Historic wins at the 76th Annual Tony Awards
The 76th annual Tony Awards marked several historic firsts with momentous wins across categories. Read about some of the evening's noteworthy winners.
The 76th Annual Tony Awards marked many firsts in the awards’ decades-long history. For one, the awards ceremony occurred at the United Palace theatre in Washington Heights, eight miles north of Times Square, the heartbeat of Broadway.
Because of the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike, the ceremony was broadcast sans script. Nevertheless, the evening’s master of ceremonies, Ariana DeBose, led the telecast with grace, flair, and show-stopping dance moves. Most importantly, many of the 76th Tony Awards firsts happened in the competitive awards, with history-making wins.
Historic wins at the 2023 Tonys
Alex Newell and J. Harrison Ghee made history as the first open non-binary performers to win Tony Awards.
Newell took to the stage first to receive the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for their star turn as Lulu in Shucked, a “farm to fable” about a community reliant on corn that loses their way when the prized crop dries up. Newell brings down the barn performance after performance with the show-stopping number “Independently Owned.”
“I wanted this my entire life,” said Newell in their acceptance speech. “Thank you for seeing me, Broadway. I should not be up here as a queer, non-binary, fat, Black little baby from Massachusetts …To anyone watching that thinks they can’t do it, I’m going to look you dead in the face and say, ‘You can do anything you put your mind to.’”
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Ghee’s win was another win for the LGBTQA+ audience in the house and watching from home. In Some Like It Hot, Ghee plays Jerry/Daphne, a bass player who disguises himself as a woman after witnessing a mob hit. The character finds purpose and comfort in their new identity as Daphnes, a representation that Ghee is grateful to portray.
“For every trans, non-binary, gender nonconforming human who ever was told you couldn't be, you couldn't be seen, this is for you,” said Ghee in their acceptance speech. In the press room, Ghee furthered the message: “I've lived a life with intention and purpose… I saw an opportunity to be that representation, to be an inspiration, to be someone that could be a part of people's lives in a way that they can see themselves and grow and learn. It's not something I take lightly, but it is something that I cherish and honor.”
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The 2023 Tony Award nominees spanned the gamut from Broadway newcomers to stage stalwarts. For Jodie Comer, the tour-de-force star of Prima Facie, this season marked her Broadway debut. In fact, the play, which first premiered in the West End, was Comer’s first professional stage credit.
“When I started in London, I was so fearful, and I didn’t know how I was gonna get there was when I really wanted to take the journey,” said Comer in the press room. “And I feel like these moments are just like the cherry on the cake in that in that sense of, it's not what you kind of set out to achieve, but it's been remarkable and, you know, to see the response that we are getting from the audience members and how this play is actually helping change people's lives means more than more than anything.”
This season, lighting designer Natasha Katz was the most nominated contender, with 17 career nominations, this year receiving nods for her work in both Some Like It Hot and Sweeney Todd. The dual nominee took home the Tony Award for Best Lighting for her work in the revival of Sweeney Todd.
Despite her many accolades, the recognition is still gratifying. “I feel great — it does not get old,” said Katz in the press room. “Oddly, I am more nervous this year than ever before, I don’t know why that is…I guess I’m working in reverse. It’s getting more new to me every time.”
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Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt won Best Play, making Stoppard the most awarded writer in history, with five Tony Awards for Best Play. Beginning in 1899 and ending in 1955, the drama follows multiple generations of one Jewish family throughout that period of history. Stoppard’s other Tony Award-winning plays include The Coast of Utopia in 2007, The Real Thing in 1984, Travesties in 1976, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in 1968.
LaChanze, who won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical in 2006 for A Color Purple, made her debut as a Broadway producer this season with Topdog/Underdog and Kimberly Akimbo. The shows won Best Revival of a Play and Best New Musical, giving LaChanze a winning streak.
"I am so honored and nervous because what this means now is that I have an excellent record — I'm a Tony-winning producer, every show I produce. I kind of think I should stop now," said LaChanze with a laugh in the press room.
Kimberly Akimbo's Best New Musical win also made composer Jeanine Tesori one of the most prolific female composers in Broadway history with five Tony Award nominations and two wins. Tesori's Fun Home won Best New musical in 2015. Tesori is the second-most decorated female composer on Broadway, behind Betty Comden, who won three Tony Awards.
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Historic 2023 Tony nominations
Despite not winning a spinning medallion, several Tony Awards nominees made history this Broadway season by just being recognized.
Katy Sullivan, nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her performance in Cost of Living, was the first female amputee to star on Broadway. Sullivan played Ani, also an amputee, and was one of two disabled performers in the cast portraying disabled characters. Martyna Majok’s play stipulates that disabled actors must be cast for these roles, moving the needle for representation on Broadway stages and beyond.
Since 1889, there have been 14 Broadway productions of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House. Amy Herzog’s searing adaptation of the proto-feminist play, nominated for Best Revival of a Play, is the first adaptation by a woman to appear on a Broadway stage. Herzog, in a rare ruling, was also nominated for Best Revival herself as a new writer on the work.
Jordan E. Cooper, who wrote and starred in Ain’t No Mo’, holds the record as the youngest Black American playwright on Broadway. The 27-year-old received nods in the Best Featured Actor in a Play and Best New Play categories. The play opened in November and had only 21 regular performances, and made waves when high-profile supporters, including Tyler Perry and Shonda Rhimes, helped extend it for one week.
Broadway’s KPOP had another too-short run, but it marked another historic first. Helen Park, the musical’s co-composer with Max Vernon, was the first female Asian writer on Broadway and the first to be nominated for her work. The Korean pop musical was nominated for Best Original Score.
Top image credit: Leopoldstadt on Broadway. (Photo by Joan Marcus)
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