Black artists spotlighted at the 74th annual Tony Awards, Amari Leigh
The 74th annual Tony Awards, which celebrated the pre-pandemic Broadway productions, promoted messages of hope and unity as live theater returns to New York City. Through their acceptance speeches, Black artists send a reminder that there is still much work to do as the theater community moves forward.
Broadway is Back! After over a year of empty theaters due to the coronavirus pandemic and turmoil within the theater industry due to structural racism and inequality, one of the industry’s most important nights returned on September 26th. The 74th annual Tony Awards, which celebrated the short-lived shows of the 2019-20 season, was held at the Winter Garden Theatre to a live audience —vaccinated and masked up, of course.
The theme of the night, “Broadway is Back” celebrated the return of live theatre in New York City and paid homage to classic Broadway shows, like “Wicked,” “The Lion King,” and “Hamilton,” who will all open their doors again to excited theater-goers this fall.
The evening, which was separated into two parts, was hosted by two of the biggest Black artists in the theater industry —six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald and Tony Award and Grammy Award winner Leslie Odom Jr. (Odom Jr. will be performing holiday hits from his newest Christmas album at the Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha this December). In both sessions, the hosts encouraged audience members to get vaccinated, mask up and get tickets to see a Broadway show.
Adrienne Warren, the 34 year-old Virginia native who is currently one of the leading ingénues in theater, won in the Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for starring as the titular role in “Tina-The Tina Turner Musical.” This was the first win and second nomination for Warren. In her acceptance speech, Warren said, “I want to thank Tina Turner for trusting me to bring her story home.”
Additionally, Warren took to the podium to shed light on social justice issues and inclusion in the theater industry. In the closing of her speech, Warren reminded audience members and those watching at home that “the world has been screaming for us to change” and argued that in order for the art to be more “transformative” and “change lives,” the entertainment business needs to operate “through a lens of humanity.”
Beloved theater director and Clark Atlanta University alumnus, Kenny Leon, echoed Warren’s message of systemic change in entertainment, arguing “we can do better.” In a now viral moment, Leon, who previously won a Tony award in 2014 for his direction of “A Raisin in the Sun,” shared, “No diss to Shakespeare, to Ibsen, to Chekov, to Shaw —-they’re all at the table, but the table got to be bigger […] we need our young people to learn about all of our amazing writers. And this land that we are standing on tonight is Native American land. So, we need to hear all of the stories. When we hear all of the stories, we are better.
Under Leon’s direction, “A Soldier’s Play” took home the award for Best Revival of a Play, marking one of two wins and seven nominations for the Roundabout Theatre Company production.
Leon also used his acceptance speech to give a shoutout to historically Black colleges and universities, sharing an important message with students: “I want to say to all those students —-present, past, and those yet to come —yes, you can.”
While it is undeniable that messages urging inclusion and change on such a high-profile platform are important, only time will tell if all of this talk of change will translate to the stage.
Source: Getty / Theo Wargo