London native Sharon D Clarke was in Clapham with her wife—fellow theatre artist Susie McKenna—the morning the 2022 Tony nominations were announced.
"I screamed!" Clarke told Playbill that May morning when she realized she had been Tony-nominated for her Broadway bow in the demanding title role of the Roundabout Theatre Company revival of Caroline, or Change. "You know, for me, as a British person coming over and having my Broadway debut to be nominated is just, it's amazing. Absolutely amazing. I am honored and privileged and humbled and over the moon and excited, you know. It's a fantastic part of the journey, and to have Broadway say 'we see you and we acknowledge you' is a beautiful thing."
Clarke—nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical in a field that also includes Carmen Cusack for Flying Over Sunset, Sutton Foster for The Music Man, Joaquina Kalukango for Paradise Square, and Mare Winningham for Girl From The North Country—initially took on the role of Caroline Thibodeaux at the Chichester Festival Theatre in summer 2017.
"No one had talked about it going anywhere else, and I was quite happy to do the show at Chichester because I'd seen the show when it came to the National in 2006," Clarke explained. "And, I love the production, love the music, love the sentimentality of the show and what it had to say. And so, of course, it was a no brainer to be on board. So then to have the show transfer from Chichester to Hampstead and bring it down to London was another wonderful part of the journey. Then we took it into the West End, which we didn't expect to do. And, then I got the call that it was going to Broadway, which I never expected to happen. So it's all just been, for me, the gift that keeps on giving."
The aforementioned West End run of the Tony Kushner-Jeanine Tesori musical earned Clarke a 2019 Olivier Award for her powerful performance as an African-American woman working as a maid for a Jewish family in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. Following a reschedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Broadway revival of Caroline, or Change officially opened at Studio 54 in October 2021, concluding its limited engagement in January.
On this side of the Atlantic, Clarke has also received a Drama Desk nomination and a Theatre World Award for Outstanding Broadway Debut Performance. "I am so overwhelmed," Clarke admitted. "I'm a little, young Black girl from Tottenham—well, I'm not so young anymore. But you know… for me, it's beyond and above any of my wildest dreams. I never imagined something like this would happen. So, you know, I am overwhelmed and giddy. I'm giddy like a young school girl. I am!"
And, the actor has already lined up her next Broadway role. She will reprise her work as Linda Loman opposite the Willy Loman of Olivier nominee Wendell Pierce when the critically hailed Young Vic/West End production of Death of a Salesman arrives at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre for a limited run in September.
"These gifts just keep on giving," Clarke said about the Miranda Cromwell-directed revival of the Arthur Miller classic, the first Broadway production to present the drama from the perspective of an African-American family. "You know, when I signed the [original London] contract, there was never any talk of us going to Broadway. So it's wonderful…for Wendell to be able to bring that back to his city, to his country, and celebrate that with his countrymen in this new production… [and], for me, really just enriches and deepens and intensifies Arthur Miller's script. It's so wonderful. So I'm happy for myself, and I'm ultra ultra happy for Wendell."
Caroline, or Change is currently nominated for three 2022 Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical. The 75th Annual Tony Awards will be broadcast June 12 on CBS and Paramount+.