(l-r) Alex Newell, Sean Hayes, and J. Harrison Ghee at the 2023 Tony Awards.
(l-r) Alex Newell, Sean Hayes, and J. Harrison Ghee at the 2023 Tony Awards. Photos by Theo Wargo and Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

The 76th Tony Awards made history last night by handing out two of its top honors to nonbinary actors. It’s the first time out nonbinary performers have taken acting awards at the event.

First up, Alex Newell won “Best Performance by an Actor in a featured role in a Musical” for their role in Shucked.

Newell used their speech at the United Palace in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood to tell the audience how they’d dreamed of winning a Tony Award their whole life. They thanked the rest of the Shucked team and also their mom “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.”

J Harrison Ghee won “Best Performance by an Actor in a leading role in a Musical” for their role in Some Like It Hot.

“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 during their speech. “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.”

Sean Hayes thanks his husband

Another of the night’s big winners was Sean Hayes. Known to millions for his many years on Will & Grace, Hayes won his “Best Performance by an Actor in a leading role in a play” Tony for Good Night, Oscar. In the show, he plays the comedian Oscar Levant.

Hayes used his acceptance speech to thank his husband of eight years, Scott ‘Scotty’ Icenogle. Hayes told Icenogle, “You are my purpose, every single day of my life.”

Icenogle later posted a photo to Instagram of Hayes with his award.

Michael Arden hits back at school bullies

Michael Arden, who is gay, won “Best Direction of a Musical” for helming Parade. He used his speech to send a supportive message to LGBTQ+ youth.

“To our beautiful trans, nonbinary, queer youth, know that your queerness is what makes you beautiful and powerful. Everyone in this room sees you and needs you and will fight alongside you and we will win.”

He then hit back at his old school bullies, prompting huge applause from the audience (even if it was bleeped out by CBS).

“Growing up, I was called the F-word more times than I can remember,” he said. “And all I can say now is that I’m a faggot with a Tony!”

Fellow gay director Casey Nicholaw lost the “Best Direction of a Musical” to Arden but won the Tony for “Best Choreography of a Musical” for Some Like It Hot.

Brandon Uranowitz won “Best Actor in a Play” for his performance in Leopoldstadt.

“To anyone who’s watching who is a parent, when your child tells you who they are, believe them,” Uranowitz said during his speech. “Protect, celebrate, and water that tree because an authentic life is a limitless life. The only reason I am standing here is that my parents did that for me growing up. They stood beside me and believed me when I said who I am, so thank you.”

John Kander, 96, and Joel Grey, 91, (a co-writer and star of Cabaret, respectively, among many other productions), both won Lifetime Achievement Awards. However, online, some expressed disappointment the men were introduced on stage, presented with their awards, and then ushered off again without making a speech.

Grey did give a speech at a pre-show event earlier on Sunday. He was presented with his award by his daughter, Jennifer Grey, at the Tony Awards: Act One, Live Pre-Show.

“It’s ultimately the people, the community… all of you… who have made this ride more outstanding than I could have imagined,” Grey said during that event.

British lighting designer Tim Lutkin won “Best lighting design of a Play” for Life Of Pi, while the multi-Tony-Award-winning choreographer Jerry Mitchell added to his collection by taking the Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award.

Other queer talent on stage included Ariana DeBose, who returned to host the event for a second year running, kicking off the performance with a speechless dance sequence due to the Writers Guild of America strike.

https://youtu.be/U4oQeYx5INE

Luke Evans and Stephenia Hsu presented the award for ‘Best Lead Actor in a Musical”. Melissa Etheridge and Barry Manilow presented the award for ‘Best Lead Actress in a Musical”, while Nathan Lane presented the “Best Lead Actor in a Play” award to Sean Hayes.

Wilson Cruz presented Alex Newell with their award. Cruz and co-presenter Tatiana Maslany also wished the audience a “Happy Pride.”

2023 Tony Awards complete winners’ list

Best Musical — Kimberly Akimbo

Best Play — Leopoldstadt

Best Musical Revival — Parade

Best Leading Actress in a Musical — Victoria Clark, Kimberly Akimbo

Best Leading Actress in a Play — Jodie Comer, Prima Facie

Best Leading Actor in a Musical — J. Harrison Ghee, Some Like It Hot

Best Leading Actor in a Play — Sean Hayes, Good Night, Oscar

Best Revival of a Play — Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog

Best Book of a Musical — Kimberly Akimbo — David Lindsay-Abaire

Best Original Score (music and/or lyrics) Written for the Theatre — Kimberly Akimbo — David Lindsay-Abaire/Jeanine Tesori

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play — Brandon Uranowitz — Leopoldstadt

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play — Miriam Silverman — The Sign In Sidney Brustein’s Window

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical — Alex Newell — Shucked

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical — Bonnie Milligan — Kimberly Akimbo

Best Scenic Design of a Play — Tim Hatley & Andrzej Goulding — Life Of Pi

Best Scenic Design of a Musical — Beowulf Boritt — New York, New York

Best Costume Design of a Play — Brigitte Reiffenstuel — Leopoldstadt

Best Costume Design of a Musical — Gregg Barnes — Some Like It Hot

Best Lighting Design of a Play — Tim Lutkin — Life Of Pi

Best Lighting Design of a Musical — Natasha Katz — Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street

Best Direction of a Play — Patrick Marber — Leopoldstadt

Best Direction of a Musical — Michael Arden — Parade

Best Sound Design of a Play — Carolyn Downing — Life Of Pi

Best Sound Design of a Musical — Nevin Steinberg — Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street

Best Choreography — Casey Nicholaw — Some Like It Hot

Best Orchestrations — Charlie Rosen & Bryan Carter — Some Like It Hot

Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre – Joel Grey and John Kander

Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award — Jerry Mitchell

Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre: Victoria Bailey, Lisa Dawn Cave and Robert Fried

Regional Theatre Tony Award — Pasadena Playhouse

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