New Jersey performer becomes first in wheelchair to win Tony award

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Ridgewood's own Ali Stroker became the first performer in a wheelchair Monday night to win a Tony award.

"It was an eruption in the room,” says Meg Schaefer, New Players Company artistic director. “The excitement was so amazing and I just had tears streaming down my face. At one point, I had to put my head down in my knees. I was sobbing."

Schaefer watched now Tony-award winning actress Ali Stroker develop as an artist on Ridgewood High School’s stage. 

Stroker played Maria in Westside Story her senior year. 

Schaefer was directing and she said she just knew there was a magic moment.

“She was just so gorgeous in both the singing but the acting and the emoting,” says Stroker. “I mean the whole theatre was reduced to tears and I just thought boy this girl has it.”

Stroker won featured actress in a musical. She’s the first person in a wheelchair to get a Tony. Her speech was dedicated to kids who have disabilities.

“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,” says Stroker. “You are!”

After the award, Stroker pointed out while many Broadway theaters are disability accessible for audience members, the backstage and stage area are still not built with performers like her in mind. 

She'd like to see that change now.

"Just on a personal note, I am the sister of a beloved brother with disabilities,” says Scheafer. “So there was another level to how moved I was by the whole experience last night but she's going to break down doors for people. She already has."

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