Star of Stage and Steam

updated 09/14/1992 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/14/1992 AT 01:00 AM EDT

ONE LOOK AT TONYA PINKIN'S LIFE these days and you wonder how she's avoided an identity crisis. She starts out at 5:30 A.M. in her Manhattan loft, having breakfast with her two young children. At 7:30 she's in fictional Pine Valley on the set of the ABC soap All My Children, where she plays single, street-smart attorney Li-via Frye. Then come dinner and bathing the kids before she heads to Broadway and becomes Sweet Anita, jazz great Jelly Roll Morton's red-hot lover in the hit musical Jetty's Last Jam.

So many roles, so little time—but Pinkins, 30, isn't complaining. "I have all this energy that needs to be doing something," she says. And plenty of people are taking notice. Livia's interracial romance with businessman Tom Cudahy has steamed up daytime TV. And Sweet Anita's sass and songs won her a recent Tony Award for best featured actress. Says Pinkins: "I feel like I'm having a moment of grace."

The daughter of a former Chicago policeman and a bus driver, Pinkins wasn't even a year old when her parents separated; thereafter she lived alternately with her mother and paternal grandmother. She began acting classes at 9 and by 14 had done commercials for Coke and McDonald's. Pinkins won a full scholarship to Yale but instead chose Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh, where she could major in theater, music and dance. But after landing a role on Broadway in the Stephen Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along, she left college at 19 and moved to New York City.

There were dry spells, and years of regional theater. In 1983 she got a part in As the World Turns, where she became friends with fellow soaper Meg Ryan. Unhappy with her character, Pinkins quit in 1986 and shortly after married Hon Brawer, 49, the music director of Another World. They have two sons—Maxx, 4, and Myles, 2.

Pinkins first played Sweet Anita in the 1991 Los Angeles production of Jelly; as it was ending, she got the part of Livia. "To do All My Children," she says, "that's making it." When Jelly moved to Broadway, the soap's producers agreed to work around her theater schedule. She has grown close and comfy with her TV family. "We hang out all day and solve the problems of the world," she says. By contrast, she and Jelly's busy star, Gregory Hines, "literally meet onstage."

Pinkins likes lo spend what spare time she has reading works by black women writers, particularly Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor. She also raises funds for the Children's Brain Tumor Foundation, which she helped found in 1989 after a 5-year-old cousin died of brain cancer. Deluged with offers since her Tony Award, she recently signed a deal to play an FBI agent in an HBO movie, Strapped, which will be shown next year. Ultimately she's shooting for nothing less than big-screen superstardom. "I have lo shake anybody who tells me that hasn't happened to a black woman," she says. "I say, 'Well, it hasn't happened yet.' "

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