The 2009 Tony Awards Meet the Nominees Press Reception

The 2009 Tony Awards Meet the Nominees reception was held on May 6 at the Millennium Broadway Hotel, kicking off awards season and giving the nominees a chance to chat with the press.

Despite the early hour, the actors were energetic and friendly, all of them expressing happiness, as well as surprise, at being nominated.

Karen Olivo, nominated for Best Featured Actress in West Side Story, said she slept through the entire announcement, because she was determined to get as much rest as she could before the madness began.

Awards season is known for being rough on actors, who not only perform in eight shows a week but also have to attend numerous time-consuming awards ceremonies and press receptions.

Olivo, who played Vanessa in 2008’s Best Musical winner In the Heights, credited her former co-star Lin Manuel Miranda for advising her on how to navigate the hectic schedule.

Gregory Jbara, nominated for Best Featured Actor in Billy Elliot, was already feeling the strain of the schedule. When asked how he was doing, Jbara promptly responded with, “Like I could use another four hours of sleep!” He heard the news in a coffee shop in Union Square, because his television at home does not get the station the announcements were broadcast on. He was unable to keep up with the number of awards his show was nominated for, and he didn’t realize until he received a text message later in the morning that Billy Elliot had accumulated 15 nominations.

David Bologna, also nominated for Best Featured Actor in Billy Elliot, braved the rain to be in Times Square when the nominations were announced. However, he was unable to hear the announcements, so it was his father, who called the 14-year-old on his cell phone, who told him he was nominated.

“It’s crazy,” he said. “I really never thought I’d be here at this age. Never in my wildest dreams.”

Another nominee for Best Featured Actor in a Musical, Christopher Sieber, almost had a technological meltdown when the nominees were announced. While driving his hybrid car, his Bluetooth was ringing nonstop, and he accidentally hung up on half the people who called. Being nominated for playing Lord Farquaad in Shrek was especially rewarding for Sieber because he had been with the role since the first workshop and was integral in the creation of the character.

Will Swenson, nominated for Best Featured Actor in a Musical his performance as Berger in Hair, was outside with his five-year-old son helping him ride his scooter when he got the news. Swenson, who had been with the production since its first concert production in Central Park in 2007, said he had always hoped the show would end up on Broadway.

J. Robert Spencer, who plays Dan in Next to Normal, received an enthusiastic response from his wife, but a less enthusiastic one from his two year old son, when he heard he was nominated as Best Leading Actor in a Musical.

“My wife screamed and jumped and wouldn’t let me go,” he said. “She told our son, ‘Your Daddy was picked out of all the actors in New York!’ and he said, ‘I want Play Dough.’

“But when Brian D’arcy James was on TV, he yelled, ‘Shrek!’ and my wife said, ‘No! That’s Daddy’s competition. You sit down and listen to Daddy’s CD again!’”

The eight nominations for Hair was especially gratifying to the cast, who had struggled to garner enough money to make the transfer to Broadway. Boasting rave reviews and breaking box-office records, the show is both a critical and commercial success.

“I hope that somehow our circle of friends in the theater community will reach people who don’t go to the theater,” said Gavin Creel, nominated for Best Leading Actor in a Musical for his performance as Claude.

Creel credited the success of the show to his co-stars and the show’s band, saying, “I’ve never been a part of something that has meshed this way.”

The enthusiasm of the cast of Hair is shared by its team offstage, which was demonstrated by Diana Paulson, director of the show, when she said, “You look around and you think, ‘The theater is alive, God d*** it!”

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