NEW YORK – L Morgan Lee isn’t your typical overnight success story.
The performer, who became the first openly transgender actress to be nominated for a Tony Award for her supporting performance in “A Strange Loop,” has been working at her goal for 20 years.
Her standout role as “Thought 1” in Michael R. Jackson’s ribald and irreverent Pulitzer Prize-winning musical will pit the actress against “Mr. Saturday Night’s” Shoshana Bean, “The Music Man’s” Jayne Houdyshell, “Girl From the North Country’s” Jeannette Bayardelle and “Company’s” Patti LuPone and Jennifer Simard at the Tonys ceremony on June 12.
“Things have been a little crazy these days,” Lee told the Daily News from her dressing room at Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre. “Things have not settled down. If anything, they’ve heated up more than ever.”
It’s been nonstop attention since “A Strange Loop” garnered 11 Tony Award nominations on May 9, the most of any Broadway production this season.
Saying that she’s “tired,” she added: “But this is the kind of tired that I’ve waited my whole career for. Since I’m not brand-new and I’ve been at this for over 20 years … this is the sort of stuff I’ve always dreamed of.”
Morgan is admittedly still overwhelmed by the history-making aspect of her performance as a transgender woman playing a cisgender woman in a Broadway show.
“Whenever I hear the ‘making history’ element of it, it’s sort of unreal to me, because I just feel like I’m literally putting one foot in front of the other, just trying to make it from day to day in so many ways.”
“A Strange Loop” won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2020, becoming one of a handful of musicals, including Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” and Jonathan Larson’s “Rent,” who achieved such a rare status.
In the show, which is marketed as a “big, Black, queer-ass American musical,” the suburban Maryland native portrays “Thought 1” – one of the intrusive thoughts belonging to a Black gay writer who works as a Broadway theater usher while traversing the ups and downs of dating and working in New York.
After appearing in productions of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Dreamgirls” and other shows she prefers not to discuss because it was before her gender transition, her role of a lifetime came from an out-of-the-blue social media exchange.
“I got a DM from Michael Jackson on my Facebook saying that he had gotten my name from a colleague and asked me to do a reading of the show at the Musical Theatre Factory,” Morgan said. “And so I listened to some music that he sent and I was sort of shocked by how raw the material was and how his music was saying things that people don’t say out loud.
“And I thought it was just really refreshing and was like, ‘You know what, sign me up’ because people don’t know what to do with me per se and you’re asking me to try this out. I’m going to look at what this script is, and we’ll see how it goes,” she said. “And the rest is history.”
The actress, who also sings and is featured on 2021’s “The Rainbow Lullaby” and “Sugar Maple Original Podcast Soundtrack,” is proud to be part of a new generation of queer voices popping up in the mainstream.
“I think that visibility is extremely important if we expect to have our presence be normalized to mainstream society,” she said. “I would like us to get to a place where it’s not a big deal when you find that someone is trans.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Spokane7 email newsletter
Get the day’s top entertainment headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.