Ali Stroker is the Broadway actress who was awarded the 2019 Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Stroker, 31, is the first person in a wheelchair ever to win a Tony. During her acceptance speech on Sunday night, Stroker said she hoped her victory would inspire others. “This award 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,” she said.
Stroker won the Tony for her performance as Ado Annie in Oklahoma. Here’s what you need to know:
1. Stroker Was in a Car Accident at Age 2 Which Left Her Paralyzed from the Chest Down
When Ali Stroker was two years old, she was in a car accident which caused permanent damage to her spinal cord. She was left paralyzed from the chest down. Stroker has said that because of that accident, a lot of her identity as a child revolved around the fact that she was in a wheelchair. Becoming a performer helped to liberate her, she said, giving her a new identity.
“I felt like my identity was around my wheelchair for so long” she told Parade, back in 2016. “Once I started performing I was someone else. I could be an actress and singer and not just a girl in a wheelchair.”
2. She’s Wanted to Act on Broadway Ever Since She Acted in a Backyard Performance of ‘Annie’ as a Child
Stroker says she grew up loving Broadway shows and Disney movies. She has said that she fell in love with Broadway shows when she first watched Beauty and the Beast as a child. Then, when she was seven years old, her next door neighbor put on a performance of “Annie” in her backyard. She cast Stroker as Annie. Stroker has said that playing Annie was a life-changing experience for her; it got her hooked on acting and led to a career on the stage. “It was a really special summer. I remember my life beginning,” Stroker has said.
Stroker grew up in Ridgewood, New Jersey and attended Ridgewood High School. She starred in several school plays growing up — including West Side Story, where she played Maria, and Les Miz, where she played Cosette. Stroker was also class president in her senior year.
3. She Made Her Broadway Debut in 2015, Becoming the First Broadway Actress to Use a Wheelchair
Stroker’s first Broadway appearance came in 2015, when she was cast as Anna in a Deaf West Theatre production of Spring Awakening. The show started out in Los Angeles where, she said, it was on such a small scale that she was earning just 60 dollars a night. But the production eventually moved to Broadway, and Stroker came along, fulfilling what she said was her “lifelong dream.”
“There were no issues. They said, ‘we’re going to make this happen’,” she recalls. “At our invited dress rehearsal where people from other Broadway shows come, my entire body was tingling. I felt so full. I finally arrived at this lifelong dream.”
When the production opened on Broadway in Spetember 2015, Stroker became the first actress in a wheelchair ever to appear on Broadway. Then in June 2019, she became the first actress in a wheelchair ever to win a Tony award. She won the trophy for her portrayal of Ado Annie in Oklahoma.
4. She & Her Boyfriend, David Perlow, Run an Organization to Create Opportunities for Actors with Disabilities
Stroker is dating David Perlow, an actor and director. She and Perlow are also directors of ATTENTIONTheatre, an organization which aims to help more disabled actors get onstage roles. The organization’s mission statement reads, in part, “ATTENTIONTheatre will create as many opportunities as we can for artists with disabilities to tell stories of all sorts. We will do so with no agenda to inspire, or to promote these artists as heroes among us. We will represent all people as we all are: Human beings striving toward desire and identity.”
5. She Appeared on ‘Glee’ & Dated Dani Shay
Ali Stroker met Dani Shay when both women were contestants for The Glee Project in 2012. Shay has said that, by a simple twist of fate, the two of them were seated at the same lunch table during the audition process. They started to talk, hit it off, and discovered that there was a spark. It wasn’t long before they were in a relationship. Shay also wrote a song — “The One” — announcing their relationship.
Stroker appeared in The Glee Project in 2012 and made a guest appearance on “Glee” in 2013, playing a character named Betty Pilsbury.