Tony Award winner Nikki M. James is pictured with her Tony Award (Photo by Ronnie Wright)

*On Sunday, June 12, 2011 while scores of theatergoers and Broadway fans alike watched  The American Theatre Wing’s 65th Annual Antoinette Perry “Tony Awards broadcast live on CBS-TV from The Beacon Theatre on 74th Street on the beautiful upper west side, to recognize achievement in Broadway productions during the 2010-2011 season.

Over 200 colorful thespians and fans trekked further up the west side to Tian at the Riverbank, 145th Street and Riverside Drive, to attend the Black 2: Broadway (B2B) seventh annual Tony award celebration highlighting the contributions by performers of color in the arts.

Located in the heart of the Harlem community in the picturesque Riverbank State Park in New York City, the chic new restaurant, which specializes in fusion (Asian and Latin) food, was the perfect place for the Broadway bash boasting unobstructed views of the Hudson River and the pictorial George Washington Bridge.  (To find out more on Tian at the Riverbank please visit: www.tianattheriverbank.com.)

The classy celebration began with a dynamic meet and greet reception followed by a glee-filled program emceed by singer and entertainer Vivian Reed and actor Kevin-Anthony that largely drew former Tony award winners of color and featured a live viewing of this year’s televised Tony Awards showcasing special live performances of some of Broadway’s best Black productions during Tony commercial breaks.

The 2011 Broadway season is one of the brightest and best of all times – especially for people of color — with many of the productions featuring Blacks in starring roles and cast members of hit shows.  As a testament to Blacks on Broadway, 31 Black actors were nominated in several blockbuster Broadway productions including: The Scottsboro Boys, 12 nominations; The Book of Mormon, 11 nominations; Sister Act, 4 nominations; The Motherf**ker with the Hat, 3 nominations; and The Normal Heart, 1 nomination.  However, only one took home the coveted Tony award.

Nikki M. James who plays the African villager Nabulungi in the 2011 hit musical, The Book of Mormon, was the only Black actor to take home a Tony for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical.  The cheers resonating from The Beacon Theatre could be heard throughout Harlem and up the Hudson River to the B2B event where the audience went wild; James’ win was a victory for all Blacks on Broadway.

B2B gala guests (left to right) Adrian Bailey, B2B guest, Carmen Ruby-Floyd, Vivian Reed, Kevin-Anthony (B2B founder), Sean Hollingsworth (B2B founder), Rob Stephens (Photo by Rodney Fitzgerald)

Each year, B2B honors a show featuring Black actors.  Under the musical direction of maestro Rob Stephens, this year’s musical tribute to Ain’t Misbehavin’ showcased all of the music from the multi-award winning musical with the cover song spectacularly performed by co-hosts Reed and Anthony.

Adriane Lenox represented the original Broadway cast of Ain’t Misbehavin.’  Other showstopping performances included Karl Dixon performing Your Feet Too Big, and Carmen Ruby-Floyd performing Honeysuckle Rose.

During the glorious evening filled with laughter, food and the sound of exhilarating Broadway tunes, Donna Walker-Kuhne of Walker Communications Group, and award winning choreographer George Faison of The Firehouse Theater in Harlem, received B2B’s coveted 2011 Vanguard Awards for outstanding service in the Arts.

On March 10, 2002 Black 2: Broadway launched as New York City’s premier event at B.B. Kings Blues Club in Times Square showcasing the talents of performers of color, both known and unknown.

In the past seven years, the event has honored/featured performances by artists including Ledisi, B. Slade (Tonex), Phoebe Snow, Jennifer Holliday, Jennifer Lewis, SWAY of MTV, Ben Harney, Obba Babatunde, Adrienne Lenox, Savion Glover, Blues Legend-Ruth Brown, Melba Moore, Maurice Hines, Lillias White, Shirley Murdock, Malik Yoba, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Billy Porter, BJ Crosby, Marva Hicks, Phylicia Rashad, The Broadway Inspirational Voices and many others, who were presented to standing room only audiences of supporters and peers.

Through their diligent work with Black 2: Broadway and B2: Productions, founders Kevin-Anthony and Sean Hollingsworth, aim to fill the void of opportunities for stage and musical performers and unite those performers with the audiences that enthusiastically want to see them.  (For more information on Black 2: Broadway and B2: Productions, log on to www.black2broadway.com.)

The dynamic duo has amassed a flock of followers who support B2B’s mission, “to create a support structure for the ongoing development and proliferation of talent and new works generated by and produced by people of color.”  Case in point, Hollingsworth and Anthony welcomed back with gusto “Impact Broadway,” an organization of young people interested in a career in the Arts both on and behind the stage.

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.