Some may call it Tony Night, but for Miami Valley residents who’ve watched the talented Tory Ross perform through the years, tonight is definitely Tory Night.
Ross, a Muse Machine graduate who lived in Springfield and Washington Twp., most recently returned to Dayton in 2012 to star in the world premiere of “Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Story.” She’ll be performing on stage at the award ceremony as a member of the cast of “Kinky Boots,” the Cyndi Lauper-scored musical that’s up for 13 Tony Awards. The show received more nominations than any other Broadway show this season.
The 67th annual award show, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, will be televised live from Radio City Music Hall at 9 p.m. on WHIO-TV.
We had the chance to chat with Ross about this most exciting time in her life and the influences that have shaped her career.
ABOUT KINKY BOOTS
Q: What’s it like to be in a huge Broadway hit?
A: It’s an incredible feeling to be in a show that people have such an exuberant, positive response to. I keep telling people that it’s such a joy because I’ve only been part of Broadway flops — though liked by audiences, they were commercial failures. So to take part in the same process of creating a musical and then to have audiences go crazy for it every night feels like Christmas morning.
Q: Tell us a little about the show and the part you play in it.
A: The show is based on the movie of the same name. It’s about a shoe factory in north England that makes proper British Brogues. The business starts to go under, but in a stroke of hilarious fate, our factory owner meets a drag queen in London and concocts a plan to make Kinky Boots for transvestites. I play the pivotal role of Pat Smythe. Though a small part, Pat is the assistant to the office manager who develops a bit of a crush on Lola, the drag queen from London. I like to think that Lola helps Pat come out of her shell a bit.
Q: What aspects of Kinky Boots do you think have made it so popular with critics and audiences?
A: Our central message is literally “Just be who you wanna be. Never let ‘em tell you who you ought to be.” I think the message resonates particularly these days because no matter who you are or how you were raised, you have had a moment where you have been made to feel like you don’t belong. Our show is for people who refuse to be categorized.
Q: How do you feel about the Tony nominations and what will you be doing at the award show? You’ve performed there previously, what’s that like?
A: Performing on the Tony telecast is such an honor. I performed previously with the musical “9 to 5” but since that show wasn’t nominated for best new musical, the entire cast wasn’t able to participate. It will be such a thrill to stand on the stage at Radio City in front of the entire theatrical community with a group of people that I genuinely love representing a show that I truly believe in. I feel very lucky to be able to experience this life moment. We will be performing our Act One finale and — spoiler alert — you are going to see me holding some fabulous, red Kinky Boots.
ON YOUR CAREER
Q: What do you love about performing?
A: I have always been a story teller and I love the transformative effect theater has on people. No matter what happens during your day, you can go to a show, sit in the dark and get whisked away from yourself. I love taking people on those kinds of journeys.
Q: How early in life did you realize this is what you wanted to do?
A: I always loved doing shows in school, but it wasn’t until meeting kindred souls at the Muse Machine that I ever really contemplated doing it for a living. I was friends with some kids who knew they wanted to be actors. They helped encourage me to follow suit.
Q: Do you come from a musical family? Can you tell us about your childhood and exposure to the arts?
A: My family moved around a lot when I was a kid, but my sainted mother somehow found the time to put four kids into the extracurricular activities of their choice. For my older brother and sister, it was swimming and debate and for my younger brother and I, it was chorus and children’s’ theater. She used to drive us from Springfield to Dayton every day for four months out of the year to be in the Muse Machine musical. God bless her.
Q: How did your years in the Miami Valley influence you in terms of your career?
A: I can say with complete certainty that had I not lived in Dayton and been told by my high school French professor Peter Camm about the Muse Machine after moving to the Miami Valley that I would never have gone into the arts.
Q: What are some of your favorite experiences in school, Muse Machine and at CCM? Any anecdotes you especially remember?
A: I’ll never forget playing Snoopy my senior year in high school at The Miami Valley School. I begged my teachers to pick a musical that would have a good part for me like “Hello Dolly”or “Into the Woods.” Nope. Snoopy.
Q: Who were your mentors?
