"It's been so wonderful to just be back in the theatre," Jennifer Simard told Playbill May 9, the morning the nominations for the 75th Annual Tony Awards were announced.
Simard received a Tony nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for her work in the Tony-nominated revival of Company, one of the many musicals forced to go on hiatus in March 2020 when the pandemic shuttered theatres around the world.
"I mean, I can't stress enough how much I don't take [performing in a theatre for] granted. It's just the enormity of how we may not have been able to come back, and we have. That is just something—it takes my breath away when I think about it."
Director Marianne Elliott’s gender-switched version of Company, in fact, had played just nine performances when COVID-19 caused the Broadway shutdown. The revival of the Stephen Sondheim-George Furth classic resumed previews November 15, 2021, with composer Sondheim in the audience less than two weeks before his passing at the age of 91.
"I can still picture where [Sondheim] was sitting," Simard recalled of that first preview at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre following the pandemic. "It was like a rock concert. The audience was so excited, and he loved it! He loved to laugh. I remember we talked to him afterwards. He said things to me I'll never forget."
"He really loved our production," Simard continued. "I don't mean to shill for my show, but the truth is, I want everyone to come see it because he loved it. And, this was his last show that he saw on Broadway, so that doesn't escape my attention either. I can't believe that I got to do this. So that's the enormity of it, too. It's really special."
Simard is Tony-nominated for drawing laugh after laugh (after laugh after laugh) in the role of the gastronomically unsatisfied Sarah, the part created in the musical's 1970 premiere by stage and screen veteran Barbara Barrie, who also received a Tony nomination in the original production. "I've been a fan of hers since I was 11 years old," Simard said. "So by honoring me this way, it just really brings up all of my love and admiration for her all over again. So I feel so, so honored."
The actor, whose Broadway credits also include Mean Girls; Hello, Dolly!; Sister Act; Shrek the Musical; and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee—is nominated in a field that includes Jeannette Bayardelle for Girl From The North Country, Shoshana Bean for Mr. Saturday Night, Jayne Houdyshell for The Music Man, L Morgan Lee for A Strange Loop, and her Tony-winning Company co-star Patti LuPone, who is reprising her performance as Joanne on this side of the Atlantic after winning an Olivier in the revival's London premiere. "I would be remiss if I didn't say how much I share this with not only everyone at Company, because we are a company, but with my partner, Christopher Sieber, because he really is the Abbott to my Costello, feeding me those moments so that I can land them—that's how I feel about the whole thing," Simard said. "And, I'm just so lucky."
The Broadway favorite—previously Tony-nominated for her scene-stealing work as Sister Mary Downy, who was "Torn Between Two Lovers" in Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick's Disaster! musical—is equally effusive about the entire Company company: "I must tell you how close Matt Doyle and I grew over the course of the pandemic. While we had a working relationship of mutual respect and admiration from January to March 2020, those weeks that turned into months that has now turned into our fourth calendar year from the time we first auditioned has made us grow so very close. Along with Christopher, Matt has become my show-bestie. It makes it extra special to walk hand in hand with him on this Tony Award journey, and I couldn’t be happier for him and this moment in his life.
"Finally, Nikki Renée Daniels and Rashidra Scott share a wall to my dressing room, and I can’t say enough lovely things about them. They are gals' gals, and if it were possible to look up women supporting women in the dictionary, you’d be sure to see their names listed first. Last, while I could wax poetic about every single cast member, I must tell you what an incredible leader Katrina Lenk is. If you want to know what class looks like, look no further. I am president of her fan club and always will be."
And, what would Simard say to those theatregoers still a bit reticent to return to live theatre post-pandemic?
"I think science has really helped us get this thing under control, and I think if you're vaccinated and boosted you should be fine," Simard answered. "And, you know, I don't think the risk is what it once was, under those circumstances, and Broadway's safer than most places that you're going into in the public. Please don't be reticent. Come and laugh. I had a gentleman tell me last night he had no idea how funny the show was. And I went, 'Gosh, it's so funny, right?' So, you know, come laugh. You won't regret it."
Company, nominated for nine 2022 Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical, continues at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.