour of Movin' Out

"My favorite moment so far has been performing in the Bandstand commercial."

To purchase Bandstand tickets, click here. For discount tickets on select performances, click here!


Andrea Dotto
Betsy and Ensemble, Bandstand

Hometown: Manlius, New York
Training: Montclair State University
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Kathy Seldon in Singin' in the Rain at The Palace Theatre in Manchester, New Hampshire

"Walking through Shubert Alley, turning the corner and seeing the marquee in lights for the first time was truly magical. I had dreamed of those lights my whole life and now they were home!"


Jenna Rubaii
Joelle, Groundhog Day

Hometown: Clearwater, Florida
Training: University of Miami
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Stephanie Mangano in an international tour of Saturday Night Fever

“About 25 minutes into our first preview, one of our five turn tables went into ‘Emergency Lock Mode.’ After holding for a while, the producers, cast, and creatives decided we should continue the rest of the show as a concert. We took a big breath and came together to create a one-night-only experience that will never be forgotten by anyone onstage or in the audience. Everyone’s love for the story and music seemed to transcend the missing technical elements.”


Camden Gonzales
Swing and Dance Captain, Groundhog Day

Hometown: San Francisco, California
Training: UCLA
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Children’s Dance Captain and Swing on the Matilda first national tour

“Being a dance captain on Broadway has been a dream of mine since I was a kid. I think the most magical moment so far was when I saw our marquee for the first time. We had just finished rehearsal at the studio and I decided to walk up to 52nd Street to check it out. It was like I wasn’t going to believe it until I saw it.”

To purchase Groundhog Day tickets, click here. For discount tickets on select performances, click here!


Gerald Caesar
Swing, A Bronx Tale The Musical

Hometown: Chesapeake, Virginia
Training: Elon University
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Seaweed in Hairspray

“Thirty minutes before my first performance, the company found out that not only was I making my debut, but a new swing that only had three days of rehearsal was being thrown into the show. On top of that, two other actors were going on in roles they didn’t normally play and four musicians were out. Needless to say, it was one whirlwind of a show I’ll never forget!”


Christiani Pitts
Ensemble and Jane understudy, A Bronx Tale The Musical

Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
Training: Florida State University
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Sally Bowles in Cabaret at FSU

"When I went on as a principal for the first time, my heart was beating so fast. It was incredible to see all the love and support I received from every single person in our theatre. Every day of this beautiful experience has been a constant reminder that my dreams are valid and completely obtainable."

To purchase A Bronx Tale tickets, click here. For discount tickets on select performances, click here!


Michael Benz
Leo Hubbard, The Little Foxes

Hometown: London, England
Training: Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Title role in Hamlet at Shakespeare’s Globe in London

“Where to begin? There have been so many moments, but I think my favorite takes place every night. Just before the curtain rises, we all stand up and, led by Laura and Cynthia, we chant ‘Lillian! Lillian! Lillian! Lillian!’ for our playwright Lillian Hellman. We speed it up and it turns into a cacophony of ‘L’ sounds and whoops. It’s like we’re invoking her to join us for the evening—and I believe she does.”


David Alford
Mr. Marshall, The Little Foxes

Hometown: Adams, Tennessee
Training: Austin Peay State
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Bucky on television’s Nashville

“Getting the offer for The Little Foxes was a huge moment for me. I was in the car on a road trip with my sons when I got the call, so that made it even more special. I left New York when I was 27 to start a theatre company in Nashville. Appearing on a Broadway stage was a childhood dream that I had, frankly, given up on. To have it happen at this point in my career—and with a director and cast whose work I so admire—is an unexpected gift. I’m incredibly grateful.”


John Mulaney
George St. Geegland, Oh, Hello on Broadway

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Training: Georgetown University

“This is the most glamorous thing that I’ve ever been a part of, and it’s exactly what I hoped show business would be when I was a kid. I would watch I Love Lucy, and Ricky Ricardo would be home all day and then go to the club and do a show at night. That was always what I wanted to do—to be a stand-up at Saturday Night Live and now to be on Broadway.”


Nick Kroll
Gil Faizon, Oh, Hello on Broadway

Hometown: New York, New York
Training: Georgetown University

“It’s genuinely a pleasure to do this show with my best friend, who happens to be the funniest person in the world. This is the most fun thing to do—really—and I feel like getting onstage every night.”


Barbara Jo Bednarczuk
Swing, War Paint

Hometown: Zanesville, Ohio
Training: Otterbein
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Eponine in Les Misérables at the Utah Shakespeare Festival

“My favorite moment thus far was walking into the theatre for the first time knowing that I’d be performing on that stage. I still wake up every day excited and pinching myself!”


Sasha Diamond
Understudy, Significant Other

Hometown: Roosevelt Island, New York
Training: Washington University
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Violet Wong in The Wong Kids with Ma-Yi Theater Company

“Sitting in the quiet of the wings while the show was roaring, next to the amazing Barbara Barrie, under the calm guidance of our incredible stage management team, watching our props master gently check each actor’s water bottle and refill each one with silent care—experiencing the quiet, careful, beautiful magic of backstage life made me fall in love with theatre all over again.”


Kathryn Kates
Understudy Helene Berman, Significant Other

Hometown: Great Neck, New York
Training: Eight years as an actor/producer in Los Angeles
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Francine in Nice Girl at Labyrinth Theatre Company

“My most memorable moment was opening that big golden door on Shubert Alley that says ‘Booth Theatre Stage Door’—and it wasn’t to visit a friend. Kind of magical.”


Ben Edelman
Understudy Jordan, Significant Other

Hometown: Lower Merion, Pennsylvania
Training: Carnegie Mellon University
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: Co-creating and acting in Séance: A Family Illusion at Carnegie Mellon

“When I first walked into the Booth Theatre, I knew it was an exciting day, but I didn’t expect to be so emotional just walking around. I was never someone who actively dreamed of Broadway—not because I didn’t want to get there, but because I couldn’t even imagine it as a reality. And there I was in the theatre.”


Brooks Brantley
Understudy, Significant Other

Hometown: Belleville, Illinois
Training: Morehouse College and University of Connecticut
Favorite Pre-Broadway Role: W.W. in Fly

“When I realized that I was rehearsing on a Broadway stage for the first time, I remember thinking to myself, ‘This is actually happening. Okay, stop staring at the house and get to work.’”

Danny DeVito
Danny DeVito

Danny DeVito
Gregory Solomon, The Price

Hometown: Asbury Park, New Jersey
Training: American Academy of Dramatic Arts

“It is so nice to be here.”

Logan Culwell-Block is a musical theatre historian, Playbill's manager of research, and curator of Playbill Vault. Please visit LoganCulwellBlock.com.

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