Rather than hiding from the storm, it’s better to learn to dance in the rain, as I like to say. Ali Stroker, who plays Ado Annie in the Broadway revival of the musical “Oklahoma,” has learned to dance in a wheelchair. She was recognized this week at the Tony Awards for her role in “Oklahoma.”
The word “inspiration” doesn’t do justice to her award ceremony performance of the iconic song “I Cain’t Say No” from the Broadway revival. The Tonys are given by the theater industry to shows and performers; the one given to Stroker this year was truly exceptional.
Stroker lost the use of her legs after a car accident when she was 2 years old. She’s the first person in a wheelchair to be nominated for and to win a Tony.
She told the audience that her award, for featured actress in a musical, “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.”
In an interview with The New York Times before the awards, Stroker had more words of encouragement for people who use a wheelchair to move around, particularly young people.
“I’m very aware that when I was a little girl I wasn’t seeing anybody like me, and on days when I’m exhausted or discouraged about something, that lights a fire,” she said. “I hope that for young people in chairs who feel that this is too hard, that they see that being in a chair is like getting a secret key to an unknown door — that they see what I’m doing and are reassured that anything is possible.”
On the other hand, Stroker notes that to accept her award she had to enter from backstage. There is no ramp access to the stage from the audience, so she couldn’t enter from the seats, as every other winner did. That’s a problem she’ll be working to solve. I have no doubt that with Stroker advocating for it, theater owners just “cain’t” say no to that.
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