Entertainment

Meet the Biggest Stars on Broadway Right Now

Photography by Katie Levine / Clothing by Nordstrom

Broadway has long been a place where acting icons perform alongside the industry's rising stars.

With legends like Laura Linney, Marisa Tomei, Karen Olivo and John Benjamin Hickey sharing the stage with acclaimed newcomers like Paul Hilton, Chalia LaTour and Samuel H. Levine, this season is no exception.

And the shows are as far-ranging as their players, running everything from the extravagant, reimagined musical classic Moulin Rouge! The Musical to the highly controversial dramedy discussing racial tensions, Slave Play.

Below, get to know the forces behind some of our favorite productions on New York's iconic 10 blocks.

Laura Linney: "My Name Is Lucy Barton"

Top: Re/Done, Jacket: Burberry, Pants: Veronica Beard, Shoes: Prada

Talk about the first on-stage performance you acted in.

Laura: I played Mrs. Clause in my third grade production of Mrs. Claus Takes Over. It was feminist in nature. Santa got a cold, and yours truly stepped in to save the day.

What have you learned about yourself through playing your character? What has your character taught you?

Laura: Lucy Barton has taught me a lot about faith actually. Faith in the process of creating something. How patience can lead to small braveries and how thoughtfulness and the beauty of language can help quell fear. Lucy Barton has also reminded me that we are always in the process of growing up. It never ends really.

What's one absolute "no" from you when seeing a script?

Laura: Naked all the time. In the dark, with good lighting for a minute? Maybe. But all the time? Nope. Too old.

Who's your all-time favorite Broadway icon?

Laura: Daniel Sullivan

"We are always in the process of growing up. It never ends really."
—Laura Linney

Can you talk about an embarrassing on-stage moment? How'd you play it off?

Laura: The gun jammed during my very troubled college production of Hedda Gabler. I think I had to yell "BANG" or something hilarious like that.

Daniel J. Watts and Adrienne Warren: "Tina: The Tina Turner Musical"

(On Daniel) Top: Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello, Pants: Acne Studios; (On Adrienne) Dress: Brandon Maxwell, Hair accessories: Adrienne's own

Talk about your first opening night on Broadway.

Daniel: First opening night was for Disney's A Little Mermaid. It is tinted with both sadness and hilarity. My father had passed away a few weeks before and I was still grieving. But I'd also erroneously gone and gotten my eyebrows threaded (upon suggestion). Let's just say I looked "surprised," so I wore a fedora with a low brim to cover it up.

Do you have any pre-show rituals? What are they and how did they begin?

Daniel: I'm not overly superstitious when it comes to pre-show rituals, but for Tina I've altered a ritual supposed to be done before performing Riff Raff, a play by Lawrence Fishburn. In the play it is suggested to light a candle so the spirits can inhabit the space. When the show is over you're supposed to blow it out. I have a salt rock that I turn on at the top of the show "for Ike" and then I turn it off when the show is over. Lawrence Fishburn iconically played Ike in What's Love Got To Do With It, so it's a bit of a nod to both of them.

What have you learned about yourself through playing your character? What has your character taught you?

Daniel: I've learned as artists we're always taking things in — absorbing life — good, bad and ugly and sometimes your art isn't enough to exorcise whatever demons may arise. My character has taught me to learn how to let some things go. Everything doesn't need to be channeled into art. Therapy, meditation and/or exercise, should also be mandatory parts of the artist expressive experience. I could use more of it.

How'd you first hear about this part and were you immediately drawn to it?

Daniel: Adrienne is like my family so I knew she was doing Tina in London, but hadn't given Ike a second thought. When I got the audition breakdown, it was the scene in Mississippi that really unveiled to me Katori's intention to show a more layered character. Not just a villain, but a man born in tragedy who, unfortunately, never elevated out of that tragedy. Finding the humanity in this man instantly became a welcomed challenge.

What's one absolute "no" from you when seeing a script?

Adrienne: Black and brown people not being viewed as three dimensional beings.

"I've learned as artists we're always taking things in — absorbing life — good, bad and ugly and sometimes your art isn't enough to exorcise whatever demons may arise." —Daniel J. Watts

Can you talk about an embarrassing on-stage moment? How'd you play it off?

Adrienne: During the Dream Girls tour I slipped on my dress right before going offstage for a quick change. I was on the floor and couldn't get back up because I kept slipping on my dress. My dresser, Cate, who also dresses me on Tina, grabbed my foot and dragged me offstage. Somehow, we still made the quick change.

What's one skill you have that nobody knows, or fact that surprises people?

Adrienne: I started boxing, while training for Tina. I love it so much that would actually consider taking it seriously and start training for real matches. Thanks to my incredible trainer, Michael Olajide Jr.

Paul Alexander Nolan, James Cusati-Moyer, Irene Sofia Lucio, Chalia La Tour, Ato Blankson-Wood, Joaquina Kalukango and Sullivan Jones: "Slave Play"

(On Chalia) Dress: Valentino; (On Irene) Dress: Victoria Beckham; (On Paul) Jacket: Dior, Pants: Hugo Boss, Top: David Donahue, Shoes: Salvatore Ferragamo; (On Sullivan) Suit: Hugo Boss, Top: Burberry, Shoes: Santoni; (On Ato) Suit: Hugo Boss, Top: Norse Projects; (On James) Suit: Hugo Boss, Top: Norse Projects; (On Joaquina) Dress: Valentino

Talk about your first opening night on Broadway.

Paul Alexander: I played Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar and had no idea what kind of massive zoo the Broadway scene is. I remember it being loud and being very overwhelmed. I still find opening nights that way. I can't hear in loud rooms and get very claustrophobic in busy spaces. How I have stayed in NYC for so long I have no idea!

Chalia: Slave Play is my Broadway debut and opening night was absolutely surreal. I had my mother and my best friends in town. My favorite memory is when we all took our final bows and then the cast, Robert and Jeremy all melted in a big sobbing, smiling hug onstage. To me, that is this team. We hold each other. We step out of the work and immediately want to love on one another. And the party was wild! Videos of the cast were literally projected on the side of a building throughout the party. Whoa, yeah it was beyond incredible.

Sullivan: It was bananas. I had an acting teacher in college who would always tell our class before we'd present scenes or monologues, "This isn't your Broadway debut!" — meaning don't take any of this too seriously. So when it actually was my Broadway debut, suffice it to say, it felt like a meaningful moment. Thankfully, Jeremy (our playwright) showed up about a half an hour late to the show, so during that time I lay on the floor and listened to a meditation podcast. By the time the curtain went up and I finally got on stage, I was as cool as a cucumber.

If you could play any other character in your show what would it be and why? If you could trade talents with one of your cast mates, who and what would that be?

Paul Alexander: I would play Alana, because I have always wanted to play a sexy female character.

James: Alana. Annie McNamara. Icon. No one can do what she does. The humility, the grace — the master class in making it new and unpredictable breath by breath. It's astounding. Give her the Tony.

Irene: I think I'd try playing Alana. That said, Annie's talents for physical comedy and deep emotional commitment is something I'd trade! I'd honestly trade with everyone in my cast. They all blow me away.

Sullivan: I would trade my ability to play guitar for Ato's ability to twerk.

What helps you get into character before a show?

Paul Alexander: Singing nursery rhymes to Annie [McNamara] in Tom Waits' voice.

Ato: My playlist entitled "YOU ARE BEYONCÉ."

What have you learned about yourself through playing your character? What has your character taught you?

Paul Alexander: I have learned how privilege is difficult to examine when you are the privileged one.

Irene: Yes. I take up too much space in rooms and have been conditioned to think my point of view is important. I need to shut up more and listen more. Not everyone is living the same experience so stop same-ing people.

Complete this sentence: If I weren't on Broadway, I would be (profession) in (city).

Paul Alexander: A fireman in St. John's, Newfoundland, and I would be a painter and writer on the side living in a cabin on a cliff.

Give me three words that describe your cast.

James: Fearless, loving, impeccable.

Irene: Brave, funny, goobers.

Sullivan: Fierce, funny, family.

Who's your all-time favorite Broadway icon?

James: Marian Seldes or Patti LuPone.

Ato: Audra. No last name necessary.

Can you talk about an embarrassing on-stage moment? How'd you play it off?

James: I was completely naked in the revival of Six Degrees of Separation. At one point my pants are thrown at me to catch them downstage center. I didn't catch them. They flew onto the laps of the front row. I crawled off the stage and got them.

Irene: A chicken cutlet (fake boob) fell in the middle of the stage and I dove to the ground to catch it. My scene partner was generous enough to go down with me and then our stage direction "to hug" happened on the ground.

"Even in crisis, compassionate empathetic listening is the only way to heal." —Ato Blankson-Wood

How'd you first hear about this part and were you immediately drawn to it?

James: Jeremy O. Harris said, "I wrote a role for you," and my life has changed ever since. I am blessed.

What do you hope the audience takes away from your show?

