Hop to Broadway: Live with Ali Stroker
The Hopkins Center for the Arts has continued its Hop to Broadway series virtually with an April 29 conversation featuring “Oklahoma!” star Ali Stroker, hosted by theater professor and “Oklahoma!” choreographer John Heginbotham. Stroker, who plays Ado Annie in Daniel Fish’s revival of “Oklahoma!,” shared her perspective on theatrical connection through virtual platforms and the expressive power of song.
Heginbotham’s conversation with Stroker explored how she first got involved in theater, the challenges and victories that came with the “Oklahoma!” production and how Stroker is making the best of self-isolation. Their conversation also discussed Stroker’s impact as the first performer to use a wheelchair for mobility on a Broadway stage. Stroker, who has been paralyzed since the age of two, was also the first Tony-nominated actress to use a wheelchair and the first graduate from the New York University Tisch drama program to use a wheelchair.
The live stream began with a musical introduction by “Oklahoma!” music director Nathan Koci. Though Heginbotham once again wore his signature sequined blazer from the first installment of Hop to Broadway, the setting and atmosphere were starkly different from the series’ premiere in January, which took place in person with “Hadestown” director Rachel Chavkin. Though the transition online posed challenges, it also gave viewers the unique opportunity to view professional performers speak openly and intimately about their experiences on Broadway.
“It was really interesting to see someone you’ve seen on stage just be in your living room,” Brandon Ciraudo ’23, who tuned into the live stream, said. “It’s an organic dimension in actors that you don’t get to see often.”
To those who know her, it came as no surprise that Stroker was so open and honest about her life and her challenges, even through the virtual format.
“She approaches everything with openness and bravery,” Heginbotham said in a post-event interview.
During her conversation with Heginbotham, Stroker was open about her paralysis and described how she initially struggled with the way in which the world viewed her. However, she said that when she first performed in a backyard production of “Annie,” she noticed that the attention she received wasn’t that of pity, but rather awe. This empowerment from theater boosted her confidence, and one Tony award later, Stroker said that she feels more empowered and accepted than ever.
Stroker said that she credits theater with giving her the opportunity to be received in a different way by those around her, as it allowed audiences to focus on her raw talent.
“With my voice, it was like I was set free,” Stroker said.
Stroker also spoke about her Tony win for her role as Ado Annie and reflected on how this personal victory translated into acceptance and celebration, not just for herself, but for anyone who aspires to break down barriers in their careers.
According to Heginbotham, the Hop to Broadway series originated with the realization that Broadway was putting out different content than it had before, and the people behind the productions were different too, with an unprecedented number of women producers and people of color behind shows. A show like “Oklahoma!” — a darker revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic — was emblematic of a rising trend of new, distinctive content and stories. The newfound diversity of those creating productions centered around themes of social justice is what Heginbotham said inspired the Hop team to make the series so that they could call attention to the changes taking place on Broadway.
Hop publicity coordinator Rebecca Bailey said that Stroker was a natural choice as a speaker for the Hop to Broadway series.
“Her story has so many dimensions beyond just being a person in theater,” Bailey said.
In a time when we have access to excessive TV reruns and a surplus of movies ready to stream, it’s refreshing to turn to an original conversation taking place in real time. Though there are no official dates scheduled, Heginbotham said that there would be more Hop to Broadway events in the weeks to come.