The Washington Post

Oh, what a beautiful evening

Ali Stroker of ‘Oklahoma!’ is the first actor who uses a wheelchair to win a Tony

- BY ELAHE IZADI elahe.izadi@washpost.com

On Sunday evening, Ali Stroker called her Tony nomination “a dream come true.” A few hours later, she won, and in doing so, the “Oklahoma!” performer made history as the first actor who uses a wheelchair to receive a Tony Award.

The audience at New York’s Radio City Music Hall gave Stroker a rousing ovation when her name was announced as best supporting actress in a musical for her role in the dark revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstei­n classic.

She then came out onto the stage and, with a voice full of emotion, dedicated the award to “every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represente­d in this arena.” “You are,” she declared.

The 31-year-old New Jersey native, who has been paralyzed since age 2 due to a car crash, began performing in musical theater at 7 with a backyard production of “Annie.”

“When I began to sing, I just felt so free. There was like no limitation,” she told the Associated Press. “I was used to people staring at me, being a little girl in a wheelchair. But being onstage and the way people were looking at me, it was so different. And I knew that was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”

Stroker attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and went on to have roles in television’s “Glee” and theater production­s such as “Promises, Promises.” In 2015, she performed in “Spring Awakening,” making her the first person in a wheelchair to appear on Broadway.

Stroker’s turn as Ado Annie in “Oklahoma!” earned her the historymak­ing Tony, and on Sunday, her words rang out beyond Radio City Music Hall. One mother in Kentucky tweeted a video of her 6-year-old, who uses a wheelchair, watching Stroker’s speech and exclaiming, “That’s me!”

In her speech, Stroker thanked her “best friends who have held my hands and pulled me around New York City for years, helping me,” and her parents “for teaching me to use my gifts to help people.”

After her win, the actress appeared before journalist­s backstage, who asked her how to make Broadway and theater more accessible.

“The theaters for the house, where all the audience comes in, that is all made accessible to patrons,” Stroker said. “But the backstages are not. So I would ask theater owners and producers to really look into how they can begin to make the backstage accessible, so performers with disabiliti­es can get around.”

 ?? CHARLES SYKES/INVISION/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Ali Stroker dedicated her Tony Award to “every kid who . . . has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge.”
CHARLES SYKES/INVISION/ASSOCIATED PRESS Ali Stroker dedicated her Tony Award to “every kid who . . . has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge.”

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