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For the first time, 2 nonbinary actors were nominated for Tonys. They both won

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Broadway honored its own last night, giving out the annual Tony Awards. This ceremony almost did not take place because of the Hollywood writers' strike. But the Writers Guild of America let the awards go ahead so long as the presenters worked on stage without a written script. So the stars gathered at the United Palace, one of those ornate, old movie houses that's now a stage. Jeff Lunden covers Broadway and is on the line.

Good morning.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So how did this unscripted ceremony go?

LUNDEN: Well, I think it went pretty smoothly. The producers dealt with the issue up front. The show started with a shot of a script, and host Ariana DeBose opened it, and the pages were blank. So she turned, and a bunch of dancers did a number without any words, which went from the theater's lobby through the aisles and onto the stage.

INSKEEP: Wow.

LUNDEN: And she made jokes about it in her presumably unscripted opening monologue.

(SOUNDBITE OF 76TH TONY AWARDS)

ARIANA DEBOSE: I am live and unscripted. You're welcome.

(LAUGHTER)

DEBOSE: So to anyone who may have thought...

LUNDEN: And, at various points, winners mentioned the writers' strike, like Miriam Silverman, who won best featured actress in the play "The Sign In Sidney Brustein's Window."

(SOUNDBITE OF 76TH TONY AWARDS)

MIRIAM SILVERMAN: My parents raised me to believe in the power of labor and workers being compensated and treated fairly, and we stand with the WGA in solidarity. Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

INSKEEP: OK. So no script, but there were awards. Was there a big winner?

LUNDEN: Yes. The quirky, small musical "Kimberly Akimbo" took home five awards, including the most important - best musical. It could help a show which has been doing decent business but not selling out. Here's Victoria Clark, who plays the title role and won the best actress Tony Award.

(SOUNDBITE OF 76TH TONY AWARDS)

VICTORIA CLARK: (Singing) I like the way you see the world. I like your point of view - a little sly, a little strange, a little bit askew. I like the way you look at life.

INSKEEP: Here's another theme that I noticed - two different shows that deal with antisemitism won.

LUNDEN: Yes. "Leopoldstadt," Tom Stoppard's semi-autobiographical play, won four awards. It's set in Vienna over a half-century and looks at a large, assimilated Jewish family that's annihilated by the Nazis. And the musical "Parade" won best revival and best director. It's based on a real story about a Jewish man accused of murdering a teenage girl in Georgia in 1913. He was then lynched by a mob two years later. So tough material, but its writers won Tony Awards 25 years ago when it debuted.

INSKEEP: Were there any firsts last night?

LUNDEN: Yes. For the first time ever, two nonbinary actors were nominated for Tonys, and they both won. J. Harrison Ghee of the musical "Some Like It Hot" took best actor, and Alex Newell won best featured actor in the musical "Shucked." They play a female character. Here's a bit of Newell's acceptance speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE 76TH TONY AWARDS)

ALEX NEWELL: Thank you for seeing me, Broadway. I should not be up here as a queer, nonbinary, fat, Black little baby from Massachusetts.

(CHEERING)

INSKEEP: Nevertheless, they are up there. So was it a good year for the Tonys?

LUNDEN: I think it was something of a comeback for an industry that's really been hurting because of the pandemic. It's not out of the woods yet. Audiences are returning but not in pre-pandemic numbers. So the ceremony was a good way for people across the country to sample some of the shows they're currently playing on Broadway.

INSKEEP: That's Jeff Lunden.

Thanks so much.

LUNDEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INDEPENDENTLY OWNED")

NEWELL: (Singing) And every man that I meet is just... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Jeff Lunden is a freelance arts reporter and producer whose stories have been heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on other public radio programs.