-By Brenda Hillegas
Feature photo by Chris Ash
Wednesday, May 26th, the Philadelphia Theatre Company welcomes back groundbreaking Tony winner Ali Stroker for a one-night only virtual concert filmed on stage at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre. She’s returning to the theatre company- where her performance in 2010’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee earned her a Barrymore Award nomination- to help raise funds as PTC continues to recover from the pandemic and prepare for the 2021-22 season.
“I love PTC and the amazing show I got to do there years ago. It felt like coming back to one of my performing homes,” says Stroker of her experience as Olive Ostrovsky in PTC’s Spelling Bee. “I auditioned for the show because it was a collaboration with Paper Mill [Playhouse in Millburn, NJ] where I did their educational programs as a kid. Marc Bruni was also directing, who is a friend from my hometown. I was thrilled to play this role and loved the company and team so much on this production!”
Wednesday’s event will be especially exciting because Stroker traveled here to perform on the same stage that helped launch her career. She made history by being the first actor in a wheelchair to appear on Broadway in Deaf West’s acclaimed 2015 revival of Spring Awakening and the first to win a Tony Award (for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role as ‘Ado Annie’ in the revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!). Prior to Broadway, though, Stroker was the first person in a wheelchair to appear on the stage of the new Suzanne Roberts Theatre (the building takes pride in being fully accessible).
An Evening with Ali Stroker will appeal to a variety of audiences. Tune in to hear her incredible voice and show support for the Philadelphia theatre scene. Stroker is no stranger to shows like this one as she has performed her cabaret act at Green Room 42 in New York City and solo’ed at venues like the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, New York’s Town Hall, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and Carnegie Hall.
“My favorite songs to sing are “Million Dreams” from The Greatest Showman and a special medley that you’ll hear during [the event],” she says. There’s only one way to find out what’s on her setlist. Buy a ticket and become reacquainted with the stage- something we’ll all be seeing in person again in a few short months!
A lot has happened since Stroker first arrived in Philadelphia for Spelling Bee and went on to the Broadway stages. She’s very proud of achieving that dream and for her Tony win, but equally important are her achievements of helping people with disabilities and connecting and supporting young people around the country who want to be in theatre. Her mission is to improve the lives of others through the arts and her personal motto is “turn your limitations into opportunities!”
Stroker co-founded Be More Heroic, an anti-bullying campaign that tours the country to connect with thousands of students each year. In addition, she’s led theater workshops for South African women and children affected by HIV and AIDS with ARTS InsideOut.
In a press release about An Evening With Ali Stroker, PTC’s Producing Artistic Director Paige Price calls her “one of the most engaging, warm performers to hit the Broadway scene in some time.” This is evident in her dedication and involvement in the arts and arts education throughout the country.
“I am really proud of writing The Chance to Fly with my co-author Stacy Davidowitz,” she says about a recent accomplishment- a middle-grade novel that focuses on a theater-loving girl who uses a wheelchair for mobility. “The book creates representation for kids and people with disabilities. We touch on themes like friendship, creativity, believing in yourself, accessibility and overcoming obstacles.”
With the Oklahoma! revival going on tour, Stroker has a bit of advice to pass on to the next actor who will take on the role of Ado Annie. “Don’t judge her! She’s a smart and curious woman who believes in her freedom to do and be who she is!” Ado sounds a lot like Ali Stroker really, encouraging everyone to be who they are and do what makes you you.
An Evening with Ali Stroker begins at 7pm EST on Wednesday, May 26th. Audiences can view the concert online through a dedicated streaming link and tickets start at $25. The evening will also feature highlights from PTC’s 2020-21 season and a teaser from the company’s documentary, The Tattooed Lady: Make Your Mark, about the development of their 2022 World Premiere musical The Tattooed Lady. More information can be found at philatheatreco.org or by calling the company’s virtual box office at 215-985-0420.
“Supporting PTC is one of the greatest gifts you can give to Philly and the artistic community,” Stroker concludes. “Our world needs live theatre. You can make a difference in attending!”
And in case you’re wondering, once the curtains rise again and we can be together in a theatre, Stroker is most looking forward to seeing Hamilton and Hadestown. As for the next revival she’d love to see on Broadway, that’s Urinetown. I hope you get to see those shows, Ali, and we all look forward to seeing you (virtually) in Philadelphia this week!