Thursday, June 15, 2023

I Love A Success Story - Historic Night for Nonbinary Performers

J. Harrison Ghee and Alex Newell Win Tony Awards

Ghee became the first out nonbinary performer to win a Tony for best leading actor in a musical, for ‘Some Like It Hot.’

By Michael Paulson
June 11, 2023

J. Harrison Ghee accepting the Tony Award

J. Harrison Ghee, whose portrayal of a gender-questioning musician fleeing the mob in “Some Like It Hot” has charmed critics and audiences, won a Tony Award for best leading actor in a musical Sunday night, becoming the first out nonbinary actor to win that award.

Ghee’s victory came shortly after Alex Newell, who is also nonbinary, won a Tony Award for best featured actor in a musical, becoming the first out nonbinary performer to win a Tony.

The wins come at a time when gender identity has become a central element of America’s culture wars, as conservatives in multiple states press for legislation on a variety of L.G.B.T.Q.-related issues, including gender-affirming medical care for transgender children and teenagers, bathroom access, sports participation and, in some states, performances.

Alex Newell acceptance Speech: 

...I love you all. Thank you for seeing me. Broadway, I should not be up here as a queer, nonbinary, fat, Black little baby from Massachusetts. And to anyone that thinks that they can’t do it, I’m going to look you dead in your face and tell you that you can do anything you put your mind to.”

The Tony Awards, like the Oscars, have only gendered categories for performers, and Ghee and Newell agreed to be considered eligible for awards as actors. (Another nonbinary performer this season, Justin David Sullivan of “& Juliet,” opted not to be considered for awards rather than compete in a gendered category.)

Asked in a recent interview with The New York Times about having been nominated in a gendered category, Ghee said: “Wherever I am, I will show up as who I am. Someone’s compartmentalization of me doesn’t limit me in any way.

“I hope for the industry we can remove the gender of it,” they added, “because we are creators and we should free ourselves beyond so many labels and let the work speak for itself.”

Alex Newell accepting the Tony Award

At least two performers who later came out as nonbinary have previously won Tony Awards as best featured actress in a musical: Sara Ramirez, who won in 2005 for “Spamalot,” and Karen Olivo (also known as K O), who won in 2009 for a revival of “West Side Story.” Also: Last year, the Tony Award for best score went to Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss for “Six,” and Marlow is nonbinary.

Ghee’s depiction of a main character in “Some Like It Hot” reflects the way views on gender have evolved since 1959, when the Billy Wilder film it was based on was released. In the movie Jack Lemmon plays a musician named Jerry who dresses as a woman named Daphne to flee the mob; in the musical Ghee plays the same character, but Jerry’s path to becoming Daphne becomes one of self-discovery, not disguise.

The performance earned critical praise. Jesse Green, The Times’s chief theater critic, wrote that Ghee “carefully traces Jerry’s transformation into Daphne, and then the merging of the two identities into a third that takes us into territory that’s far more complex than jokey drag.”

Ghee, 33, worked as a drag performer before finding success in musical theater, with key roles on Broadway in “Kinky Boots” and “Mrs. Doubtfire” before “Some Like It Hot.”

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