The 2012 Tony Awards were electric behind the scenes as Venus in Fur’s Nina Arianda won the Tony End of the Rainbow’s Tracie Bennett, and Christian Borle deservedly took home his first Tony for his role as Black Stache in Peter and the Starcatcher.

Despite Once’s eight wins, jaws dropped when the show’s Steve Kazee’s name was called for his Broadway debut performance over favorites Danny Burstein and Norm Lewis.

No one was shocked to see Audra McDonald (The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess), James Corden (One Man, Two Guvnors), Michael McGrath and Judy Kaye (both from Nice Work If You Can Get It) win big awards for the evening.

Click here to see 30 photos from the Tony Awards!

They all took home Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk Awards as well.

Additionally, Hugh Jackman and Bernadette Peters were among the recipients of special Tony Awards. The Improper was on the red carpet and backstage to hear what the nominees, presenters and award-winners had to say about their projects past, present and future, amidst the excitement of their big night.

Michael McGrath [winner, Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical, Nice Work If You Can Get It]:

On working with the cast: They’re all the sweetest people on the earth. I’d like to say something bad about them, but I can’t. Everybody is great. Kelli [O’Hara] is a doll, Matthew [Broderick] is funny as hell, Judy [Kaye] and I are like an old vaudeville team, so we have a blast.

On winning the Tony Award: I was surprised. I didn’t think I’d be here, the other nominees are so great. I was just surprised to hear my name, I turned and kissed my wife, and she said, “Go.”

Advice for new actors: Perseverance. Stick with it. Don’t be defeated. Struggle. Struggle to find what makes you great.

On what swayed Tony voters for him: I actually think it’s the energy and the comedy. It’s great to see a great comic role these days. James Corden has gotten a lot of attention for comedy these days, so I think that’s wonderful.

Kathy Najimy [presenter]:

On returning to the New York stage: I’m writing a one woman show. I just moved back to New York in August. The first thing that was on my list after “Take my daughter to school” and “Buy bread” was “Write a one-woman show.” I’ve been working on that, and hopefully within the next eight months we’ll do something.

It’s called Lift Up Your Skirt. It’s about being truthful about everything in my whole life, because I’m of a certain age that now I just want to be authentic and say everything and lay it out on the table. There are no big secrets, but I’ll just talk about things that are real.

On her weight loss: Here’s the deal: You’ve seen me up, you’ve seen me down. I can’t promise what’s going to happen tomorrow, all I can say is you’ve got one life and live it as whatever size you are. No judgment, I don’t hold fast onto any weight because it comes and goes.

On advice for younger women: Don’t pretend like it’s not on your mind every minute because it is. Acknowledge it, let it go, and then go skydiving and ride a horse and have sex.

Judy Kaye [winner, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical, Nice Work If You Can Get It]:  

On her favorite part of the theater awards: Probably getting to meet with all of my colleagues and see everybody again and again. People you didn’t know at the beginning from other shows you now know, and people that you’ve known for years, like Danny Burstein and Rebecca Luker, you get to see them again. It’s a night to celebrate Broadway.

On winning her second Tony: I’m so elated and I’m so exhausted. Sitting in my seat I started getting really nervous. I wasn’t nervous to begin with. I didn’t know I was going to feel overwhelmed, but I’m really, really just bowled over and I’m very emotional about this.

On how her father introduced her to Gershwin: I don’t remember a day when we didn’t sing songs together. When he had a stroke I sang to him. In that case, I had been working on some Harold Arlen. When I would sing my father couldn’t make any sense of anything else, but he would start to sing with me, like with “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

All of the American songbook was really important, we had all of the records in the house. It’s enriched my life immeasurably. My great good luck is that I found myself on Broadway singing it.

On how starring in Nice Work): Just a blast. First I read the script of course, and I sort of breezed over it as you do, ‘swings form a chandelier, turn the page…’ and then at the first read-through we had, Kathleen [Marshall] said, “The thing about the chandelier is, it won’t be anything big, you’ll be on the table, blah blah…” She said it really quickly.