A: I can definitely say that I had unbelievable teachers at Miami Valley School and CCM. I also have understudied some incredible women who have taught me a lot — in particular, actress Harriet Harris. She’s had really interesting parts in lots of movies and TV and has done a lot on Broadway. I understudied her in “Cry-Baby” on Broadway before I got bumped up to one of the lead roles. She has the kind of career I would like to emulate, and she’s brilliant and hilarious to boot.
Q: What advice do you have for parents whose kids are interested in performing?
A: That’s a tough one. This lifestyle is a difficult one. There are no guarantees of success and often, there is no rhyme or reason to why some people make it and some people don’t. Instead of offering advice to parents, I will tell you what I told my parents when I shocked them by announcing I would be going to conservatory to get a degree in musical theater instead of law school. “I love performing and it makes me happy. Can I do other things? Certainly. Will I make more money doing other things? Certainly. I got a scholarship to go to the best program in the country to see if I can do this with my life and if I can’t, the government will give me a loan to go back to school.” God bless America!
ON LIFE IN NEW YORK
Q: What’s a typical day for you while you’re in a show?
A: My day-to-day life really changes based on what I do in the show. I usually wake up around 10 in the morning because winding down after the show takes a couple of hours. I still get eight hours of sleep. I just go to bed around 2. I work out, I play on the “Kinky Boots” softball team. I’m re-learning French for my vacation in October, and I typically have some sort of rehearsal either for the show or a benefit. Seems like I’m always crazy busy! I like to eat dinner a couple of hours before curtain time so I’m not full when bouncing around the stage, and I get to work about an hour beforehand to do my makeup, warm up, get my wig on and catch up with my co-workers.
Q: What’s a typical day for you when you’re not in a play?
A: I have been really lucky the past couple of years to have work lined up so I haven’t had to spend a lot of time auditioning or prepping auditions, but they pop up. I usually go on a commercial or voice-over audition once a week, but when I’m not working, most of my time is dedicated to looking for the next job.
Q: What do you like to do on a day off?
A: I haven’t had one in awhile because the show has been getting such attention in the press and there’s usually some sort of event to sing in on Monday nights, but I typically like to sleep in and get brunch with a friend. I recently got a key to the community garden in my neighborhood, which is completely empty on Mondays, and I like to read the weekend NYT. Once a month I fly to San Francisco to see my boyfriend on the day off. When there, I like to go to Costco. I’m obsessed with Costco but can’t buy anything there because I live in an apartment in Manhattan!
Q: Do you see a lot of shows in New York?
A: I really try to see everything so I can participate in the conversation of theater. I’ve also been watching a lot of TV lately as I’m trying to do more TV and film. It’s also fun to think that watching TV is part of my job!
Q: Can you compare being in a show on the road and being in one in NYC?
A: I loved travelling the country with the musicals “Producers” and “Wicked.” Oddly, there is less to do when you are working out-of-town so you have more free time to explore cities, read, write and learn languages. Also, you save more money when you aren’t in New York City. I think every time I leave my apartment, I spend at least $20.
Q: Do you get back to Dayton? What are your favorite things to do here?
A: I’ve gotten back to Dayton a couple of times to appear in productions at the Human Race Theatre company. When in town, we always seem to be finding excuses to drink the Bad Juan’s at Elsa’s. They are completely lethal.
Q: What are your goals or dreams in terms of your career?
A: After a stint in “Kinky Boots,” I will be moving to San Francisco to get married (not engaged yet… happening any minute!), so I can’t wait to discover what that market is out west. It puts me closer to LA, so hopefully I’ll be doing more TV and film stuff and perhaps even a little teaching.
How to watch
What: The 67th Annual Tony Awards, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris.
When: 8 p.m. tonight on WHIO-TV, Channel 7.
Broadcast from: Radio City Music Hall
Local connections to Tony’s
In preparation for tonight’s Tony Awards, we caught up with two people with local roots who are part of tonight’s programming airing on WHIO-TV, Channel 7. We interviewed Tory Ross, a “Kinky Boots” cast member who is performing in tonight’s broadcast, as well as Julie James, who will be covering the awards show for Sirius radio. The interview with Julie James appears inside Life and Arts.