Caitlin Kinnunen (right), Isabelle McCalla and the cast of “The Prom” perform Sunday at the 73rd annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Caitlin Kinnunen (right), Isabelle McCalla and the cast of “The Prom” perform Sunday at the 73rd annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Camano Island native praised but falls short in Tony bid

Caitlin Kinnunen, a Kidstage actress, was nominated for best actress in a musical but lost to the favorite.

Caitlin Kinnunen, who grew up on Camano Island, did not win the Tony award for best leading actress in a Broadway musical, but the nomination itself was an honor, her mother said.

The Tony awards were broadcast Sunday evening from Radio City Music Hall in New York City, with host James Cordon. On hand for the awards and to watch Caitlin perform in the opening number were her parents, Betsy Stam and Randy Kinnunen of Camano.

“We are grateful,” Stam said. “To be nominated and have this level of validation of effort and accomplishment is not expected, surely not guaranteed. Being at the Tony awards is the stuff of family dreams.”

Kinnunen, 27, was just 16 when she moved to Manhattan to pursue those Broadway dreams, having been cast in a musical from a Seattle cattle-call audition.

She was not a shoe-in for her award. But in Rolling Stone magazine’s recent story about who will or who should win a Tony, Kinnunen was called a potential spoiler, as was “The Prom” in the best musical category.

The magazine listed Stephanie J. Block, who stars in “The Cher Show,” as the favorite in the best actress race, and indeed, Block won. Best musical was awarded to “Hadestown.”

“The tea leaves say it’s Block’s year. But let’s hear it for Kinnunen, the 27-year-old whose voice has the delicate clarity of crystal and whose acting skills bring a soulful urgency to the role of a lesbian high-schooler who finds the strength to fend off the gay-phobes who won’t let her love who she loves. ‘The Prom’ is a brash knockout of a musical, but Kinnunen is its bruised heart. She has a stunning future.”

Also nominated in the category of best leading actress in a musical was Beth Leavel, Kinnunen’s castmate in “The Prom.” An original musical-comedy, “The Prom” is pokes fun at four Broadway egomaniacs, including Leavel’s character, who descend on an Indiana town to help Emma (Kinnunen) take her girlfriend to the high school prom, and drum up some publicity for their sagging careers.

Kinnunen said “The Prom” is an important piece of theater, one that she hopes high schools around the country will begin to produce.

“It’s about love and acceptance, which in our current political climate, we need a lot more of,” she said, following her Tony nomination. “It’s a show that is changing minds. And I can’t tell you the number of young people who have stopped me on the street to say that the show makes them feel safe, respected, seen and heard. That’s why we do this.”

Kinnunen credits her success to her parents, who made sure theater was about being part of a team, and to Village Theatre and its KidStage program in Everett.

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