It was May 1992 and Glenn Close was holding court at New York City’s Gershwin Theatre. The cast of “Falsettos” had just performed a medley, and a teenage Andrew Rannells was hooked. Hours before, he had no idea what the Tony Awards even were. But thankfully for him, his mother did.
“She told me, ‘This is the show that’s going to be on tonight and it’s all the Broadway shows,’” Rannells recalls. “It’s a strange, humbling experience to get to be there [this year] representing [‘Falsettos’] because my first exposure to the Tony Awards was the year that they performed.”
Previously nominated in 2011 for his role as Elder Price in “The Book of Mormon,” Rannells is up for the 2017 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his role as Whizzer in the 2016 revival of “Falsettos.” The Friday before the big night, he spends the morning in rehearsals, but takes the afternoon to relax in his apartment — and try on his tuxedo once more.
“The morning that the nominations came out, I woke up and I watched them on television,” he says from his living room. “It’s a very exciting morning and I was anxious and hopeful that our show would be remembered, so I woke up and I watched them live on television. I’m not going to try to be cool and say, ‘I forgot it happened.’ No. I wanted to know.”
After the initial excitement of his nomination sank in, Rannells’ mind went to the obvious: what to wear. One of the first calls he made after watching the announcements was to his connection at Ralph Lauren. “I knew that if I was wearing them that night that I would be assured that at least my tuxedo was winning,” he explains. “I don’t know about the rest of it, but at least I know my tux will be good.”
Rannells is, by now, a pro at navigating the Tonys — he’s both presented and performed at them before. But there was once a time when he was still learning the proper etiquette.
“One year, Joanna Lumley, whom I love, was nominated,” he says. “I crawled across the aisle to her during a commercial break and I scared the hell out of her. I was like, ‘Why did I do that? Why didn’t I just walk over there like a grown-up man?’ Instead, I crouched over, like, ‘Miss Lumley.’ It was terrible.” But one social faux pas isn’t enough to keep him from trying to make new friends this time around.
“I just found out this morning that I’m sitting across the aisle from Patti LuPone — what? I’m really going to have to lock down that friendship,” he says.
Broadway buffs are well-versed in Rannells’ roles, but TV aficionados also know him for his role as Elijah in HBO’s “Girls.” “It’s funny the things that people know you from,” he says of the dichotomy. “It sort of depends on the neighborhood — weirdly. In L.A., people will recognize me for doing ‘Girls,’ but have no idea that I have ever done anything on Broadway or can sing or dance or any of that stuff. And then you come here and maybe people don’t watch as much television, but they know that.”
New York is the home of Broadway, after all. And, after a 25-year love affair with Broadway, Rannells is ready for his homecoming.
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