James: Space. Questions. Answers. Healing. Reflection. Activism. Compassion. Discomfort.

Chalia: I hope audiences walk away with a reflection of themselves and where they fit into the history of slavery (hint: we all hold a space in this history). I hope audiences walk away with brave discussions and an urge to hold space for those most vulnerable.

Ato: That even in crisis, compassionate empathetic listening is the only way to heal.

What's a moment that to you would indicate: "I've made it."?

Irene: When I need no supplemental income in things other than acting.

Chalia: The goal for me to have a life where I can do the work I love with people I love. So, I'm looking for a continuous life of that. (But, you know, I'm still want to buy my mom a huge beach house, too.)

What's one skill you have that nobody knows, or fact that surprises people?

Chalia: I was a costume designer and visual artist for like seven years while I was acting on and off. So, I still paint and sketch a lot and have weird fashion history knowledge that will pop out.

Sullivan: I can play Fur Elise — and only Fur Elise — on the piano.

What's your dream role?

Ato: The Leading Player in Pippin

Joaquina: My dream role is to play a warrior queen or assassin.

Sullivan: I'd like to write and star in the Tiger Woods biopic. Kind of kidding, but mostly serious.

Talk about the first on-stage performance you acted in.

Joaquina: My first stage performance was my ninth grade year of high school in the musical Sarafina. That production was my first introduction to method acting. We had ID cards and had to dress in all black every rehearsal and were not allowed to enter the space without both. It taught me discipline and gave me a strength that I didn't know was possible. I had to learn how to do a South African accent and how to sing and dance full out at the same time.

Karen Olivo: "Moulin Rouge! The Musical"

Top: Karen's own, Jacket: Givenchy

Talk about the first on-stage performance you acted in.

Karen: The first time I was onstage I was 6 years old. My father was directing a play and he put me in it partially because it was easier than hiring a sitter.

Can you talk about an embarrassing on-stage moment? How'd you play it off?

Karen: During In The Heights, Robin DeJesus brought me the wrong prop (a coke can instead of a cup of Bodega coffee). He managed to make the same mistake twice and I'll never let him live it down. I played it off by shaking my head in disapproval and then punching him later.

What helps you get into character before a show?

Karen: The physical and emotional demands of Moulin Rouge! The Musical are pretty extensive. I try to do the opening number (which I am not in) with the rest of the company. I watch from a backstage monitor while singing and dancing along with them. It makes me feel connected to my cast mates while getting my heart rate up.

"During In The Heights, Robin DeJesus brought me the wrong prop (a coke can instead of a cup of Bodega coffee). He managed to make the same mistake twice and I'll never let him live it down." —Karen Olivo

What would the title of your autobiographical musical be? Who would you want to play you?

Karen: Reluctant Star. It would be a wide array of multi-gendered actors.

What's one skill you have that nobody knows, or fact that surprises people?

Karen: I can cluck like a chicken while singing.

Ari Groover, Joy Woods and Salome Smith: "Little Shop of Horrors"

(On Ari Groover) Jacket: Valentino; (On Salome Smith) Dress: Dress the Population; (On Joy Woods) Dress: Alexander Wang, Jewelry: Nordstrom

Do you have any pre-show rituals? What are they and how did they begin?

Ari: Normally I stretch and do some vocal warmups, but what I really love to do is to put on a dope song (one of my faves is Kendrick Lamar's "DNA") and freestyle. I will normally do this at home or at the theater in a corner somewhere!

Joy: I'm not sure if you'd call it a ritual, but sometimes we touch one of Audrey II's leaves for good luck while we sing the prologue.

What helps you get into character before a show?

Ari: To be honest, just being my loud and goofy self. Ronnette is truly a version of me just in the form of a 1950s Doo Wop girl who sings below sea level.

What would the title of your autobiographical musical be? Who would you want to play you?

Ari: The Urban Doll who Did It All...While Her Back Was Hurting! My friend who I admire, Shonica Gooden, would play me. HEYYYY SHONICA!

What do you hope the audience takes away from your show?

Ari: I hope they have a great time with such a wonderful book, but I hope they take the message of the show with them as well. Be careful of what you decide to sacrifice, to get what you want. People would be willing to destroy anything for fame!

Talk about the first on-stage performance you acted in.

Joy: If we're talking about the earliest of days on stage, I played the cow in the tableau of the Nativity scene in pre-school. Needless to say, the come-up is heartwarming.

What have you learned about yourself through playing your character? What has your character taught you?