When we started staging and we got to that scene I realized there really will be something hanging from the flies, and there are no guide wires. I’m going to be up there. We got to the theater for the tech rehearsals, and lo, there it was. I just started swinging and they started laughing, and when they laughed I said, “Okay, I’ll keep that. That works.” And now, I can’t say it’s second nature, but I really look forward to it every night. First of all, it’s very good for your spine, and secondly, because it gets such a great reaction.

Andrew Keenan-Bolger [performer, Newsies the Musical] & Celia Keenan-Bolger [nominee, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play, Peter and the Starcatcher]:

On walking the red carpet as siblings: CK-B It’s one thing to be nominated for a Tony Award, it’s another thing to be nominated for a Tony Award in the year that your brother is in one of the most recognized musicals of the season. It does not get better than this.

AK-B: It’s so great too because we’re both in shows that aren’t really competing against each other, which seems silly, because of course, no matter which show she’s in, I’m the biggest fan. But to be able to have something in almost every category to root for, it never happens and it’s so incredible.

On what their family thinks of the Tony Awards): CK-B: My father’s pretty low-key about it, but he’s here and he’s super excited. I’d be interested to be a fly on the wall when he’s talking to his friends about what all this is all about. Our 92 year-old grandmother was here this weekend with our aunt. I think our family feels pretty excited about it especially because we made them watch so many skits of us making up musicals growing up. They’re like, “At least it turned into something…”

AK-B:  We finally have some street cred in Michigan right now. I’m so excited because it’s my first Tony Awards ever! My first original Broadway cast performing at the Tony’s, it’s a dream come true.

Josh Young [nominee, Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical, Jesus Christ Superstar]:

On what being a nominee: It is amazing to be here standing next to the most talented people in the world. I just met Mandy Patinkin, and he knew my name, so I think I just realized that maybe I have made it.

Constantine Maroulis [presenter]:

On why he “crashed” the show: It’s the 2017 Tony Awards, wait it’s not that year… We’re celebrating the amazingness of Broadway, I’m here crashing the party, I was invited, but I’m crashing and promoting the new Jekyll & Hyde. We’ll be here next year at the 2013 Tonys. We’re excited to hit the road in September, we’ll hit about 10, 12, or 14 cities or so. Deborah Cox, Jeff Calhoun on board to direct. We’re excited for the opportunity to reinvent an iconic brand like that, and we’re going to make a lot of changes. It’s not what you think it’s going to be.

Christopher Gatelli [winner, Best Choreography, Newsies the Musical]:

On where he’ll put his Tony Award: I’ll put it on the mantel I think, let the flames kind of flicker off of it.

On the Newsies performance during the broadcast: That to me, win or lose, was the most important moment of today, when they performed “Seize the Day.” The show is about the next generation, coming to the table, and earning your way there. It’s the same thing for those boys, as they show the world what they can do, and that they’re ready to step up to the table as performers and as artists. Having that number done in that room was all I needed for today.

On how many newspapers are used in Newsies: It’s not just the ones they dance on. They make reams of those papers. An interesting thing to know about those papers, they made them special for our show. We didn’t know how to get rid of them once they finish the dance, so we were like, let’s just throw them in the audience. So Disney custom made these papers that are all original articles from 1899, so when they throw them out to the house, the exact color tone, sepia paper, the headlines, the articles, the ads, it’s of the period. It’s the actual World. Dates, headlines, it’s really cool.

Judith Light [winner, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play, Other Desert Cities]:

On what’s next: I have a few things that I can’t actually talk about just yet, some plays and some film and some television, but I’ve also been designing a jewelry line, and we’re going to be debuting it on HSN in July. [The designs are all] taken from nature.

On advice for actors getting started: It is not about you or your ego. It is about giving a performance, that means to make sure that you’re making it about somebody else, not about yourself. Discipline and perseverance and dedication to your work and to all the people that are around you is more important than what you need. Make it about somebody else.

Alan Menken & Jack Feldman [winners, Best Original Score, Newsies the Musical]:

On the meaning of winning his award: It means a hell of a lot. I’m a New Yorker, born in Manhattan, and I grew up on theatre. It doesn’t get better than this.

On Harvey Fierstein’s book: Everybody knows Harvey as the outrageous, outspoken, show biz guy, but Harvey Fierstein is a really smart guy, he’s a mensch. JF: It’s really thanks to him that it all came together.

