Broadway’s Brightest Stars – New York Times Talk: by Robin Gorman Newman

What a special night this was!

Michael Paulson is a Theatre Reporter for the New York Times who I had the opportunity to meet when I was a producer on Natasha Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.  I recall he was a nice guy, insightful writer and a Comet fan, which was so appreciated. When I heard he was moderating this Times event, I knew he would knock it out of the park.

The evening with a combination of performance and talk featuring a selection of Tony nominees from the current season. Paulson not only kept the conversation swiftly moving, but got some interesting reveals from each performer.

An elegant Stephanie Block, nominated for The Cher Show, kicked things off with a powerhouse performance of The Way of Love.  She shared about her challenge achieving the Cher sound and how she unexpectedly landed upon it when applying whitening strips to her teeth, which led her to speak differently.

Rashidra Scott of Ain’t Too Proud, and a crew of talented backup singers, delivered a superb rendition of If You Don’t Know Me By Now.  She shared how she moved to Hong Kong early in her  career to take a singing job with Walt Disney Entertainment, and how it provided an invaluable cultural experience.  And, Paulson got her to do a fierce Britney Spears singing gospel impression.

Brooks Ashmanskas, nominated for The Prom, belted and hoofed out Barry’s Going to Prom from the show.  Adorned in fire engine red sneakers, he sashayed and twisted and delivered a rousing, yet endearing performance, which matches his turn in the musical. He kept the audience laughing as well with his good-natured conversation about his character in the show and what it feels like to be in a new, original musical.

Mary Testa, nominated for Oklahoma, sang and shared how she had not seen Oklahoma before this revival and how creating this new version felt “very organically natural.” “The themes in Oklahoma include darkness, anger, misogyny and racism, and they have not resolved.  The human species has flaws.”  She also humorously shared how she enjoys cooking but does not cook the cornbread served during the show’s intermission.

Sarah Stiles, nominated for Tootsie, sang her breathless song from the show and shared how she has become known for having played two roles on stage involving having explicit puppet sex…despite not having any formal puppeteer training.

Amber Gray, nominated for Hadestown, delivered a sultry performance of a number from the show and shared about her having grown up as an “Army brat” who moved every 2-3 years and how she found theatre kids so accepting.  She admitted she likes playing female characters who are fearless….”ballsy broads.”

The final performance featured Joe Iconis (on the piano), nominated for Be More Chill, and George Salazar, singing the show’s breakout song Michael in the Bathroom.  Iconis stated how Be More Chill celebrates misfits, and how all involved take pride in that and how he values his “family”of close knit performers.

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