At the 59th annual Drama Desk Awards, held at Town Hall on West 43rd Street, three was the magic number. That was the number of African-American actors who came away with the coveted award that acknowledges the best in Broadway and off-Broadway theater.
Audra McDonald led the way with Outstanding Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.” McDonald spoke about the role and how she felt about this acknowledgement.
“I love Lady Day. I’ve fallen in love with her since working on this piece … I’m feeling great, happy, I’m on a cloud. I kept thinking about Billie Holiday. She deserved so much more than what she got,” McDonald said.
James Monroe Iglehart won for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical for his role as the Genie in “Aladdin.” If you have seen the show, then you’ve experienced the unbridled energy he exudes in the role. He is a delight to watch and very funny.
For Iglehart, it is a dream come true. Talking about the role and the win, he said, “I’m having the best time in my life. Musical theater and Disney together, it’s a dream come true … I’ve worked hard and our whole cast has worked so hard. When Drama Desk acknowledges it, it says our work wasn’t in vein. I feel great; this is icing on an already wonderful cake. I love my job, and I love working for Disney.”
John Douglas Thompson took the Drama Desk for Solo Performance for his off-Broadway production of “Satchmo at the Waldorf.” He talked about the roles he plays and what he wants the audience to get out of the play.
“I play three characters: [Louie] Armstrong, his Jewish manager Joe Glazer and Miles Davis. The play has a lot of information about Armstrong and his relationship with his manager and Miles Davis. When people come to see the show, I want them to get to a better understanding of Armstrong as the man behind the horn. Not the guy who made ‘What a Wonderful World’ and ‘Hello Dolly,’ but someone who was very political and racially conscious and obviously a generous person and a virtuoso. A lot of people say ‘Hello Dolly’ and ‘What a Wonderful World,’ what a happy, jolly man, and he was much more than that.”
Thompson was delighted about receiving the award, remarking, “I feel good for me and for Louis. Even though he’s been gone for many years, maybe he’s not necessarily forgotten as the ‘Godfather of Music.’ People are coming to the show, and they are learning about Armstrong … about his political and racial awareness and loves. Most of this generation of youth don’t know about Armstrong. They think of hip-hop, but if it wasn’t for Armstrong, their music probably wouldn’t exist. He invented a whole genre of music—jazz. You need to understand that past to know what your present and future can be. I think African-Americans should re-embrace him. The Armstrong house is in Queens, the archives are at Queens College. Even if people can’t come to the show, they need to study and learn about this man.”
An additional honor for the African-American community was when “After Midnight” won for Best Revue. This is an honor because the show has a talented, large and completely Black cast.
Go and support these productions—they are fantastic and very inspiring.