Review: ‘The Antonyo Awards’ Provides Healing, Celebration, and Inspiration for Black Broadway on the Blackest Holiday of the Year

To celebrate Juneteenth, Broadway Black presented an all-black Inaugural Awards Ceremony on YouTube.

The Inaugural Antonyo Awards seemed to find Black people in the midst of sorrow and lift them up to unspeakable jubilation. In a time when other theater companies and organizations are pacifying the dire need for musical enrichment and enlightenment with rushed, unprepared Livestream Zoom Calls, Broadway Black presented a virtual gift to the black theatre community that kept on giving.

Juneteenth, also known as Jubilee Day, is usually filled with fun, annual festivals that carry themes of community, love and joy. Those same themes were imbued throughout the entire ceremony. On occasion, Black Americans receive monetary reparations as a way to right the wrongs of history. This ceremony acted as overdue reparations through dignified recognition of Black theatre excellence. The mission of Juneteenth is to replace the heavy burden of being Black in America with the bountiful joy of being Black.

Dear Antonyos: Mission Accomplished!

Consider the very way that it began with the Negro National Anthem, sung by the soulful Harlem-bred performer, Sasha Allen. As she sang, we were transported to a meditative state, remembering what we’ve been through while concurrently envisioning a future filled with undying hope. With open-hearted vulnerability and royal dignity, this musical arrangement by Allen René Louis overlapped the sounds of a protester’s hearty chant with a mother’s tear-filled prayer.

For the big opening number, Drew Shade, the founder of Broadway Black, sang the opening lines of the original musical piece with authenticity, light-heartedness, and style. With a nod to Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Broadway Black intertwined the dark reality of being Black in theatre while offering insight of who we, Broadway Black, actually are. “We’re Magic and yet they want to keep us in a box!” Through Louis’ composition style, we shifted from contemporary musical theatre to gospel to West African polyrhythms seamlessly. There were even tiny motives that quoted “Waiting for Life” from Once On This Island, “Ease On Down the Road” from The Wiz, and “Ragtime Prologue” from Ragtime.

The Movement Director, Darius Barnes, choreographed the opening number with inspiration from hip hop, African dance, Vogue, Fosse, jazz, and variety performance.

The Antonyos transitioned between musical performances and Antonyo winners with adorable puns, hilarious skits, harmless banter, and blackety-black allusions that had me cackling in real-time. Also, the musical numbers didn’t only entertain, but presented viewers with enlightening Black Broadway historical facts as well.

When acknowledging Black Theatre Firsts, Antoine Smith and Aisha Jackson performed The Wiz’s “Be A Lion” (with music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls), urging the artivist community to move forward with a spirit of tenacity and an unrelenting desire to “keep on trying.”

In memoriam, we took a moment to acknowledge the Black theatre talents that had recently passed. This included Lucien Barbarin, Mykal D. Laury II, Diahann Carroll, Walter Dallas, Ja’Net DuBois, Margaret Holloway, Andile Gumbi, Dr. Vernell Lillie, Lloyd Cornelius Porter, Keldon Price, L. Kenneth Richardson, Darius Smith, and Danny Tidwell.

In the Antonyo Award acceptance speech of Lifetime Achievement Award Winner, Chuck Cooper, he shared that at this point in his life, his “major achievement was to survive long enough to reach this age being a black man in America.” After thanking his tribe for their sacrifices and compassion, he proverbially concluded that “there is a movement afoot in our nation, and the world, doing what we strive to do in the theatre and that is to promote empathy and to do so in a collaborative effort”…”In my humble opinion, empathy, collaboration and love are what we need most and it is the social justice movement, young people out in the streets, around the world, who are in the vanguard of this important vital work. I would like to give them my heartfelt and deepest thanks.”

Cooper’s words validated me. I felt heard, seen and valued. To have an elder root for me with such humility and heart gave me the strength and courage to keep fighting for a better world.

Challenging the theatre industry to be better was as much a part of this show as the entertainment, education and acceptance speeches. Through a brief skit between Támar Davis & Drew Shade, Broadway Black proposed a call of action of “No More Tokenism” in theatre.

While other award ceremonies would only include musical numbers in between the announcing of the winners, Broadway Black had blacktors perform a medley of monologues by famed black playwrights (including August Wilson, Ntozake Shange, Dominique Morisseau, George C. Wolfe, and more). Together, these excerpts encapsulated the subconscious thoughts of many a black protester. One memorable excerpt was “The black man is not a dog”…”He’s the mud God makes his image from”…”Let me be who I feel like being. It ain’t none of yo’ damn business” (Wilson, Seven Guitars 93–95; act 2)

The soul-stirring ballad that made me overtly emotional was Louis’ arrangement of Sondheim’s “Being Alive” from Company, performed by Ayana George, Angela Birchett, and Drew Shade. Here, Broadway Black reminded us that a black person being alive is a magical feat that we shouldn’t take lightly. Shade compassionately expressed that “You are here and we are grateful.”

Notable Antonyo Winners:

  • Audra McDonald for Best Actor in a Play On Broadway.

In addition to Broadway Black’s Antonyo Awards, Drew Shade is the founder of “OffBook,” a weekly podcast that explores and celebrates the life and work of black artists on Broadway & Off-Broadway.

OffBook Episodes can be found on SoundCloud here: https://soundcloud.com/off-book-theatre-podcast

To donate to BroadwayBlack, subscribe to their Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/broadwayblack

Watch the Ceremony here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWtY4nNDFbU

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Shaq Hester

Shaq Hester

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Shaq Hester is a NYC-based singer, actor, and blog writer, writing articles about blackness, human softness, and liberation in the performing arts.