First-Time Tony Winners on Their Awards: Daniel Radcliffe, Kecia Lewis and More

First-Time Tony Winners on Their Awards: Daniel Radcliffe, Kecia Lewis and More

All of the performers who received Tony Awards last night have one thing in common: they were all were first-time honorees. After accepting their prizes, the winners trekked across the Lincoln Center plaza to a press room where they answered questions from The New York Times and reporters from other news outlets. Here’s a sampling of what they said.

Radcliffe won best featured actor in a musical for his performance as the lyricist Charley Kringas in a revival of Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along.” It’s Radcliffe’s fifth Broadway show, but the first for which he was nominated for a Tony.

What has the “Merrily” journey been like for you?

It’s been a dream, especially with it ending like this. My singing teacher, who I mentioned, one of the first things he ever had me sing to him was “Good Thing Going” whenever I worked with him for “Equus.” Going from singing that for the first time in his office in London to singing it onstage and now this, it’s insane.

What’s it like to find new success after spending so much of your career in your childhood on “Harry Potter?”

When I finished “Potter,” I had no idea what my career was going to be. I had already started doing some stage stuff, but I didn’t know what the future held. To have had the last year with playing Weird Al [in the 2022 movie “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story”] and also doing “Merrily We Roll Along,” it’s been awesome. And I do think playing a character for a long time builds up in you a desire to sort of do as many things as you possibly can. I’m doing that right now.

Talk a little bit about the process of learning “Franklin Shepard, Inc.?” It’s a huge moment in the show and a huge patter song.

Just listening to it, listening to it, listening to it, learning it. The minute you learn the journey of the thoughts that come through it, that’s when it starts to become less intimidating. You start to stop seeing it as this un-learnable mass and it starts with, “OK, this is what’s happening there.”

Groff won best leading actor in a musical for playing Franklin Shepard, a musical composer who jeopardizes his closest relationships for commercial success, in “Merrily We Roll Along.”

If you could speak directly to your younger self, what would you say?

The pure joy, inspiration, excitement, passion for the arts is a superpower. If you can believe in it and follow it and harness it and trust it, it can change your life. I wouldn’t need to tell him that, though, because I guess he did. If I had to give him advice, I would say to start meditating.

How does it feel to win your first Tony for a show in which you’ve made such deep connections with your co-stars?

We were all in the theater today. Dan [Radcliffe] was like, “You’re not stressed?” And I was like, “I’m more ecstatic than stressed.” He was like, “I’m going to get a shirt that says that: I’m stressed and you’re ecstatic.”

The fact that this show, this Stephen Sondheim masterpiece, is getting a new life 40 years later? It’s unheard-of, and it’s unheard-of in a show in this way. I felt like this morning we had already won, regardless of the awards.

Getting to be onstage at the Tonys with our whole cast and then getting to sing “Old Friends” and feel like we were standing in a living room with each other and not at the Tony Awards, was the most incredible feeling of, in a moment that’s so big, you can feel that level of intimacy.

Moon, who is making her Broadway debut, won best leading actress in a musical for playing Ali in “Hell’s Kitchen,” a fictionalized version of Alicia Keys’s childhood.

What does it mean to you to be in a show that’s bringing diverse representation into the Broadway canon?

None of this matters if we do not do our part as theatergoers, as a theater community to encourage the youth to keep following their dreams. There is no future of theater, musical theater, plays, opera, anything creative without children. If it weren’t for the teachers and the providers and the village that raised me not only as a child but as a storyteller, I would not be anywhere close to this moment in my life.

As far as the diversity in the community, it is so, so important for people who look like me to come to the theater and see themselves reflected in a piece of art, because everyone deserves to have good theater experiences that are about them.

Young won for best featured actress in a play for her performance as Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins in the revival of Ossie Davis’s satire “Purlie Victorious.” The role was originated by Ruby Dee.

Why is it meaningful for you to win your Tony for “Purlie Victorious”?

