Meet The Tony Winners: Ali Stroker of ‘Oklahoma!’

Actress Ali Stroker, who plays Ado Annie in the Tony-winning revival of Oklahoma!, recently became the first person who uses a wheelchair to win a Tony Award. She also made history as the first performer in a wheelchair to perform on a Broadway stage. In her powerful Tony acceptance speech, she said, “This award is for 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.” This pared-down and powerful production is now playing at Circle in the Square Theatre. The Oklahoma! cast also features Rebecca Naomi Jones,  Damon Daunno, Mary Testa, Will Brill, James Davis, Mitch Tebo, Mallory Portnoy, Anthony Cason, Will Mann and Gabrielle Hamilton.

How much of this award goes to your parents and other people who supported your dream?
Ali Stroker: This award definitely has a lot to do with my parents. Also, unfortunately, the music cut off the end of my speech. I was thanking my partner, David, who has stuck by me for so many years. He has believed in me in every single part of my career. He reminds me every day to let my light shine. I really want to make sure that that is known. Because I could not do this without my partner.

What is the next step to making Broadway theater more accessible?
AS: The theaters, where all the audience comes in, is all made accessible to patrons. But the stage is not. And so I would ask owners and producers to really look into how they can begin to make the backstage accessible so that performers with disabilities can get around.

You’ve been breaking down barriers for years. How do you feel being an inspiration to so many?
AS: It’s cool because with social media, you are able to connect with a lot of people. I just heard from a lot of young aspiring performers, actors, singers and musicians who have disabilities. They say how exciting it is to see someone in a chair on Broadway and on television and working. And how that really motivates and inspires them to keep going. It makes me feel amazing to be able to be that for them. I did not have that as an 11-year-old girl pursuing this dream.

Your dancing in the show is so fantastic. Can you talk about working with the choreographer?
AS: I got to collaborate with our choreographer and director very closely. Because the reality is that I know my vocabulary, as far as movement goes, the best. We talked a lot about what could work throughout the show. Especially because this character in this role has relationships with two different guys. How are we going to physicalize all of that? The first part of that process is trust – to have these conversations with them about the way that I move. We discovered the way in which we can portray this women’s sexuality and physicality. It all had to be done in a safe way. They had never worked with someone in a chair. So it has been really, really fun to find that with them.

By Jeryl Brunner

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