Celebrity Jews

Time for the Tonys

The Tony Awards are coming up on Sunday. This year two Jews of biracial background and two Bay Area natives are nominated for acting awards.

Alex Brightman

The two Bay Area nominees are Daveed Diggs, 34, and Alex Brightman, 29. Diggs is nominated for best featured actor/musical (“Hamilton”). He grew up in Oakland and Berkeley, the son of a Jewish mother and a black father. Brightman, who grew up in Saratoga, is nominated for best lead actor in a musical (“School of Rock”). His mother, Melissa Brightman, ran a kidney dialysis clinic and his father, Alan Brightman, 69, worked for Apple and now Yahoo, focusing on improving computer accessibility for disabled people. Alex, who started his professional career in 2007, honed his stage skills performing for two years (2013-14) in “Stars of David,” a musical based on a book of interviews by Abigail Pogrebin with prominent Jewish Americans talking about being Jewish. Brightman even looks a bit like Jack Black, who starred in the 2003 film “School of Rock.” Also, like Black, Brightman has a strong rock background (he plays guitar). His hard work and talent bore fruit when he auditioned for smaller parts in “School” and became the surprise pick for the lead. His parents, he told Playbill, had tears in their eyes when he told them he got the role, and his girlfriend almost fainted.

Sophie Okonedo

The other acting nominee is actress Sophie Okonedo, 47. She’s nominated for best lead actress in a play. She plays Elizabeth Proctor in the current hit revival of “The Crucible” by the late Arthur Miller. Okonedo is the daughter of an English Jewish mother and a Nigerian father. She was raised Jewish and recently told a British TV show: “I feel as proud to be Jewish as I am to be black.” Among other honors, Okonedo got a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for “The Hotel Rwanda” (2004) and a Tony Award (best featured actress in a play) for “A Raisin in the Sun” (2014).

Other categories: Lyricist Glenn Slater, 48, is nominated with composer Andrew Lloyd Webber for best original musical score (“School of Rock”); Hofesh Shechter, 36, an Israeli dancer and choreographer, is nominated for his choreography for the “Fiddler on the Roof” revival. He began as a dancer with Israel’s prestigious Batsheva Dance Co. “The Crucible” and “A View from the Bridge,” also by Arthur Miller, are best play (revival) nominees; “Fiddler on the Roof” and “She Loves Me,” written by Sheldon Harnick, 93, and the late Jerry Bock, are up for best musical revival honors. Harnick will receive a lifetime achievement award at the Tonys ceremony.

Soccer at the Copa

Steve Birnbaum

The Copa is a big deal. Every four years since 1916, 10 men’s soccer teams from the Western Hemisphere have played this tournament in South America. This would have been an off year, but in honor of the Copa’s 100th anniversary, a special “extra” tournament is being held for the first time in North America, with 16 teams invited to play. The U.S. team has played two matches so far (on June 3 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara against Colombia and on June 7 in Chicago against Costa Rica), with a third scheduled Saturday, June 11 in Philadelphia against Paraguay. Quarter-finals start June 16. The 23-man USA Copa squad has two tribe members: DeAndre Yedlin, 22, and Steve Birnbaum, 25. The son of an African American father and a Jewish mother, Yedlin was raised near Seattle by his Jewish grandfather. He’s now a star for the Tottenham Hotspurs. Birnbaum plays for D.C. United, a Major League Soccer pro team. A Southern California native, he won a silver medal at the 2012 Pan American Maccabi Games.


Nate Bloom

Nate Bloom writes the "Celebrity Jews" column for J.