By: Stefanie Sears
Ali Stroker made history at the 73rd Annual Tony Awards hosted by James Corden at Radio City Music Hall on June 9. She was the first person who uses a wheelchair to ever be nominated and receive a Tony Award for acting, winning the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Ado Annie Carnes in the reimagined 2019 Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Also nominated alongside her in the category was Lilli Cooper as Julie Nichols in Tootsie, Amber Gray as Persephone in Hadestown, Sarah Stiles as Sandy Lester in Tootsie, and Mary Testa as Aunt Eller in Oklahoma!
Past notable credits of Stroker’s include being a finalist on The Glee Project, a guest star on“Glee, originating the role of Anna in Deaf West’s 2015 revival of Spring Awakening, and playing Olive Ostrovsky in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee in 2011 at Paper Mill Playhouse, where she had trained in the Summer Musical Theater Conservatory program.
At the Tony Awards, Stroker performed Ado Annie’s solo number I Cain’t Say No and then Oklahoma with the rest of the cast. Much like the liberated Ado Annie, she is unapologetically herself.
At age 2, Stroker suffered injuries from a car accident that left her paralyzed from the chest down due to a spinal cord injury. Finding it difficult to participate in extracurricular and athletic activities growing up, she discovered at age 7 that she could act and sing just like anyone else. She starred in a fun backyard production of Annie, directed by her 12-year-old neighbor Rachel Antonoff. For the first time, she was in control of why people were looking at her. She was powerful because she was a star.
Originally from Ridgewood, Stroker attended New York University to study drama. Though she has faced some difficulty in the busy city, such as being unable to hail a cab, managing New York gave her the confidence to handle any surroundings.
When she was first cast as Ado Annie, the Circle in the Square Theatre was not equipped for someone with a wheelchair to get onstage. On Tony Award night, Stroker waited in the wings of the stage when her category was being announced, wearing a yellow gown created by Antonoff, now a fashion designer.
Stroker’s victory raises awareness and makes the need for representation and accessibility for those with disabilities that much more apparent.
Upon receiving her award, Stroker lifted up her trophy, stared into the camera, and while trying to hold back tears, said, “This award is for every kid 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 statement was met with applause and cheers, with a very determined and satisfied Stroker nodding at the camera with a smile forming on her face.