Gaye History continues to be made!
The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre, popularly known as the Tony Awards, annually recognizes excellence in live Broadway Theatre. At this year’s 76th, unscripted, Tony Awards, Alex Newell (Glee, RuPaul Celebrity Drag Race) and J. Harrison Ghee (Raising Dion, Kinky Boots) made history as the first openly non-binary performers to win acting awards.
Alex Newell and J. Harrison Ghee, both of who use he/she/they pronouns interchangeably, won Best Actor in a Featured Role (musical) for Shucked and Best Actor in a Lead Role (musical) for Some Like It Hot respectively.
J. Harrison Ghee, left, as Jerry/Daphne,"Some Like It Hot", and Alex Newell as Lulu, "Shucked". Source: Marc J. Franklin; Matthew Murphy
In the musical comedy, Shucked, Newell plays Lulu, the fiercely independent and hardworking cousin of the lead, Maizy. Lulu instills a sense of courage in Maizy who must venture outside of their isolated rural town to find a cure for a sudden crop disease that has plagued their corn-centric community. Newell is constantly lauded for her energetic performance as Lulu in the “farm to fable” play.
“Thank you for seeing me Broadway…I should not be up here as a queer, non-binary, 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 that you can do anything you put your mind to” - Alex Newell
Set against the backdrop of Prohibition Era Chicago, Some Like It Hot, centers on two musicians, Jerry played by Ghee, and Joe, who must leave the Windy City after witnessing a violent mafia hit. The two musicians both disguise as women and enter an all female swing band to avoid the gangsters. The film adaptation of Some Like It Hot is notably known for its influential role in the weakening and eventual retirement of the Hay’s Code which prohibited the film portrayal of queer characters.
“For every trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming human - whoever was told they couldn’t be, couldn’t be seen, this is for you. ‘Some Like It Hot’ and that ain’t bad.” -J. Harrison Ghee
These wins come during a pressing time when nonbinary performers are calling for the entertainment industry to change the historically gendered binary categories. Although several major award shows like the MTV Movie & TV Awards, Grammy’s, and Gotham Awards have eliminated gendered categories, many prominent award shows, in this case - The Tony's, still enforce binary categories.
Nonetheless, both performers have earned their recognition through sheer talent and drive despite restricting categorization. A huge Gaye Congratulations to Alex Newell and J. Harrison Ghee!
Check out their awards acceptances and live performances:
“Independently Owned” - Alex Newell, Shucked
“You Coulda Knocked Me Over With A Feather” - J. Harrison Ghee, Some Like It Hot