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Hometown Stars Win Tony Awards

Nikki M. James and Stephen Oremus win for 'The Book of Mormon.'

It was a great night for Nikki M. James and Stephen Oremus, Livingston natives who won on Sunday for their work in The Book of Mormon.

James, who starred in Hello Dolly at LHS in 1999, and Oremus, who accompanied the theater stars on LHS stages 10 years earlier, helped The Book of Mormon, the musical comedy from the makers of “South Park,” win nine Tony Awards by a musical at the ceremony at the Beacon Theatre in New York.

Early in the evening, Stephen Oremus (LHS Class of '89) and Larry Hochman won for best orchestrations for The Book of Mormon.

But in perhaps the evening’s biggest surprise, James, alongside her childhood hero Patti LuPone, won for best performance by an actress in a featured role in a musical.

In The Book of Mormon, James plays the role of Nabalungi, a young African girl swept up in a promise of hope and salvation. Sunday night, James was swept up in the excitement of the ceremonies, tearfully accepting her award with determination to finish her lists of thanks.

“They are saying ‘wrap it up,’ but I will not leave this stage,” said James. On Livingston stages, she is well remembered for her performances in children’s shows with the Livingston Community Players and JCC. Her performance in Hello Dolly earned her a Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Award nomination.

“There’s a story about ,” James told the Tony audience. “Physicists couldn’t figure out how they did it, how they flew. And we all know that they do. We’ve seen them do it.”

“They did it because nobody told them that they couldn’t because of sheer will and determination. I come from a long line of bumblebees.”

James graduated from NYU’s Tisch School, receiving a BFA in drama.  She made her Broadway debut in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, appeared in All Shook Up, and received critical acclaim when she appeared opposite Christopher Plummer at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival playing Cleopatra to Plumber’s Caesar. 

“I am so grateful that nobody ever told me I couldn’t do it, that I couldn’t fly,” James said.

The Book of Mormon won nine awards altogether, including Best Musical.

Oremus is the show’s musical director. He has an impressive list of credentials, including music supervisor/arranger of Wicked, music supervisor/vocal arranger/orchestrator of Avenue Q, music supervisor/vocal arranger/co-orchestrator of All Shook Up; and vocal arranger of High Fidelity. He is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston. 

James attended the ceremony with her mother, and with her brother watching upstairs in the balcony of the Beacon Theatre. Her father passed away while she was in high school, and James took a break from acting to help care for her nephew when he was born 19 months ago with kidney problems.

“This award, this gorgeous award, is for my Poppy -- he isn’t here with me tonight, but he sits on my shoulder every night – and for my angel on earth, my little Ozzie. You are a miracle. You remind me every day that miracles do happen.”

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