Actress Celia Keenan-Bolger shares Detroit roots in Tony Award acceptance speech


  • Screengrab / YouTube

Detroit native Celia Keenan-Bolger highlighted the diversity of the city during her acceptance speech after receiving the Tony Award for best performance in a featured role in a play category on Sunday night.

“I have loved the theatre since I was 5 years old growing up in Detroit, Michigan,” Keenan-Bolger said in the speech. “I grew up in a neighborhood where my grandparents had a cross burned on their front lawn because they were being welcoming to black families who were integrating the neighborhood. They raised my mother and my siblings alongside those families, and when my mother met my father, instead of moving to the suburbs, they raised me, my brother, and my sister in that same neighborhood.”

The 41-year-old actress performed at the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit and the Interlochen Center for the Arts growing up. She is a graduate of the Detroit School of Arts High School and the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance.

She earned the award for her portrayal of Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, the staged version of Harper Lee’s acclaimed novel of the same name. To Kill a Mockingbird follows the Finch family in Maycomb, Alabama, in the 1930s when Scout’s father, a widowed lawyer named Atticus, defends a black man during a period of racism and discrimination.

The book is narrated retrospectively through the eyes of Scout as she looks back on one summer when she was 8 years old and recalls the events that unfolded. The book, with themes of civil rights and racial equality, has made headlines in recent years over parent complaints and the decision of a Mississippi school to pull the book from English curricula because of its “uncomfortable” language.

Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for the novel the following year. It is loosely based on Lee’s own experiences growing up in Monroeville, Alabama.

In her speech, Keenan-Bolger thanked Lee for making “the greatest literary heroine of all time,” in addition to producer Scott Rudin, scribe Aaron Sorkin, director Bartlett Sher, employees at the theatre, and her friends and family. She said her parents read the book to her as a child.

“That I am accepting this award for playing Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird is incredibly moving to me,” Keenan-Bolger said.

To Kill a Mockingbird is currently playing at Broadway's Shubert Theatre. The show, which has enjoyed widespread success, is anticipating an extended Broadway run and upcoming national tour.

This is Keenan-Bolger’s first Tony, though she has previously earned nominations for The Glass Menagerie, Peter and the Starcatcher, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Other Broadway credits include Les Misérables and The Cherry Orchard.

Additionally, Keenan-Bolger has also had TV roles, including on Law & Order, The Good Wife, and NCIS: New Orleans.

Her award was announced at Radio City Music Hall during the 73rd annual ceremony. The Tony Awards recognize excellence in live Broadway theatre and are presented by the Broadway League and American Theatre Wing.

Her brother, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, a Renaissance High School graduate and current Broadway performer, tweeted about his sister’s award.

“All I can think of is how much our mom would have lost her mind knowing that you just won your first Tony Award for playing [one of] her all time favorite strong female characters in literature,” he said. “She, much like me, is so damn proud of you.”

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