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Alex Newell, J Harrison Ghee First Openly Nonbinary Actors to Win Tony – The Hollywood Reporter


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Shucked’s Alex Newell became the first openly nonbinary performer to win a Tony Award for actor in a featured role in a musical, while later in the night, Some Like It Hot‘s J. Harrison Ghee became the second ever openly nonbinary actor to win a Tony with their leading role in a musical win.

Newell and Ghee accepted their honors during Sunday night’s 2023 Tony Awards ceremony, which took place at the United Palace in New York’s Washington Heights and honored the 2022-23 season’s best work.

During Newell’s speech, they expressed how the Tony win was something they had wanted their entire life, while also giving a special thanks to the Shucked ensemble, crew and creative team alongside their mother, “for loving me unconditionally” and “teaching me what strength is.”

“Thank you for seeing me, Broadway. I should not be up here as a queer nonbinary fat black lil’ baby from Massachusetts,” they continued. “To anyone that thinks they can’t do it, I’m going to look you dead in your face [and say] that you can do anything you put your mind to.”

Newell was nominated alongside Kevin Cahoon (Shucked), Justin Cooley (Kimberly Akimbo), Kevin Del Aguila (Some Like It Hot) and Jordan Donica (Lerner & Loewe’s Camelot).

While accepting their honor for leading actor in a musical, Ghee took to the stage and also spoke about the impact of their mother, while dedicating the award to trans, nonbinary and gender nonconforming people.

“My mother raised me to understand that my gifts that God gave me were not about me; to use them to be effective in the world; to help somebody else’s journey,” Ghee said. “So thank you for teaching me how to live, how to love, how to give. For every trans, nonbinary gender nonconforming human who was told you couldn’t be seen, this is for you.”

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They went on to thank book writers Matthew Lopez and Amber Ruffin for “letting me lead; for letting me bring myself to the work; for letting me be representation; letting lives be seen. Thank you for the humanity.”

In the Tony’s pressroom, after accepting their award on stage, Ghee — who portrays one half of “The Tip-Tap Twins” who begins the show identifying as a man before realizing themselves as Daphne — celebrated their portrayal as something they don’t take lightly. “When I saw the script and saw the journey that I got to take, I saw an opportunity to be that representation, to be an inspiration, to be someone that could a part of people’s lives in a way that they could see themselves and, and grow and learn and live and expand,” they said.

They also shared how “wonderful” the experience has been “to walk every day and give myself the grace to grow, to give myself the space and the opportunity every day to play, to step out of my own comfort zone and to break labels and limits and boundaries for myself, first and foremost, and to hopefully be that for others.”

“People often see me and say, well, I could never wear that or I can never do that, and this whole season, I have been living in this mantra: You have to free yourself to see yourself,” they added.

Ghee was nominated alongside their Some Like It Hot co-star Christian Borle, Josh Groban (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street), Brian d’Arcy James (Into the Woods), Ben Platt (Parade) and Colton Ryan (New York, New York).

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Newell and Ghee made history earlier this season as the first openly nonbinary nominees in their respective categories. Both chose to be nominated within the best actor pools, as the Tonys still use gendered performance categories.

Another nonbinary actor on stage this season, & Juliet‘s Justin David Sullivan, withdrew from nomination contention for the 2023 awards due to the gendered categories, a move that followed a similar decision by Asia Kate Dillon, a nonbinary actor who appeared in Macbeth last season.

During the 2022 Tonys, Six co-creator Toby Marlow became the first openly nonbinary composer-lyricist in the show’s history to win for best original score.

Academy Award winner and Tony Award nominee Ariana DeBose hosted the 2023 awards show, which was executive produced by both Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss and directed by Weiss. The annual event — presented by the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing — honors theater professionals for distinguished achievement on Broadway and was broadcast by CBS and streamed on Paramount+.

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