Joy: Through Playing Chiffon, I've learned that I really like cat-eye glasses. I had no idea until they put them on me and I thought, "oh." Getting to be her every night has taught me that sometimes it is better to sit down and mind my own business, not to spoil anything, but the Urchins finish the show in one piece. I'll leave it at that.

Salome: Always take a risk in the rehearsal process cause you never know what can blossom from it by the time you hit the stage.

What's a moment that to you would indicate: "I've made it."?

Salome: Even though I am just getting started, on opening night, after doing press I was walking around looking for my mother and I looked up and saw she was on the dance floor dancing the night away. I said to myself then: "Ive made it," because all of my mother's sacrifices are beginning to pay off.

"I said to myself then: 'Ive made it,' because all of my mother's sacrifices are beginning to pay off." —Salome Smith

Can you talk about an embarrassing on-stage moment? How'd you play it off?

Salome: I was doing a production of Dream Girls playing the role of Effie White and at the beginning of "And Im Telling You" when Curtis and Effie is going back and forth Curtis was extremely committed to his character and he shook me really hard by the shoulders and my wig slowly begin to slide back. I immediately heard a huge gasp from the audience. There was no way to fix it so I said to myself: "well I am half way through this song maybe I can make it through with it half way on." The closer and closer I got to the end the more it fell back. And by the time I got to "Time and time we had so much to share no, no, no, no way" I just snatched the wig off and used it as a prop and the audience lost it. I was able to make the best out of that embarrassing moment.

Paul Hilton, Kyle Soller, Andrew Burnap, John Benjamin Hickey and Samuel H. Levine: "The Inheritance"

(On Paul) Suit: Hugo Boss, Top: Burberry; (On Samuel) Suit: Hugo Boss, Top: Giorgio Armani; (On John) Suit: Hugo Boss, Top: David Donahue; (Oh Kyle) Jacket: Topshop, Top: Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello, Pants: Hugo Boss; (On Andrew) Suit: Hugo Boss, Top: Eton, Shoes: Salvatore Ferragamo

What's your dream role?

Paul: My dream role is precisely that: I have no idea! I imagine it hasn't been written yet. New writing is my real passion. Inventing roles rather than re-inventing them.

Andrew: Anything that makes me say "I have no idea how to do this." I've been scared of many parts in my life — I've been successful (whatever that means) with a few, truly failed with others. But I always learn so very much from them. They make me better.

Kyle: I think I'm playing it now.

Complete this sentence: If I weren't on Broadway, I would be (profession) in (city).

Paul: If I weren't on Broadway, I would be walking my dog Arthur through the One Hundred Acre wood looking for Eeyore and Piglet! I live in the village of Hartfield where Christopher Robin, A.A. Milne and later Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones lived.

Samuel: If I weren't on Broadway, I would be a chef in the Italian Riviera.

What's one skill you have that nobody knows, or fact that surprises people?

Paul: I have written and recorded songs for almost 30 years. Eight tracks, four tracks. I have a "vault" that would impress even Prince! (Though the quality of the material is very variable!)

Samuel: I've only lost two teeth on my own. I've had over 11 teeth pulled.

What have you learned about yourself through playing your character? What has your character taught you?

Andrew: Life is to be lived. You cannot do that if you let it pass you by. Grab on to the things that sustain you and fulfill you and never, ever, waste your suffering.

Give me three words that describe your cast.

Andrew: Incandescent, Loving, Ferocious.

John Benjamin: Committed, Committed, Committed.

Kyle: Fierce, Fun, Fucking Talented.

What's a moment that to you would indicate: "I've made it."?

Andrew: When another actor says they came to see your work. That's it.

"Life is to be lived. You cannot do that if you let it pass you by. Grab on to the things that sustain you and fulfill you and never, ever, waste your suffering." –Andrew Burnap

Do you have any pre-show rituals? What are they and how did they begin?

John Benjamin: My pre-show rituals are crazy. Really sort of borderline OCD. I am like a short story by David Sedaris, the way I behave before a show.

What would the title of your autobiographical musical be? Who would you want to play you?

John Benjamin: Hmmmm i don't know. That's the name of the musical. i want Chris Walken to play me.

Samuel: 350 Degrees Fahrenheit: conditions for a chocolate chip cookie. I would want to be played by Saoirse Ronan.

Kyle: Mistakes We Knew We Were Making.

What do you hope the audience takes away from your show?

Samuel: I hope audiences take away the courage to tell their own stories, no matter how painful or how seemingly small. And the ability to listen — really listen — to the stories around them. Especially those that may not be so easily heard.

