Alex Newell made history this past weekend as the first-ever openly nonbinary actor to win a Tony Award, taking home the trophy for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for their turn as Lulu in “Shucked.”
In a special Tony Awards episode of “The Broadway Show with Tamsen Fadal,” Newell sat down with Paul Wontorek to discuss their journey in the industry and what it means for aspiring actors everywhere.
Newell’s path to Broadway was particularly challenging, and the lifelong dream of holding the Tony in their hands didn’t always seem achievable. “I didn’t get into any school for a BFA. All the schools that I applied to quite literally said ‘no’,” said Newell. “When you are looking at musical theater as a career, you audition, you go to school, you get a BFA and you come to New York, you struggle. I didn’t do any of that because no one accepted me. … I didn’t think that I would ever be here because I wasn’t supposed to be.”
Newell described watching previous winners’ speeches as a source of inspiration and encouragement. With their win and acceptance speech, Newell aimed to rouse people in a similar way — not only to begin the pursuit of this career, but to persevere. As Newell said, “It’s not just about wanting to do it, keeping doing it is a big part of it.”
During this conversation, J. Harrison Ghee swept into the room to embrace Newell. Ghee also made history during the Tonys as the first openly nonbinary actor to win for Best Leading Actor in a Musical.
The industry has been vocally supportive of Newell and Ghee and the ground they’ve broken; and yet, as pioneers, no one has ever been in their shoes. Not to mention, their achievements occur against the backdrop of the United States and a scary time for the queer community. “Imagine doing this alone,” said Newell. “We don’t have a support system. And I could call, text, beep if I wanted to reach you. I am so happy to have had that with you.”
Ghee also conveyed a similar appreciation for the support they give each other — a kind of wordless understanding of what it takes to be bold and different in the industry. “It’s just Auntie energy,” said Ghee. “It’s the understanding of: I have a touchstone, I have a place where it’s a soft landing, where no words need to be said. I got you.”
“It’s humbling and it’s grounding,” Ghee said about their win. “I protect my peace and my joy at all costs and know that I have to live in my intention, my purpose with love. I just gotta do what makes sense to me, and everything else is noise.”
Newell added, “It is quite literally wonderful to have someone that is your rock that is on the same level, the same trajectory, the same mindset, wavelength… all of that.”
The latest episode of “The Broadway Show” takes viewers inside the Tonys afterparty at the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan. It features interviews with some of the winners of the night, including producer LaChanze, “Kimberly Akimbo” stars Victoria Clark and Bonnie Milligan and “Parade” director Michael Arden.