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Stratford hit 'Jesus Christ Superstar' nabs two Tony Award nominations

As he celebrated his first Tony Award nomination Tuesday, American actor Josh Young of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival hit “Jesus Christ Superstar” credited his Canadian cast members for helping him achieve the recognition.

“A lot of my time spent onstage is with Chilina Kennedy and Paul Nolan, who by the way I absolutely would not have this honour if I weren’t working with these two amazing actors,” said Young, 31, who plays Judas Iscariot alongside Nolan’s Jesus and Kennedy’s Mary Magdalene.

“I think they’re two of the best actors in Canada, possibly on the continent, and literally the work that we did in the rehearsal room that has led to where we are now — my performance would not be what it is without them.”

“Jesus Christ Superstar,” which was a smash at the southwestern Ontario Stratford festival last summer, also got a Tony nomination for best revival of a musical on Tuesday. The remount of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tom Rice epic rock opera faces competition from “Evita,” “Follies,” and “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.”

Young, meanwhile, is up against Phillip Boykin, “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess”; Michael Cerveris, “Evita”; David Alan Grier, “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess”; and Michael McGrath, “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”

“These nominations fulfil one of the goals I have been striving toward in my time as artistic director: the recognition of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s rightful place as a world leader in every area of dramatic repertoire, from classics to musicals,” said Stratford artistic director Des McAnuff, who helms the production.

Young said he wasn’t expecting to receive a nomination and had his phone on “silent” so he could sleep in Tuesday morning after attending the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Spring Gala on Monday night.

“But my dog woke me up to walk her and I saw that the little indicator light on my phone was blinking and I had a text message so I looked on it really quick and it said, ‘Atta boy,’ from my agent,” the Columbia, S.C., native said in a telephone interview from New York.

“I wasn’t sure what ‘Atta boy’ meant. I thought maybe he caught my performance last night and I was just late getting the text message. But I thought, ‘Just in case, I should maybe check the list of nominees,’ and I was completely, completely surprised.”

McAnuff’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” explores a so-called “love triangle” between Jesus, Mary and Judas. The set and costumes have a rock feel with metal, leather and LED displays.

Both Lloyd Webber and Rice have praised the production, which also recently earned two Drama Desk nominations as well as a Drama League nomination.

“We’ve persevered and look where we are now. It’s been a crazy ride,” said Young, who pushed through a bad chest infection to perform on opening night on Broadway. Nolan, meanwhile, battled illness to perform on opening night at Stratford.

“We all got together late February 2011 for our first rehearsal, our first design meeting, and we had no idea that we were going to end up here. I had no clue that I would be on the phone right now talking about the fact that I’ve been nominated for a Tony Award.”

He also didn’t imagine that his career would take the route it has.

Raised just outside of Philadelphia in the suburb Wallingford, Young attended the Pennsylvania Governors School for the Arts and Syracuse University.

He’s starred in U.S. productions including “Les Miserables,” “West Side Story” and “Hairspray,” but he didn’t work at the Stratford festival until its 2010 season.

“At that point I didn’t even know what the Stratford Shakespeare Festival was and now it’s one of the things in my life that I’m most proud of, is being a company member there,” said Young.

Young is now planning to become what he called a “bi-national actor,” with homes in New York, Stratford and Toronto, where his fiancee lives.

He said he and Alia Rosenstock, a talent agent for opera singers who hails from Richmond, B.C., plan to wed sometime in the next year and a half.

However, with the Tony nominations, “it’s going to be tough doing the planning right now,” Young added with a laugh.

The Tony Awards will take place June 10 and be hosted by Neil Patrick Harris.

Leading the pack with 11 nominations is “Once,” a musical based on the popular 2006 indie movie starring Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard.