The intimate, funny-sad musical “Kimberly Akimbo” nudged aside splashier rivals on Sunday to win the musical crown at the Tony Awards on a night when Broadway flexed its creative muscle amid the Hollywood writers’ strike and made history with laurels for nonbinary actors J. Harrison Ghee and Alex Newell.
“Kimberly Akimbo”, with songs by Jeanine Tesori and a book by David Lindsay-Abaire, follows a teen with a rare genetic disorder that gives her a life expectancy of 16 navigating a dysfunctional family and a high school romance. Victoria Clark, as the lead in the show, added a second Tony to her trophy case, having previously won one in 2005 for “The Light in the Piazza”.
Producer David Stone credited the musical’s writers for penning a magic trick, calling “Kimberly Akimbo” a “musical comedy about the fragility of life, so healing and so profound and joyous that is almost impossible”. The musical took home a leading five awards, including best book and Score.
Earlier, Tony Awards history was made when Newell and Ghee became the first nonbinary people to win Tonys for acting.
The leading actor in a musical winner Ghee, who stars in “Some Like It Hot”, the adaptation of the classic cross-dressing comedy film said:
“Thank you for the humanity. Thank you for my incredible company raised me up every single day”.J. Harrison Ghee
The soulful Ghee stunned audiences with their voice and dance skills, playing a musician — on the run from gangsters — who tries on a dress and is transformed.
Newell, who plays Lulu — an independent, don’t-need-no-man whiskey distiller in “Shucked” — has been blowing audiences away with their signature number, “Independently Owned”. They won for best-featured actor in a musical.
Newell to an ovation said:
“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 that thinks that they can’t do it, I’m going to look you dead in your face that you can do anything you put your mind to”.Alex Newell
Tom Stoppard’s “Leopoldstadt”, which explores Jewish identity with an intergenerational story, won best play, also earning wins for director Patrick Marber, featured actor Brandon Uranowitz and Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s costumes.
The British-Czech playwright, who now has five best play Tony Awards, joked he won his first in 1968 and noted that playwrights were “getting progressively devalued in the food chain” despite being “the sharp ends of the inverted pyramid”.
Tony Awards’ second-time hosting Ariana DeBose
Second-time Tony Awards host Ariana DeBose opened a blank script backstage before dancing and leaping her way to open the main show with a hectic opening number that gave a jolt of electricity to what is usually an upbeat, safe, and chummy night. The writers’ strike left the storied awards show honoring the best of musical theater and plays without a script.
Before the pre-show began, DeBose revealed to the audience the only words that would be seen on the teleprompter: “Please wrap up”. Later in the evening, virtually out of breath after her wordless opening performance, she thanked the labor organizers for allowing a compromise.
“I’m live and unscripted. You’re welcome. So to anyone who may have thought that last year was a bit unhinged, to them, I say, ‘Darlings, buckle up’”.Ariana DeBose
Winners demonstrated their support for the striking writers either at the podium or on the red carpet with pins. Miriam Silverman, who won the Tony for best-featured actress in a play for “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window”, ended her speech with:
“My parents raised me to believe in the power of labor and workers being compensated and treated fairly. We stand with the WGA in solidarity!”.Miriam Silverman