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J. Harrison Ghee and Alex Newell make history as first nonbinary people to win acting Tonys

Emotional ovations greeted the announcement of each of their categories. "Thank you for seeing me, Broadway," Newell said.
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/ Source: The Associated Press

Tony Awards history was made Sunday when Alex Newell and J. Harrison Ghee became the first nonbinary people to win Tonys for acting as the Broadway community forged ahead despite a Hollywood writers’ strike that left theater’s biggest night without a script.

“Thank you for the humanity. Thank you for my incredible company who raised me up every single day,” said Ghee, the winner for leading actor in a musical for “Some Like It Hot,” the adaptation of the classic cross-dressing comedy film.

The soulful Ghee stunned audiences with their voice and dance skills, playing a Chicago 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.”

“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,” Newell said to an ovation upon winning best featured actor in a musical.

A total of 26 Tony Awards were handed out Sunday for a season that had 40 new productions — 15 musicals, 24 plays and a special engagement during the first post-pandemic full season.

“Kimberly Akimbo,” an intimate, funny-sad musical, nudged aside splashier rivals Sunday to win best musical.

Victoria Clark, as the lead in the show, added a second Tony to her trophy case, having won one in 2005 for “The Light in the Piazza.”

Tom Stoppard’s “Leopoldstadt,” which explores Jewish identity with an intergenerational story, won best play, also earning awards for director Patrick Marber, featured actor Brandon Uranowitz and Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s costumes.

Stoppard, the British Czech playwright who now has five best play Tony Awards, joked that he won his first in 1968 and said playwrights were “getting progressively devalued in the food chain” despite being “the sharp ends of the inverted pyramid.”

Host Ariana DeBose opened a blank script backstage before she danced and leaped 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 to rely on spontaneity in a new venue far from the theater district.

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 performance, she thanked the labor organizers for allowing a compromise.

Winners demonstrated their solidarity with the striking writers either on the stage 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!”

Jodie Comer, the three-time Emmy-nominated star of “Killing Eve,” won leading actress in a play for her Broadway debut, the one-woman show “Prima Facie,” which illustrates how current laws fail terribly when it comes to sexual assault cases.

Sean Hayes won lead actor in a play for “Good Night, Oscar,” which dramatizes a long night’s journey into the scarred psyche of the late pianist Oscar Levant, now obscure but once a TV star.

“This has got to be the first time an Oscar won a Tony,” Hayes cracked. (It isn't.)

The show took place at the United Palace Theatre, in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan — a new venue for the ceremony, many miles from Times Square and the theater district.