British actress takes home award for her Broadway debut in A Raisin in the Sun
British actress Sophie Okonedo has won the Tony award for best performance by an actress in a play with her Broadway debut in A Raisin in the Sun.
Okonedo, a previous Oscar nominee for the 2004 movie Hotel Rwanda, thanked the cast and crew of the play and singled out producer Scott Rudin for choosing a Jewish British actress of Nigerian descent to play the very American role of Ruth Younger.
She beat co-star Anika Noni Rose, a previous Tony winner in 2004 for her role as Emmie Thibodeaux in the musical, Caroline, Or Change.
Directed by Kenny Leon, who also won an award, the production stars Academy Award winner Denzel Washington as the head of a poor Chicago family determined to become wealthy. With Scott Rudin producing, it was the trio’s second collaboration after “Fences,” which won Washington a Tony in 2010.
It was well-received by critics, who called it a triumph.
Originally produced in 1959, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway.
The first award of the night was for best featured actor in a play and it went to another Briton, Mark Rylance, who won his third Tony for playing the countess Olivia in “Twelfth Night.” Rylance, who previously won for “Jerusalem” and “Boeing-Boeing,” is also nominated for best lead actor honors for his evil title character in “Richard III.”
Stephen Fry missed out on the award.
Audra McDonald became the show’s most decorated actress, while Bryan Cranston won a best actor trophy for his Broadway debut. Neil Patrick Harris took home best actor in a musical after years of handing out the awards to others.
McDonald won her sixth Tony for portraying Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill,” putting her ahead of five-time winners Angela Lansbury and the late Julie Harris for the most competitive wins by an actress. Among those she thanked were her parents for not medicating their hyperactive child.
The latest win – for best lead actress in a play – also makes McDonald the first grand-slam performance winner. She previously won as best featured actress in a play (“A Raisin in the Sun” and “Master Class”), best lead actress in a musical (“The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess”) and best featured actress in a musical (“Ragtime” and “Carousel”).
Cranston – in a role far from TV’s chemistry teacher-turned-meth kingpin Walter White in “Breaking Bad” – won the best lead actor in a play Tony for playing former President Lyndon B. Johnson in Robert Schenkkan’s “All the Way,” which also was crowned best play.
Jessie Mueller beat some strong Broadway veterans in Sutton Foster, Idina Menzel and Kelli O’Hara to take home the best actress in a musical Tony for playing the title character in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” She thanked the iconic singer-songwriter and all her competitors.
Hugh Jackman kicked off the show with a bounce, hopping up and down like a kangaroo during his opening number Sunday. Big, high-kicking musical numbers from “After Midnight,” “Aladdin,” “Rocky” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” kept the energy level up.
The bearded Australian, back as host after a nine-year absence, greeted many of the night’s featured performers as he cheerfully bounded past them backstage. He then joined the cast of the musical “After Midnight” for a rousing rendition of “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got that Swing).” He later rapped with LL Cool J and T.I. to a reworked song from “The Music Man” and danced with all the leading ladies nominated for a musical.