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Ariana DeBose, the master of ceremonies for the 75th Tony Awards, at Radio City Music Hall in New York on June 12, 2022

New York (AFP) – A musical about a Black and queer author won a top prize at the Broadway awards in New York on Sunday, while a play about Lehman Brothers and a Michael Jackson biopic also triumphed at the Oscars of the theater.

The 75th Tony Awards concluded a season of renewal for the theaters of the American cultural capital, which reopened in the fall of 2021 after 18 months of closure because of Covid-19. 

Wall Street finance story “The Lehman Trilogy” emerged victorious with five awards, including best play, best actor (Simon Russell Beale) and best director (Sam Mendes).

The play by Italian Stefano Massini follows the long life of the US investment bank Lehman Brothers, founded in the 19th century by three German immigrant brothers, whose collapse in 2008 triggered a global financial crisis. 

“MJ the Musical,” a successful biopic on Michael Jackson, which received the assent of his heirs and a mixed reception from critics because it virtually ignores the accusations of child abuse against the “King of Pop,” won four awards, including that of best actor in a musical for Myles Frost. 

Two of the children of the star who died in 2009 at age 50, Paris and Prince Jackson, made an appearance on stage. 

“A Strange Loop,” a favorite with 11 nominations, ultimately won two Tonys, including the most prestigious best musical and best libretto for its author, Michael R. Jackson — no relation to the “King of Pop.”  

‘Life raft’

The musical tells the story of the torments of a theater usher, an aspiring artist, Black and queer like Michael R. Jackson, who wants to become a Broadway writer.

“I felt unseen. I felt unheard. I felt misunderstood. And I just wanted to create a little bit of a life raft for myself as a black gay man,” the artist, wrapped in a large fuchsia cape, recounted to a standing ovation.

Upon his arrival on the stage of Radio City Music Hall, the mistress of ceremony Ariana DeBose, Oscar winner for her role as Anita in the remake of “West Side Story,” said she was “proud” of Broadway’s efforts to be more open to diversity.

After the pandemic and the death of George Floyd, an African-American killed by police in June 2020, provoking a broad movement against racism in the United States, Broadway reopened in the fall of 2021 with seven plays or musicals written by black authors, the first time this has ever happened. 

“There have been incremental changes, but the work continues,” said the singer and actor Darius de Haas, one of the founders of Black Theatre United, which advocates for a more diverse representation in American theaters. 

“Producers and theater owners have opened their eyes and seen that they can not only have stories that reflect more diversity on Broadway, but also that it can work economically.” 

Located around the bustling Times Square, the 41 Broadway theaters are not only the stuff of New York City legend, but also one of its cultural, economic and tourist lungs.

Before the pandemic, revenues easily exceeded $30 million per week, and $50 million for the week of Christmas. 

This 2021-2022 season has been disrupted again, but Broadway is back in the black, with 230,000 patrons last week, compared to about 300,000 the equivalent week in 2019.