In the past seven years, “An American in Paris” star Brandon Uranowitz has risen from a New York University graduate with a part-time job selling clothes at Barneys New York to Tony Award nominee. This Sunday, the 28-year-old will walk the Tonys red carpet in a Brunello Cucinelli tuxedo with a win for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical within his reach – leagues away from clearing dressing rooms in the retailer’s SoHo Co-Op location.
Sweet in demeanor with a moppet of curly brown hair, Uranowitz began his acting career at the age of nine. The long road to success has made his Tony nomination that much more satisfying. “It feels like a surreal thing — one of those things you dream about as a kid for so long that it doesn’t feel like it can be a reality,” he says in an interview with WWD.
While “An American in Paris” is Uranowitz’s most visible role to date, his journey to the Tonys is paved with stage appearances. He was cast in the original company of “Ragtime” before entering high school. After a brief hiatus in his teens, he returned to the stage while enrolled in New York University’s drama program. It’s there that he caught the eye of an agent – his first as an adult – who led to bookings in the national farewell tour of “Rent,” as well as in productions of “Evita” and “Torch Song Trilogy.”
Theater has always been Uranowitz’s calling, but his love of fashion provided enough momentum, not to mention a paycheck, to carry him between roles. While auditioning after college, Uranowitz signed up for part-time work at Barneys, first as a fitting room attendant and later as a salesperson.
“I have always been fascinated by fashion. I never had any interest in waiting tables or bar-tending, so retail was sort of my best option,” he says.
The experience taught him “a really good lesson about being humble and grounded – I dealt with a lot of people who treated me as sub-human,” he says. It also left him with remnant off-kilter memories, like the day the store opened early for Katie Holmes to embark on an $8,000 shopping spree. “She was really sweet but really scary, she was in the thick of Tom Cruise-Scientology land. She bought a lot, though. I have to thank her for the really sweet paycheck that week,” he recalls.
After a year with the company, Uranowitz left Barneys in 2009 to understudy Anthony Rapp and perform in the ensemble of “Rent.” Upon his return, he booked roles in the short-lived production of “Baby, It’s You,” as well as small roles for various films and TV shows.
In 2013, Uranowitz kicked off his run as Adam Hochberg in Christopher Wheeldon’s “An American in Paris” adaptation, a casting that has carried him along for the ride on the show’s ascent to Broadway’s Palace Theatre. Before the Big White Way, there was a year’s worth of well-received investor workshops and a limited-engagement run at Paris’ Théâtre du Châtelet. The show, “a unique hybrid show for Broadway, in that it’s a musical told in the conventional musical-theater way, hybridized with ballet,” says Uranowitz, opened to raves in April.
“An American in Paris,” a George Gershwin musical, marks the Broadway debut for its director, Wheeldon (ballet’s most in-demand contemporary choreographer), as well as Uranowitz’s cast mate, lead actor Robbie Fairchild, best known for his exquisite work as a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet.
Fairchild, like Uranowitz, and their cast mates Leanne Cope and Max von Essen are all nominated for their respective work with the production, which received 12 nods, tying with “Fun Home” as the year’s most-nominated show.
Uranowitz found out about his nomination while visiting his parents in their native New Jersey. “I was sleeping and heard a scream from downstairs. They came up shaking and hysterically crying and said ‘you got nominated for a Tony,’” he says. “I was dead asleep and felt like I was legitimately dreaming it was all blurry and fuzzy.”
Uranowitz is contracted with the production for a full year, and says despite its repetition, his character role continues to deepen and develop over time. “I still find new things every night, which is the beauty and fun of live theater. It’s a living, breathing art form,” he says.
Still immersed in a grueling eight-shows-a-week schedule, Uranowitz has yet to experience the full breadth of opportunities that a Tony nomination can bring. However, the premise of being able to “walk into any audition for the rest of my life and say I’m a Tony nominee,” is not lost on him.
Come Sunday, he may be able to alter that distinction to “win.” Adamant about not preparing a speech, he says he is pleased to just sit back and see what unfolds.