Leopoldstadt, Kimberly Akimbo top Tony Awards

AFP 5 Min Read
5 Min Read
The 76th Annual Tony Awards - Show
Justin Cooley accepts the award for Best Musical for “Kimberly Akimbo” onstage during The 76th Annual Tony Awards at United Palace Theater on June 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)
 
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New York (AFP) – Tom Stoppard's play “Leopoldstadt,” a look at how one Jewish family confronts anti-Semitism and loss, and intimate tragicomic musical “Kimberly Akimbo” earned the top prizes Sunday at the Tony Awards, the highest honors in American theater.

Inclusion and identity were key themes on a night at which history was made —  J. Harrison Ghee in “Some Like It Hot” and Alex Newell in “Shucked” became the first openly nonbinary actors to win trophies for their work on Broadway.

Winners, performers and presenters alike at the United Palace theater in Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood also offered their full support to striking writers in Hollywood. 

The 85-year-old Stoppard, who won his fifth Tony for best play with “Leopoldstadt,” a work inspired in part by his own family history, called out artificial intelligence, saying he was “teeming with emotions a chat box wouldn't begin to understand.”

In the 55 years since his first Tony for best play for “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” Stoppard said, “I have witnessed the theater writer getting progressively devalued in the food chain. It's just something I thought I'd mention.”

The play won four awards overall, including best director and best featured actor.

“Kimberly Akimbo” — about a high school student suffering from a genetic disorder that causes her to age prematurely — won five Tonys including best musical and best lead actress for Victoria Clark.

Ghee and Newell gave emotional speeches, with Ghee telling the audience: “For every trans, nonbinary, gender-nonconforming human who ever was told… you couldn't be seen, this is for you.”

Britain's Jodie Comer, known to TV fans as the assassin Villanelle on “Killing Eve,” won for best actress in a play for her searing one-woman show “Prima Facie,” about a lawyer who defends men accused of sexual assault, until she herself is attacked.

Sean Hayes, who starred on TV's “Will and Grace,” won for best actor in a play for “Good Night, Oscar.”

  • Industry woes – 

The Tonys almost didn't happen, as a strike by the Writers Guild of America, which began in early May, called into question how to produce the live nationally televised event.

Eventually, the union said it would not picket the ceremony, after Tonys organizers made some concessions about the show's format — the show was unscripted, a fact made clear by host Ariana DeBose, who opened the show by looking at blank pages.

“Our siblings over at the WGA are currently on strike in pursuit of a fair deal,” she said after an elaborate opening dance number. 

“I'm live and unscripted… buckle up.”

Staging the Tonys gala was seen as key for Broadway productions. The event serves as an annual showcase for American theater — and a live ad to encourage tourists to buy tickets.

Broadway took a serious hit during the Covid-19 lockdown, which shuttered theaters and left travelers skittish about returning to crowded venues.

But the Broadway League, the industry's national trade association, released data last month indicating that theatergoers were coming back to Manhattan.

During the 2022-23 season, the first full one since the pandemic, 88.4 percent of seats were filled – “comparable to pre-pandemic levels,” the league said in a statement. Total attendance was at more than 12.2 million.

But the season was not without its victims, including some of the shows up for awards on Sunday.

In addition, “Phantom of the Opera,” the longest-running show in Broadway history, closed in April after 35 years, in part because it struggled to rebound from Broadway's 18-month closure.


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