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Tony Awards telecast makes inclusive history and puts on quite a show despite Hollywood strike

South Florida Local News - Mon, 06/12/2023 - 05:31

By MARK KENNEDY (AP Entertainment Writer)

NEW YORK (AP) — The intimate, funny-sad musical “Kimberly Akimbo” nudged aside splashier rivals on Sunday to win the musical crown at the Tony Awards on a night when Broadway flexed its creative muscle amid the Hollywood writers’ strike and made history with laurels for nonbinary actors J. Harrison Ghee and Alex Newell.

“Kimberly Akimbo,” with songs by Jeanine Tesori and a book by David Lindsay-Abaire, follows a teen with a rare genetic disorder that gives her a life expectancy of 16 navigating a dysfunctional family and a high school romance. Victoria Clark, as the lead in the show, added a second Tony to her trophy case, having previously won one in 2005 for “The Light in the Piazza.”

Producer David Stone credited the musical’s writers for penning a magic trick, calling “Kimberly Akimbo” a “musical comedy about the fragility of life, so healing and so profound and joyous that is almost impossible.” The musical took home a leading five awards, including best book and score.

Earlier, Tony Awards history was made when Newell and Ghee became the first nonbinary people to win Tonys for acting. Last year, composer and writer Toby Marlow of “Six” became the first nonbinary Tony winner.

“Thank you for the humanity. Thank you for my incredible company who raised me up every single day,” said leading actor in a musical winner Ghee, who stars in “Some Like It Hot,” the adaptation of the classic cross-dressing comedy film. The soulful Ghee stunned audiences with their voice and dance skills, playing a musician — on the run from gangsters — who tries on a dress and is transformed.

Newell, who plays Lulu — an independent, don’t-need-no-man whiskey distiller in “Shucked” — has been blowing audiences away with their signature number, “Independently Owned.” They won for best featured actor in a musical.

“Thank you for seeing me, Broadway. I should not be up here as a queer, nonbinary, fat, Black little baby from Massachusetts. And to anyone that thinks that they can’t do it, I’m going to look you dead in your face that you can do anything you put your mind to,” Newell said to an ovation.

Tom Stoppard’s “Leopoldstadt,” which explores Jewish identity with an intergenerational story, won best play, also earning wins for director Patrick Marber, featured actor Brandon Uranowitz and Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s costumes.

The British-Czech playwright, who now has five best play Tony Awards, joked he won his first in 1968 and noted that playwrights were “getting progressively devalued in the food chain” despite being “the sharp ends of the inverted pyramid.”

Second-time Tony Awards host Ariana DeBose opened a blank script backstage before dancing and leaping her way to open the main show with a hectic opening number that gave a jolt of electricity to what is usually an upbeat, safe and chummy night. The writers’ strike left the storied awards show honoring the best of musical theater and plays without a script.

Before the pre-show began, DeBose revealed to the audience the only words that would be seen on the teleprompter: “Please wrap up.” Later in the evening, virtually out of breath after her wordless opening performance, she thanked the labor organizers for allowing a compromise.

“I’m live and unscripted. You’re welcome,” she said. “So to anyone who may have thought that last year was a bit unhinged, to them, I say, ‘Darlings, buckle up.’”

Winners demonstrated their support for the striking writers either at the podium or on the red carpet with pins. Miriam Silverman, who won the Tony for best featured actress in a play for “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window,” ended her speech with: “My parents raised me to believe in the power of labor and workers being compensated and treated fairly. We stand with the WGA in solidarity!”

Jodie Comer, the three-time Emmy nominated star of “Killing Eve” won leading actress in a play for her Broadway debut, the one-woman play “Prima Facie,” which illustrates how current laws fail terribly when it comes to sexual assault cases.

Sean Hayes won lead actor in a play for “Good Night, Oscar,” which dramatizes a long night’s journey into the scarred psyche of pianist Oscar Levant, now obscure but once a TV star.

“This has got to be the first time an Oscar won a Tony,” Hayes cracked.

Suzan-Lori Parks’ “Topdog/Underdog,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning play about sibling rivalry, inequality and society’s false promises, won the Tony for best play revival. She thanked director Kenny Leon and stars Corey Hawkins and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: “They showed up to be large in a world that often does not much want the likes of us living at all.”

Bonnie Milligan, who won for best featured actress in a musical for “Kimberly Akimbo,” also had a message to the audience: “I want to tell everybody that doesn’t maybe look like what the world is telling you what you should look like — whether you’re not pretty enough, you’re not fit enough, your identity is not right, who you love isn’t right — that doesn’t matter.”

