Maleah Joi Moon shouts out hometown Franklin in winning Tony speech

Sunday night was certainly "shining bright" for Franklin Township's own Maleah Joi Moon.

Making their Broadway debut this season in "Hell's Kitchen," the 21-year-old secured a Tony Award with their very first nomination in the city "where dreams are made of" at the 77th Annual Tony Awards at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center.

Moon's "on fire" rise to Broadway fame came through the coming-of-age role of Ali in the musical "Hell's Kitchen," now playing at the Schubert Theatre. The show, with music and lyrics by Alicia Keys and book by Kristoffer Diaz, is a semi-autobiographical portrayal of Keys' upbringing in New York's Hell's Kitchen. The show, which focuses on relationships and the impact of music on life, is considered a jukebox musical as it features many of Key's greatest hits such as "Empire State of Mind," "Girl on Fire" and "Fallin'" as well as several new songs.

The Franklin High School 2020 graduate is now the third-youngest Tony winner for "Best Actress in a Musical," after Lea Salonga and Liza Minnelli.

Maleah Joi Moon, winner of the Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical award for "Hell’s Kitchen" at the 2024 Tony Awards in New York City.
Maleah Joi Moon, winner of the Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical award for "Hell’s Kitchen" at the 2024 Tony Awards in New York City.

Previously, Moon received a Drama Desk Award and a Theatre World Award for her portrayal of Ali, described by the show as "a 17-year-old girl full of fire searching for freedom, passion and her place in the world." The show first ran off-Broadway as part of The Public Theater's 2023–24 season from Oct. 24, 2023 to Jan. 14. The show then moved to Broadway, opening at the Shubert on April 20.

At the awards show, the company of "Hell's Kitchen" performed "The Gospel," "Authors of Forever" and "Fallin'" with surprise performance of "Empire State of Mind" from Alicia Keys and Jay-Z.

The award, announced by Nick Jonas and Adrienne Warren, seemed to take Moon by surprise. Fellow nominees included Eden Espinosa for "Lempicka," Kelli O'Hara for "Days of Wine and Roses," Maryann Plunkett for "The Notebook" and Gayle Rankin for "Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club."

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Bursting into tears, Moon took a moment to retrieve a handwritten note of thanks from a purse before making her way to the Radio City Musical Hall stage. In silver and black Marc Bouwer⁩ Haute Couture gown, Moon stopped to hug Shoshana Bean, who played her mother Jersey in the show, and Keys.

In the acceptance speech, Moon gave a shout out to Franklin High School − their best friends and their teachers from Franklin for "believing in my potential."

"Thank you for taking care of me," Moon said.

"Hell's Kitchen," is a tale of relationships, particularly one between Ali and Miss Liza Jane, who teaches her about music. In previous interviews, Moon singled out Franklin mentors Terri Seggio, the now-retired Franklin Middle School musical director, and Timothy Walton, the former Franklin High School musical director.

"We are incredibly proud of Maleah, on her success in her Broadway debut and now on her Tony award win," said John Ravally, superintendent of Franklin Township Public Schools. "Her hard work and dedication to her craft have served her well.  We are happy that her experiences in the Fine Visual and Performing Arts Program at Franklin Township Public Schools were able to provide a foundation for her and we wish her continued success."

Most notable, as a Franklin student, Maleah starred as Dorothy in Sampson G. Smith Middle School's production of "The Wizard of Oz" and as Maria in Franklin High School’s production of "West Side Story."

Maleah Joi Moon as Ali with the company of the Broadway musical “Hell’s Kitchen,” which earned 13 Tony Award nominations. It features songs by Alicia Keys.
Maleah Joi Moon as Ali with the company of the Broadway musical “Hell’s Kitchen,” which earned 13 Tony Award nominations. It features songs by Alicia Keys.

Moon also thanked God, the American Theatre Wing, their "village," family, the "entire community of 'Hell's Kitchen,'" the creative team, as well as Keys and the "family down at the Public Theater."

"You saw something in me a few years ago and you've nurtured that thing ever since," Moon said.

Moon dedicated the award to their parents, Fabiana and Steve.

"Dad, you've been working all your life. Mom, you came to America at 17 and you've been surviving ever since," Moon said. "And 'Hell's Kitchen' is about a 17-year-old on the cusp of a dream. I can't imagine how many dreams deferred, how many sacrifices each of you made to give me the life that I have today. So tonight, all I hope is that you just get to celebrate − because this is for you. And we did this together. I love you more than words. Thank you."

Prior to Moon's win, Kecia Lewis, who plays Miss Liza Jane in "Hell's Kitchen," won the Tony Award for "Best Featured Actress in a Musical." "Hell's Kitchen" had tied with the play "Stereophonic" for 13 nominations, including "Best Musical," becoming the two most-nominated shows at the ceremony.

email: cmakin@gannettnj.com

Cheryl Makin is an award-winning features and education reporter for MyCentralJersey.com, part of the USA Today Network. Contact: Cmakin@gannettnj.com or @CherylMakin. To get unlimited access, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: Maleah Joi Moon shouts out hometown Franklin NJ in winning Tony speech

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