BRAVO Andre De Shields!
After 50 years in the business, at the age of 73 and at the 73rd annual Tony Awards, De Shields won his first Tony Award for best performance by an actor in a featured role in a musical for his portrayal of Hermes in “Hadestown.” De Shields, in his acceptance speech addressed his hometown. “Baltimore, Maryland I hope you’re watching at home because I’m making good on my promise to make sure you would be proud of me as your native son.” He also shared three cardinal rules, “1. Surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming. 2. The slowest way is how to get where you want to be. 3. The top of the mountain is the bottom of another, so keep climbing.” Talking to the press he shared, “The greater world that I want to achieve is a heavenly one. Part of what I said this evening has to do with that comment that I said when I said to my colleagues in Baltimore, simply my family—my mother and my father who had dreams of being a performer, my mother wanted to dance, my father wanted to sing. So, when you see me dance, I’m using my mother’s feet, when you hear me sing, I’m using my father’s voice. This after so many installment payments is that comment, ‘debt paid in full.’” Talking about how he felt when they announced that he won, De Shields said, “I felt successful. I wasn’t going to leave Broadway until they gave me what I deserved… But there are so many other adventures that I want to have, there are so many other mountains that I want to climb. I gaze at the stars because the stars gaze to me. The decisions I make have to do with me being a Capricorn because Capricorns are climbers, so I’m looking for my next heap.”
De Shields’ [who also won the Drama Desk Award for this role, June 2] was one of eight Tony Awards garnered by “Hadestown,” which also won best musical; best music & lyrics, Anais Mitchell; best direction, Rachel Chavkin; best orchestration, Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose; best scenic design, Rachel Hauck; best lighting design, Bradley King; and best sound design, Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz.
Talking about the Broadway company of talent, Chavkin shared, “From the first day of rehearsal for the Broadway company we really think of each member of the company as a musician. What is often taken for granted is the musicianship of the performers. The reason I think that word is really special is it requires a profound level of craft…There is also a lot of level of trusts for our cast.”
Having worked on 30 Broadway shows in an illustrious career in orchestration, Harold Wheeler was recognized with a special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre. A humble Wheeler thanked his wife of 40 years, actress Hattie Winston, his daughters and grandchildren. He commented, “I try to support whatever is going on onstage. I am honored and humbled by this award.”
Michael McElroy, founder of Broadway Inspirational Voices, which for 25 years has had Broadway professionals coming together to sing gospel music and empower children through the arts, received a special Tony for Excellence In Theatre. McElroy happily shared, “When I started Broadway Inspirational Voices 25 years ago, it was really about finding somewhere to feed myself from this crisis that was going on in our community. Then from myself I reached out to 12 people and I said come let’s sing gospel music and do a benefit for Broadway Cares, Equity Fights AIDS, and then that turned into 10 years of benefits and more members and that turned into us becoming a 501C3 and then reaching outside the community to mentor and create outreach programs at Ronald McDonald House and working with LGBT programs at Covenant House. It just grew bigger than I could have ever dreamed. And when you do the work you keep your head down and you do it because it feeds you. If feeds us as a community, it feeds us as a choir and then to have the moment, where all of a sudden the theater community is saying we see you, we recognize you, we want to celebrate you—I’m so appreciative. We’re about possibilities, bringing hope to young people and letting them know the arts are there for them. We’re about inspiring them to go for it, and then hopefully from that experience as we know arts have done for us—transform your life…If we can do that child by child then the possibilities are endless in how we can change the world in which we are living.”
Jason Michael Webb had also received a special Tony honor for the superb, A Capella vocal arrangement he created for “Choir Boy.”
Tony Award winner Brian Stokes Mitchell introduced Tony Award winner Cynthia Erivo, who gave a lovely rendition of “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” as photos of those who have passed away showed on the screen during the In Memoriam.
African-Americans featured during the evening included Tony Award winner Billy Porter, Samuel L. Jackson and wife Latanya Richardson Jackson, Audra McDonald, and playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney (“Choir Boy”).
What you need to do now is buy tickets to “Hadestown.” See what Andre is doing on that stage and be amazed by this phenomenal production that is taking Broadway musicals to the next level. Also, realize that there are many Broadway shows that employ African-Americans who are doing fantastic work, look at the shows’ website and you can see photos of the cast, then go support our people that are making things happen on Broadway!