“’Cause just guess what?” she continued, brandishing her award. “It’s right, and you belong.”

Many of the technical awards — for things like costumes, sound, lighting and scenic design — were handed out at a breakneck pace during a pre-show hosted by Skylar Astin and Julianne Hough, allowing winners plenty of airtime for acceptance speeches but little humor.

The pre-show telecast on Pluto featured some awkwardly composed shots and some presenters slipped up on certain words. The tempo was so rapid, it ended more than 10 minutes before the main CBS broadcast was slated to start.

John Kander, the 96-year-old composer behind such landmark shows as “Chicago,” “Cabaret” and “The Scottsboro Boys,” was honored with a special lifetime award. He thanked his parents; his husband, Albert Stephenson; and music, which “has stayed my friend through my entire life and has promised to stick with me until the end.”

Jennifer Grey handed her father, “Cabaret” star Joel Grey, the other lifetime achievement Tony. “Being recognized by the theater community is such a gift because it’s always been, next to my children, my greatest, most enduring love,” the actor said.

Echoing the theme of antisemitism, “Parade” — a doomed musical love story set against the real backdrop of a murder and lynching in pre-World War I Georgia that won Tonys as a new musical in 1999 — won for best musical revival, with Michael Arden winning for best musical director.

“’Parade’ tells the story of a life that was cut short at the hands of the belief that one group of people is more valuable than another and that they might be more deserving of justice,” Arden said. “This is a belief that is the core of antisemitism, white supremacy, homophobia and transphobia and intolerance of any kind. We must come together. We must battle this.”

The telecast featured performances from all the nominated musicals and Will Swenson — starring on Broadway in a Neil Diamond musical — led the audience in a vigorous rendition of “Sweet Caroline.” Lea Michele of “Glee” and now “Funny Girl” fame also performed a soaring version of “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”

It all took place at the United Palace Theatre, in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan — a new venue for the ceremony, many miles from Times Square and the theater district.

“Thank you all for coming uptown. Never in my wildest dreams, truly,” Lin-Manuel Miranda joked onstage. He, of course, wrote the musical “In the Heights,” set in Washington Heights.


AP National Writer Jocelyn Noveck contributed to this report.


Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits


For more coverage of the 2023 Tony Awards, visit https://apnews.com/hub/tony-awards

Orlando actress Denée Benton calls Ron DeSantis ‘grand wizard’ on Tony Awards broadcast

South Florida Local News - Mon, 06/12/2023 - 05:29

Broadway veteran Denée Benton referred to Gov. Ron DeSantis as the “grand wizard” of Florida at the 2023 Tony Awards, receiving a large round of applause from the Washington Heights audience.

“Grand Wizard” historically is the title given to the national leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

Benton, who is from Orlando, made the remark as she presented Jason Zembuch-Young, a teacher in Plantation, Fla., with a special Tony Award.

“I’m sure he will be changing the name of this following town immediately,” Benton said of DeSantis from the United Palace stage.

Last month, DeSantis announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination in the 2024 presidential election, setting up a race against Donald Trump.

Benton received a 2017 Tony nomination for her portrayal of Natasha in “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812″ and has also starred on Broadway as Eliza Hamilton in “Hamilton” and Cinderella in “Into the Woods.”

Zembuch-Young received the honor for incorporating deaf and blind students, as well as performers on the on the autism spectrum, in his high school stage productions.

“I think that more young deaf people that see deaf actors know that they can actually be deaf actors,” Zembuch-Young told The Associated Press. “More kids that come to a production that are blind and they hear about the fact that somebody on the stage is as blind as they are, it makes it attainable.”

Elevated section of heavily traveled I-95 collapses in Philadelphia

South Florida Local News - Sun, 06/11/2023 - 08:52

By RON TODT (Associated Press)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — An elevated section of Interstate 95 collapsed early Sunday in Philadelphia after a vehicle caught fire, closing the main north-south highway on the East Coast and threatening to upend travel in parts of the densely populated Northeast, authorities said.

Transportation officials warned of extensive delays and street closures and urged drivers to avoid the area. Early reports indicated that the vehicle may have been a tanker truck, but officials could not immediately confirm that. The fire was reported to be under control.

Video from the scene showed a massive concrete slab had fallen from I-95 onto the road below in northeast Philadelphia. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The northbound lanes of I-95 were gone, and the southbound lanes were “compromised” due to heat from the fire, said Derek Bowmer, battalion chief of the Philadelphia Fire Department. Runoff from the fire or perhaps broken gas lines were causing explosions underground, he added.

