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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Milwaukeean Kate Baldwin Nominated for a Tony Award

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Even though she’d been gone from Milwaukee for 10 years when she got the news about her first Tony Award nomination, one of the first things actress Kate Baldwin did was call her Shorewood High School drama teacher Barbara Gensler. “She was the one who inspired my work ethic,” Baldwin says.

That ethic has made Baldwin a hot property on New York stages, culminating with her Tony nomination for Best Actress in a Musical for Finian’s Rainbow. She’ll find out Sunday night if she gets to walk up onstage at Radio City Music Hall. But either way, her career continues to reach greater heights. She’s already been in London for more than a month with her new show, Paradise Found.

Baldwin moved with her parents and younger brother from Evanston, Ill., to Shorewood when she was 7 years old. Her experiences with Shorewood High’s theater remain as vivid as ever and were the starting point for what has become a very successful career.

“I wanted to be in Our Town [as a freshman], but I was too young and inexperienced,” she recalls. “I did get to sing in Grease as a girl in the chorus. I had to start at the beginning and prove myself.”

It wasn’t long before Baldwin was earning lead roles. By her sophomore year, she was playing Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. As a junior, she portrayed Cinderella in Into the Woods, based on the successful Broadway musical. By her senior year, Gensler chose a show because of the abilities of Baldwin and a fellow student, as Shorewood become one of the first secondary schools to stage Evita.

“It’s still funny to think about playing one of the dictators of Argentina at 17 years old,” she says. “We did it because we didn’t know we couldn’t do it. It was a thrill and a great source of pride.”

Baldwin already had experience with Finian’s Rainbow before she even arrived in Manhattan. After graduating from Northwestern University’s theater program in 1997, she ended up doing a number of shows at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, Ill., including that story about a pot o’ gold.

“I have plenty of practice,” she says about Finian’s Rainbow.

A producer happened to see her and was already thinking about a revival. “Finian’s Rainbow is the reason why I moved to New York,” Baldwin says. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”

Baldwin and her husband of almost five years, fellow actor Graham Rowat, currently make their home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. They met during a production of 1776 in Washington, D.C., and have toured together in White Christmas (as the Bob/Betty couple). While she’s in London, he’ll prepare for work in Provincetown, Mass. And later this summer she’s off to do I Do! I Do! in Connecticut.

Such is the life of the actor. But, as Baldwin is finding out, a nomination by one’s peers comes with its perks, some unexpected. “The great part of all this is hearing from people who I haven’t heard from in years,” she says. “I’d really like to come back to Milwaukee and do a show.”

And perhaps she will. For Kate Baldwin, anything can happen—and usually does.

The 64th annual Tony Awardswill be broadcast live at 7 p.m. June 13 on CBS.

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