Multimedia: Baayork Lee Accepts The Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award At The 71st Annual Tony Awards

Congratulations to director, actress and choreographer Baayork Lee who received the 2017 Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award for her outstanding dedication to social service in the global theatre landscape at the American Theatre Wing’s 71st Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday, June 11, 2017.

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 11: Jonathan Groff and Brian d'Arcy James present Baayork Lee with the Isabelle Stevenson Award award onstage during the 2017 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 11, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)
NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 11: Jonathan Groff and Brian d’Arcy James present Baayork Lee with the Isabelle Stevenson Award award onstage during the 2017 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 11, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

The award was presented to Ms. Lee by Jonathan Groff and Brian d’Arcy James.

Baayork Lee accepts the Isabelle Stevenson Award award onstage during the 2017 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 11, 2017 in New York City. Photo: NAAP/Facebook
Baayork Lee accepts the Isabelle Stevenson Award award onstage during the 2017 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 11, 2017 in New York City. Photo: NAAP/Facebook

Baayork Lee’s speech:
“Thank you everyone. Thank you American Theatre Wing and Broadway League. This is the journey of a five-year-old in the middle of the St. James Theatre and saying to her mother, ‘This is it. This is where I want to be.’ But you can’t do it without mentors or role models and a pupil, I had so many special ones. Ms. Syvilla Fort, my first mentor, Yuriko and Maria Tallchief, my role models. Eleven Broadway shows later, Michael Bennett and Bob Avian, Tommy Tune, Graciela Daniele and Roman Terleckyj. In Japan, Mori Shibuya, in South Africa, Professor Jimmie Earl Perry and Juan Datoy.

Nina Zoie Lam, Baayork Lee and Steven Eng, the founders of NAAP, onstage before the performance of Oliver! at The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre 
inside The Pershing Square Signature Center in New York on June 7, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang
Nina Zoie Lam, Baayork Lee and Steven Eng, the founders of NAAP, onstage before the performance of Oliver! at The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre 
inside The Pershing Square Signature Center in New York on June 7, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

With their guidance and example, I along with Steven Eng and Nina Zoie Lam started our nonprofit National Asian Artists Project because we saw the need to put the spotlight on the Asian American Artists. NAAP, as we call it, showcases their work through performance, educational programming and community outreach. Our programs include productions of classic musicals, the NAAP Broadway Community Chorus and Senior Sing-a-longs. Thanks to Freddie Gershon- mentor and Alice Hum – role model and principal of P.S. 124 Yung Wing Elementary School, we started an award-winning after school theater club.

The NAAP Broadway Community Chorus presented an evening of Jerry Herman with special guests Cindy Cheung and John D. Haggerty at the Gibney Dance Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center on May 23, 2017. Photo courtesy of Brian Jose/Facebook
The NAAP Broadway Community Chorus presented an evening of Jerry Herman with special guests Cindy Cheung and John D. Haggerty at the Gibney Dance Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center on May 23, 2017. Photo courtesy of Brian Jose/Facebook

National Asian Artists Project will continue our mission to make a difference and I hope you all will join me. Your loving pupil, Princess Ying Yaowalak.”

President of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization Ted Chapin, Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award Honoree Baayork Lee, and Chair of the American Theatre Wing David Henry Hwang at the Tony Nominee Luncheon, held at the Rainbow Room in NYC on May 23, 2017 Credit: Shevett Studios
President of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization Ted Chapin, Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award Honoree Baayork Lee, and Chair of the American Theatre Wing David Henry Hwang at the Tony Nominee Luncheon, held at the Rainbow Room in NYC on May 23, 2017
Credit: Shevett Studios
Baayork Lee. Photo by Lia Chang
Baayork Lee. Photo by Lia Chang

The Isabelle Stevenson Award is presented annually to a member of the theatre community who has made a substantial contribution of volunteered time and effort on behalf of one or more humanitarian, social service or charitable organizations. Ms. Lee  received the Award for her commitment to future generations of artists through her work with the National Asian Artists Project and theatre education programs around the world.

