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Bellevue actor makes it in the spotlight with Tony Award

Roger Robinson won a Tony Award for best featured actor in a play for his role as Bynum Walker in the Lincoln Center Theater production of August Wilson
Roger Robinson won a Tony Award for best featured actor in a play for his role as Bynum Walker in the Lincoln Center Theater production of August Wilson's 'Joe Turner's Come and Gone.
— image credit: Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Local thespians who dream of success in the make-or-break world of acting can take heart in Roger Robinson's accomplishments.

The 69-year-old Bellevue native won a Tony Award this month for his role in "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," which ended a three-month run at New York City's Lincoln Center Theater on June 14.

"It's a great honor at any stage, but especially in the twilight of my career," said Robinson, who resides in New York and California and took home the award for best featured actor in a play.

He has a long resume that includes roles in seven Broadway productions, eight films, and 18 television shows, from "Kojak" and "The Jeffersons" to "Law & Order." He previously earned a Tony nomination for a performance in the Broadway show "Seven Guitars."

"I've been in this business 46 years, and I never had a problem raising my kids or supporting my family," Robinson said. "I'm so glad that I'm an actor."

"Joe Turner" is a play about finding personal identity. The show follows a group of African Americans living in Reconstruction-era Pittsburgh.

Robinson played Bynum Walker, a "conjure man" – or witch doctor – who understands his identity and is comfortable with it.

Winning a Tony Award for the part generated a wave of new film- and stage-acting prospects for Robinson – something he says happens every time following his biggest successes.

"It seems like every 10 or 15 years, I'm discovered again," he said.

Robinson's peers from Bellevue High's class of 1958 have followed his triumphs through the years. Over two dozen showed up to see him perform "Jitney" with the Seattle Repertory Theater in 2002, and a small contingent gathered at a classmate's home this year to watch the Tonys.

"We were hooting and hollering like you wouldn't believe when he won," said classmate Charlene Burnell Avery. "Everone's excited. My computer lit up with old friends who want to bring up the Tony Award now."

Robinson invited his sister, Tino Robinson of Bellevue, to be his guest during the Tony Awards ceremony. She had never been to New York City.

"She looked quite lovely – like she was a move star herself," Robinson said. "People were quite taken with her."

Robinson thanked his mother, Naomi Robinson, during his acceptance speech.

"She was very inspiring to me," he told The Reporter. "She raised seven kids single-handedly and then went back to school at 63 to become a schoolteacher. That had always been her dream, and she made it happen."

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