Black women and Black nonbinary people made history at the 76th annual Tony Awards ceremony Sunday night in New York.
LaChanze became the first Black artist to win two Tony Awards in the same year for producing. As a producer of “Kimberly Akimbo,” LaChanze was one of the winners of Best Musical at the annual recognition of the best of Broadway theater. As a producer of “Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog,” she also was one of the winners of Best Revival of a Play, an award shared with Black producers Rashad V. Chambers and Debra Martin Chase.
“Kimberly Akimbo,” which is about a teenage girl with a rare disease that causes her body to age rapidly, won five Tonys, the most of the evening, and had eight nominations going into this year’s ceremony at the United Palace in New York City. “Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog”—a drama about two Black American brothers in a volatile relationship—won one Tony Award from its three nominations.
Meanwhile, entertainers J. Harrison Ghee of “Some Like It Hot” and Alex Newell of “Shucked” became the first openly nonbinary people to win Tonys. Ghee won for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical. Newell won the Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical. “Some Like It Hot,” which is based on the 1959 comedy movie of the same name, had the most nominations (13) going into the ceremony, and ended up winning four Tony Awards. “Shucked,” which won one Tony Award from nine nominations, is about a love triangle in a Midwestern corn-shucking community.
Ariana DeBose hosted the Tonys for the second year in a row. The ceremony aired on CBS and streamed live and on demand on Paramount+. Because of the Writers Guild of America strike, the ceremony was unscripted.
“Award shows are traditionally written by members of the WGA. So, in order for this show to go on, a whole host of people had to find a compromise,” DuBose explained during her opening monologue. “So, to every single person who had a hand in that compromise, I say a full-throated ‘Thank you.’ “
DeBose also expressed solidarity with the WGA members who are on strike, calling them “our siblings” who are “in pursuit of a fair deal.”
For “Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog” winning Best Revival of a Play, playwright Parks gave the acceptance speech, singling out “Topdog/Underdog” co-stars and Tony nominees Corey Hawkins and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.
“They showed up in a world that often doesn’t want the likes of us living at all.” Parks said. “Theater is the great cure. Thank you for acknowledging our contribution.”
Ghee (whose pronouns are they/them) got emotional when thanking their mother and colleagues. “My mother raised me to understand that my gifts that God gave me were not about me,” Ghee said. “[The gifts are] to use them as effective in the world, to help somebody else’s journey. So, thank you for teaching me how to live, how to love, how to give.”
Ghee added while intensely tapping the Tony Award trophy: “For every trans, gender-nonconforming human who ever was told you couldn’t be seen, this is for you. As we say in the show: ‘Some like it hot, and that ain’t bad.’ And honey, that’s the gospel according to J.”
Newell (whose pronouns are also they/them) said in their jubilant acceptance speech about winning a Tony Award: “I have wanted this my entire life.”
Newell thanked “everyone in this room right now,” especially their mother. “Thank you for loving me unconditionally,” Newell said. “Thank you for teaching me what strength is.”
Newell added: “Thank you for seeing me, Broadway. I should not be up here, as a queer, nonbinary, fat, Black little baby from Massachusetts. And to anyone who thinks that they can’t do it, I’m going to look you dead in your face [and say] that you can do anything you put your mind to!”
Black entertainers were featured prominently in performances too. Tony nominee Lorna Courtney did a standout rendition of Katy Perry’s “Roar” from “& Juliet.” Ghee, NaTasha Yvette Williams, and Adrianna Hicks lit up the stage with solo turns during the “Some Like It Hot” cast performance of the musical’s title song. Newell and Rheaume Crenshaw had their featured moments in a “Shucked” cast performance medley. At 19 years old, Justin Cooley of “Kimberly Akimbo” was one of the youngest performers at the ceremony.
Anna Uzele led the “New York, New York” ensemble in a spirited version of the musical’s title song. “Paradise Square” star Joaquina Kalukango, who won a Tony last year for her leading role in the musical, performed “Wishing You Were Somehow Here” from “The Phantom of the Opera” for the In Memoriam segment, which paid tribute to members of the Broadway community who’ve died since the 2022 Tony Awards ceremony.
Actress Denée Benton ventured into politics during the show. After announcing that the Excellence in Theatre Education Award had been presented to Jason Zembuch Young of Plantation, Florida, before the televised ceremony took place, she seemingly made reference to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ efforts to block Black history from being taught in Florida public schools.
“And while I am certain that the current [Ku Klux Klan] Grand Wizard—excuse me—governor of my home state of Florida … will be changing the name of this following town immediately, we were honored to present this award to the truly incredible and life-changing Jason Zembuch Young for enhancing the lives of students at South Plantation High School in Plantation, Florida.”
Benton’s comparison of DeSantis to a KKK leader got mostly cheers from the live audience.
Dominique Fishback, Wayne Brady, Marcel Spears, Lupita Nyong’o, Colman Domingo, Kenny Leon, Common, Uzo Aduba, Wilson Cruz, LaTonya Richardson Jackson, and Samuel L. Jackson also were presenters during the show, presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing. This year’s prizes in the Tony Awards’ competitive categories were “voted for by 769 designated Tony voters within the theatre community,” according to a Tony Awards press release.
A complete list of winners can be found at the official Tony Awards website.