“Baayork works tirelessly to break down cultural walls that often build up around what theatre goers consider ‘traditional’ musicals, and her dedication to fostering the next generation of performers and theatre professionals to do the same is exemplary. We are thrilled to honor her this year,” Charlotte St. Martin, President of The Broadway League, and Heather Hitchens, President of the American Theatre Wing, said.

Baayork was dressed by designer Malan Breton throughout the Tony Awards season. Below are photos from Baayork’s whirlwind Tony journey from the 1st press junket on May 3rd at the Sofitel Hotel and the Designed To Celebrate: A Toast To The 2017 Tony Awards Creative Arts Nominees at The Lamb’s Club at the Chatwal NY on June 1st.

71st Annual Tony Awards rehearsalat Radio City Musical Hall on June 11th.

71st Annual Tony Awards ceremony at Radio City Musical Hall on June 11th.

Baayork Lee is the co-founder of National Asian Artists Project (NAAP), which is a community of artists, educators, administrators, community leaders, and professionals who work to showcase the work of Asian-American theater artists through performance, educational programming and community outreach.

Karl Josef Co, Jaygee Macapugay, Raul Aranas, Christine Toy Johnson and the company of NAAP's Hello Dolly! at The Pershing Square Signature Center on April 30, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang
Karl Josef Co, Jaygee Macapugay, Raul Aranas, Christine Toy Johnson and the company of NAAP’s Hello Dolly! at The Pershing Square Signature Center on April 30, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

Through NAAP, Lee orchestrates her vision of educating, cultivating, and stimulating audiences and artists of Asian descent. The organization has produced productions of musical theatre staples like Oklahoma!, Carousel, Hello Dolly!, Oliver! and Honor with all Asian-American casts. By turning a spot light onto the high-caliber talent of theatre artists of Asian descent, NAAP asserts, given the opportunity, the theater and its audiences will embrace diverse American voices who strive to claim both new and classic American works as their own.

Bonale Zohn Fambrini, Raul Aranas, Mel Sagrado Maghuyop, Scott Watanabe, Cindy Cheung, Virginia Wing and John Haggerty at the curtain call of NAAP’s Oliver! at The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre inside The Pershing Square Signature Center in New York on June 7, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang
Bonale Zohn Fambrini, Raul Aranas, Mel Sagrado Maghuyop, Scott Watanabe, Cindy Cheung, Virginia Wing and John Haggerty at the curtain call of NAAP’s Oliver! at The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre inside The Pershing Square Signature Center in New York on June 7, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Lee has made it a large part of her mission to educate aspiring artists in musical theatre. She created musical theater schools in Seoul, Korea; Tokyo, Japan; and the Theater Club at the Yung Wing Elementary School (PS124) in Chinatown, NY.

Baayork Lee (playing Miss Wong in this clip from the 1969 Tony Awards) created the role of Connie in A Chorus Line, and in fact has made a career of recreating Bennett's choreography. Photo credit: Martha Swope on Armchair Actorvist
Baayork Lee (playing Miss Wong in this clip from the 1969 Tony Awards) created the role of Connie in A Chorus Line, and in fact has made a career of recreating Bennett’s choreography. Photo credit: Martha Swope on Armchair Actorvist

Lee, an Asian American actor, dancer, singer, choreographer, director and author, was born in New York City’s Chinatown to an Indian mother and Chinese father, made her Broadway debut at the age of five as “Princess Ying Yaowalak” in the 1951 original production of The King and I. Her dream was to become a ballerina and she appeared in George Balanchine’s production of The Nutcracker, but this dream was dashed when she achieved her full height of just four feet, ten inches. In 1958, she returned to Broadway in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song. Other Broadway appearances were in Bravo Giovanni; Mr. PresidentHere’s LoveGolden BoyA Joyful NoiseHenry, Sweet HenryPromises, PromisesSeesaw and Michael Bennett’s 1976 Tony Award-winning Best Musical A Chorus Line, in which she originated the role of “Connie,” and served as his assistant choreographer.

