The Prom's Beth Leavel on Her Tony Nomination and Why She Decided to Propose to Her Fiancé

Beth Leavel has a lot to sing about.

The stage veteran, 63, is not only treading the boards on Broadway in the uproarious and uplifting new musical The Prom — in a role that earned her a Tony nomination for best actress in a musical — but she’s also engaged to be married again, this time to longtime love Adam Heller.

“Life is really, really good these days,” Leavel tells PEOPLE. “I didn’t think I’d get married again. You also don’t think you’ll find your way in a show this good again. So funny, the universe knocks and is like, ‘Here’s The Prom and here’s your new fiancee.’ And it’s just a thrilling, thrilling time.”

Leavel has been through the Tony Awards show circuit before, with two previous leading actress nominations before and one win, for The Drowsy Chaperone. 

That prize was back in 2006, 13 years ago. Meanwhile, The Prom is Leavel’s 13th Broadway show (other credits include 42nd StreetMamma Mia!Young Frankenstein, Elf, and Bandstand). Oh, and there are 13 performers making their broadway debuts in The Prom.

All of this leaves Leavel calling The Prom her “Lucky No. 13.”

“It never gets old, she says. “Performing on stage, you get the opportunity to connect with people directly in ways no other medium can match. I feel what the audience feels as they feel it. When I leave The Prom, I can feel the energy around the block. It’s a fabulous musical comedy in addition to the fact that it has such heart and such a message that needs to be heard throughout the country. It shifts people. That’s what theater does. And that just is a remarkable feeling to know I’m a part of that.”

In The Prom, Leavel plays Dee Dee Allen, a self-absorbed, out-of-work Broadway actress with a terrible reputation. Looking to boost her profile, Allen travels with three of her peers (played by Brooks Ashmanskas, Christopher Sieber, and Angie Schworer) to small town Indiana, where a high school PTA is trying to stop a lesbian student from bringing her girlfriend to prom (Caitlin Kinnunen and Isabelle McCalla, respectively). By jumping on the cause, Allen hopes to make some easy headlines. But the experience, as one might expect, proves to be much more rewarding personally.

The role was created for Beth, making her the only of her fellow best actress in a musical nominees to have such honor. “There’s a lot of Beth in Dee Dee,” she says. “I like to think I’m not a bitchy narcissist, but apparently I have easy access to that part of me. And to have permission to do that is so satisfying.”

Since opening in November, The Prom has earned rave reviews and garnered a few headlines of its own. While performing at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, it made history by giving the annual telecast its first ever-same sex kiss. Famous friends have sung its praises after coming to see it, including Indiana’s own Chasten Buttigieg, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Erika Girardi and Tonys host James Corden. Most recently, in April, producer Ryan Murphy announced he was adapting the musical as a Netflix movie.

This June, the show is up for 7 Tonys, including best musical, best book of a musical (Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin), best original score (Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin), best director (Casey Nicholaw), and Leavel’s best actress nomination.

Though it’s her third, Leavel says the experience of being nominated feels different this time. She explains: “The first time, with Drowsy, it was a completely out-of-body experience. The second time, my show, Baby It’s You, had closed and I knew there was no way I would win, so I was able to sit and kind soak it in. This time, I know what’s happening. I’m so proud of my show, I love my character so much, and the work that I’m doing that it has made it all that more exciting.”

And then there’s that other little event Leavel has coming her way: her wedding to Heller.

No date has been set yet (“He’s an actor who is up in Hartford right now doing The Flamingo Kid, so we never see each other,” Leavel jokes. “That’s why we’re not married, we don’t have a day off together!), but Leavel isn’t stressed.

She and Heller were dating for 10 years before she popped the question this past September.

“It wasn’t a very romantic thing,” Leavel recalls. I was at Actor’s Equity Pension, Health & Welfare office talking about my retirement fund, just trying to be knowledgeable about that, and I just looked at Adam and said, ‘We have to get married.’ And he said, ‘I didn’t think you’d ever want to get married again,’ and I said, ‘Well I didn’t think you’d ever want to get married again.’ So we had all that energy”

Later that night, Leavel made it more official. “I got down on my knee and proposed to him about why I wanted to get married. And then he got down on his knee and proposed to me about why he wanted to marry me,” she says. “It was really sweet. I don’t know what I would do without his support.”

Both met while doing a show together in San Diego. “It was kind of love at first sight. It’s a small community, so we knew of each other, but we never really worked with each other until we did a show called Dancing in the Dark,” she explains. “It was supposed to come to Broadway, it didn’t work out. But we did.”

And Leavel didn’t take the reins when it came to the proposal. She also took over to pick out her engagement ring.

“I picked it out,” she says of the double band gold diamond ring. “I’m not going to wear something the rest of my life I won’t like. He went with me, and we tried them on — he had an opinion. But I chose it.”

“We went to Macy’s!” she adds, naming the spot of The Prom‘s history-making Thanksgiving Day performance. “I used my coupon!”

The Prom is now playing at New York City’s Longacre Theatre. The Tony Awards air Sunday, June 9 (8 p.m. ET) on CBS. 


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