NEW YORK — Broadway veteran Casey Nicholaw surprised himself when he choked up while describing the feeling of watching an audience see one of his productions for the first time.
The director-choreographer of "Mean Girls" was responding to the question: Which is a bigger thrill, getting a Tony nomination or the first time the audience saw your show?
Nicholaw, already a Tony winner for "Book of Mormon," considers his nomination this year as a distant second to "watching the audience's face on opening night."
"You've been working on it for six years and you see people responding to it and you know you got to that finish line," he said, tearing up.
"Mean Girls" writer Tina Fey sees it a little differently, giving the nomination a slight edge. Tom Hollander of "Travesties" sees them as different thrills, with the nomination as the "icing on the cake." And "Iceman Cometh" star David Morse sees it all as "nerve-wracking."
Actors and creators are no strangers to anticipating audience reaction, but when you throw in the added thrill of theater's highest accolade, it makes the question more enticing.
"Latin History for Morons" earned John Leguizamo a best play nomination for his one-man show. He also received a special Tony Award for it. He was a little torn over the greater thrill, but leaned toward the performance.
"Wow, that's a hard question, man. I mean obviously being in front of an audience and having them share in your storytelling is a very powerful, very powerful experience. I'll never forget that," Leguizamo said.
"To know how electric that house is, and that they're going with this journey with me and they stayed through the whole thing is very powerful. Nothing can beat that. But getting a Tony, that ain't is so bad either."
Nominee Joshua Henry was more positive about what he prefers. The "Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel" actor said he's grateful for the nomination, but "what we do onstage is the most important thing."
"I think for me it's what happens in the theater and I think it's feeling the audience respond and be moved and laugh or hear a sniffle or erupt at the end of different songs. That's the special thing. I mean I got into this to hopefully move people," Henry said.
"Atlanta" star and featured actor nominee for "Lobby Hero" Brian Tyree Henry said the nomination came as a surprise. Still, he prefers the reaction to the audience.
"First performance, man, because we had been in that room rehearsing this play, and you go through these things like, 'Who's it going to reach?' 'Is it going to go through the way you think it's going to go through?' When you hear that first laugh. When you hear that first sigh, or you hear that first gasp. That's the thrill. It charges you," Henry said.
And his co-star Michael Cera, who was nominated in the same category, feels that both situations were "thrilling."
"The bigger thrill? I don't know. It's sort of hard to describe the feeling, the gratifying feeling of doing the show every night," he said. "And then I never expected to have any kind of recognition like this, which is just so nice and unexpected and a very, very happy way for us to finish our run."