Lee worked with Bennett in several productions and over the years went from being his dance partner, to being his assistant. She would later supervise all major productions of A Chorus Line, choreographing many national and international companies, most recently in Klagenfurt, Austria; Santiago, Chile; the Hollywood Bowl; and Pace University in New York City. She is the co-author of the book, On the Line: The Creation of A Chorus Line, published in 1990.

Baayork Lee, Virginia Wing and Nancy Kwan at the New York Historical Society in New York on October 15, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang
Baayork Lee, Virginia Wing and Nancy Kwan at the New York Historical Society in New York on October 15, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang
Christine Toy Johnson presented Baayork Lee with the 2014 Paul Robeson Citation Award presented by the Actors’ Equity Foundation in the council room of the Actors Equity Association on October 10, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang
Christine Toy Johnson presented Baayork Lee with the 2014 Paul Robeson Citation Award presented by the Actors’ Equity Foundation in the council room of the Actors Equity Association on October 10, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Her directing and choreography credits also include: The King and I (national tour), Bombay Dreams (national tour), Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (New York City Opera), Barnum (Australia), Carmen Jones (John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts), Porgy and Bess (European tour), Jesus Christ Superstar (European tour), Gypsy and A New Brain. She has also choreographed Miss Saigon (Kansas City Starlight), Mack and Mabel (Shaw Festival), Animal Crackers, South Pacific, Coconuts, Camelot, and Damn Yankees, all at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.

She has been the recipient of numerous awards for her work, including the 2014 Paul Robeson Award from Actors Equity Association, the Asian Woman Warrior Award for Lifetime Achievement from Columbia College, Asian/Pacific American Heritage Association Achievement in Arts Award, and the Dynamic Achiever Award from OCA Westchester.

Baayork Lee, Bob Avian and Christopher Vo at the opening night party at Tavern on the Green for “Miss Saigon” on March 23, 2017. Photo by Lia Chang
Baayork Lee, Bob Avian and Christopher Vo at the opening night party at Tavern on the Green for “Miss Saigon” on March 23, 2017. Photo by Lia Chang

David Henry Hwang, Baayork Lee, Eva Noblezada, Linda Cho, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, John Douglas Thompson, Richard Thomas, Laura Linney and More at Tony Honors Special Honorees of 2017 Cocktail Party Baayork Lee to Receive the 2017 Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award 

NAAP Broadway Community Chorus -An Evening of Jerry Herman with Special Guests Cindy Cheung and John D. Haggerty

Robert Fairchild, Mara Davi, Jason Tam, J. Elaine Marcos, Sabrina Bryan & More Set for Baayork Lee Helmed A CHORUS LINE at The Hollywood Bowl

Baayork Lee to Helm ‘ALICE IN WONDERLAND’ Musical at Madison Theatre at Molloy College

Photos: Tommy Tune, Bob Avian, Lee Roy Reams, Christine Toy Johnson, Orville Mendoza, Lori Tan Chinn, Raul Aranas, Virginia Wing and More Celebrate 2014 Paul Robeson Citation Award Recipient Baayork Lee

National Asian Artists Project To Present All-Asian Production of OLIVER! Featuring Raul Aranas, Anthea Neri, Bonale Zohn Fambrini, Mel Sagrado Maghuyop, Cindy Cheung, Scott Watanabe, Virginia Wing, David Shih and More 

Photos: Christine Toy Johnson, Baayork Lee, Jose Llana, Ann Harada, Dodie Pettit and More at Charles Randolph-Wright’s “Three Voices” concert series at Stage 72

Christine Toy Johnson and Raul Aranas Lead the Cast of the National Asian Artists Project’s (NAAP) Benefit Presentation of Hello Dolly!, at The Pershing Square Signature Center

Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits
Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers,  musicians and corporations. Lia is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Jade Magazine and Playbill.com.

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