J.Harrison Ghee wearing a brown gown on the red carpet

The 1959 film Some Like It Hot has long been an old cross-dressing classic, but it got some very welcome queer updates when it was brought to the stage as a musical in 2022. The best of these comes from the adaptation of the Jerry/Daphne character; while the role was originally played by Jack Lemmon as a straight man in a dress, the musical sees the character come to live their truth as both Jerry and Daphne after getting engaged to an eccentric businessman.

This new twist to the Jerry/Daphne character was debuted by nonbinary actor J. Harrison Ghee, and done so to rave reviews. Their unique flair and take on the character captivated audiences and their show-stopping solo number “You Coulda Knocked Me Over With A Feather” brought down the house.

Ghee’s performance garnered them a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical, making them the first nonbinary Tony acting nominee in history alongside Shucked stand-out Alex Newell who was nominated for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Both won their categories at the 76th Tony Awards on June 11, marking both actors as the first nonbinary performers to ever win Tony awards.

“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 acceptance 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.”

Ghee is no stranger to making queer history on Broadway, of course. They got their big break playing Lola in Kinky Boots, a role famously played by the likes of Billy Porter, Todrick Hall, and Wayne Brady. In contrast, Ghee was the first person with an actual drag career to take up the drag-essential role on the main stage. For years before landing the part, the actor had performed across NYC as Crystal Demure alongside New York drag staples like Bob the Drag Queen and Marti Gould Cummings.

Ghee’s Best Actor Tony win for playing a revamped, revitalized depiction of gender fluidity marks a hopeful step for theatre and the awards show itself. In 2019, the same category Ghee won in went to Santino Fontana for his role in the Tootsie musical, a show marked almost solely by its only slightly examined straight-man-in-a-dress comedy.

There is still progress to be made to combat cisnormativity in theatre. Within the same season, nonbinary & Juliet actor Justin David Sullivan refused to be considered for Tony nomination due to having to submit to gendered “actor” and “actress” categories, instead pushing for the categories’ gender binary to be done away with. Judging from this season’s wins, maybe the other performers are little scared to go up against stellar nonbinary talents like these.

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