Every little moment to honor Black bodies, honor Black voice, and to do that in two hours’ time, to me, is honoring Black people and on top of that continuing the legacy of Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, and their commitment to shifting the American tapestry.

It feels historic because we’re honoring them. They didn’t get honored for their work 60 years ago. This is acknowledging more than me, it’s acknowledging all of the people who came before me who were never acknowledged for their work.

How does it feel holding your first Tony Award? (Young was also nominated for awards in 2022 and 2023.)

It feels larger than me, because of the stories that I’ve had the opportunity to tell. This is not me. This is the makeup of many, many, many, many, many people, especially the sacrifices of mom and dad. I’m holding it, but it’s probably going to go in my parents’ house.

Strong won best leading actor in a play for portraying Dr. Thomas Stockmann, who warns his community of a dangerously polluted spa, in a revival of Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People.”

What was going through your mind when you won?

I felt overwhelmed. It’s a very different thing to disappear into a play than it is to stand up as yourself in front of your community. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude.

What was the importance of bringing the show to Broadway right now?

On its most fundamental level, the water is an allegory. It’s a play about someone trying to tell the truth, which is something that’s under assault in our country and in our world in a lot of ways.

But also, it’s a play about denialism. What people will do to avoid an uncomfortable or inconvenient truth to protect their self interests, and what happens when the source is poisoned, and in our case in this country, what happens when what was poisonous is also prosperous, and what people will do to protect them.

How has your understanding of Dr. Thomas Stockmann evolved over time to where you are now?

I find that acting is a very nonintellectual discipline. I’m a fairly cerebral person and a lot of the work you have to do is disrobe yourself of reason, instincts, caution and understand it with what Ezra Pound called your “belly-mind.”

Paulson won for her turn as the monstrous Antoinette Lafayette in Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s scorching family drama, “Appropriate.”

How does it feel to win the Tony?

I don’t feel like I’m in my body right now. I just can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. It’s a childhood dream for me, without question. So it’s very hard to meet that moment in front of a lot of people without feeling like I’m exposing my insides to you.

What is it like to continue playing one role for so long, showing up every single day and having more notes?

I’m constantly trying to calibrate things, depending on what’s happening onstage with the other actors, what’s happening in my day. One of the most beautiful things about being in a play is that you have the time, and you’re telling a story from the beginning to the end of the night. You are following a complete trajectory, the same one that your character is on, and in a couple of months you’re much better prepared to do it than you were a few months prior.

Brill won the best featured actor in a play award for David Adjmi’s “Stereophonic.” As the fictional band’s bassist, Brill had to learn how to play the instrument while also acting very, very drunk.

What did finding the role of Reg mean to you?

One of the truly wild things about Reg is in some ways, he came out fully formed. I think sometimes really exceptional writing will do that for an actor. It feels like you’re being invented by the playwright, and it feels like you yourself are sort of being created because you tap into this thing so completely.

This show kind of taught me to bleed the lines between myself and a character in a truly fun and very trippy way.

It was a tight race for featured actress in a musical but Lewis won for her portrayal of a piano teacher who becomes a mentor to the young protagonist in “Hell’s Kitchen.”

What does this moment mean for you?

This is extremely meaningful, primarily because it has literally been 40 years. I stepped into the theater at the Imperial doing “Dreamgirls” when I was 18 years old, and I will be 59 in two weeks. But it means a lot of work, a lot of tears, a lot of wanting to give up.

How has your faith been important in your career?

Faith has been everything. I didn’t have it when I first started. When I began at 18, it was about, I’m going to be a star and everybody’s going to know my name. And I’m going to be fierce and I’m going to look cute and I’m going to win awards. That’s what it was.

And over the years, when life happens, you come to find out that faith is literally all you have. Either you believe, or you don’t. And there were times that I did not. There were people in my life that talked me off the ledge. One of the people I mentioned said to me, what are you going to do, drive a bus? You don’t know how to do anything else.

Faith for me has become everything over the years. It’s become a quiet knowing in my spirit, that this is the right thing, this is the right time, walk into this door.

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