New York Fashion Week got a little Broadway magic last night, thanks to two Jersey girls.
Instead of sending her models down a catwalk, Rachel Antonoff — a designer known for her unconventional shows — staged a one-number musical to show off her new collection, with models answering telephones and twirling with manilla folders set to “A Secretary Is Not a Toy” from “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”
At the center of it all was Ali Stroker, fresh off her history-making run as the first wheelchair-bound actress on Broadway as part of Deaf West’s “Spring Awakening” revival that featured deaf and other differently abled actors.
Doing her first runway show was “so fun, it was really really exciting to be part of it!” Stroker gushes after the show. “People loved it, and the thing was people weren’t shocked by it, which was even better news. People are really on board and excited and open to seeing different kinds of people and different kinds of shows.”
Though the concept of a musical was new to Fashion Week, the production was a reunion for its two stars. “Rachel introduced me to musical theater when I was 7 years old and she was 12 and we lived next door to each other down at the Jersey Shore. So it was kind of fun 20 years later to come back and work together on a musical number.”
Stroker’s musical theater career began at age 7 when Antonoff suggested staging a backyard production of “Annie,” with Stroker playing the title role. Bringing the musical concept to NYFW was something Antonoff had been dreaming about for a while, and it just happened to work with the business-feminine line she was showing this year. “I love fashion and Fashion Week in New York is really fabulous, so I was totally game,” Stroker says.
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Though she’d been performing professionally since age 11, when the 28-year-old graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, she had a hard time even getting into auditions. But an open casting call for a guest role on “Glee” changed her career, and she says the entertainment industry as being at a turning point now — led partially by Broadway.
“I think there’s a lot more open-mindedness in casting; ‘Hamilton’ is a beautiful example of that,” she says. Diversity is not just about giving opportunities to more actors: “I think it’s an opportunity to tell stories to different kinds of people. These people might not match what you thought they would be; [the show] is going to be told a different way and a different kind of truth is told, and that’s really exciting.”
Next for the actress is a TEDx talk in New Jersey on March 8, focusing on young people creating social change. Stroker will discuss her time in “Spring Awakening,” which she calls “life-changing.”
“I do feel like this past experience of being on Broadway and performing with Deaf West really allowed me to become the best version of myself,” she says. “Working with a group of other differently enabled actors reminded me of why I do this and what I’m doing to make a limitation into an opportunity.”