‘A Strange Loop’ Star L Morgan Lee on Her Trailblazing Tony Nomination

L Morgan Lee made theater history on Monday, becoming what Production officials described as the first openly transgender performer to be nominated for a Tony Award for her performance as a featured actress in “A Strange Loop.”

Lee’s Tony nod was one of 11 for the musical, which opened April 26 and is a meta-work about a Black gay writer trying to make art while being distracted by his intrusive thoughts. Lee plays one of those thoughts — “Thought 1.”

In a telephone interview on Monday hours after learning of her nomination, Lee, who made her Broadway debut in the musical, said she found her nomination “overwhelming.”

“I know of many trans and nonbinary and gender-expansive people who are out here trying to be seen and trying to put stories out into the world,” she said. “Having this happen today helps more people know that it’s possible.”

Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.

This was your Broadway debut. Tell me about what it was like to see your name on the screen this morning with a Tony nomination.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the importance of a Black trans woman in a principal role on a Broadway stage, period. And the importance of that, especially in a time when so many of us are simply fighting for our basic well being. So to be able to be part of a story that is challenging the form in so many ways — challenging what people have known Broadway to be — it’s a gift.

It is all bigger than me. I’m really excited about what will happen after these steps. I’m very excited about who is in the audience that will see this show or my performance or now this nomination and know that it is possible for them to pursue theater.

What does it say to you that a show that describes itself as a “big, black, and queer-ass Great American Musical” can be the big winner of this morning’s nominations?

I would like to say that it means that there is hope. I’m careful with the word change, because in order for us to be in the type of world and space we want to be in, it’s not as much about change as much as it is about growth. You’re not going to suddenly get rid of all the people who don’t agree with you. But we do need to figure out how to make space so that all of our stories can actually be told.

To that point, for anyone out there who says “Hey, this got 11 nominations — I’m interested — but I’m not sure this musical is for me,” what would you tell them?

If you are willing to take a moment to look at the world through the lens of this particular human, and understand that you might not agree with everything, you might not relate to everything, you might not see the world the way he does — and I’m speaking about Usher who is the center of our show — if you are willing for a couple of hours to take a look at the world through Usher’s eyes, then you will find something inside of it that, if it doesn’t speak to you directly, might speak to someone you know.

So what would you say this musical is about?

A gay Black man, who is larger bodied — his journey toward finding how he fits into the world around him — and how he feels about that.

And he is tormented by many thoughts!

Everyone keeps saying “tormented” by thoughts. But the reality is, I don’t torment him! I am the one thought who actually has a moment with him that is telling him that he is enough. And that he should not be afraid to tell the truth. And he should be OK with finding joy in his life while he still has a life — that he should appreciate the life that he lives in today.

One of my lines is “If you’re not scared of writing the truth, then it’s probably not worth writing. And if you’re not scared of living the truth, then it’s probably not worth living.” And I think it’s mesmerizing to me that the universe has put those lyrics in my hands and I have to say those things every night to Usher, given my own journey and the fact that I transitioned through the development of this show.

As I’m saying those words to Usher every night, in many ways, it’s like reassuring myself.

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