Broadway’s best: Alumni receive Tony Award, nomination

Posted on June 04, 2019

Exterior photo of Radio City Music Hall.
The 2019 Tony Awards will take place at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

It’s a big week for UNC Greensboro alumni and Broadway veterans Joseph Forbes ’75 and Beth Leavel ’80 MFA.

On Monday night, Forbes was one of four recipients to receive this year’s Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre, an annual award for individuals and organizations that have demonstrated extraordinary achievement in theatre. Forbes is the founder of Scenic Art Studios, a premier scene painting studio for Broadway.

Leavel, already a Tony Award winner for her work on “The Drowsy Chaperone,” is nominated for the Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for her role as “Dee Dee Allen” in “The Prom.” “The Prom” is also up for Best Musical.

The 73rd annual Tony Awards will take place this Sunday, June 9, and will be broadcast live on CBS at 8 p.m.

Photo of Joe Forbes in front of artwork
Joseph Forbes (Photo by Lawrence Gregorek, Scenic Art Studios)

Before accepting the award on Monday, Forbes caught up with his alma mater to talk about the recognition.

How was he feeling in anticipation of the awards ceremony?

“Humbled,” he says. “Primarily because that Tony Award represents the work of so many people. I’m privileged to be the front man for the band, but it’s really the work of the band that’s being honored here.”

Since its inception, Forbes’ company has created backdrops, sculptures, and painted built scenery for more than 350 Broadway productions. Current shows that feature the company’s work include “Beetlejuice,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and “Ink.”

As a student at UNCG, Forbes studied set design under Professor Andreas Nomikos. He specifically remembers the sense of community he felt working on shows at UNCG.

“I fell in love with [the community of theatre] at UNCG, and I’ve been in love with it ever since,” he said. “It’s a great feeling ­– you feel very connected to a group of people that you may never work with again, but at that moment in time, they’re your brothers and sisters.”

Photo of "The Prom" cast on stage
From left to right: Josh Lamon, Beth Leavel, Brooks Ashmanskas, Angie Schworer, and the cast of “The Prom.” (Photo by Deen Van Meer, 2018)

Leavel holds a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for “The Drowsy Chaperone” in 2006. She was also nominated for a Tony for her performance in “Baby It’s You” in 2011.

And it all started in UNCG’s MFA in Acting program.

“Being here validated my passion,” she told UNCG students on one of her regular visits to campus. As a graduate student she was surrounded by “like minds and supportive teachers,” she explained. “I felt so privileged to be here.”

Her most memorable role at UNCG was the title role in “Hello, Dolly.”

She regularly returns to campus to speak to UNCG Theatre classes. In a 2016 visit, she gave the students real-world tips on the audition process in New York. It can be arduous. But she encouraged the Spartan students to reach for their dreams. “Keep going. You see the path. It’d be a shame not to explore,” she told them.

“Just do it. Even if doesn’t work out, what’s the worst?” she said. “You’ll have amazing experiences.”

A standing ovation, night after night – for a Broadway role written just for her. A true diva’s role that’s brought her another Tony nomination.

Talk about amazing.

Forbes and Leavel are both alumni of what is now the College of Visual and Performing Arts. To learn more about the college and its programs, visit


Story by Alyssa Bedrosian and Mike Harris, University Communications


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