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June 17, 2019

A Tony Award family affair: Lilli Cooper, a nominee for ‘Tootsie,’ can win same honor as her dad, Chuck

May 24, 2019
Lilli Cooper and Chuck Cooper (Walter McBride/Getty Images)

A father-daughter dance may just happen after this year’s Tony Awards on June 9 at Radio City Music Hall.

It won’t be for holy matrimony, though — but will still be a cause for celebration.

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For her role as Julie Nichols in Broadway’s latest hit musical “Tootsie,” based on the 1982 Dustin Hoffman movie, Lilli Cooper has been nominated for her first Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical.

Lilli Cooper plays Julie Nichols in Tootsie.
Lilli Cooper plays Julie Nichols in Tootsie. (Matthew Murphy)

Her father, theater veteran Chuck Cooper, already has one of the coveted trophies for his soul-stirring portrayal of ruthless pimp Memphis in the 1997 Cy Coleman musical “The Life.”

“Choir Boy,” his most recent turn on The Great White Way, has been nominated for four Tony Awards including Best Play.

Both family members will be present when the well-heeled Broadway community comes together to dole out prizes for the best of the best in theater. They’re both looking forward to it, especially the proud papa who said he is thrilled to witness what the world is discovering about his “pumpkin.”

“Lilli’s nomination is yet another stunning example of how blessed I am,” Chuck Cooper told the Daily News. “Her work in this show is so mature, nuanced, and clearly, folks are taking notice. My little girl is kicking butt on the Broadway stage. She’s amazing.”

Santino Fontana and Lilli Cooper in Tootsie.
Santino Fontana and Lilli Cooper in Tootsie. (Matthew Murphy)

Lilli Cooper said she’s still pinching herself about garnering her first nod — after previously starring in two other high-wattage Broadway musicals 2018’s “SpongeBob SquarePants” and the original Tony Award-winning production of “Spring Awakening.” The native New Yorker also was the understudy of the “green girl” role of Elphaba in “Wicked” on Broadway and on tour.

“My family and I text each other every now and then reminding us that I was nominated for a Tony,” she confessed.

Lilli is the youngest of three and the only girl to Chuck Cooper and Tisa Farley. Brothers Eddie and Alex are respected showbiz professionals in their own right.

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“My father’s career helped surround me by the world of the theater and helped me fall in love with it,” Lilli shared. Though she doesn’t remember her exact first Broadway show, she recounts youthful memories of her 7-year-old self backstage doing homework at the Ethel Barrymore Theater during “The Life.”

“I loved watching my Dad on stage,” she said. “Ever since I was little, we’ve always had a hand signal we flash to each other at the curtain call when one of us is in the audience.”

Shy as a child, her pops encouraged her to step out of her comfort zone, introduce herself to people and have a strong voice.

For her role in “Tootsie” — played by Jessica Lange in the Sydney Pollack-helmed film — she’s received critical praise. The Hollywood Reporter raved that she played the role “with wisdom, independence and the most delicate soupçon of melancholy in a lovely performance” while Entertainment Weekly referred to her as “delightful.”

The Coopers have already earned a place among other father/daughter Broadway pairings such as Richard and Mary Rodgers, Henry and Jane Fonda, Michael and Lynn Redgrave and Vanessa Redgrave, Adolph and Amanda Green, and Richard and Kate Burton. A Tony for Lilli would further cement that legacy.

Then perhaps her award can sit next to his, which he said is placed with other career memorabilia. It’s the same one that sat on the piano and that Lilli and her brothers tossed at each other as children in their Hell’s Kitchen abode.

(L-R) Alex Cooper, Eddie Cooper, Lilli Cooper, Chuck Cooper and Deborah Brevoort
(L-R) Alex Cooper, Eddie Cooper, Lilli Cooper, Chuck Cooper and Deborah Brevoort (Walter McBride/Getty Images)

“[We] even accidentally dropped it a few times,” she laughed. “It has survived quite a life, and now sits on a bookshelf in my dad’s home.”

The Cooper Clan, as Chuck describes them, has performed together on the concert stage before — but they have yet to make it to The Great White Way as a collective.

Lilli said it would be a dream for them all to be on Broadway together — and the patriarch hints that it may be in the tea leaves.

“I have performed with my three children and that is a joy no words can name,” he said. “I have a dynasty. [We’re] doing all manner of fun work in the future. If Broadway is in that future, bring it!”

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