Mark Fusetti, a retired Philadelphia police sergeant, said he was driving south toward the city’s airport when he noticed thick plumes of black smoke rising over the highway. As he passed the fire, the road beneath began to “dip,” creating a noticeable depression that was visible in video he took of the scene, he said.

He saw traffic in his rearview mirror come to a halt. Soon after, the northbound lanes of the highway crumbled.

“It was crazy timing,” Fusetti said. “For it to buckle and collapse that quickly, it’s pretty remarkable.”

Officials were also concerned about the environmental effects of runoff into the nearby Delaware River.

“Today’s going to be a long day. And obviously, with 95 northbound gone and southbound questionable, it’s going to be even longer than that,” said Dominick Mireles, director of Philadelphia’s Office of Emergency Management.

Heavy construction equipment would be required to start to remove the debris, he said.

Officials planned to launch a drone to assess the damage.

The fire was strikingly similar to another blaze in Philadelphia in March 1996, when an illegal tire dump under I-95 caught fire, melting guard rails and buckling the pavement.

The highway was closed for several weeks, and partial closures lasted for six months. Seven teenagers were charged with arson. The dump’s owner was sentenced to seven to 14 years in prison and ordered to pay $3 million of the $6.5 million repair costs, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

More recently in Atlanta, a massive fire collapsed an elevated portion of Interstate 85, shutting down the heavily traveled route through the heart of the city in March 2017. A homeless man was accused of starting the blaze, but federal investigators said in a report that the state transportation department’s practice of storing combustible construction materials under the highway increased the risk of fire.


Associated Press Writer Jake Offenhartz in New York contributed to this report.

Ex-Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon arrested by police investigating governing party’s finances

South Florida Local News - Sun, 06/11/2023 - 08:34

By JILL LAWLESS (Associated Press)

LONDON (AP) — Former Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who dominated politics in Scotland for almost a decade, was arrested Sunday by police investigating the finances of the governing, pro-independence Scottish National Party.

Police Scotland said a 52-year-old woman was detained “as a suspect in connection with the ongoing investigation into the funding and finances of the Scottish National Party.”

“The woman is in custody and is being questioned by Police Scotland detectives,” the force said, without naming Sturgeon. British police do not identify suspects until they are charged.

A spokesperson for Sturgeon said the former first minister voluntarily attended an interview with police and would cooperate with the force’s investigation.

The SNP said the party had been “cooperating fully with this investigation and will continue to do so. However it is not appropriate to publicly address any issues while that investigation is ongoing.”

Scottish police opened an investigation in 2021 into how more than 600,000 pounds ($754,000) designated for a Scottish independence campaign was spent.

Two former SNP officials, Colin Beattie, who was treasurer, and Peter Murrell, who was chief executive, were previously arrested and questioned as part of the investigation. Neither has been charged.

Murrell is Sturgeon’s husband, and police searched the couple’s home in Glasgow after his arrest in April.

Sturgeon unexpectedly resigned in February after eight years as Scottish National Party leader and first minister of Scotland’s semi-autonomous government. She said then that she knew “in my head and in my heart” that it was the right time for her, her party and her country to make way for someone else.

The first female leader of Scotland’s devolved government, Sturgeon led her party to dominance in Scottish politics and refashioned the SNP from a largely one-issue party into a dominant governing force with liberal social positions.

She guided her party during three U.K.-wide elections and two Scottish elections, and led Scotland through the coronavirus pandemic, winning praise for her clear, measured communication style.

But Sturgeon left office amid divisions in the SNP and with her main goal — independence from the U.K. for the nation of 5.5 million people — unmet.

Scottish voters backed remaining in the U.K. in a 2014 referendum that was billed as a once-in-a-generation decision. The party wants a new vote, but the U.K. Supreme Court has ruled that Scotland can’t hold one without London’s consent. The central government has refused to authorize another referendum.

Sturgeon’s departure unleashed a tussle for the future of the SNP amid recriminations over the party’s declining membership and divisions over the best path towards independence. Opinion polls suggest support for the party has sagged, though it remains the most popular in Scotland.

An acrimonious leadership contest to replace her saw contenders feud over tactics and Sturgeon’s legacy, particularly a bill she introduced to make it easier for people to legally change gender. It was hailed as a landmark piece of legislation by transgender rights activists, but faced opposition from some SNP members who said it ignored the need to protect single-sex spaces for women

First Minister Humza Yousaf, who won the party contest in March, told the BBC before Sturgeon’s arrest that the SNP had been through “some of the most difficult weeks our party has probably faced, certainly in the modern era.”

“I know there will be people, be it our opposition, be it the media, that have somehow written the SNP off already,” he said. “They do that at their own peril.”

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