Kenny Leon among Atlanta nominees at this year’s Tony Awards

The Clark Atlanta alumnus and previous Tony winner directed the revival of ‘Purlie Victorious.’
Tonny Award-winning producer and director Kenny Leon poses for a photograph on Thursday, January 26, 2022, in Atlanta. Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Tonny Award-winning producer and director Kenny Leon poses for a photograph on Thursday, January 26, 2022, in Atlanta. Miguel Martinez /

Atlanta doesn’t have a strong showing at this year’s Tony Awards ceremony, which airs on Sunday.

However, Kenny Leon, who graduated from Clark Atlanta University, is nominated for best direction of a play for “Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch.” This marks the legendary director’s fourth nomination in the category. A decade ago, he won best director for his adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.”

“Purlie Victorious” was written by actor Ossie Davis (who was born in Cogdell) in 1961. The play follows preacher Purlie Victorious Jordan in his quest to buy his former church from a plantation owner in his segregated Georgia hometown. Last year, the Leslie Odom Jr.-starring revival opened at the Music Box Theatre, becoming the first major New York production of the play since the original closed in 1962.

“We are immensely proud of the achievements of our distinguished alumnus, Kenny Leon, and his significant contributions to the arts and theater industry,” said Charlene Gilbert, Clark Atlanta’s provost and senior vice president of academic affairs, in a statement. “Mr. Leon’s exceptional career is a testament to creative excellence and an inspiration for all of our students who aspire to a career in the arts.”

In 2020, Leon was nominated for best director of a play for “A Soldier’s Play,” which won the Tony for best revival of a play.

“Purlie Victorious” is nominated for six Tony Awards at this year’s ceremony. It joins “Water for Elephants,” which premiered at the Alliance Theatre last June. The musical, based on Sara Gruen’s 2006 bestselling novel, received seven nominations. The story centers on a man who finds a new home with a traveling circus during the Great Depression. Directed by Jessica Stone, the musical stars Grant Gustin and Isabelle McCalla.

Ariana DeBose will return to host Sunday’s Tony Awards. The Oscar-winning actress, who’s hosted the previous two years, will produce and choreograph the opening number. “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Stereophonic” are the plays leading the pack, each being nominated for 13 awards. The former is loosely inspired by the life of singer Alicia Keys (who composed the play’s music), and the latter, with music written by Arcade Fire’s Will Butler, offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the creation of a rock band’s album in the 1970s.

Angelina Jolie, Nick Jonas, Cynthia Erivo, Idina Menzel and Jennifer Hudson are among the show’s presenters.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that Kenny Leon has two nominations for the Tony Award for best director of a play. He has four. His first nomination was in 2010.


77th Tony Awards

8 p.m. Sunday, June 16, on CBS. Will also be available to stream live and on-demand on Paramount+.