Christian Borle [winner, Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play, Peter and the Starcatcher:

On his first show: When I was 15 years-old I was 4’11, my friend dragged me to an audition for Oklahoma! and I got Will Parker. And my first girlfriend played Annie, so that helped seal the deal [that I wanted to be an actor] as well.

Hugh Jackman [winner, Special Tony Award]

On being at the Tony Awards: This is the greatest. It’s like Broadway’s greatest hits all in one night. Awards shows are often very heavy on awards, and little on the show. And I think the Tonys is big on show, and not so much on awards, which is the way it should be. I’ve been away for four months, and [before that] I was on Broadway, so I haven’t had a chance to see a lot. It’s been good to catch up.

On why he’s passionate about the stage: It’s where I began. That’s where I learned my craft. That’s where I fell in love with acting. And still to this day every time I’m doing any show, no matter what time I come on in the show, whether it’s the beginning or the end, I always go down and sit close to the curtain and listen to that buzz of the audience, because to me it’s just one of the great feelings, hearing that excitement of the audience coming in to see the show. That’s what I remember the most. Magic can happen, and that’s what I love, and hopefully I’ll be able to keep coming back.

On wanting to act: The very first thing I saw was Man of La Mancha. It was at my [future] high school, and my dad said, “Do you want to go to the school…to check it out?” I was probably eight at the time. Hugo Weaving was the star of that thing. I just couldn’t believe it. I can still remember it very, very easily.

James Corden [winner, Best Performance by a Lead Actor in a Play, One Man, Two Guvnors]:

On his advice for new actors: There are lots of people who will tell you that you’re too small, or too big, or too funny looking, or all of these things, and the very fact that I am holding this [Tony Award] should tell you that none of that matters. If you don’t give up, you can’t fail.

Nina Arianda [winner, Best Performance by a Lead Actress in a Play, Venus in Fur]:

On how NYU prepared her: There was something that was said to me at NYU which is, “Assume that you’re brilliant.” That mentality can prepare you to walk into an audition room, it can prepare you to stand here in front of [press] and not fall to pieces, and that’s kind of what it is. NYU has given me so much, and I am incredibly grateful to it.

Steve Kazee [winner, Best Performance by a Lead Actor in a Musical, Once]:

On his reaction to winning: I was absolutely shocked, I know everyone says that, but I grew up dirt poor in the middle of Nowheresville. You don’t ever expect for things to happen. You’re constantly surprised in your life, but you’re never let down.

On advice to new actors: I’m always a little cynical about this, because I always tell people, if there’s something else you can do, do that. This business is tough, it beats you down. I got out of school in 2005, by most standards I’ve had a very successful time, and I’m thrilled for that, but that’s not the way it goes for everyone.

If you feel like there’s something else you can do with your life, then do that. But if you feel like there’s nothing else you can do, and that you would be completely lost if you tried to do anything else, then you know that you’re in the right business. I know that’s how I’ve always felt.

On working with other Tony winners: I jokingly said if you work with me or hang out with me, you will win a Tony. I did Spamalot with Michael McGrath and Christian Borle, I was Lancelot with the two of them. I went to school with Nina Arianda. James Corden and I used to get drunk at Angus McIndoe’s all the time together, when I was doing Spamalot and he was doing The History Boys. I feel like every one of my friends won tonight. And Judith Light and I became friends recently and bonded over the loss of our parents. It was just such a surreal evening.

Audra McDonald [winner, Best Performance by a Lead Actress in a Musical, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess]

On being the youngest actress to win five Tony Awards: I don’t think it’s ever going to hit me, and that’s the truth. This is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do, it’s the only thing I’ve ever been good at. Ask my kids, I cannot cook, they love to make fun of me. It’s the only thing that fulfills me. Theater is where I found who I was. Up until I started working in theater when I was nine [years-old], I was a real awkward mess of a kid, and then I found theater and I started to get to know myself.

On what’s next: I would love to do more Shakespeare because it’s so challenging, maybe delve into more opera. For me, the right projects seem to come along at the right time. I don’t ever plan. I’m just interested in growing, trying to get better as an actress and a singer.