Sunday night’s 68th Annual Tony Awards was all Audra McDonald and James Monroe Iglehart, as one became the most decorated Broadway actress of all time with her win and the other saw his decision to surpass being a pro wrestler and a Harlem Globetrotter pay off with his first Tony win.
McDonald wowed Broadway audiences with her portrayal of Billie Holiday’s struggle with drug and alcohol addiction in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.” McDonald had to not only imitate the singer’s alcohol fueled performances but also had to emulate her signature husky voice.
“I get to the theater at about 6 p.m. or 6:15 p.m. I need that time. I don’t let anybody come in from a half-hour on. I go really deep within myself,” she told the Wall Street Journal about her process to prepare.
Her best lead actress win makes this her sixth Tony surpassing five-time winners Angela Lansbury and the late Julie Harris, CBS News reports.
The 43-year-old actress got her career off to a strong start having won 3 Tony awards by the time she was 28 for her performances in “Carousel,” “Master Class,” and “Ragtime.”
McDonald would win her fourth Tony in 2004 for her performance as Ruth Younger in “A Raisin in the Sun.” McDonald would take home her fifth Tony Award some eight years later for her portrayal as Bess in Broadway’s The Gershwins “Porgy and Bess.”
McDonald dedicated her win to Holiday, saying, “You deserve so much more than you were given on this planet.”
James Monroe Iglehart’s win for best performance by an actor in a musical for his portrayal as the genie in Disney’s Aladdin, is pretty amazing for a man who once believed his future was in pro wrestling.
“I almost became a pro wrestler,” Iglehart, the 6-foot-tall, 295-pound, 39-year-old thespian told the Los Angeles Times. But that changed after he, “…saw someone really get hit with a chair. And then I said, no, I don’t want to do that!” The actor also toyed with the idea of becoming a Harlem Globetrotter before truly taking his passion for musical theater seriously.
The Broadway play based on the 1992 film has helped make Iglehart a star. His energetic performance of the role made famous in the film by Robin Williams isn’t as daunting for Iglehart as it appears.
“It’s not as exhausting as you think. I’m kind of an energetic guy in general, so basically I’m kind of being me with the volume turned up,” he told the Times.
“I would describe the genie as the consummate showman. He’s got to put on a show no matter what he’s doing. There’s a lot of me in that.”
Other Tony notable moments include the all-star lineup of divas Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight and Fantasia who performed a number from “After Midnight.” Each one of the singers has starred separately in the musical that showcases a revolving cast and features big band Cotton-Club-era Harlem jazz.
Director Kenny Leon won his first Tony award for “A Raisin in the Sun” and took a moment to send a shout-out to the play’s star Denzel Washington in his acceptance speech.
Former “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston took home his first Tony taking home the best lead actor in a play award for his Broadway debut as former President Lyndon B. Johnson in “All The Way,” which also took home best play honors.