Kyle: Hope for the future, a deep respect of the past and showing up for the present moment. I hope the audience leaves the theater changed, yearning to make the world a better place.

Can you talk about an embarrassing on-stage moment? How'd you play it off?

John Benjamin: A brilliant actor i know and love farted on stage and we couldn't stop laughing. i didn't play it off. we just kept laughing and laughing. it was awful.

Marisa Tomei: "The Rose Tattoo"

Suit: Nili Lotan, Shoes: Prada

If you could play any other character in your show what would it be and why?

Marisa: Mangiacavallo. I'd like to play the leading man — and in this case, the role is a sexy clown.

Talk about the first on-stage performance you acted in.

Marisa: Queen Esther in the Purim play in nursery school. Then, in the third grade, my class did Mary Poppins. I was painfully shy, but found myself raising my hand and singing "Take Me Home, Country Roads" by John Denver. I was Mary, my mama made my costume and my dad lent me his automatic umbrella for the part.

"I was painfully shy, but found myself raising my hand and singing 'Take Me Home, Country Roads' by John Denver." —Marisa Tomei

If I weren't on Broadway, I would be (profession) in (city).

Marisa: Archeologist in Crete.

What helps you get into character before a show?

Marisa: I make a playlist. This one includes: "Maria (Sopra La Carpinese)" by Christina Pluhar; "Razor Love" by Neil Young; "Electric Love" by BØRNS, "In the Mood" by Glenn Miller and "More Than This" by Roxy Music.

Ashley Park: "Grand Horizons"

Suit: Givenchy, Shoes: Prada

What have you learned about yourself through playing your character? What has your character taught you?

Ashley: In the process of playing Jess, I've learned to trust myself in ways that I never knew I wasn't afforded before (how convoluted does that sound? It makes sense, I promise). I've learned to let go, because there is no perfect way to be human, and isn't acting simply finding the truth in another human? There are intentions behind every action and interaction, including inaction. The way to find them in this craft — and our world — is through empathy.

"I've learned to let go, because there is no perfect way to be human, and isn't acting simply finding the truth in another human?"
—Ashley Park

Do you have any pre-show rituals? What are they and how did they begin?

Ashley: Yes! Angel Cards! I've done this pre-show ritual ever since I learned it from leading lady Judy McLane during my Broadway debut in Mamma Mia! In a long-running show especially, I find it's one way to encourage a healthy mind, spirit, and community as we do the show 8 times a week. At half hour call before curtain, I visit all the dressing rooms and offices backstage to deliver Angel Cards, which have words of inspiration for the day (ie. "integrity," "light," "synthesis," "risk," etc.). I love getting to chat and check in with each cast member, dresser, stage manager, and whoever else is around as they pick their "Angel" for the day out of my little bag. It brings me peace to share a moment with each person and know where they're coming from that day before we all share the common ground and space onstage. It opens me up into my show too.

What's one absolute "no" from you when seeing a script?

Ashley: Anybody who is in my life knows that I am a quintessential "yes... and" person. So to give an absolute "no" to any script feels extreme. But I am personally not as interested in scripts with lazy humor, Asian characters with an accent or stereotype when there doesn't have to be, or female characters who are described as "strong" and "smart" but have no action, arc or agency that demonstrates it.

All Fashion From Nordstrom Men's Store NYC, 235 West 57th Street Nordstrom NYC, 225 West 57th Street

Photography: Katie Levine
Styling: Mia Solkin
Prop Styling: Tim Ferro
Makeup and men's grooming: LB Charles
Hair: Wade Lee
Hair (for Ashley Park): Karl Peyton
Makeup (for Ashley Park): Jonet Williamson
Makeup (for Adrienne Warren): Billie Gene for Exclusive Artists (using Lancome)
Hair (for Adrienne Warren): Takisha Sturdivant-Drew
Grooming (for Daniel J Watts): Jessi Butterfield (at Tracey Mattingly Agency)
Hair (for Marisa Tomei): Nicole Blais for Exclusive Artists (using Leonor Greyl Paris)
Makeup (for Marisa Tomei): James Kaliardos
Hair (for Laura Linney): Peter Butler
Makeup (for Laura Linney): Chris Colbeck
Hair (for Karen Olivo): Marc Mena
Makeup (for Karen Olivo):
Kat Nejat-Thompson
Photo assistant: Brenden Woods
Photo assistant: Alva Christo
Photo assistant: Sara Jensen
Photo assistant: Yeni Ferreras
Syling assistant: Sophia Hasson

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