Michael Arden has been a highly respected artist within the theater community on both coasts of America for years. His name has also been among the prestigious list printed on the cards of Tony award nominees. Michael Arden is one of those rare, gifted talents whose range stretches him from acting on the stage and in film and television to writing and directing. The last year that Michael Arden was a Tony award nominee was in 2016, for his direction of the“Spring Awakening” revival that predominantly starred a deaf cast. That year, Lin-Manuel Miranda's sweeping saga of American Revolutionary history set to rapid-fire rap, “Hamilton,” swept the awards and box office like a hurricane.

This year, Michael Arden is once more a Tony-nominated director for “Once on This Island.” The vibrant, deeply spirited production is nominated for Best Revival of a Musical, and an additional seven other awards. As with everything Michael Arden does, the musical brings a special touch of inclusion and heart, components that have become hallmarks for the multitalented man of the stage and screen. His personal story is proof of the power of love, as he shared on May 28 with “CBS This Morning,” and his sense of gratitude pulsates in every movement, word, and song.

From stranded to saved

As the turn of nature would have it, the Memorial Day headlines are filled with stories of ravaging floods in Maryland, and coming storm, Alberto, making landfall from the Gulf of Mexico.

The story of “Once on This Island” pivots on a Caribbean island community’s rescue of a child literally “up a tree,” seeking salvation from a storm. The saga that combines romance with fairytale elements unfolds as an older couple takes in the little girl, and ripples of love spread.

Arden wanted to bring true authenticity to his staging, and he and the designers traveled to Haiti to get a sense of the devastation and the rebuilding of lives.

Michael Arden’s own memories flood with that kind of sheltering love. Revealing only that “a family tragedy” left him with no one to raise him as a child, his grandparents, Jim and Pat Moore, stepped in to give more than simply a home and sustenance. They were “an incredible couple," Arden described.

Midland, Texas may not be a theatrical hotbed, but Michael Arden found kindred souls among the local Pickwick Players, and from there, won a Presidential scholarship to Interlochen Arts Academy to study theater.

He graduated in 2001 and went on to be granted full scholarship to the Juilliard School of Performing Arts. Arden heard his own Broadway call, leaving Juilliard in 2005 to join the revival company of “Big River,” taking the role of Tom Sawyer.

Michael Arden insists that it was much more than his grandparents’ availability and willingness to drive him to theater practice—it was their genuine effort to understand the grandson in their midst. He realized even then that being a gay man wasn't something that their “Southern Baptist upbringing really prepared them for,” but still, continued Arden, “Those differences never got in the way of never-ending love and support.”

That selfless and timeless gift moves Michael Arden to this day, in all he does.

Reaching into the trees

In his recent comments to a local Midland newspaper, Arden graciously gave thanks to artists, technicians, designers, and producers who “toiled in the sand and debris” to create what he calls a “magical and relevant piece of theater.”

Michael Arden is daring enough to realize that “rock stars” can be hiding in trees. One example is the deaf actress, Treshelle Edmonds, who was cast by Arden for his “Spring Awakening” revival, and now stars on Broadway in “Children of a Lesser God.” She marvels at the change in her life, that “particularly a black, deaf actress” has starred twice on Broadway as a marvelous example of Michael paying forward the gift of vision and grace, and giving her such an opportunity.

The 35-year-old director isn’t afraid to defy boundaries in other ways, either. Hailey Kilgore was picked straight out of college by Arden for her role in “Once on This Island,” and she's up for her own Tony nomination. Male actor, Alex Newell, portrays the role of Mother Earth with delight and gusto as a “strong female.” A female portrays the God of Death, and veteran cast member Lea Salonga provides a “pioneering, groundbreaking spirit” that few artists ever attain.

What makes Michael Arden feel “so lucky” is that girls come in to see this show and realize, “Oh, I can do that!” He was moved to tears when asked what he would say to his grandparents, but the words came easily. “I’d say thank you,” gushed the Tony nominee, reminding that “I will try in everything I do to honor the love you gave me.”

It is truly amazing what one ripple of love, and one shake of a tree, can yield.

The 2018 Tony awards air live on June 10 on CBS.