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Alex Newell, J. Harrison Ghee become first non-binary Tony-winning actors

Both play critically acclaimed and fan-favorite roles in this season's new musicals: Newell as Lulu in Shucked and Ghee as Jerry/Daphne in Some Like It Hot.

Gillian Russo
Gillian Russo

Alex Newell and J. Harrison Ghee have made history as the first non-binary actors to win Tony Awards in the ceremony's 76-year history.

Both actors have appeared on Broadway before — Ghee in Kinky Boots and Mrs. Doubtfire, and Newell in Once On This Island — but they're first-time Tony nominees. They already made history just by being nominated: They were also the first non-binary acting nominees in Tony Awards history. (Last year, Six co-creator Toby Marlow became the first non-binary writer ever nominated.)

Some Like It Hot took home three other prizes, and Newell holds Shucked's sole win. Following their wins, the actors spoke about the importance of this historic and trailblazing moment and bringing their fullest selves to the Broadway stage.

Read the full list of 2023 Tony Award winners.

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J. Harrison Ghee

Ghee won the Best Leading Actor in a Musical category for their performance as Jerry/Daphne in Some Like It Hot. They played an updated version of the character from the same-named classic Billy Wilder film; in the musical adaptation, Jerry discovers that Daphne, and femininity in general, is key to their truest sense of self.

"Thank you [Some Like It Hot bookwriters] Amber [Ruffin] and Matthew [López] for letting me lead, for letting me bring myself to the work," Ghee said in their acceptance speech.

Ghee's performance has allowed many audience members to see gender-expansive identities represented on stage for the first time, the actor told New York Theatre Guide in May. Even the actor only recently came out as non-binary themselves.

"It is wonderful to walk every day and give myself the grace to grow," Ghee said in a post-win interview. "To give myself the space and an opportunity to step out of my own comfort zone and to break labels and boundaries for myself first and foremost, and be that permission for others.

"When I saw the script and saw the journey that I got to take, I saw the opportunity to be that representation, to be that inspiration, and to be a part of people's lives in the way that they perceive themselves and grow and learn," they continued.

"It's not something I take lightly, but it is something that I cherish."

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Alex Newell

Newell won Best Featured Actor in a Musical for playing Lulu in Shucked. Their character is the world-wise, whiskey-making cousin of Maizy, the farmgirl who travels outside their small, insular town of Cob County to find someone to save their beloved corn crop.

"I have wanted this my entire life," Newell said in their acceptance speech. Speaking to the rarity of non-binary actors winning major awards, they went on to joke, "I should not be up here as a queer, non-binary, fat, Black little baby from Massachusetts!"

Most notably, Lulu's showstopping Act 1 solo, "Independently Owned," has become a fan-favorite musical number thanks to Newell's powerhouse vocals — showing that they do, indeed, deserve to be there.

Get Shucked tickets now.

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