Broadway landmark as first black actress wins Tony for leading role

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The Independent US

There was a new entry in the Broadway history books yesterday after Phylicia Rashad became the first black woman to win the award for best leading actress at Sunday night's annual Tony awards in New York.

There was a new entry in the Broadway history books yesterday after Phylicia Rashad became the first black woman to win the award for best leading actress at Sunday night's annual Tony awards in New York.

In all, three black women left the Radio City Music Hall with awards, marking a new milestone for African-Americans on Broadway.

Rashad, 55, who played Bill Cosby's wife in the long-running 1980s American sitcom The Cosby Show , is currently starring as the matriarch of a struggling Chicago family in a revival of A Raisin in the Sun .

Rashad will now take her place in the pantheon of trailblazing black actors and actresses such as Halle Berry, who similarly made history as the first African-American to win an Oscar for leading actress for her role in the film Monster's Ball in 2002.

However, the popular darling of Sunday's show was its host, the Australian actor and Van Helsing heartthrob, Hugh Jackman, who emerged as winner himself, taking the Tony for best actor in a musical for his portrayal of the late Australian cabaret singer and song-writer, Peter Allen, in The Boy from Oz .

Jackman's fellow Australian Nicole Kidman ducked the Los Angeles premiere of her new film, a remake of The Stepford Wives, to be in New York to present the best actor award. Few doubted it would go to Jackman, whose performance in the musical drew rave reviews.

Drawing laughs from the audience - as he did all evening - Jackman joked that Kidman herself was not going to let anything get in the way of his reward. "Nicole told me that if she opened the envelope and it wasn't my name she was going to say I had won anyway. That's what friends are for."

There was a hush when Rashad accepted her award. "Often I've wondered what does it take for this to happen. And now I know. It takes effort and grace... And in my life that grace has taken numerous forms. The first was the family into which I was born, parents who loved and wanted me, and a mother who fought fearlessly, courageously, consistently so that her children could realise their full potential as human beings."

Her fellow cast member in A Raisin in the Sun , Audra McDonald, was the second black contender to be honoured, taking a Tony as best featured actress; and Anika Noni Rose, who is also black, was recognised as best featured actress in a musical for her part in Tony Kushner's Caroline, or Change . "It's been a season where African-American women really have been given a chance to have a voice, probably more than ever before," said McDonald.

THE MAIN AWARDS

Best play: I Am My Own Wife

Best musical: Avenue Q

Best performance by a leading actor in a play: Jefferson Mays, I Am My Own Wife

Best performance by a leading actress in a play: Phylicia Rashad, A Raisin in the Sun

Best performance by a leading actor in a musical: Hugh Jackman, The Boy From Oz

Best performance by a leading actress in a musical: Idina Menzel, Wicked

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