After two years of not being able to be together due to COVID, the 75th annual Tony Awards Red Carpet felt like coming home! It was ablaze with excitement and the joy of communion. It was a wonderful opportunity to speak with people from the nominated shows and other celebrities who just came for the fact that we finally could. They came to support their fellow artists and feel proud for the many Black shows that were nominated in multiple categories. “A Strange Loop” had received 11 nominations; “MJ”—10; “Paradise Square”—10; “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf”—7; “Clyde’s”—5, “Trouble in Mind”—4, “Skeleton Crew”—3; and “Lackawanna Blues”—1. This was an evening on Sunday, June 12 at Radio City Music Hall that had spirits high and thoughts positive. It was an honor to know also that this Broadway season saw plays by first time Black playwrights including Douglas Lyons with “Chicken & Biscuits,” Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu with “Pass Over,” and Keenan Scott III with “Thoughts of a Colored Man.” It is amazing to realize that Lynn Nottage had not only written “Clyde’s,” but also did the book for “MJ,” and off-Broadway at Lincoln Center, she created a libretto for her play, now turned opera “Intimate Apparel.” Yes, there was a great deal for Blacks to be proud of this year, no matter how the Tonys turned out.
Actress Tamara Tunie was on the Red Carpet and shared her joy about all the Black shows that have come out this season. “I think it’s wonderful and it’s something that we have been working for, and it’s satisfying to see so many plays from people of color and so many Black artists being recognized, being celebrated, having their stories told. All the nominations are the cherry on top.”
Another person on the Red Carpet was Roshunda Jones-Koumba, recipient of the Excellence in Theatre Education Award, she is the theater director at G.W. Carver Magnet High School in Houston, Texas. She has held this position for 18 years. “I have a passion for education and molding our youth, that’s my calling.” Talking about the purpose of theater she said, “It helps to develop a well-rounded person, it teaches you empathy, teaching you self-confidence and self-esteem levels just raise when you’re taking theater. It is a collaborative art and you’re working together, and that teamwork teaches you that solid foundation.”
From the 10-times nominated “Paradise Square,” lyricists and nominees Masi Asare and Nathan Tysen said, “We’re an original musical and we try to make it as interesting as possible.” Talking about the message of this historically based musical looking at an area in New York where Irish immigrants and freed Blacks lived and thrived, Asare said, “It’s incredibly important, the fact that this community existed and we lost it, we could look back and think what can we do as a society to recapture it. It’s a story that a lot of people don’t know about. It can be inspiring for us now to think—me as an individual when I come to see the show—what are the choices I could make in my own time. Immigrants of many different backgrounds across the city can relate to it,” Asare said.
Antwayn Hopper, who plays Thought 6 in “A Strange Loop,” was dressed as Prince Charming and he was magnificent! Talking about “A Strange Loop” and why a musical about a fat, queer Black man is important to see on the Broadway stage, Hopper remarked, “I think people will see us in a different stereotype and take on our community differently, in terms of thoughts centered around this community. You will also perhaps look inward and say, have you contributed to this narrative? And, if you have, are you going to turn it around and if you haven’t, are you going to help your friend turn it around. Each one, teach one. We’re sending a message, it’s okay to be gay and Black, you’re a human just like everyone else is.” With this musical being on Broadway, Hopper does hope that there will be room for more musicals about the struggles of queer Black men on Broadway, but he also added, “I hope that’s not just our narrative, the struggle, I hope we have celebrations, I don’t want us to always have to do Black trauma.”
Emilio Sosa, nominated for best costume design for “Trouble in Mind” the Alice Childress play, discussing the costumes, credited Charles Randolph Wright the director: “He really set the bar high for us in all the departments. It took him 15 years to get it to Broadway and the weight of it and the reference he had for this work means so much.”
Lynne Meadow and Barry Grove, executive producers at Manhattan Theatre Club, were proud of the three plays they gave to the theater season, as they should be—“Lackawanna Blues,” “Skeleton Crew,” and “How I Learned To Drive.” Meadow explained, “Every play that we did this year dealt with overcoming adversity. With how I learned to drive, she learned to drive. With ‘Skeleton Crew’ we watched a community of people pull together and support each other during difficult times, and of course Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s tribute to Nanny, the mother whose own life was a story in heroism and Ruben’s own life was also one of heroism. Overcoming obstacles, overcoming odds. We’re very proud of the work this season because so many great artists contributed. Dominique Morisseau is a great playwright and she had never been on our stage. Paula Vogel, a great American artist.”
Broadway director, Kenny Leon, talking about the Black shows on Broadway, all the nominations and the climate on Broadway for Blacks said, “I just think that we have to keep doing the work. Our people have always been doing the work, we can’t slow down. I want to honor those seven writers that did those plays at the beginning of the season. Those seven writers that said it’s okay to step out, to come back to the theater. I thought that we did beautifully, we just got to stay on it because people forget quick. We have to just keep on it, keep on the industry, keep on ourselves and keep uplifting each other.”