“A Raisin in the Sun” director Kenny Leon was talking to reporters backstage after winning a Tony Award when Sophie Okonedo, who acts in the play he directed, won a Tony for featured actress in a play. He turned to the giant screen to his left, and couldn’t contain his excitement.
“Yes. Yes. Yes. YEEES!” he yelled, turning back to reporters. “That girl works harder than anyone. Sophie, I love you. Oh, man.”
“A Raisin in the Sun,” which also won the Tony Award for best revival of a play, closes on Sunday, but it will be going out with a bang, picking up Tony Awards for best director and actress in quick succession. The show was nominated for five Tonys, noticeably not including Denzel Washington, who performed the lead role in the play.
The award for Leon was a surprise: Many had expected Tim Carroll to win for his acclaimed production of “Twelfth Night.”
“That was shocking and stunning and surprising. But I felt the production was well deserving of a Tony Award,” Leon said backstage.
“A Raisin in the Sun” is a 1959 play by Lorraine Hansberry about a black family in Chicago. For Leon, the play “gives voice to a lot of people in this country who grow up poor. I grew up very poor.”
“Whenever a young person sees someone who’s accomplished something, it says it’s possible for them,” he said.
The experience of growing up poor in America perhaps isn’t something Okonedo could identify with: she’s British. But she had words of praise for Leon for trusting a Brit to play an American.
“He believed I could come here and make this leap into being an American on the south side of Chicago,” she said, tearing up. “He just really wants to tell the truth, he didn’t want any showy kind of acting or any tricks. He wanted it to be simple and true.”
About her own Tony, she said she didn’t expect a win, and didn’t have a speech prepared.
“I’ve never won an award,” she said. “This was just an out-of-body experience. “I can’t even remember what I said.”