Nikki M. James

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The Showstopper: Nikki M. James
Her breakthrough: Playing wide-eyed, angel-voiced Nabulungi in this year's cheeky Broadway hit The Book of Mormon—a performance for which she won a Tony.

Her Aha! Moment: Seeing Cats on Broadway when she was a little girl. "The spectacle and also the simplicity of one person standing on the stage singing a song and telling a story—it moved me."

Her biggest hurdle: Turning down a season at Canada's internationally acclaimed Stratford Shakespeare Festival when she found out her newborn nephew had kidney disease. "There was no guarantee that another job was going to come, but my family needed me. That's when I realized there are more important things than being on a stage. A year later, I'm a Tony Award winner and my nephew is getting a new kidney!"

Lesson she's learned: "We are made from stronger stuff than any of us knows. The number one thing is not even just to keep going but to trust that there's something more. Always."

Breakthrough advice: "When you first tell someone you want to be an actress, they look at you like you're insane. But you have to trust that you are smart enough to make the right decisions for your own life." —Lucy Kaylin