Alex Newell ‘Shucked’ Broadway to its core, but that’s just the beginning

Alex Newell ‘Shucked’ Broadway to its core, but that’s just the beginning

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Alex Newell at the 2024 Met Gala wearing a custom gown by Christian Siriano.
Alex Newell at the 2024 Met Gala wearing a custom gown by Christian Siriano. Photo by Cindy Ord/MG24/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue.

As audiences filed into the first preview of the new musical Shucked at Broadway’s Nederlander Theater on March 8th, 2023, no one knew what to expect. At this point, the show’s marketing had primarily been vague corn-related puns with few plot details. 

Then it happened. Midway through the first act, the incomparable Alex Newell stepped out and delivered “Independently Owned,” a soaring anthem to freedom and self-reliance. Newell’s powerful, rafter-shaking delivery stopped the show in its tracks, earning a rapturous standing ovation — at the very first preview. 

Alex Newell in the Broadway musical Shucked
Alex Newell in ‘Shucked.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

The rousing number continued to thrill audiences every night throughout the show’s ten-month Broadway run. Newell even performed it on the live finale of the musical competition series The Voice. In June 2023, their work in Shucked earned Newell a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical, becoming the first nonbinary performer to earn the accolade. 

Should anyone have been surprised? It was a historic culmination of two things Newell had been doing for years: breaking down boundaries and belting their face off.

Newell, who uses all pronouns, first gained recognition for their breakout role as “Unique” Adams on Ryan Murphy’s musical series Glee.

Among the first highly visible transgender characters seen on network television, Newell gave Adams’ transition journey powerful weight—particularly in their devastating performance of Beyonce’s “If I Were A Boy” in the fifth season.

Following their breakout on Glee, Newell pursued their recording career, releasing their debut EP, Power, in 2016.

Newell has always prioritized LGBTQ+ artists and venues as a musical artist, performing at Pride festivals and touring with fellow Glee alum Adam Lambert. 

Newell made their Broadway debut in director Michael Arden’s 2017 revival of Once on This Island. They played Asaka, a goddess and “Mother of the Earth,” reconceived in Arden’s Tony Award-winning staging as gender fluid. True to form, Newell brought the house down every night with show-stopper “Mama Will Provide,” a rousing pledge to nurture and care for the show’s struggling protagonist, Ti Moune.

Newell slayed the number at the 2018 Tony Awards, though they were passed over for a nomination — a snub that was blamed, in large part, on the ceremony’s gendered performing categories not making space for Newell’s nonbinary identity.

Being ahead of the gatekeepers has been part of Newell’s story from moment one. They refuse to be tied down to any single kind of role, whether in terms of gender identity or the wide variety of roles they’ve taken on – including three seasons of NBC’s musical-drama Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, where Newell played Zoe’s genderfluid neighbor Mo, a DJ and culinary artist. 

“For someone like me being plus size, queer, non-binary, and Black, I wasn’t supposed to be here,” Newell told Interview Magazine last year. “I’m in an industry where the ‘different’ makes me so wildly uncastable that I had to prove myself and literally scream my way into my position that I have now.” 

Alex Newell at the 2023 Tony Awards
Alex Newell accepts the award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for “Shucked” onstage during The 76th Annual Tony Awards. Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions.

After years of pounding the pavement, Newell finally got their flowers with their historic run Shucked. But they are just getting started.

Earlier this spring, at the annual Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS “Broadway Backwards” fundraiser, Newell performed a heart-wrenching rendition of “Back to Before” from the modern musical Ragtime, a number originated by Marin Mazzie. They also recently jumped the pond for a 50th-anniversary concert production of Pippin, starring as the Leading Player. Is there anything they can’t do?

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